Bishopsgate Institute asked me to join Diane Burstein, London guide and author of ‘London Then and Now’, on today’s Sunday morning stroll around the East End markets – Petticoat Lane, Spitalfields, Brick Lane, Cheshire Street, Columbia Road. Mind-blowing how the area and the markets have changed since I moved to London 12 years ago. But then again, many people keep reminding me how different it was decades ago. London is always on the move..
Last month I reconnected with the places of my childhood holidays – Lviv and the Carpathian mountains in Western Ukraine. This area (former Galicia) was for centuries on the crossroads between Middle and Eastern Europe, and so it is small wonder that it has become a melting pot of people and cultures – Ukrainian, Jewish, Polish, Armenian, Belorussian, Lithuanian, Romanian, German.
The outbound trip started with an early flight from Stansted to Rzeszow (the most south-eastern Ryanair destination town of Poland) followed by a 2hour bus journey to Przemyśl. There I found a cozy little cafe with the titles of dishes scribbled on the wall (in Polish only) and after a few minutes of hesitated multi-lingual interaction I was presented with some superb soup followed by a much needed delicious coffee. Next leg of the journey involved a mini-bus to the Polish-Ukranian border that I crossed by foot. All that was rather emotional for me – as a 14-year old I crossed the border of Ukraine and Slovakia on my first Russian passport (Soviet template actually). It was my first ever time travelling to *Europe* and the excitement was overwhelming. Now, 20 years later, I was travelling the opposite direction on my British passport reliving childhood memories in the light of two decades of wanderings. I boarded another mini-bus on the Ukrainian side and was told that in an hour and a half I would arrive in Lviv where I was to join my friend Olesya, the very one who prompted me to come here and now.
To follow were days of peeping into courtyards of old Lviv, walking the cobble streets, climbing onto the roofs opposite the former Golden Rose synagogue in Staroyevreyska street, wandering in the Lychakivskiy Cemetery reading mournful tributes inscribed in Ukrainian, Russian, German, Polish, Armenian, Latin. And of course there were poetry readings, music and late night discussions. Olesya bought a newly printed Ukrainian edition of Dvoyre Fogel poetry with illustrations and that was the start of our collaboration, our voyage to explore text, images and sounds of Fogel’s work and life.
Dvoyre Fogel was born in 1902 in Burshtyn (Galicia) in a non-observant, Polish-speaking home. During WWI the family fled to Vienna and later moved to Lviv. She traveled extensively in Europe and was part of the vibrant Polish modernist scene of the interwar period. It was in Lviv where Fogel wrote poems in Yiddish in the 1930s that reflected the radical and minimalistic outlook that all art aspired toward during this period in history. Her experiment in poetry was mostly about fusing poetry and art. She called this technique ‘white words’ and described it as an attempt to “create a new lyric poetry of the urban condition”. Together with her husband and son, Fogel was killed in the Lviv ghetto in 1942.
Around 1930 Dvoyre Fogel became acquainted with the Polish Jewish writer and artist Bruno Schulz who was as yet unpublished. The two developed a close relationship and carried on an intensive correspondence. It was Fogel who encouraged Schulz to develop the lyrical postscripts to his letters, passages that became the basis for his first publication “Cinnamon Shops” (1934), published in English as “Street of the Crocodiles.” Half a century later brothers Quay created a stop-motion animation based on this short novel. Ironically, Fogel is better known today for her connection with Schulz than for her own unique and innovative poetic vision. Very little of her work has been translated into Russian and Ukrainian, none into English.
The first letter (survived and translated into Russian by Dana Pinczewska) Fogel sent to Schulz starts like this:
21.V.1938 Бруно! Декорация этого письма – Сколе.
Bruno! The background scenery of this letter is Skole.
And here I am, on the early morning train from Lviv to the Carpathian mountains, not yet knowing of this letter, following my own story reconnecting with the places of my childhood. I doze off and when I open my eyes I am blinded by the sun breaking through the clouds, next what I see is the station building with ‘Skole’ on it exactly how I remember it when I was a kid.
The letter continues:
Твое последнее письмо вернуло мне давний образ осеннего ландо, на котором мы должны были вместе уехать в красочную страну. Запах путешествия обладает неотразимым очарованием и странным образом всегда ассоциируется с образом кого-то другого, спутника. Затем оказывается, что хорошо быть одному, совсем хорошо быть более чем одному — быть одиноким, оставленным, безнадежно отданным на милость оставленности и бездомности. Тогда «видится» хорошо.
Your last letter brought back the distant image of the autumnal landau which should have taken us to a beautiful far away land. The smell of the journey has an irresistible charm, and strangely, it makes me think of someone else, of a companion. But then it turns out that it is so good to be on my own, and what is even better is to be alone, deserted, left at the mercy of abandonment and homelessness. Then one can ‘see’ well.
to be continued – watch this space!
During June and July 2015 Alexandra Palace commissioned me to run a photography course ‘Give Your Future a Shot” for young people 16-25 as a part of their ‘War on the Home Front’ exhibition. This project, inspired by the use of Alexandra Palace as a refugee and internment camp during the First World War, was aimed at teaching participants how to use photography to give themselves a voice, uniting and intertwining this interesting period of history with the lives, experiences, and stories of young people today. Read more here.
The London Radical Bookfair 2015 in their second year running championed radical publishing – from its independent bookshops and publishers to its DIY-ers; the small press, self-publishers, and zinesters.
The LRB took over Bishopsgate Institute last year as the first event of its kind to bring together UK’s radical publishing and self-publishing communities. It was a joy and a privilege to be asked by Nik Górecki from Housmans Bookshop to document the fair once again, this time in a renovated Victorian warehouse at 47/49 Tanner Street near Tower Bridge.
Alan Gilbey, curator/guide, BAFTA Award-winning writer and East End guru:
‘Tales From The Ditch’ is an anthology of tales less told from London’s ‘little bit of rough’, as narrated by an eclectic selection of local authors, historians, storytellers and musicians, who were hidden in all the nooks and crannies of the basement of Shoreditch Town Hall. Each of these performances is a miniature, lasting five minutes, before bells are rung and you have to move on to find the next one. It’s a bit like speed dating, except you don’t have an awkward bit at the end where London history tries to get your phone number.
© Asya Gefter
There was a pub and a bit of a sing-song. An opium den clouded with myth. A musical melodrama about ‘A Child Of The Jago.’ A clinic where you could feel the health giving powers of electricity and sunlight.
Who created the Ditch? Perhaps Shoreditch Council just sheered the tops off a lot of Victorian houses and dumped an Edwardian Town Hall on top? With its winding corridors and sudden dead ends, secret staircases and non-sequiter windows, it is the perfect geophysical venue for a myth defying night of Eastside stories.
‘It’s the rich wot get the pleasure and the poor wot get the rich.
All of us are lying in the gutter, but some of us are dreaming of The Ditch.’
Yesterday we got the news that the film made the competition’s official TOP 15 list and will be screened this Saturday afternoon at 1.30pm as part of a special programme at One Stop Film Shop, being held in partnership with Little White Lies in Old Street Station.
Hope to see you there for screenings of Top 15 short films about London!
‘You’ve got to grower a thicker skin’, many of us hear all too often. Horrible news pour from everywhere and so we empathise in small dozes, immunise ourselves and carry on.
Fortunately, these Nigerian girls do not live in the north-east where abductions take place. I am so grateful to have met them. Now when I feel powerless and angry at what is going on in the world, I look at their faces and remind myself that the news are about real people.
© Asya Gefter
Rowan Arts have asked me to photograph the annual May Day gathering on Camberwell Green for their Clerkenwell History project. The Muscovite in me had mixed feelings on the day when a display of Soviet-era-like ceremony took place on Red Square, for the first time since 1991. But Britain is Britain, and here are the many beautiful faces of Londoners.
© Asya Gefter