American Photographs: The Road
January 1, 2005 1:20 PM   Subscribe

American Photographs: The Road "In 1935, the collaborative satirical writers Ilya Ilf (1897-1937) and Evgeny Petrov (1903-1942) traveled to the United States from the Soviet Union on assignment as special correspondents for the newspaper 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."
posted by todd (25 comments total)
 
Wonderful link--I am surprised at how positive the Russians were. I know 1935 was pre-Cold War, but still I expected more comments on social injustice and the like, especially as this was during the Depression.
posted by LarryC at 1:42 PM on January 1, 2005


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.
Man, we were so cool back then. Awesome stuff...
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 1:52 PM on January 1, 2005


Great link, thanks todd.
posted by sellout at 1:56 PM on January 1, 2005


Thanks!

That struck me, too, LarryC. I figured there'd be lots of breadlines and Okies and stodgy harangues about capitalist jackals. The reality is far more interesting. The caption for the last shot -- strip mall, ca. 1934 -- is both perceptive and depressing. "Here, this is America!" Yep.
posted by vetiver at 2:03 PM on January 1, 2005


Absolutely wonderful. Thank you.

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! Heh.
posted by miss lynnster at 2:12 PM on January 1, 2005


Great stuff. Thanks for that.

In the cities of Cyprus, you catch glimpses of really old cars tucked away behind the Japanese imports, they are wonderful to look at. If I was more mechanically minded and richer I'd love to do one up.
posted by Navek Rednam at 2:32 PM on January 1, 2005


The caption for the last shot -- strip mall, ca. 1934 -- is both perceptive and depressing. "Here, this is America!" Yep.

Yes, because the Soviet system is clearly superior. Oh, BTW, that's a service station, you moron.
posted by keswick at 2:32 PM on January 1, 2005


That is a service station, but I don't think you have to carry around a little red book to think strip malls are depressing. Unless tanning parlors and Applebee's are somehow places that you enjoy.
posted by BigFatWhale at 2:47 PM on January 1, 2005


wtf is that about, keswick? how do you take offense to that?
posted by five fresh fish at 2:52 PM on January 1, 2005


Yes, I think most of us agree that strip malls suck, but what the fuck do strip malls have to do this thread?

Oh, that's right, nothing. Spread the Amerikkka hate elsewhere, mmmkay?
posted by keswick at 2:53 PM on January 1, 2005


Angry much?
posted by miss lynnster at 3:25 PM on January 1, 2005


Knee jerk much, keswick?

The photo shows the 1930s equivalent of today's strip mall. Sorry I didn't spell that out for the more obtuse readers.

Perceptive: This was the American image the writer remembered most clearly –- not the skyscrapers of Manhattan or the mountains of the west or any of the other landmarks she mentions. In fact, we are a car culture, as the past 70 years have shown. How did she spot it so early?

Depressing: While I admire and cherish what we (the collective American we) have accomplished, I don't see our overwhelming dependence on the automobile as an unmitigated good. Is that too nuanced a view for you to comprehend?

Nothing I've said here or earlier bashes America (why do you spell it with ks? seems disrespectful) or lauds the deservedly defunct Soviet Union. Nor does anything in the original Commie-composed caption. As you'd know if you'd actually go and look at what we're talking about instead of lashing out at a total stranger for no good reason and thereby demonstrating your hair-trigger jackassery.
posted by vetiver at 3:35 PM on January 1, 2005


the roadside attraction that I noticed was the figure of a hanging man above left of the slow sign. maybe a simulacra
strange fruit and all that. neat post.
posted by hortense at 4:18 PM on January 1, 2005


Thanks so much for this link. Ilf and Petrov's Twelve Chairs is one of the funniest novels I've ever read, and was the highlight of an otherwise dreary soviet literature class I took in college. I remember the professor mentioning this article and saying that rather than it being a critique or satire of America, (like the Twelve Chairs was of Russia) it was actually quite sincere and optimistic. I really happy to finally read the original article.

Oh, and Vetiver, I totally agree that they nailed it with the "here, this is America" photo.
posted by crystal.castles at 4:31 PM on January 1, 2005


The photo shows the 1930s equivalent of today's strip mall. Sorry I didn't spell that out for the more obtuse readers.

Nope, sorry. There was no equivalent of a strip mall in 1930. Asserting there was such a thing shows your vast ignorance of American history and makes you look like the kneejerk idiot.

In fact, we are a car culture, as the past 70 years have shown. How did she spot it so early?

WE WERE NOT WHEN THIS PHOTO WAS TAKEN. True car culture did not exist until the 50s. Until then, you'll find that trains and ships were the most popular method of transit for goods and people.

... I don't see our overwhelming dependence on the automobile as an unmitigated good.

Who says I do?

But far be it from me to tread on your America bashing. Maybe Matt should change MeFi's color to red and gold?
posted by keswick at 6:12 PM on January 1, 2005


Spread the Amerikkka hate elsewhere, mmmkay?

Someone's still drunk from last night...
posted by rushmc at 6:26 PM on January 1, 2005


You do go off really fast, don't you, keswick? This must be frustrating for you and your partners.

You also seem to be unable to comprehend analogies or contextual inference or anything beyond the literal meaning of words. If I tell you to go fuck yourself, will you attempt it? I certainly hope so.
posted by vetiver at 6:33 PM on January 1, 2005


Red and gold?

You think we're ancient Romans?
posted by Bugbread at 7:04 PM on January 1, 2005 [1 favorite]


Can't we all just... get along?
posted by miss lynnster at 10:05 PM on January 1, 2005


Meanwhile, back on topic....

The famous American service begins.

Was it the original Back to the Future movie where there is a bemused Michael J. Fox at a gas station, and something like three guys come out and check under the hood, tire pressure, all that? I can vaguely remember my mom getting service like that as late as the 60s (or maybe even 70s). By then, it was considered bad form to have someone look under your hood without your asking if you were a guy.
posted by Doohickie at 10:43 PM on January 1, 2005


Oh, and todd... great link. I read it all the way through, which is something I don't often do with MeFi links. It was only one link in the fpp, but a damned fine one.
posted by Doohickie at 10:45 PM on January 1, 2005


10.0  9.8  9.9  10.0  9.7

Vetiver has taken Gold in the insult Olympics.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:58 PM on January 1, 2005


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

Some things never change.

Nice find, Todd.
posted by ori at 12:09 AM on January 2, 2005


Wonderful link. In the unlikely event anyone here 1) can read Russian and 2) doesn't already know how to find it, here is the complete text of their book based on the trip, Odnoetazhnaya Amerika ('One-Story America') -- no photos, alas. Glancing through it, I was struck by a passage near the start of Chapter Six ("Papa and Mama"); having been told that they will need letters of introduction ("they explained to us that America is a land of letters of introduction"), they approach American acquaintances in Moscow, beginning with Walter Duranty, the Moscow correspondent of the New York Times. After writing a letter ("with unbelievable speed"), Duranty tells them: "Go to America! It's more interesting than Russia now. Here everything's going upward, everything has been explained. But with us it's become unclear, and nobody knows what's going to happen." You might think, well, a couple of Soviet writers are putting words in Duranty's mouth, except that Duranty famously covered up the facts about the terrible famines caused by collectivization, presenting the Soviet Union as a progressive, admirable place in his dispatches, so I can well believe he said exactly that, the swine.

I think the publication of this favorable portrait of America is explained by the fact that in 1935 the Comintern proclaimed the Popular Front policy, reversing years of anti-capitalist propaganda in the interest of a united front against fascism. (It lasted only until 1939, when Stalin reversed course again and made an alliance with Hitler.)
posted by languagehat at 9:12 AM on January 2, 2005


The caption for the last shot -- strip mall, ca. 1934 -- is both perceptive and depressing. "Here, this is America!" Yep.

I don't see what's depressing, my reaction was positive, like these guys were saying hey, here's the real people without pretension. Wouldn't you like to walk on in and catch some straight talk from the locals? I think it'd be great to find out what regular folks really thought about things at that particular time and place.

Anyhow cool post, I always likes the photos....
posted by scheptech at 12:06 PM on January 2, 2005


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