Eternal fire

“Theatre (Teatralnaya) Square. The rhythm of life became a hundred times faster. The traffic of wheeled, winged, propelled and other vehicle is pulsing everywhere. The Myur and Meriliz (Muir and Mirrielees) supermarket, which already existed in 1846, has increased to fabulous proportions, and its main departments are in direct contact with the major air railways. A number of cars come roll along from under the bridge.”

In one piece of the futuristic postcard series issued by the Einem chocolate factory we find among the several technical wonders of the year of 2259 a surprisingly old-fashioned vehicle: a conventional fire truck with ladder, syringe and copper-helmeted firefighters hurrying to extinguish the fire which swirles on the left side of the picture and which, according to the label, broke out in the Muir and Mirrielees department store. How is that? Will not propelled water tanks and high capacity airships extinguish the fires from the air after two hundred and fifty years? No, they will not, because with all the unstoppable progress of civilization apparently there are some things which are eternal and unchanging: and in addition to the walls of the Kremlin and the Imperial Guard, as we mentioned earlier, the Moscow firefighters are also among them.

Late 1920s. The Arbat’s fire-squad on the corner of Stolovaya street and Rzhevsky pereulok

But whoever read the quoted post will also remember that one of the most memorable actions of Moscow’s firemen at the turn of the century was also the extinguishing of the fire of the Muir and Mirrielees department store. Writer and critic Vladislav Khodasevich recalls the famous event like this:

“We lived in the Saltikov pereulok. Every evening Mom undressed me and put me into bed, which was always a long procedure: I bitterly protested, because I felt that just as I fall asleep, the most interesting, wonderful and important things would happen (this concern has accompanied me throughout all my life). This time, however, I was lucky. Mom did not have time to undress me, because pounding was heard at the door, stamping in the staircase, and cries: “Fire! Fire! Everyone run to the street!” Dad was not at home, so Mom grabbed my hand, picked up my blanket and run out to the staircase, which was already crammed with people and things pouring downstairs. Here we met Dad who tried to get upstairs to our flat. As Mom and I saw him, we calmed down a bit. The unusual sight on the street terrified me again, but Dad rebuked me: “Do not worry! No matter how terrible: look how beautiful and remember it: if it is beautiful – then it is not terrible!” And I, who at that time unconditionally believed and obeyed my father, looked around with interest. It turned out that a department store, the Muir and Mirrielees, the current TSUM was on fire. As if it were breathed by the black sea, the walls of the buildings and the faces of people now shined, now darkened. The street was full of “refugees” and their various belongings. Some people already managed to bring down enough furniture, and they watched the fire from the armchair. The wind rose, the fire flared up, and engulfed the street with heat, smoke and ash. The wind strengthened, and the flames leaped up to the sky such as red flags: whole piles of goods were burning behind the broken glass windows. Sometimes burning objects fell down near us, people splashed about, only a few brave ones ran forward, hoping that there is still something useful in it. Dad strictly commanded us to keep ourselves in our place, and he went on a discovery tour to the Petrovka. When he returned, he reported that the fire brigade had already arrived, they were extinguishing the fire, there is no danger, and we could go home. I could not sleep long: probably because of the “beauty”, but also because of the fear.”

The Muir and Mirrielees department store on fire, November 1900

However, the large fire of 1900 also had a dress rehearsal in February 1892. “The store was fully equipped with automatic fire extinguishers,” recalls the founder and owner Andrew Muir, “and the greatest devastation of the goods was done by these and not by the fire.” For the goods a compensation was paid by the insurer, but two firemen died in the fire.

Catalog of the goods of the Muir and Mirrielees store, 1912-13

And then almost as soon as the new department store, the later Mostorg foreign currency shop and the present TSUM (Центральный Универсальный Магазин) was built (1908) after the designs of Roman Klein, one of the best architects in Moscow at the turn of the century, another fire broke out in the building, this time spreading over from the Little Theater. This happened in in 1914, the year of the publication of the Einem postcard series.

Fire in the Little Theater and the Muir and Mirrielees store, 1914

Tres faciunt collegium, and from three cases one can draw conclusions, says the Roman law maxim. Whatever was regularly burnt in the past twenty years will burn after two hundred and fifty years, too. The Kremlin, the Imperial Guard, the fire department of Moscow and the fire in Muir and Mirrielees are forever.

2 comentarios:

languagehat dijo...

Wonderful stuff, as always! But in English I think the English spelling of what after all are Scottish names should be used: Muir and Mirrielees.

Studiolum dijo...

You’re right. Now I changed it everywhere.