house on the embankment

This is not a photo of Israel. It’s a photo taken in Moscow that I came across recently. I thought I’d post it as a one-off and tell the story of the photograph and the places in it.

When I had just turned 19, I lived for a while in an apartment in this Moscow building. The building is nicknamed Dom na Naberezhnoye – the House on the Embankment – and was built in 1931 for the Soviet government elite. The people living in the building were high-ranking Communists and Stalin’s cronies. Khrushchev used to live there.  The house is right across from the Kremlin – you can see its towers in the photo – and rumour has it that there was or is a secret underground passageway from the building to the Kremlin. When I lived there,  the Soviet Union had collapsed and Russia was veering headlong into unregulated capitalism. I stayed with an elderly lady named Olga Sergeevna* and her daughter Elizaveta. They took in students to earn extra money – and demanded payment in US dollars – hard currency. Olga Sergeevna was a formidable battle-ax of an old lady and a proud Communist. During the height of Stalin’s Terror, many of the people living in this building were purged, and Olga Sergeevna was bizarrely proud that her husband had survived the purges. She would frequently get out a samovar that her late husband had received, apparently as a gift from Stalin – at least that was her story. Though years had passed since the USSR collapsed, you still could not make international phone calls from the apartment building.

I took this photo from the tiny kitchen in Olga Sergeevna’s apartment.

The reason the picture is so grainy is the camera was an awful cheap one, and the film was terrible and cheap too. I wish I could find the pictures I had taken in Red Square by the photographers that hung out there. I suspect they were government employees – they used to take your picture then mail it to you. That way, they’d have your photo and your address.

*That’s not her real name…

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