Tuesday, September 17, 2013

My Life in the Soviet Union....



Canal in downtown St. Petersburg, near the Hermitage

            The Day we took the head photographer to Leningrad.   There were many Africans in Moscow, nearly all from Soviet client states in Africa.  In the days we were there, many were at Lumumba University, learning ways to stir up the populace back home in the Congo, or Zaïre, or Angola. Or Uganda, Kenya or Nigeria. Or Sudan or Burkina Faso.
            We had an African-American Air Force Sergeant in our embassy. He was a senior non-commissioned officer who handled our photo lab. He had processed thousands of rolls of film for us back at our Embassy, and we thought he would enjoy visiting Leningrad (now St. Petersburg), this very interesting city in the north, particularly since we had brought back so many rolls of film from here.  He never routinely would travel with us attachés, but our General thought it would be good for him to see what it was that we were shooting.

            But when the KGB saw us with a black man in our car, they went nuts.  They acted as if we had brought a secret weapon to Leningrad.
            They normally would follow our car with a car full of stolid, sullen, very husky young men.  We called them goons.  But this day, they had four cars, switching off amongst one another. Loaded with goons.  These cars were all Soviet Zhigulis, the Russian version of the Fiat, made in a huge factory built with the help of the Italian Fiat company in a city named Tolyatti (after Italian Communist Togliatti) several hundred miles southeast of Moscow.
            Often I would make notes about what I wanted to observe on our drive that day, and I would write these on water-soluble rice paper, which I could easily pop in my mouth if we should be apprehended. This special paper would dissolve at once.
            When, with the four cars of goons following us I thought we would get hauled out, I decided it was time to swallow my notes.  However, when you are scared, which I was, your mouth dries up so much that you can’t even dissolve the paper.
            We were driving next to one of the many canals that run through Leningrad, and since our surveillance was not in sight at the moment, I thought it would be a good time to stop and throw the mouthful of rice paper in the canal.  I think it was the Griboyedova Canal.
            Wrong!  As I should have suspected in icy, frozen Leningrad, there was just ice in the canal.  Foiled! My mouthful of paper just rested on the ice.
            I was lucky that the KGB didn’t find the rice paper. At any rate, we never got apprehended.   The Sergeant had a good ride around town.
            I would make a lousy spy.

 Peter and Paul Fortress, from across the Neva

Women’s Day in Leningrad—Fats took the day off!
                We took the Midnight Red Arrow from Moscow to Leningrad, arriving on schedule at 8:25 a.m. A driver met us at the train station and drove us to the American Consulate, where we stowed our bags and jumped into our car, all set for a day of work.
            One of the things we did a lot was "Order-of-Battle".  We had to report ships in port, including boats and ships that just moved around the canals and rivers of the USSR. The information we provided was correlated with information from agents, from satellite imagery, and electronic intelligence intercept to maintain a picture of the Naval Order of Battle of the USSR This meant taking a lot of long, long walks in some pretty crappy, snowy places.          
One of our favorite walks was along the Neva River at Schmidt’s Bank, in Leningrad Here hundreds of boats and often warships and submarines tied up.  Many of the smaller, lighter draft boats were awaiting a schedule to move up the canals that cut across Russia. Here we could see these boats and ships, and Red Fleet ships, and also ships under construction in the many shipyards of Leningrad
            Whenever we would take these walks, we tried to take along our cameras and collect photos of interesting things.  Photography in this area was forbidden, however.
            The KGB assigned an elderly “goon” that attachés over the years had named “Fats.”  He and some of his associates generally were around to follow us wherever we walked, or drove, and to make our job harder, or impossible.  They wore the red armbands of “Druzhniki,” or “concerned citizens.”  Sort of like elderly volunteers who operate as school crossing guards, except these were assigned to look after the foreign “spies.”  The Soviets considered all foreign diplomats spies—they hadn’t changed their attitude toward foreigners in centuries.
            One day, March the 8th, 1983 to be exact, it was International Women’s Day. Now, in fact, the Soviets didn’t give much of a hoot about women’s rights, except the right of old women to stand in the street all day long in the winter, smashing ice with a heavy iron rod.
            But this day, as we arrived to do our job of collecting intelligence in Leningrad, there was NO KGB.  They had the day off!
            I was traveling with my assistant, Pierce Crabtree, a big, burly former Navy football player. With no KGB to bother us, we went wild photographing shipyards and ships and everything we could see.  We were driving a Soviet version of a Land Rover, called a “Niva.”  We thought this would be a great day to check out some radar installations near the Czars’ summer palace at Petrodvorets.  However, somewhere between Kipen’ and Ropsha, we got stuck in the snow. 
            If the KGB had been around, we would not have been able to get that far.  Now, free to travel, we had gone and gotten ourselves in trouble.  The snow was pretty deep.
Fortunately, along came a bus full of Russians.  The driver and some of the passengers got out and helped push us out of the snowbank. 
It was just another example of how friendly the Russians were, except for those whose job was to keep an eye on us.
 [An earlier version of this was published August 16, 2011.]

Now for some books and papers from The Personal Navigator:


The Locks – Charles River Dam, from Boston, Its Byways & Highways

Boston, Its Byways & Highways, Being Twenty-five Drawings Reproduced in Photogravure by John Albert Seaford ca. 1916 Boston, MA           Le Roy Phillips, Publisher. 24 plates. 13 x 20 cm. Elegant drawings of Boston sights on 7.8 x 10.4 cm. plates tipped in with descriptions. Includes Cover, with drawing of State House, Bulfinch Front; Pemberton Square; Trinity Church; From Adams Square to Faneuil Hall; Towers of Cambridge Bridge; Temple Street and the Bulfinch Dome; Roll Lift Bridge at Fort Point Channel; Market District; The Locks--Charles River Dam; more. Heavy cardboard with paper wraps, cover moderately worn. Individual plates and text block very good. Fair. (4784) $14.00. Travel

Boston Almanac 1853 

Boston Almanac For The Year 1853 with fold-out map of Boston 1853 Boston, MA: Damrell & Moore, and George Coolidge. 188 pp. 8 x 13 cm. Lists businesses, national, state and local leaders. Excellent engravings of local sights. Fifteen page article "Ancient and Modern Boston" by D. J.V.C. Smith compares Boston of 1722 (shown in map) with today (1853). Plans are in works to fill in the whole of Back Baybetween Roxbury Mill Dam and the Neck. He predicts that South Boston is "predestined to be the magnificent section of the city, in respect to costly residences, fashionable society and the influence of wealth. Monody to Daniel Webster, who died Oct. 24, 1852. Very interesting ads for ink, removers, carpeting, plumbers, tea, curriers. shell combs, cutlery and more.  Fold-out map of Boston includes Map of Town of Boston in New England by Capt. John Bonner, 1722, engraved for Boston Almanac 1853, and detailed New Map of Boston Comprising the Whole city with the new boundaries of the Wards, 1853.  Map shows Receiving Basin adjacent to Public Garden, South Bay between Albany St. and South Boston. Inset map of East Boston.   Cloth on board with gold printing and blind-stamped design. Back cover spine broken,  Map worn, small tears in folds, fair. Overall fair condition.    (8173) $68.00. Reference       

Roosevelt: State of New York in Memoriam Theodore Roosevelt Born: October 27, 1858  Died: January 6, 1919 1919 Albany, NY: Legislature of the State of New York. 131 pp.          18 x 25.5 cm.            Marvelous tribute to a towering figure of America in the last years of the 19th and the first years of the 20th century. Includes much biographical detail, excerpts from TR's speeches, including last public words about promoting Americanism, and speech in which he publicly accused the Legislature, of which he was member, of corruption in Manhattan Elevated Railroad affair. Includes Address by Sen.Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts, his lifelong friend, before Congress on Sunday, February 9, 1919. Black cloth on board with gilt printing on cover and spine. Small biopredation holes in cover. On ffep stamped "Compliments of William Duggan, Senator 19th District" Very good.  (2350) $34.00. Biography/History                                                            

Soviet Theatre ca. 1950 Moscow, USSR. Collection of photos of Soviet theatre performances of 1950s, including actors Y. Tolubeyev, Z. Kirienko, A. Shatov, G. Stepanova, G. Menglet, V. Lepko, A. Kruglov, V. Orlova, T. Samoilova, R. Nifontova, V. Pashennaya and A. Katsynsky; Ballerina Galina Ulanova as Juliet, Yuri Zhdanov as Romeo. 26 pp. 27 x 18 cm. (5695) $15.00. Travel/Educational

Rockport, MA: Ye Headlands of Cape Ann-- Real Estate Advertisement by Giles, Jason 1902 Rockport, MA: The Rockport Review. 32 pp. 23 x 15 cm. Booklet tells history of Rockport as it offers a parcel at the Headlands of theNorwood property.  Property is served by water and electric lights, with an easy walk of eight minutes to stores, markets and post office, and in ten minutes, to the B. & M. R.R. railway station.  Booklet shows the beginnings of granite breakwater in harbor, intended to provide 'Harbor of Refuge' for the North Atlantic Squadron of U.S. Navy war vessels during the summer months.  Photos of local sights, including two page spread showing photo of town and harbor, taken from belfry of the Congregational Church. Paper booklet, very good. (7282) $59.00. Travel/History

                                                                                                                                                                                                Contact me at scoulbourn1@verizon.net

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