This story began with an archival photo that I pulled out at random. The caption to the photo gave me the main clue to determine where the photo was taken from.
Studying archival maps and photos from the 1930s, I was at a loss for conjecture. I settled on the idea that the church in the distance was the Smolny Cathedral and went to Okhtinsky Cape.
My search started from the Ladozhskaya metro station. It was a trip back in time for me: nine years ago I had lived in this neighborhood. My daily commute to work and back home passed through the subway. I walked along the blank concrete fences through the crowds of people. The crowd set a fast rhythm for walking.
I reached the Oakkerville River, and then the bustle changed to calm. Along the river, mothers with strollers and couples strolled by. Everyone was walking leisurely, and the noise of the road died down. I could hear birds singing. I found myself in the nature zone: ducks were swimming in the river, and some were quiet on the bank, hiding their heads under their wings.
Soon the green zone was replaced by new dense buildings, and I found myself on the bank of the Okhta River. On the opposite bank I could see old industrial buildings through the trees, their chimneys billowing with smoke. The sidewalk was narrow and I could see cars rattling along the embankment. I was drawn to the other side, where there was no fuss.
I hesitated, I didn’t know where it would take me, or if it was a dead end. I just stood on the bridge, brooding, until two girls walked past me at a leisurely pace. They walked and chatted and laughed lightheartedly. I thought for sure they knew the right way, so I followed them.
Tied to the riverbank, the boats swayed gently. It was quiet and deserted. Time on the left bank of the Okhta River seems to have stopped.
The cemetery nearby predetermines your state and reflection.
I followed the girls along the wasteland along the cemetery. There were barbed-wire fences on the right side, and the abandoned barracks towered behind them.
In my mind it was as if I were constantly moving in time between something new, boiling with life, and the old, abandoned, desolate, but so quiet and peaceful.
To get to Okhtinsky Cape on foot was a challenge for me. It was necessary to pass through a tunnel. As I walked, I realized I didn’t want to be here when it got dark. I walked quickly looking around, I felt nothing but fear at that moment.
Once I was at the supposed point of the archive photo, I realized I was wrong. Standing on the cape I was cold and lonely. On one side the wind was blowing from the Neva, while on the other side the stream of cars was rushing and making noise. I realized there was no way I could get up to the bridge. I didn’t know how to get back. I was afraid to go back the other way, my mind was spinning.
Maybe I was striving there and walking a familiar path, because my crush, my date with my future husband, was connected to this place. But I was wrong about that too, my memory failed me, this picture was taken at Sverdlovskaya Embankment in 2014. The photo has become my memory crutch, an archive of the past, to which there is no going back.
Malookhtinskaya embankment is a place for cars, a place where you do not hear your voice. The Neva, while there is ice on it, is quiet, it sleeps. Soon the ice will melt, ships will sail on it, and it will become an important thoroughfare, along with highways and freeways.