I got interested in photography in fifth or sixth grade. My first camera was a Photocor. You can see it in this picture, reflected in the mirror. Yes, we focused using a matted glass; used glass plates for negatives, metal cassettes for each plate; shot with a tripod, as a rule; developed in trays in red light; then printed the contact sheets. It didnt take long for Mom to succumb to my persistent pleas for my two dreams: a bicycle and a FED. First came the pre-war second-hand FED, and for many years its rarely been outside my reach.



The lower pictures are taken by me as a 7th grader in 1947, in the yard of School 61, on Plotnikov Pereulok, almost across the street from where Krivoarbatsky starts. If Im not mistaken, the building now houses a day care center. It goes without saying that the school was for boys; for some reason it only had seven grades. A considerable part of our 7th grade then moved on to the 8th grade in School 59, which is still there on Starokoniushenny Pereulok, and which I hope continues to flourish. (I caught myself thinking how just saying the names of the Arbats bystreets gives me great pleasure.)

In our class photo you can see a wonderful educator, the history teacher Avgusta Efimovna Lezhava. Many years later her name was mentioned in a book by a former classmate, the renowned actor of the The Sovremennik Theater, Igor Kvasha. In the picture he is one over from the teacher, third from right.

The man in fatigues in the photos taken in the school yard is our math teacher, Boris Dmitrievich Dimidov. We loved him. He was a war veteran. He felt free, in occasional angry fits, to give us a good whack, or grab us by the collar and throw us into a door, which meant we would end up opening it with our heads, or whatever happened to land there first. I was the perfect size for this exercise because of my modest dimensions, and once in sixth grade was taught by this method. What I did to deserve this eludes me now, but the punishment sticks in my memory on the whole as just.
7th grade punishment was both more civilized and more offensive. Boris Dmitrievich would stride into the classroom and say in a dull and even tone of voice: Zimin out the door; Starikov in the corner. Good morning, take your seats. And so it went for several days in a row. Now punishment came not so much in fits of fury, but instead seemed well planned in advance. And perhaps that is why it stung more than an off-hand blow to the ear. To my pitiful babble But Boris Dmitirevich, no need to throw me out for the third day in a row, Ive turned a new leaf , there would be the retort: Not for the third, but for the second time. It is the third time, I objected, Yesterday I skipped your lesson. That doesnt count. (By the way, I had totally forgotten these episodes from school life. I was reminded of them almost thirty years later by a friend and straight A student whom you can see next to Boris Dmitirevich in the school yard pictures. He remembers them, even though he was never on the receiving end of any punishment himself. Thats the memory of a straight-A student for you!)
In our class, it was common knowledge that Starikov came from the meanest courtyard in the neighborhood, which was right next to our school. I think this same courtyard is described by Rybakov in his Children of the Arbat. Starikov would come with tales of rowdy adventures. He was the one who gave us a colorful and moving account inspired by a sexual act. He was honest enough to admit that these antics werent his own, but those of his courtyard buddies.
Occasionally, Starikov would profit from cutting off the avoska bags that were hanging outside almost every window there were no refrigerators back then. Hed snatch the bags from fire escapes and ledges, performing miracles of bravery and bring some of the loot to class.
Once or twice hed treat us to scoops of commercial ice cream that he had deftly stolen from cardboard boxes next to the commercial store on Smolenskaya square, now home to the Seventh Continent supermarket. Commercial stores began to open soon after the war, but before rationing was abolished. They would sell food without food stamps, but at exorbitant (for us) prices.
By we here I mean a small group that usually walked home from school together, down Sivtsev Vrazhek in the direction of Gogolevsky Boulevard. Here we are on Gogolevsky Boulevard. Back then a tram was still running, the notorious Annushka.

The tallest guy in these photos is Igor Berukshtis. He was a gifted jazz musician who defected from the USSR sometime at the end of the 60s beginning of the 70s. Not emigrated, but defected while his band was touring Japan. Many newspapers wrote about it at the time. Such a flight from the country meant real drama for the relatives left behind, especially when the authorities made sure to trash defectors. It was common knowledge that an active jazz musician simply could not have a decent professional life inside the country. Sometime later, despite the jamming devices, I heard him playing on a short wave Western radio station. Presently, he lives in Germany.
And here he is again with a mutual friend, Yuli Yevdokimenko, on the roof of my building. My address was 25 Bolshoi Afanasyevsky. This second-rate picture is interesting in that in the background you can see the tower of the Ministry of Defense which will help me soon perform an elegant transition to my next subject; and in the lower right corner you can discern the churchs cupola, then half in ruins and lacking a bell tower, that gave our Afanasyevsky Pereulok its name. At the time, some kind of mechanical workshop occupied the church.
And now please take a look at the next photograph, unfortunately, also of poor quality. These are the kids from our courtyard. One of them, by the way, is my step-brother Zhenya. It is winter, most likely 1946. On the left in the background you can see the big house on the corner of Bolshoi Afanasyevsky and Sivtsev Vrazhek its still there. The latter I mention simply for you to get your bearings. In the middle you can see a shed standing in the courtyard. It seems that every family used to have one. There is firewood in the shed fuel for our stoves. My Mom would say proudly, We have a Dutch stove. We also had firewood stamps. The firewood warehouse stood where the Novooarbatsky supermarket stands now. The warehouse entrance, surrounded by a fence of unfinished logs, was on Arbatsky Pereulok exactly where the entrance to a beer lounge is now, almost at the corner with Novy Arbat. I am sure of that because the house right across the street is still standing. I used to visit my classmate, Semyon Yuditsky, whose mom was the childrens writer, Khorol. I remember how in winter we would carry firewood from the warehouse on a sled to our shed. And then we had to chop it. Why they issued us firewood after the winter had already begun is a mystery. I think it may have been for the same reason that Pavka Korchagin laid down railroad tracks for a lumber mill in the dead of winter instead of in the summertime.
I want to show you one more photo of Zhenya, which allows to see another corner of the Arbat courtyard from our childhood.


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