March 1, 2014

{Babooshka; A Journey to Russia.}

I moved into my apartment in West Hollywood back in July of 2013 and shortly after noticed an elderly woman that sat outside every day at the same time. On a small plastic chair with a Kleenex scrunched in her delicate hands, a thin scarf over her grey hair, the cutest little black shoes and a long dress, this beautiful woman observed the world. Goose had passed away 5 months prior and and there was something that reminded me of her when I took one glimpse in this woman’s eyes.  Every time I walked past her I smiled and said hello. As I would learn, Russians do not smile. It took 3 months before I received a nod and a smile back. I tried countless attempts to speak to her but our language barrier proved to outweigh our ability to converse through words and our relationship became one of emotion and physicality. In October I snuck a picture of her from my second story apartment and in December gave that print to their family. They were overjoyed and began to open their china cabinet giving me a beautiful crystal bowl, a Russian nesting doll from their village (the ones that go inside each other), and a tea set. The family consists of four generations, Anna, the 97-year-old Babooshka, her daughter Nelly, her grand daughter, Irena, and her great-grandson, Leon who is 19.  Irena pulled out a map of the world and pointed to Voronezh, Russia, where Anna, born in 1916, was from. Informed me that she left in 1995 and never returned. The great-grandson Leon, who spoke perfect English, and I formed a relationship and through him I found out that Anna held a dear place in her heart for me, that she tried to speak Russian when we met because I looked Russian and that I was a highlight to her day. One day I gave her a yellow flower, the most beautiful smile illuminated her face, she held my hands, kissed my cheek and spoke in Russian. Our following encounter I shared pictures of Goose and we took a photograph together. Goose had a saying, “If you don’t keep these bones a moving, they’ll quit on you.”  This 97-year-old woman walks down a large flight of stairs from her second-story apartment, resting at the base of the stairs, makes her way to the street front, then back up to sit on her plastic garden chair.  Any time I hear the slight shuffle of her small feet down the apartment corridor, I race down the stairs to embrace her and exchange a smile. During the cold months I don’t see her much, which at first made me worry that something had happened to her but now I feel comforted that she’s just nestled up inside. 
In January I had a strong impression to go to Voronezh so I could photograph the town Anna was from.  She is actually named after a village within Voronezh that is called, Anna. The family has not been back to Russia since they left in 1995. Many people were unsure if I should travel to Russia regarding my safety however I have felt nothing but peace about this decision. Something very strong has tied me to this family and Anna in particular. Perhaps my answers will be met when I arrive in this quaint little city 10 hours south of Moscow, and perhaps I won’t know the answer for years to come, that just adds to the adventurous story.