Notice: Undefined property: WP_Error::$cat_ID in /home/tbldlgqt/public_html/wp-content/themes/odessa-journal/header.php on line 13
January 2021 | odessa-journal.com |

Loading

Secrets of the Black Sea: Why does plankton “travel” from the depths to the surface and back?


The term ‘plankton’ refers to all organisms who are unable to resist a current. As a rule, they are small (except for jellyfish and ctenophores). Plankton can be divided into phytoplankton (micro algae), and zooplankton (small animals, mainly crustaceans). Within the space of a day, many species of zooplankton carry out long-distance (relative to their body size) vertical migrations. In the daytime, they rest in the deepest layers of the water column, and in twilight they return upwards, coming close to or reaching the surface, and concentrating in a thin upper layer. With the sunrise, these species once more return to deep water.

The most noteworthy vertical migrations in the Black Sea are performed by copepods – calanus (Calanus euxinus) and pseudocalanus (Pseudocalanus elongates). They rise from a depth of 100-150m to surface waters rich in phytoplankton. Other copepods also migrate during the day, e.g. oithona (Oithona similis), centropages (Centropages kroyeri), and even a few organisms not related to copepods, such as the predatory arrow worm (Sagitta setosa).

Scientists say that the biological rationale for vertical migration lies in the fact that at night, plankton become less visible to predators, although many migrants glow in the dark and reveal themselves even at night. Moreover, there are a multiplicity of predators, who themselves perform daily vertical migrations. There is also a hypothesis that vertical migrations under conditions of different speeds of current, and at different depths, cause the dispersal of migrating crustaceans’ populations. This dispersal is necessary to prevent the complete predation of phytoplankton by dense accumulations of zooplankton. In this connection, the following analogy can be drawn: herds of hoofed animals moving constantly across the area save their pastures from being completely eaten away. At the least, it is believed that vertical migrations are connected of energy exchange. It is more profitable for zooplankton to spend the majority of the day in the cold waters of the deep pelagic zone, where their metabolic rate is lower.

So, how does plankton know when it is time to go up or down? During the eclipse on the 30th of June 1954, when the solar disc was covered and the luminosity of the sea surface became 17 times lower, more than 70% of plankton organisms rapidly rose from the 14-5m layer to the 5-0m layer. Later, such a rise was noted among all plankton species, which proved that luminosity was the main factor regulating their vertical migrations.

This raises the question: what would happen if luminosity didn’t change for a long time, say for three or four weeks? Would zooplankton follow its usual daily migration patterns? Such a case was observed in the Arctic in the midst of the polar summer, when there was no sunset for more than 24 hours. It turned out that during the polar day, plankton stayed at the same depth without migrating, whilst in autumn, when day and night alternated, it began to carry out its daily migrations again.

It should be said that besides plankton, there are several other large ecological groups in the sea. Nekton are active swimmers, who can determine the direction of their movement and are therefore not at the sole mercy of currents. In the Black Sea, this group is represented first by all by pelagic (i.e. living in open sea waters, not along the seafloor) fish and cetaceans. Marine dwellers, which spend the majority of their life at the seafloor are called benthos. These can be further divided into phyto (algae) and zoobenthos (bottom animals). And what about demersal fish, such as turbots, rays, gobies, blennies, and black scorpionfish? They can swim actively, but almost all the time stay in a thin bottom layer of water or directly at the seafloor, which is why they are known as nektobenthos and benthonekton. Periphyton is a community of fouling organisms which in nature settle first of all on the surfaces of seaweed and macroscopic algae, turtle shells, and on whales’ skin. A separate group is neuston or pleuston, living in the water surface tension area at the air-water boundary. Yes, our Black Sea is very diverse!


The publication was prepared with the financial support of the EU – UNDP project ‘Improving Environmental Monitoring in the Black Sea: Selected measures’ (EMBLAS-Plus). This publication was produced with the financial support of the European Union and UNDP. Its contents are the sole responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union or UNDP

Authors: B. Aleksandrov, O. Adrianova, N. Atamas, V. Bolshakov, O. Bondarenko, I. Chernichko, V. Demchenko, S. Dyatlov, Y. Dykhanov, E. Dykyi, O. Garkusha, P. Gol’din, S. Hutornoy, V. Komorin, Y. Kvach, V. Mamaev, O. Manturova, O. Marushevska, A. Mikelyan, Yu. Mikhalev, G. Minicheva, I. Sinegub, T. Shiganova, J. Slobodnik, A. Snigiryova, M. Son, K. Vishnyakova, A. Zotov. Illustrator: I. Pustovar.


The Bookshelf: How things were done in Odessa


Isaac Babel was a Russian language journalist, playwright, literary translator, and short story writer.  Isaac Babel, the son of a  Jewish  shopkeeper, was born in Odessa, Ukraine, on 13th July,1894. When he was a child he witnessed a pogrom and was deeply influenced by the experience.


I was the one who began.

“Reb Arye-Leib,” I said to the old man. “Lets talk about Benya Krik. Lets talk about his lightning-quick beginning and his terrible end. Three shadows block the path of my thoughts. There is Froim Grach. The steel of his actions— doesn’t it bear comparison to the power of the King? There is Kolka Pakovsky. The rage of that man had everything it takes to rule. And could not Chaim Drong tell when a star was on the rise? So why was Benya Krik the only one to climb to the top of the ladder while everyone else was clinging to the shaky rungs below?”

Reb Arye-Leib remained silent as he sat on the cemetery wall. Before us stretched the green calm of the graves. A man thirsting for an answer must stock up with patience. A man in possession of facts can afford to carry himself with aplomb. That is why Arye-Leib remained silent as he sat on the cemetery wall. Finally he began his tale:

Why him? Why not the others, you want to know? Well then, forget for a while that you have glasses on your nose and autumn in your heart. Forget that you pick fights from behind your desk and stutter when you are out in the world! Imagine for a moment that you pick fights in town squares and stutter only among papers. You are a tiger, you are a lion, you are a cat. You can spend the night with a Russian woman, and the Russian woman will be
satisfied by you. You are twenty-five years old. If the sky and the earth had rings attached to them, you would grab these rings and pull the sky down to the earth. And your papa is the carter Mendel Krik. What does a papa like
him think about? All he thinks about is downing a nice shot of vodka, slugging someone in their ugly mug, and about his horses—nothing else. You want to live, but he makes you die twenty times a day. What would you
have done if you were in Benya Kriks shoes? You wouldn’t have done a thing! But he did. Because he is the King, while you only thumb your nose at people when their back is turned!

“He, Benchik, went to Froim Grach, who even back then peered at the world with only one eye and was just what he is now. And Benya told Froim, ‘Take me on. I want to come on board your ship. The ship I end up on will do well by me.’

“Grach asked him, ‘Who’re you, where d’you come from, what’s your bread and butter?’

“‘Try me, Froim,’ Benya answered, ‘and let’s stop wasting time spreading kasha on the table.’

“ ‘Fine, we won’t waste time spreading kasha on the table,’ Grach said. ‘I’ll try you.’

“And the gangsters called a council together to decide about Benya Krik. I wasn’t at that council, but word has it that they did call together a council. The elder back then was the late Lyovka Bik.

“ ‘Anyone know what’s going on under Benchik’s hat?’ the late Bik asked.

“And one-eyed Grach gave his opinion.

“‘Benya talks little, but he talks with zest. He talks little, but you want that he’ll say more.’

“ ‘If that’s so, we’ll try him out on Tartakovsky,’ the late Bik pronounced.

“ ‘We’ll try him out on Tartakovsky,’ the council decided, and those who still housed a trace of conscience turned red when they heard this decision. Why did they turn red? If you listen, you’ll find out.

“Tartakovsky was known as ‘Yid-and-a-Half’ or ‘Nine-Raids.’ They called him ‘Yid-and-a-Half’ because there wasn’t a single Jew who had as much chutzpah or money as Tartakovsky had. He was taller than the tallest
Odessa policeman, and heavier than the fattest Jewess. And they called Tartakovsky ‘Nine-Raids’ because the firm of Lyovka Bik and Company had launched not eight raids and not ten, but exactly nine raids against his business. To Benya, who was not yet King, fell the honor of carrying out the tenth raid on Yid-and-a-Half. When Froim informed Benya of this, Benya said yes, and left, slamming the door behind him. Why did he slam the door? If you listen, you’ll find out.

“Tartakovsky has the soul of a murderer, but he’s one of us. He sprang forth from us. He is our blood. He is our flesh, as if one mama had given birth to us. Half of Odessa works in his stores. Not to mention, his own Moldavankans have given him quite a bit of grief. They abducted him twice and held him for ransom, and once, during a pogrom, they buried him with chanters. The Slobodka4 thugs were beating up Jews on Bolshaya
Arnautskaya. Tartakovsky ran away from them and came across the funeral march with chanters on Sofiyskaya Street.

“ ‘Who are they burying with chanters?’ he asked.

“The passersby told him that Tartakovsky was being buried. The procession marched to the Slobodka Cemetery. Then our boys yanked a machine gun out of the coffin and started shooting at the Slobodka thugs. But Yid-and-a-Half had not foreseen this. Yid-and-a-Half got the fright of his life. What boss in his place would not have been frightened?

“A tenth raid on a man who had already been buried once was a crass deed. Benya, who back then wasn’t yet the King, knew this better than anyone else. But he said yes to Grach and on that very same day wrote Tartakovsky a letter, typical of those letters:

Most esteemed Rubin Osipovich,
I would be grateful if by the Sabbath you could place by the rainwater
barrel a …, and so on. Should you choose to refuse, which you have opted to
do lately, a great disappointment in your family life awaits you.
Respectfully yours,
Ben Zion Krik


Tartakovsky, not one to dither, was quick to answer:

Benya,
If you were an idiot, I would write you as to an idiot. But from what I know of you, you aren’t one, and may the Lord prevent me from changing my mind. You, as is plain to see, are acting like a boy. Is it possible that you are not aware that this year the crop in Argentina has been so good that we can stand on our heads but we still cant unload our wheat? And I swear to you on a stack of Bibles that I’m sick and tired of having to eat such a bitter crust of bread and witness such trouble after having worked all my life like the lowliest carter. And what do I have to show for my life sentence of hard labor? Ulcers, sores, worries, and no sleep! Drop your foolish thoughts, Benya.
Your friend, a far better one than you realize, Rubin Tartakovsky

“Yid-and-a-Half had done his part. He had written a letter. But the mail didnt deliver it to the right address. Getting no answer, Benya became angry. The following day he turned up at Tartakovsky s office with four friends. Four masked youths with revolvers burst into the room.

“ ‘Hands up!’ they shouted, waving their pistols.

“‘Not so loud, Solomon!’ Benya told one of the youths, who was yelling louder than the rest. ‘Dont get so jumpy on the job!’ and he turned to the shop assistant, who was white as death and yellow as clay, and asked him:

“ ‘Is Yid-and-a-Half in the factory?’

“‘He’s not in the factory/ said the shop assistant, whose family name
was Muginshtein, his first name Josif, and who was the unmarried son of Aunt Pesya, the chicken seller on Seredinskaya Square.

“‘So who’s in charge when the boss is out?’ they asked poor Muginshtein.

“ ‘I’m in charge when the boss is out/ the shop assistant said, green as green grass.

“‘In that case, with God’s help, please open the safe!’ Benya ordered, and a three-act opera began.

“Nervous Solomon stuffed money, papers, watches, and jewelry into a suitcase—the late Josif Muginshtein stood in front of him with his hands in the air, while Benya told stories from the life of the Jewish people.

“‘Well, ha! If he likes playing Rothschild/ Benya said about Tartakovsky, ‘then let him roast in hell! I ask you, Muginshtein, as one asks a friend: he gets my business letter—so how come he cant take a fivekopeck tram to come visit me at home, drink a shot of vodka with my family, and eat what God has seen fit to send us? What stopped him from baring his soul to me? Couldn’t he have said—Benya, you know, such and such, but heres my balance sheet, just give me a couple of days to catch my breath, to get things rolling—don’t you think I’d have understood? Pigs at a trough might not see eye to eye, but there is no reason why two grown men can’t! Do you see what I’m saying, Muginshtein?’

“ ‘I see what you’re saying,’ Muginshtein answered, lying, because he was at a loss as to why Yid-and-a-Half, a respected, wealthy man, one of the foremost men in town, should want to take a tram so he could have a bite to eat with the family of Mendel Krik, a carter.

“But all the time misfortune was loitering beneath the windows, like a beggar at dawn. Misfortune burst loudly into the office. And though this time it came in the guise of the Jew Savka Butsis, it was as drunk as a water carrier.

“‘Ooh, ooh, ah!’ Savka the Jew shouted. I’m sorry I’m so late, Benchik!’ And he stamped his feet and waved his hands. Then he fired, and the bullet hit Muginshtein in the stomach.

“Are words necessary here? There was a man, and now there’s none. An innocent bachelor, living his life like a little bird on a branch, and now he’s dead from sheer idiocy. In comes a Jew looking like a sailor and doesn’t
shoot at a bottle in a fairground booth to win a prize—he shoots at a living man! Are words necessary here?

“ ‘Everyone out!’ Benya shouted, and as he ran out last, managed to tell Butsis, ‘On my mother’s grave, Savka, you’ll be lying next to him!’ “So tell me, a young gentleman like you who cuts coupons on other people’s bonds, how would you have acted in Benya Krik’s position? You wouldn’t know what to do? Well, he did! That’s why he was King, while you and I are sitting here on the wall of the Second Jewish Cemetery, holding up our hands to keep the sun out of our eyes.

“Aunt Pesya’s unfortunate son didn’t die right away. An hour after they got him to the hospital, Benya turned up. He had the senior doctor called in and the nurse, and, without taking his hands out of the pockets of his cream-colored pants, told them, ‘I have a whole lot of interest that your patient, Josif Muginshtein, recovers. Just in case, let me introduce myself—Ben Zion Krik. Give him camphor, air cushions, a private room, from the depths of your heart! If you dont, then every doctor here, even if they re doctors of philosophy, will be doled out six feet of earth!’

“And yet, Muginshtein died that same night. It was only then that Yidand-a-Half raised hell in all Odessa. ‘Where do the police begin and Benya end?’ he wailed.

“The police end where Benya begins,’ levelheaded people answered, but Tartakovsky wouldn’t calm down, and to his amazement saw a red automobile with a music box for a horn playing the first march from the opera IPagliacci on Seredinskaya Square. In broad daylight the car raced over to the little house in which Aunt Pesya lived. Its wheels thundered, it spat smoke, gleamed brassily, reeked of gasoline, and honked arias on its horn. A man jumped out of the automobile and went into the kitchen where little Aunt Pesya was writhing on the earthen floor. Yid-and-a-Half was sitting on a chair waving his arms. ‘You ugly hooligan!’ he shouted, when he saw the man. ‘You damn bandit, may the earth spit you out! A nice style you’ve picked for yourself, going around murdering live people!’

“ ‘Monsieur Tartakovsky,’ Benya Krik said to him quietly. ‘For two days and nights I have been crying for the dear deceased as if he were my own brother. I know that you spit on my young tears. Shame on you, Monsieur Tartakovsky! What fireproof safe have you hidden your shame in? You had the heart to send a paltry hundred rubles to the mother of our dear deceased Josif. My hair, not to mention my brain, stood on end when I got word of this!’

“Here Benya paused. He was wearing a chocolate jacket, cream pants, and raspberry-red half boots.

“‘Ten thousand down!’ he bellowed. ‘Ten thousand down, and a pension till she dies—may she live to be a hundred and twenty! If it’s ‘no,’ then we leave this house together, Monsieur Tartakovsky, and go straight to my car!’
“Then they started arguing. Yid-and-a-Half swore at Benya. Not that I was present at this quarrel, but those who were, remember it well. They finally agreed on five thousand cash in hand, and fifty rubles a month.

“Aunt Pesya!’ Benya then said to the disheveled old woman rolling on the floor. ‘If you want my life, you can have it, but everyone makes mistakes, even God! This was a giant mistake, Aunt Pesya! But didn’t God Himself make a mistake when he settled the Jews in Russia so they could be tormented as if they were in hell? Wouldn’t it have been better to have the Jews living in Switzerland, where they would’ve been surrounded by first-class lakes, mountain air, and Frenchmen galore? Everyone makes mistakes, even God. Listen to me with your ears, Aunt Pesya! You’re
getting five thousand in hand and fifty rubles a month till you die—may you live to be a hundred and twenty! Josif’s funeral will be first-class. Six horses like lions, two hearses with garlands, chanters from the Brodsky Synagogue, and Minkovsky himself will come to chant the burial service for your departed son!’”

And the funeral took place the next morning. Ask the cemetery beggars about this funeral! Ask the synagogue shamases, the kosher poultry sellers, or the old women from the Second Poorhouse! Such a funeral Odessa had never seen, nor will the world ever see the like of it. On that day the policemen wore cotton gloves. In the synagogues, draped with greenery, their doors wide open, the electricity was on. Black plumes swayed on the white horses pulling the hearse. Sixty chanters walked in front of the procession. The chanters were boys, but they sang with women’s voices. The elders of the Kosher Poultry Sellers Synagogue led Aunt Pesya by the hand. Behind the elders marched the members of the Society of Jewish Shop Assistants, and behind the Jewish shop assistants marched the barristers, the doctors, and the certified midwives. On one side of Aunt Pesya were the chicken sellers from the Stary Bazaar, and on the other the esteemed dairymaids from the Bugayevka, wrapped in orange shawls. They stamped their feet like gendarmes on parade. From their broad hips came the scent of sea and milk. And behind them plodded Rubin Tartakovsky’s workers. There were a hundred of them, or two hundred, or two thousand. They wore black frock coats with silk lapels, and new boots that squeaked like piglets in a sack.

“And now I will speak as God spoke on Mount Sinai from the burning bush! Take my words into your ears. Everything I saw, I saw with my own eyes, sitting right here on the wall of the Second Cemetery, next to lisping
Moiseika and Shimshon from the funeral home. I, Arye-Leib, a proud Jew living among the dead, saw it with my own eyes.

“The hearse rolled up to the synagogue in the cemetery. The coffin was placed on the steps. Aunt Pesya was shaking like a little bird. The cantor climbed out of the carriage and began the funeral service. Sixty chanters supported him. And at that very moment the red automobile came flying around the corner. It was honking I Pagliacci and came to a stop. The people stood, silent as corpses. The trees, the chanters, the beggars stood silent. Four men got out from under the red roof, and with quiet steps carried to the hearse a wreath of roses of a beauty never before seen. And
when the funeral ended, the four men lifted the coffin onto their steel shoulders, and with burning eyes and protruding chests, marched with the members of the Society of Jewish Shop Assistants.

“In front walked Benya Krik, who back then nobody was yet calling the King. He was the first to approach the grave. He climbed onto the mound, and stretched out his arm.

“‘What are you doing, young man?’ Kofman from the Burial Brotherhood shouted, running up to him.

“ ‘I want to give a speech,’ Benya Krik answered.

“And he gave a speech. All who wanted to hear it heard it. I, Arye-Leib, heard it, as did lisping Moiseika, who was sitting next to me on the wall.

“ ‘Ladies and gentlemen,’ Benya Krik said. ‘Ladies and gentlemen/ he said, and the sun stood above his head, like a guard with a rifle. ‘You have come to pay your last respects to an honest toiler, who died for a copper half-kopeck. In my own name, and in the name of all those who are not present, I thank you. Ladies and gentlemen! What did our dear Josif see in his life? One big nothing! What did he do for a living? He counted someone else’s money. What did he die for? He died for the whole working class. There are men who are already doomed to die, and there are men who still have not begun to live. And suddenly a bullet, flying toward the doomed heart, tears into Josif, when all he has seen of life is one big nothing. There are men who can drink vodka, and there are men who can’t drink vodka but still drink it. The former get pleasure from the agony and joy, and the latter suffer for all those who drink vodka without being able to drink it.

Therefore, ladies and gentlemen, after we have prayed for our poor Josif, I ask you to accompany Saveli Butsis, a man unknown to you but already deceased, to his grave.

“Having finished his speech, Benya Krik came down from the mound. The people, the trees, and the cemetery beggars stood silent. Two gravediggers carried an unpainted coffin to an adjacent grave. The cantor, stuttering, ended the prayer. Benya threw the first spadeful of earth and walked over to Savka. All the barristers and ladies with brooches followed him like sheep. He had the cantor chant the full funeral rites for Savka, and sixty chanters sang with him. Savka had never dreamt of such a funeral— you can trust the word of Arye-Leib, an aged old man.

“Word has it that it was on that day that Yid-and-a-Half decided to close shop. Not that I myself was there. But I saw with my own eyes, the eyes of Arye-Leib—which is my name—that neither the cantor, nor the choir, nor
the Burial Brotherhood asked to get paid for the funeral. More I couldn’t see, because the people quietly slipped away from Savka’s grave and started running, as if from a fire. They flew off in carriages, in carts, and on foot.
And the four men who had arrived in the red automobile left in it. The musical horn played its march, the car lurched and hurtled off.

“ ‘The King!’ lisping Moiseika, who always grabs the best seat on the wall, said, following the car with his eyes.

“Now you know everything. You know who was the first to pronounce the word ‘King/ It was Moiseika. Now you know why he didn’t call one- eyed Grach that, nor raging Kolka. You know everything. But what use is it if you still have glasses on your nose and autumn in your heart? . . .”

1923—1924

Translated by Peter Constantine


Ilf and Petrov’s excellent adventure: a look back at Odessa writers’ 1935 trip in the USA


In 1935, the collaborative satirical writers Ilya Ilf (1897–1937) and Evgeny Petrov (1903–1942) travelled to the United States from the Soviet Union on assignment as special correspondents for the newspaper Pravda. The resulting book, “One-Storied America” (Odnoetazhnaya Amerika), was published in 1937 and for decades remained the only expose of contemporary America accessible to the Soviet readers.


Washington and Moscow had recently established diplomatic relations. The United States was mired in the Great Depression. The Stalinist terror was about to get under way in the Soviet Union. World War II was just a few years away.

Such was the state of the world when Soviet journalists Ilya Ilf and Yevgeny Petrov set out in November 1935 to discover America as correspondents for the Communist mouthpiece “Pravda.”

Shortly after their arrival in New York aboard the Fr­ench luxury liner  Normandie, they purchased a Ford automobile and embarked upon a ten-week road trip to California and back. Ilf and Petrov visited America as literary tourists, stopping at major attractions, staying in tourist motels, consulting with AAA for travel advice, and relying upon Russian-speaking tour guides to smooth their way. Like a good tourist, Ilf extensively recorded his trip with his Leica camera. Shortly after their return to the Sovie­t Union, the popular illustrated news magazine Ogonek, a Soviet analogue to Time magazine, published a series of illustrated articles entitled “American Photographs.” Individual installments featured such thematic topics as the road, the small town, Native Americans, Hollywood (where they spent two weeks writing a screenplay for Lewis Milestone), advertising, African-Americans and New York City.

“I first learned of Ilf’s photographs from a review of “American Photographs” written by Alexander Rodchenko in 1936. I was intrigued by the images reproduced with the review: shots of rural highways and road signs that brought to mind the Depression-era images of Walker Evans. Curiously, the title of this series is id­entical to Evans’s American Photographs, a landmark book in the history of photography published by the Museum of Modern Art in 1938.”

(Erika Wolf)

Ilf and Petrov’s journey was also the subject of their final major collaborative project, Odnoetazhnaia Amerika [“Single-Storied America”]. An account of their road trip through the United States, the book expands and incorporates into the travel narrative some of the topical themes first developed in “American Photographs.” The first edition of the book was supposed to feature Ilf’s photographs, but for reasons that remain unknown it was published without any illustrations. Given the political climate in the Soviet Union in 1937, with the onset of the Terror, it is surprising that even an unillustrated version of a book that lovingly satirizes the United States was published. Sadly, both authors died within the next decade. During the trip, Ilf developed his first symptoms of tuberculosis; he passed a­way just as the first edition of the book appeared in print in 1937. Petrov perished in a plane crash while working as a war correspondent in 1942.


Extract and pictures from the book:

On the fifth day of a journey across the Atlantic Ocean, we saw the gigantic buildings of New York. Before us was America. But when we had been in New York for a week and, as it seemed to us, we began to understand America, we were quite unexpectedly told that New York is not at all America. They told us that New York is a bridge between Europe and America, and that we were still situated on the bridge. Then we went to Washington, being steadfastly convinced that the capital of the United States is indisputably America. We spent a day there, and by evening we managed to fall in love with this purely American city. However, on that very same evening we were told that Washington was under no circumstances America. They told us that this was a town of governmental bureaucrats and that America was something quite different. Perplexed, we travelled to Hartford, a city in the state of Connecticut, where the great American writer Mark Twain spent his mature years. Much to our horror, the local residents told us in unison that Hartford was also not genuine America. They said that the genuine America was the Southern states, while others affirmed that it was the Western ones. Several didn’t say anything but vaguely pointed a finger into space. We then decided to work according to a plan: to drive around the entire country in an automobile, to traverse it from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific and to return along a different route, along the Gulf of Mexico, calculating that indeed somewhere we would be sure to find America. We returned to New York, purchased a Ford (transportation in one’s own automobile is the least expensive means of travel in the United States), insured it and ourselves, and on a chilly November morning we left New York for America.

For the course of two months before our eyes were roads of white concrete, black asphalt, or gray granular gravel and saturated with heavy oil. At first we were enraptured by these magnificent roads, then we got used to them and then we even got angry, if sometimes due to the repair of a route, we happened to make a small detour on some bumpy bit of old, pock-marked road.

The roads are one of the most splendid phenomena of American life. By December of last year in the United States, there were one and a half million so-called highways: big roads along which autobuses travel day and night according to fixed schedules.

In the east of the country, where automobile traffic is especially heavy, three-lane iron-reinforced concrete roads are prevalent, thousands of miles ruled out with thick white lines. Two lanes for traffic, a middle lane for passing. The closer you get to a city, the wider the road becomes. Its lines run out from under the wheels of the automobile multiplying in number every minute, like railway tracks that increase tenfold upon nearing the proximity of a big train station.

This photograph [above] shows the approach to the city of San Diego, California. This state is proud of its roads and in advertising prospectuses it never fails to mention them. However, we found such roads on the outskirts of all more or less large American cities.

Sometimes, especially in the mountains or national parks, we were suddenly enraptured by the emerging landscapes. Each turn of the road obligingly opened to us newer and newer perspectives of a beautiful view. The road, furthermore, led us from one landscape to another. It demonstrated nature to the traveler with the skill of an artist displaying pictures to a visitor at an exhibition.

This type of road has its own special designation: scenic road, painterly road. Such roads are laid out with a special aim: to show nature to the traveler, so that it will not fall to his lot to scramble up cliffs in search of a proper observation point, so that the necessary quantity of emotion may be obtained without getting out of the automobile.

Without getting out of the car, the traveler may similarly obtain the necessary quantity of gasoline at the service stations, which stand in the thousands along American roads.

The tank is full. It’s possible to quietly travel onward. However, the gentleman in the striped service cap and leather bowtie does not let the traveler go. The famous American service begins. The man from the gas station opens the car’s hood, checks the oil and water. Then he checks the air pressure in the tires. However, he does not consider his mission complete with this. He wipes the windscreen of the car with a cloth. If the glass is very dirty, he wipes it with a special powder. And then, everything is in order. But now, softened by the service, the traveler himself no longer wants to depart. It seems to him that the hatch of the automobile is not slamming shut tightly enough.

Benevolently smiling, the gentleman extracts a tool from his hind pocket and in two minutes the door is in order! It’s possible to go. But he doesn’t want to. He wants service, a little more of this wonderful and, more importantly, free service. The traveller asks what is the best way to get to a nearby town. In response to this, he receives a first-class map of the state, upon which the man from the gas station sketches the further route of the motorist. On the reverse side of the map are the names of hotels and tourist homes. Also listed are noteworthy places that will be encountered on the road. And all of this is a free bonus for purchasing gasoline. With regret, the traveler abandons the hospitable station attendant, comforting himself only when after 100 miles the gasoline runs low, and when at that very minute it runs low, a new gas station appears without fail on the road, where he is met by the same hospitable man in a striped cap and leather bowtie.

After every thousand miles, it is necessary to change the oil in the motor and to lubricate the engine. This costs $1.50 dollars. A painful moment! “It seems that we recently changed the oil,” says the traveller with sadness.

The usual gentleman with the leather bowtie raises the car on a special stand and suggests that the traveler take a stroll in town. In exactly an hour, the car is again on the ground, more truly on the asphalt. Now it is possible to quietly drive another thousand miles.

A foreigner, not having mastered the English language, may venture onto the American road with an easy spirit. He does not risk getting lost. On these roads it is possible even for a child or a deaf mute to drive independently.

The roads are carefully numbered. The numbers are encountered so often that to get lost on a route is simply impossible. Sometimes two roads come together for a while as one. Then two numbers appear on the pole: the number of the federal road above, and the number of the state road below it.

Sometimes five, seven, or even ten roads come together. Then the quantity of numbers grows along with the pole to which they are attached.

There are many different signs on the road. They are placed close to the ground on the right side, so that they always fall into the driver’s field of vision. They are never tentative and do not require any decipherment. In America you never encounter anything like a mysterious blue triangle in a red square, a sign that it is possible to spend hours racking one’s brain upon trying to figure out the meaning.

The arrow shown in the photograph marks a turn to the left. It is equipped with small circular mirrors that reflect the light of automobile headlamps at night. In this way the sign is self-illuminating. The big black inscription on the yellow ground (it is the most noticeable color) signifies “Slow!” In a similar manner, simply and clearly, are composed the road signs “School Zone,” “Stop,” “Danger,” “Narrow Bridge,” “Speed Limit 15 MPH,” or “Pothole in 300 Feet.” You can rest assured that in exactly 300 feet there will be a pothole. However, such notices appear just as rarely as do potholes.

At the intersections of roads stand columns with thick wooden arrows that indicate directions. On them are the names of towns and the number of miles to these towns.

In the town of San Antonio, Texas, posters hang under the traffic lights at each intersection: “40 traffic deaths for 1935 in San Antonio. Drive carefully!” Sometimes it is possible to observe a rather dark humour in inscriptions of this sort. In the east, we saw along a road the sign: “Drive carefully. Cemetery after the bend.”

By the way, about cemeteries…

Here is the type of cemetery that is encountered most often in America. It is an automobile cemetery.

Taking the place of the old automobiles leaving service are new ones.

This quickly moving, strange-at-first-glance contraption [above] turns out to be a truck with a trailer on which are placed automobiles fresh from the factory. One truck simultaneously carries three or four cars. And this turns out to be cheaper than transporting automobiles by railroad.

In general, a railroad trip in America is an expensive thing. A passenger bus is twice as cheap.

At any time of the day, at any time of the year, on any road, passenger buses with sleeping facilities furiously race across America. They go according to schedule, with a speed of 70 to 80 kilometers an hour.

When at night you see a heavy and menacing automobile flying across the desert, you are involuntarily reminded of Bret Harte’s postal diligences, steered by desperate coachmen.

This picture [above] should be captioned as follows: “Here, this is America!”

And, indeed, when you close your eyes and try to rekindle memories of this country where you spent four months, you don’t imagine yourself in Washington with its gardens, columns, and full collection of monuments, nor in New York with its skyscrapers and its poor and rich, nor in San Francisco with its steep streets and suspension bridges, nor in the mountains, factories, or canyons, but at such an intersection of two roads and a gasoline station against a ground of wires and advertising signs.


Translated by Erika Wolf

Photos by Ilya Ilf. Reproduction of photographs courtesy Sasha Ilf.


“Gypsies”, Odessa 1990. Photographer Ljalja Kuznetsova


Her heroes are human beings who can be close to the heart of anyone, they touch us with their timelessness. Ljalja Kuznetsova is a poet who knows his craft and enriches our lives with the gift of her works. “Gypsies”, Odessa 1990.


Over time, photographs take us from wandering gypsies living in tents on the steppe to gypsy settlements outside of such big cities as Odessa. Now there are houses and the feeling of a closed space … This is not only the world of the gypsies. Other people appear in the frame: Uzbeks and Tatars, actors of traveling circuses. They are renegades, who keep or are held by fate off the highway that tempts millions to move to big cities. Ljalja Kuznetsova also remains in her beloved province and continues to film life in places built to human standards.

Lyalya Kuznetsova, a Bulgar woman, was born in 1946 in the city of Uralsk (Kazakhstan). Graduated from the State Kazan Aviation Institute. She worked as an engineer and took up photography in the late 1970s. Since 1978, she worked as a photographer at the Kazan State Museum of Arts. Participated in meetings of photographers in Lithuania, and in the late 70s she was admitted to the Union of Lithuanian Photo Artists. In the early 80s, she worked as a photographer for the newspaper Vechernyaya Kazan, dealing with issues of modern fashion. Since that time, Lyalya Kuznetsova became an independent photographer and lived with orders for the republican fashion house of Tatarstan.

Since the mid-80s, her work was repeatedly exhibited and published in Europe and the United States, including at The Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington. Participant of the InterPhoto festival (1996) in Moscow. At the end of the 70s, Kuznetsova removed one of the last gypsy camps in the USSR (in Turkmenistan), a little later her gypsy series continued in the Odessa steppes.

Odessa 1990
Odessa 1990
Uralsk, 1979
Odessa 1990
Odessa 1990