6.3.10

Great Terror, Leica X1

One can only wonder how many had been waiting, fatalistic, for the knock at the door.

Who thought there had been a terrible error and that Stalin would sort it out. A quick goodbye to their families before they were escorted away by the faceless agents of the security services. 

Dom Na Naberejnoi or the House on the Embankment, stands next to the former Red October chocolate factory on Serafimovicha Street, in Moscow. 

It used to be Europe's biggest apartment complex back in 1932, comprising of 10 or so buildings, including a theater, cinema, kindergarten and grocery. It housed the Soviet elite: military leaders, administrators, journalists and artists.

The house went on to acquire a terrible notoriety. Of the 2,400 people living there, during 1936-1937 just over 700 were arrested in Stalin's purges as enemies of the people.


Usually arrested at night, many were shot within days. Mostly men, their wives were usually sent to labour camps and children to orphanages.

There's a touching photograph of a boy of about 13 hosting a party for his friends captioned, First Birthday Without The Parents. Shed a tear for the children if you will. Many of the adults were part of the regime and some had played a role in repressing others. 

The complex now houses a small museum, headed by the widow of
Yuri Trifonov, who grew up in the house, and whose parents were liquidated. He wrote a book, published in 1978 which gave the building its current name (and he's the birthday boy in the photograph).

I took the Leica X1 along for a spot of historical documentary. As you can see it is a very modern-looking building, considering that it was built in 1928-1932. The architect was from Odessa, via Italy, B.M. Iofan.

It was supposed to face, across the River Moskva, the Palace of the Soviets. Preparations began with the demolition of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, seen here

The design for the Palace of the Soviets was not like the impressive, if squat Stalin skyscrapers completed in the 1950s. It looks more like Pieter Breugel's paintings of the Tower of Babel, crossed with a bad dream of Benito Mussolini. 

Anyway, it turned out the foundations of the Cathedral had been built on a marsh and even the most extensive pile driving would not have supported the Palace.

So the authorities turned the site of the Cathedral into the Lenin Swimming Baths. 
The Cathedral was rebuilt in the 1990s, as you can see here, looking from the steps of the theatre of the House on the Embankment.

Looking from the steps of the theatre which still forms part of the House on the Embankment you get a strange sense that history is out of kilter. Not repeating itself, not a time warp, but that two periods of history have collided.

The small security office at entrance No.1 is now a museum. I spoke to a wonderful, multilingual lady who was born in this house in 1930. She devotes here time to chronicling the names of those who, one way or another, ended up as enemies of the people.




5.3.10

The Black and White of it

From Ariane Sherine, The Guardian:
Looking a bit brown still means being asked where you're from. So here's a ready-made answer for the overly curious. 
Last weekend, I had The Conversation for the 3,897th time – and this time, it took place in central London just two roads away from the hospital where I was born. As usual, it went like this:
Stranger: Where are you from? [Translation: You look a bit brown. Why are you brown?]
Me: London.
Stranger: No, where are you really from? [Translation: You are clearly telling me untruths. Brown people do not come from London.]

Good Article.

Puts in a less controversial manner the reality that Brits do have people pigeonholed (Yes, yes, I'm a Brit).

"Me, I'm not a racist. Nah, not me"
"So do you actually know any black or brown people?"
"Well, there's the guy I buy the paper and milk from".
"That doesn't count, really, does it? Do you have any black or brown friends?"
"Errm, are you accusing me of being racist?"

You see, multy culty Britain and the de rigueur political correctness means everyone has to say the right things to fit in, but their actions can tell a very different story?

Turn the argument on its head. The country is still firmly wedded to a class system where, at the top, they quiz you to establish whether you are "one of us". At the bottom, they quiz you to be sure you don't rise above your station. Can you really imagine such a social structure easily accommodates friends (no not colleagues or shopkeepers but friends) of a different colour.

Sure there are loads of people who love their friends, first of all for the person, and then for their otherness (colour blindness is as racist as colour sensitivity, the real test of a non-racist is someone who embraces difference, not someone who ignores it).

Ariane may find the person asking about her origins is very much interested and open, and not at all racist.

However, her point is that she does not see herself as an "other culture" and so gets more than a bit weary of people checkin' out the skin.

I write as a white boy who grew up in Nigeria, Brazil and Trinidad so unlike 99.99% of white Brits, I've experienced racism the other way. So I think about it another way.

Of course I'm not talking about stupid statistics telling us X per cent should be integrated.. (which seems to be the way the current social services/bureaucracy and wannabe social planners in the government see it).

Anyone is free to choose their own friends. But then, if, as one commenter wrote, "Given that the country is 94% white, it stands to reason many white people would not have any black friends" (and I agree, given the geographic distribution of minorities in the UK) then I'm correct in simply pointing out that for vast numbers of white Britons, the only black or brown person they're likely to come across is someone working in the service sector or, perhaps a colleague, and not someone they've chosen to meet.

Result: Nothing to blame people for but an unavoidable ignorance of other cultures.

I'm not saying it should be otherwise - or making any moral judgement. Just observing.

And what I see is a different nation to the Britain that the BBC and the government claim to reflect.