Odessa, 1931

From the color slides by Branson DeCou made during his Russian journey in 1931 we have already seen those made in Moscow and in the two former imperial palace complexes next to Leningrad, Peterhof and Tsarskoe Selo. We have also long prepared for publication the Leningrad images. But before that let us look at his twenty-one photos showing the historical city center of Odessa.

The stairs well known from Eizenstein’s Battleship Potemkin (1925) six years later, from another angle

We have tried to locate the pictures on the 1892 map of Odessa (a larger version of the map can be seen here). The place of the red dots is sure, that of the blue dots is uncertain, nevertheless they are more or less where we have put them (the two absolutely uncertain ones will be mentioned in the captions). Their matrix shows well DeCou’s sightseeing route. He started probably from the harbor where the American tourist buses are standing, or from the Hotel London situated a little higher, if they stayed there. He went up (or came down) the Potemkin stairs, walked through the Primorsky promenade which offers the best sea view, toured the area around the Yekaterina square, from the Opera House he went along the Deribasovsky boulevard to the famous Libman Café, then turned left and came back in front of the cathedral, and either before, or later he visited the Alexander (at that time already Shevchenko) Park and the nearby Lanzheron promenade.

DeCou or another tourist taking photos at the southern end of the Primorsky promenade, at the Duma square, in front of the town hall

Once we have started with the photo of a peculiar shop window, characteristic of the period, let us end with another one. This is the shop of Inturist or Torgsin, the hard currency shop, where only foreigners were entitled to buy, and only for Torgsin tickets to be purchased for gold or hard currency. In Master and Margarita also the arrival and accommodation of Satan and his retinue is organized by Inturist. Interestingly, the Latin name Intourist is written on it in Cyrillic, while the Russian name Torgsin (торговля с иностранцами, trading with foreigners) in Latin characters, and the children’s stroller in front of it is exactly like the one sliding down the Potemkin stairs six years earlier and a hundred meters away in Eizenstein’s film. The store network worked between 1931 and 1936 in the touristic cities, including Odessa. Even a version of the famous song of the Odessa underworld, Murka mentions it:  “Раньше ты носила туфли из Торгсина – Earlier you wore shiners bought in Torgsin…” But we could not find out where it was exactly. The great summary published in 2009 by Elena Osokina, Золото для индустриализации. Торгсин (Gold for industrialization: The Torgsin) – about which we will write later – only mentions that it was in the harbor, that’s why we have placed it to the other, northern end of the Primorsky promenade. If you know it better, tell us. This is of course also valid for the location of all the other images.

The block of the famous Libman Café and Russov house along the Sadovaya. On the recent devastation in 2009 of the latter we have already written, and on the history of the former we are going to write soon.

6 comentarios:

Effe dijo...

Odessa, such a evocative name for me, you know.
You are a cartographer of memories

Studiolum dijo...

Thanks a lot! Yes, I know. I wrote it with the memory of your memories in mind.

I also plan to compose a similar map with lots of old postcards of the city.

languagehat dijo...

How I wish I'd gotten to Odessa when I was in the USSR! I look forward to more posts on it, and (as always) I deeply appreciate the map locations.

Paul dijo...

Studiolum: What is a "shiner" in the underworld song, please ? In colloquial English, it means a "black eye" - the result of being punched in the face !

languagehat dijo...

The Russian word, туфли [tufli], means 'shoes' or 'slippers'; I don't know where "shiners" comes from, but I've never heard it in any other sense than 'black eye.'

MOCKBA dijo...

In the myriad texts of Murka, only a handful mention the shoes from Torgsin, and the not one kind but two: лаковые туфли ~~ shiny lacquered heels or фетровые боты ~~ felt (feutre) booties. I tend to think that the gangsta girl from the old folk song wouldn't go for the soft felt, though.

One of the versions we used to sing was actually in English ("Once we had a business, me and Rabinovich"), but it didn't mention her shoes. Nor did it translate every slang word, even culminating in

Blacky voronochek, and my heart is crying
And my heart is crying in the night.
In the dirty dark lane,
Where people drink wine,
Murka's body lies, still and quiet