MOSCOW

 

Letter from D.
or
My First Russian Arrest

Riding in a bus on a wide wide street, lined with monstrous industrial buildings and huge signs with nothing but stars on them, we came across a lovely nuclear plant, It came fully furnished with two red and white smoke stacks and four massive cooling towers. Being the diligent filmmakers we are, we promptly disembarked and proceeded to risk our lives by crossing Moscow traffic to an insanely decrepit gas station with a fortress/cashier cage. A large blonde woman was sitting inside. Actually she might not have been that large - I couldn't really tell, seeing as the only way to communicate with her was through a very small rectangular slot, the size of a fat magic marker. I could mostly just make some ill-applied orange lipstick and an overdyed coiffure. Well, that's all besides the point.

I started taking photographs of those massive, steaming stacks behind the gas station, and Jesper and Juris wandered off to get some more perfect angle for the 16mm camera (a Russian thing of truly bewildering design). When suddenly, from I'm not too sure where, these three Russian men, all mysteriously wearing very thick coke-bottle glasses and yellow or beige suits, carrying briefcases that looked a bit worse-for-wear, started talking to me in a belligerent manner, a few inches from my face. Obviously, I didn't know what the fuck they were saying, until one guy just started saying "bad, bad, bad." As it turns out, they were pretty drunken, which is the norm (vodka is cheaper here than bottled water), and employees of this nuclear plant. And were fucking with, first me, and eventually Juris and Jesper, about photographing their top-secret buildings. One of them then went back to the plant and brought back with him all of these uniformed guards who also proceeded to yell and speak belligerently, mostly to Juris who had the misfortune of being able to understand them. Well, Juris, being the calm, diplomatic young man that he is just shouted and gesticulated back, making all of the coke-bottle glasses guys and guards very red in the face. Of course, Jesper and I had no fucking clue what was going on, until they started to try and drag Juris toward the building. They failed, as Jesper and I became adamant, and I tried to find a phone to call the embassy once we realized that they had called the KGB. As it turns out, there was no pay phone in the vicinity, but a messenger had come out from the plant in the meantime saying that the KGB were not going to come but the Moscow police were on their way.

Things were looking a bit despairing. We were still making the plant guys very mad in our determination not to go inside the plant which seemed certain to result in a prolonged stay in some dark cold room without a toilet which was a major issue for me because I had to pee really fucking badly. So anyway, after standing our ground for about an hour, and drawing a crowd of drunken onlookers, the police came in a small, unmarked three cylinder car. They had huge guns and we all got in the back seat, plus one of the officers, and two in the front. We were driven by a maniacal cop who turned corners at about 50 mph and just drove on the wrong side of the road if traffic annoyed him, so that all of the oncoming cars had to swerve wildly to avoid us. This is, mind you, the normal manner of operating a vehicle in Moscow. Eventually we arrived at a sad looking station on the ground floor of a tenement building. Everything was made of peeling cheap wall-board that was about 50 years old and sickly colored wall paper. There was a sort of office area behind a piece of fogged plexi-glass covered with the curved scratches left by years of matches being dragged across it. One officer, my hero, led me down labrithyne hallways to the women's toilet. He sat outside and waited with his gun across his knees. We waited on a wooden bench for a long while. All the cops inhaled cigarettes. A young guy was made to remove a good deal of his clothing (a sweat-suit; the national dress) so he could be checked for concealed weapons. I was embarrassed and looked instead at the smoke drifting to the ceiling. So eventually, this more important looking guy comes and asks for ID's and starts questioning Juris. It was pretty brief, he basically found out that we were a Latvian with a California ID, an American with an Icelandic ID, and a Swede with no ID at all, and just got disgusted and told us to get the hell out of there, and not to shoot at the plant again. So... my first Russian arrest. We naturally went back and got our shot anyway, but it felt very unimpressive after all of the turmoil we went through to get 30 seconds of image.

- Deborah