I got to play “Two truths and a lie” on a Zoom call at work. Of course I loved it. In fact, I think everyone did, because we are lawyers. And of course I obsessed about it for a couple of weeks leading up to the big day, because I like to think that many interesting and unlikely things happened to me over the years. I was just a trifle annoyed that most of my colleagues had similarly outrageous and improbable experiences, though somewhat mollified when, after I announced my three “facts”, someone muttered that “they are all lies”.
This got me thinking about what, among the many weird, yet non-traumatic, particulars of my life remain obscure, yet interesting? And I keep coming back to my playing card collection.
For a large part of my life, I have loved playing cards and wanted to possess them. By this I mean, I do not necessarily love playing card games, but love the cards themselves. It has been a deep and abiding love, a bearer of much joy, a literary and artistic inspiration, and #42 on my list of Favorite Things [A Few of [Whose] Favorite Things – Old Lady Writing].
I trace the beginnings of this beautiful friendship to the early summers of my life leisurely spent on the Crimean beaches, playing a rousing game of Fool with whatever friends I made hanging out on the wooden sunbeds between dips in the sea. We also played Witch (Old Maid) and Drunkard (War), but Fool, the most popular Russian card game, was the only one that required some skill.
When I was six, my grandmother, with whom I spent all my summers at the beach, and I were joined by acquaintances from our hometown, a couple of sisters around her age, one of whom had a 10 year old daughter, Irina. For reasons that are lost to time, there was a joint refusal by the aged relatives to purchase a deck of cards for us, and so Irina simply drew one. Although no record remains of that deck, I remember it as the crowning achievement of Pre-Raphaelite art. We even gave the queens the fanciest names we knew, and attempted to name the jacks, but could only come up with one (look, we were just little girls in the USSR). We so much wanted a real deck of cards! At some point, Irina’s mother relented and bought her one . Searching for a facsimile of that deck became a goal in my adult life.
Arriving in the US, I was absolutely stunned and disappointed to discover that playing cards here are not beautiful, and the face cards in all the decks are the same. Of all the easy wins, playing cards were such a letdown! And then, for American Christmas ’84, my mother presented me with a deck surprisingly purchased at Jacobson’s. Baroque by Piatnik, which started my collection, is still the most beautiful deck I own.
The rules of the collection are simple: face cards have to be distinct, human, and beautiful. That means no animals, no cartoons, and no decks that have a weird theme like politicians, posters, quotes, or whatever. They have to have traditional suits (French is preferred, because that is what I am used to) and traditional court cards. I include stripped decks, because again, that is what was popular in Russia in my day. The backs are irrelevant.
According to Wikipedia, the largest card collection is over 11,000 decks. Mine is about 100 times smaller, not counting double decks, but I love [almost] each and every one. About a third of them are by Piatnik [Piatnik – Company], the greatest and largest card manufacturer in the world. As a teenager, I vaguely dreamed of working for Piatnik, but literally could not imagine what skills I possess and into what job they would translate.
My collection was enlarged by stopping in all stores that might carry these “artistic”, for lack of a better word, European-style cards. In the US, that primarily included fancy stores that might carry gambling paraphernalia (and surprisingly, the store inside Cinderella Castle in Disneyworld, as well as my beloved and dearly missed quirky Peaceable Kingdom in Ann Arbor). In Europe, it was pretty much any stationery or souvenir store, as well as big department stores like Harrod’s. My mother has been a very enthusiastic contributor since the beginning, always traveling with the hard copy list of my decks. I stopped collecting almost a decade ago, because Piatnik seems to have run out of ideas, and ordering on the internet is no fun. I have a very slight and vague regret of not buying a new deck in Dublin last year, but this gives me a reason to return.
A word about artistic inspiration. As a refugee child in Rome with no toys but an extravagant set of markers which my family somehow managed to afford for Christmas, I drew a paper doll and, over the years, a mass of elaborate period dresses, inspired by my own imagination combined with dolls in Italian toy store windows and later, playing cards. Since queens on playing cards are only portrayed from the waist up, all the skirts are mine.
(Just a few of the dresses; the last one was left unfinished around 30 years ago.)
 My big lie was the monkey story from The First Spanish Trip. The truths were crashing a circus rehearsal (stay tuned!) and being chased by someone wielding a can opener (a singularly unpleasant event not worth retelling).
 I specifically did not mention it then, because I knew it will someday deserve its own full entry.
 English language fails me here. The word that we actually use translates as “trestle bed”, but that seems to mean nothing to anyone. I literally have spent no time on the beach in my English-speaking life, after an entire childhood of sun-drenched salt-water summers.
 In later years, during summers at the Baltic Sea, Nines replaced Fool as the rousing card game of choice. My grandfather subsequently demonstrated himself as the most charming cheat in the game of Nines.
 Eventually, the seven of clubs was lost, and we drew a card on nothing better than a piece of green blotter paper. Needless to say, the seven of clubs was extremely conspicuous.
 And I never found Piatnik’s King Arthur deck. I probably could now, but I prefer to leave this slight gap in the collection. “Nothing in life has any business being perfect”.