There was a summer house in Odessa in the 16th Station area of Bolshoy Fontan. It was built in 1928 by my great-grandfather and his Jewish colleagues who worked at the Roza Luxemburg Confectionery Plant. The summer house was named the First of May dacha.
In those times streetcar passengers spoke Yiddish or heavily accented Russian. My great-grandmother would buy a live chicken and take it to a shoykhet. When chicken hair was being burnt over a kerosene stove, the stink pervaded the entire house and yard. For a while a monkey brought by a sailor neighbor from overseas lived under the window on a leash. And a television with a large water-filled lens was already sitting in my great-grandmother’s apartment.
Starting 1966 I spent every summer at the dacha so I never went to a young pioneer camp like normal Soviet children.
In the fall I was taken back to my city where water in a large river was always opaque and no pre-war house was spared by the war. The city was built anew with broad avenues and a great number of monuments. I always wanted to escape from it. All long winter I would live on memories of the dacha, and in the spring I would count days before departure.
The dacha was quite remarkable indeed. Acacias as tall as a four-story building sheltered its entire territory from the sun so that sun rays were transformed into a lacelike pattern on the cracked asphalt, plywood walls of the cabins and human bodies and faces. Truthfully conveying this particular light onto canvas became my idée fixe for years since I was twelve years old…
The sea could be seen from our kitchen; the dacha was separated from it only by the Golden Shore restaurant whose walls were twined all over with Virginia creeper. Rocks protruding from the water near the shore formed shallow pools with completely transparent water. These pools, coarse sand, algae, and wildlife of every kind including crabs, pipefish, and shrimp produced another strong impression on me in my early childhood – an impression that has stayed with me my entire life. I can still look at water for hours. I especially enjoy eyeing the bottom through spots of light on the water surface (isn’t it because I am an Aquarius?).
I have recently traveled using Google Earth and found photos of those places. Now the entire sea shore up to the Bolshoy Fontan Cape looks like the Tel-Aviv beach.
Another thing, which is very important for understanding what I have been doing, and without which I would have been a different Leonid Z., was the carpet that hung in my grandfather’s apartment in Volgograd. This was a very ordinary carpet with an intricate pattern of colors and shapes, but very large. To me it resembled a map of an island covered by thick tropical forest. The carpet hung above a sofa, on which I had to lie in the afternoon for a couple of hours even if I could not fall asleep. And I scrutinized the carpet with hypnotic concentration. After a while it acquired a third dimension. Its flowers transformed into strange creatures, each possessing its own nature; it was a real miracle! I liked that the same flower or shape could appear as different creatures, but never at the same time! I still like to play this game.
Translation: Viktor Shevelyov