Sunday, 3 October 2021

'What was it like?'

4 October is publication date of Sovetica by Caroline Clark, a book that includes photographs taken in Moscow in the 1980s by Clark’s husband Andrei and a friend accompanied by short texts (poems?) by Clark based on Andrei’s memories of those years. Clark herself lived in Moscow for ten years. To listen to three short audio excerpts from the conversations (in Russian) from which the texts derived, click here. Below, with her own photos of Moscow, Caroline Clark tells how the book came about.

To start with there was the scale of the city with its intimidating perspectives and unbarricadable boulevards. I looked up at the past, across the distances. I was out of context.

The past had never felt so closed off. There were no roads in. One place of refuge for me, Neptune swimming pool, had issues of its own looming over it.

But as I lived there, it became my home. And I came to love a different story that I read in the gentle curves of tram rails rounding a slow corner.

The stool the hairdresser put outside on warm days for her breaks, the old dustbins shaky but still there, benches moored to their fixtures, barricades, walls, steps, railings, urns. Almost all, I’m sure, gone now.

These things had a homeliness about them resulting, perhaps, from the human intention of the design coupled with later abandon. But there was something else: they were telling me something, answering the question I was asked back home so much: ‘What was it like?’

Then A showed me his 3-D slides and all at once I could look into that past. And I could ask, ‘What was it like?’

I love the mechanism of question/answer. You don’t know something. You ask what was it like. You are told. A hole is filled. Or: a door is opened. You discover more to ask. What was it like, what was it like?

I was fascinated by the slides. And fascinated by Andrei's ability to speak about himself and tell a good story. Memories. So embodied they are like objects stored, never varying, ready to be told again. A good story rises up whole. It is told and placed on the shelf. It is unabashed. Simply itself. It comes easily, when needed.

So easy. It shouldn’t be this easy. Oh, it was. Easy and fun and always right. I knew when the texts were right. They felt just so. Just-so stories. They felt light. And set. And as little of me as possible. How novel. Whose are they? Certainly not mine. These words have travelled and belong in a book called Sovetica. I hope you will enjoy it.

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