Vladivostok is far away – a story about a man from my memories

Atlas, Igorovo pisanjeIt is a long way from Vladivostok to Samarkand, and the way to Tehran is even longer. The longest way that Igor had passed was from Stockholm to Yugoslavia. Throughout my whole childhood the words like Persia, Tehran, Tashkent, Bukhara used to echo in my mind, usually in half-whisper since these were the things that were “not spoken about aloud”. Well, his entire childhood Igor traveled with his parents and a brother while carrying a secret about their origins. Namely, these people were thrown thousands of miles away from where their lives began by mere flow of history.

A few years ago, looking through my grandmother’s bookshelves I discovered an old atlas, no front cover, with Igor’s handwriting, which was telling the story about the road he had passed – from Vladivostok where he was born, throughout the whole of Asia and Yugoslavia, the second world war to Novi Sad and eventually to Stockholm, where he had lived the rest of his life.

KartaIgor is my grandfather, a native of Russia, who had run half the planet, lived with his family in various cities of different countries, some of which nowadays no longer exist. And it all happened in the short span of fifty years during the mid-twentieth century.

This is not a story about a place from my memory. Neither it is a story about the place from my heart. This is the story of a place that could have been created if our life paths ever crossed. My grandfather Igor lived until three months before my birth.

I got to know him through his stamps, the pictures he had painted. I listened to his records – the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, smelled the drawer where my grandmother Kristina used to keep his things – the labor and health cards, the photos, the shaving kit, the books.

MarkiceI used to think about his life’s journey, about him wandering the streets of Tehran as a kid, making mischief with his brother, where my great-grandmother – my dear Babushka had received warnings from neighbors and enforcement officials. Their life story always seemed like a movie to me, so unreal, and even more so because it had always been reveling slowly, piece by piece, without beginning or an end, shrouded in veil of secrecy and communicated in half-whisper.

I’ve often tried to imagine what was it like for the family Smelov when it had to just pack their things and move, taking their seats on trains or in horse-drawn carts, traveling for days and nights to the next country, to the next unfamiliar town. Were they afraid? Were they thinking about their next stop perhaps being final, a place they could call home?

FamilijaThe life story of my grandfather Igor I cannot tell since I also do not know it, there are only fragments that cannot make meaningful whole. So I still cannot really imagine him, I cannot  imagine our time together for we never had it – would he be the grandfather who talks and spends time with his grandchildren, or would he be always secluded with his stamps, music and canvas. I cannot put the pieces I have right now together to make the whole story out of them, because I don’t have enough impressions. I will never have them actually.

Apart from old photographs, records that we listen from time to time, there is also a shaving kit and his oil paintings on canvas – a picture of two horses and a portrait of his daughter, my mother’s sister. As my family also moved a couple of times, I have a feeling  that these objects have been slightly crumbling and some of them must have been lost, as well. And I know that my mind will be able to hold these memories less and less strongly, these stories that I heard about my grandfather Igor. Yet, I am still fascinated with this old atlas, the most joyous of my little discoveries. Just turning its pages feels nice, while going through Igor’s path through Russia and North Asia to the European continent over and over, and being equally fascinated each time.

So, this is my story, or at least parts of it that give me a subject for reflection, daydreaming and prying into these photos, browsing all countries and cities through which my ancestors went through and fantasizing about how many things can happen during one person’s life.

Igor portret