sexta-feira, 2 de maio de 2014

From Russia with love

The stories about some of my cameras are back. Today I 'm going to take you on a trip to Moscow. You are all familiar with FED, the name initials of Mr. Felix Edmundovich Dzerzhinsky, the cool looking guy in the photo that carried mass executions and was responsible for the first state police, the ancestor of the KGB in the Soviet Union.

You might rightly ask what the hell has a bloody (literally) Bolshevik  to do with a camera, but they are connected. Besides eliminating unwanted people, this man was also responsible for setting up a network of orphanages throughout the USSR, to take care of the children whose parents he had murdered, no doubt. Needless to say, these orphanages, even after his death were controlled by the secret police, the dreaded NKVD. Everybody knows that work makes you free and it is the highest liberation that one soul can aspire to, so there was nothing better than to educate those orphans by making them to work for their living. In a rare moment of capitalist logic, the NKVD decided that the poor orphans near Moscow would produce a near perfect copy of a famous German camera. They could have chosen a more popular and people friendly camera like a Kodak, but no, they took on the symbol of excellence at the time. From around 1933 on, the first Leica II with a hammer and sickle left the orphanage. Problem was,  they had real strange names, a proper name had to be adopted, and finally the little camera was graced with the Felix Edmundovich Dzerzhinsky name, no less! In order to make things clear, they engraved the name "Orphanage NKVD" on the top of the camera. This was the final touch, the thing that gave all the class and refinement that the camera needed, one might add.

Enough said about the origins of this camera's name. It is time to know the story between me and this FED I that fortunately excludes Mr. Dzerzhinsky.

Some years ago I went to Moscow on business in late November. While other guys shop for Matryoshkas and plastic Lenines, I go to flea markets, simple as that! As it happens, one of those flea markets was conveniently placed next to my hotel (is it fate or what?). There I found a Fed I in a condition that would match Lenine's if he was still alive. It was really old and worn, sitting with all sort of junk. The camera seemed original, with the uncoated lens, the engravings and the surprisingly smooth shutter, something not very common in FSU cameras. I asked the price and in response I got the price of a Lada or something like that, those people knew how to rip-off a foreigner. No way I was paying that sort of money for an old camera! Right? Well , yes, right, sort of...

I came back to Portugal and left Mr. Dzerzhinsky's relic in Moscow. However, like a failed love, I thought often about the FED I. I was starting to regret leaving the old camera in the country of Mr. Putin . There was something in that camera that attracted me and it wasn't the name, for sure! Well, it was a case of too little, too late, but I was also informed that I was due back in Moscow in the following March, in 4 months’ time. What if...nah, that would be asking too much.

As you can guess, as soon as I got back to Moscow I went to the flea market. Straight as an arrow I quickly got to the vendor's place and there it was! Perhaps with a little more dust, surrounded by even more junk and it seemed to say "see, I waited for you!" This time I was decided to give a new home to the old FED and started to negotiate the price. After a while I got the camera for the price of a Lada's headlamp. All the spare time that I had during that stay was spent playing with the FED I that slowly started to get back to life, the shutter working perfectly at all speeds and smoothly.

Some years have passed since then, but I still love this camera. I guess that was meant to be. Perhaps, if it was a person the story would have ended with a "From Russia with love".