Following an utterly incomprehensible turn of events I find myself standing next to a reception desk on a boat. It looks a lot like your average hotel reception area, if somewhat smaller. The nearby stairs are far steeper than any hotel outside of the Netherlands would ever allow. I am wearing a tie, in my hand is a microphone. I have a nametag weighing on my lapel. That's new. There is a line of people, mostly older, British, stretching away from the desk and disappearing down a corridor. They appear very tired.
I know I've read too much Bulgakov (if you haven't you should) but that doesn't explain much. The two girls behind the reception desk are chatting in Russian. I have no idea what they are saying.
I have been a college student and a paralegal and even a squatter in Berlin. Nothing has prepared me for this. It is 1996. I am the Passenger Services Manager. My boat is the M/V Sergei Kirov. It is an East German built boat, intended to hold upwards of 220 vacationing socialists. It is named for the one-time head of the St. Petersburg branch of the Communist Party. He was killed by his good friend Stalin, and made a hero. Now the ship has been re-purposed (though not re-named) to hold a smaller number of vacationing capitalists.
As it happens, I signed up for this. And as it happens, I learn to love it. I love the work, but I love the country even more. Sometimes I work 16 hour days. I get very stressed out. I drink too much (though never alone.) I learn the language. I see some of the most beautiful sights in Russia--and contrary to popular opinion there are many. I am exhausted, and lie down to sleep almost every chance I get. On those rare occasions when I am not sleeping, or working, or drinking, I am wandering, sometimes stumbling, through the streets of various Russian cities. My camera is in my pocket, or in my hand. I am shy about taking pictures of people, so my camera stays in my pocket more often than it should. It doesn't really do any good there and isn't particularly comfortable either.
I end up working in 1996, 1997, 1998, and again for a brief stint in 1999. For this remarkable opportunity I am indebted to the late Matt Cole. I hope Matt knew how much he had done for me by getting me this job. I could never have repaid him sufficiently, but still thank him quietly when I ride my bike past his old apartment at Haight and Baker.
This is how I came to take photographs in Russia the first time around. I'm still trying to figure out how to do it the second time around....