I went back to Russia to visit the places containing scattered vestiges of my father’s memory.
The truth is that I know virtually nothing about him. He died before I turned two. I have no personal memories of him. Almost nothing that was a reminder of his existence survived. Though, there was his camera. When I was nine I found it in the wardrobe where mother kept it safely for years. I dismantled it to the last screw as if looking for something hidden inside. By my own unaware hand I destroyed the last personal item connected to my father.
There are still his photos, taken and printed by him. Father was an amateur photographer. In one of the pictures I am a five-month-old baby lying on my belly on my parents’ bed. My eyes are fixed on the photographer -- my father, who has thirteen months left to live.
His untimely death turned him into an abstract character existing on the verge of oblivion. He was almost forgotten. No one spoke of him. His grave was abandoned. The extent of my knowledge about my father was gleaned from a couple of stories that folks who once knew him told me. However, neglected as the memory of him was, it endured in the form of those told and retold stories with varying degrees of accuracy, depending on the storyteller. Just as folklore endures transmitted orally over generations.
One such story involved the Japanese director Akira Kurosawa who was shooting his Oscar-winning film “Dersu Uzala” in the vicinity of our village in 1974. My parents and I, a newborn sleeping in my mother’s arms, drove by the location used by Kurosawa’s crew and saw the famed director. At the time, very few Russians knew who Mr. Kurosawa was or realized the scale of what was going on. My parents didn’t stop for long, and continued on their journey.
The accidental crossing of the path of the world cinematography, as it became evident later, marked a milestone for us. Those were among the last remembered moments when we were still a complete and happy family.