While I visited Odessa, I had dinner at a restaurant called “Captain Morgan”. It had my first taste of absinthe there (at the time you could not buy absinthe in the US), they had wi-fi, and their take on Vietnamese salad was almost passable.
The address of the building where “Captain Morgan” is located now is Resihlyevskaya street 17. Named after Odessa’s first and most beloved governor, Duc de Richelieu, it was always one of the oldest and most prestigious streets, sort of Odessa’s Madison avenue. (Pushkin street is 5th ave, Deribasovskaya – Broadway.) During Soviet times Resihlyevskaya was renamed into Lenin street, now the old name is back.
There were two things for which 17 Lenin street was famous. First of all, it was Isaac Babel’s childhood home. Secondly, it housed a large bookstore unimaginatively called “Technical Book Store.” On the other hand everybody called it “Two Elephants”, which was a bit of a mystery, since there were no elephants to be found there, only a very large selection of technical books and a top-notch stationery section.
The name came from the fact that before a renovation that happened sometime in the 60s, there were two giant life size papier-mache elephants reaching to the top of the ceiling in the store. Before the revolution it was a high end toy store.
I recently learned that it used to belong to my great grandfater, Moses Zayderbit. He had enough sense to voluntarily hand the store over to the Bolsheviks, and even managed to get a job there.
While my other great-grandfather looked a bit like Seth Bullock, great-grandpa Moses looked a little bit like Roger Sterling from Mad Men:
So, last year I was drinking absinthe and checking email in what used to be my great-grandfather’s toy store without knowing it.
I borrowed some pictures from my grand-aunt for scanning. Amongst them was this awesome picture of my great-grandfather.
In the picture he looks very much like Seth Bullock. Here are for comparison pictures of great-gramps, Timothy Oliphant as Seth Bullock in HBO’s Deadwood, and the original Seth Bullock.
In reality my grand-grandfather was more of a Sol Star character. I learned from my grand-aunt that he studied to become a bridge builder, but his father refused to support him because in that profession he would have to work and study on Saturdays (great-great-grandfather was very religious). Instead, grand-grandpa was forced to enter the family business which was, just like for Seth Bullock and Sol Star – a hardware store. He became rather wealthy, owning 3 hardware stores at some point.
Then during the Bolshevik Revolution his hardware stores were nationalized and he became a lishenets. Thinking on his feet, he made a quick trip to Kiev and quickly learned the photography trade. That was a pretty good profession and it allowed him to support his large family in the Soviet times as well.
Amongst the pictures I found a photo of my dad (looking eerily similar to myself at that age) wearing a flat cap, just like an outstanding comic book character The Goon.
I wonder if in the age of flying cars, teleportation, personal robots, spaceship yachts and the like, someone will post a picture of me on the interplanetary network and marvel at my new-media-blue shirt, fatness (I believe by then they’ll solve this problem) and a cubicle with a primitive computer in the background.