No matter the political situation of the moment, you tend to pay attention when the operator says, “Moscow calling.”
It seems that some years back I had snapped a photo of the so-called “garden of fallen Communist heroes” – in Gorky Park that showed a granite statue of Stalin lying on its side with the ex-dictator’s very recognizable mustache half buried in mud. It received quite a bit of play accompanying my travel column.
Now the Moscow Tourism Bureau wanted to hire a photographer to travel around the city on their rubles to compile a portfolio of photographs that could be offered to visiting writers. This was well beyond my photography scope, so I invited Harold Tretbar, a physician and neighbor as well as an excellent photographer who had accompanied me on a number of my assignments.
As an additional request, Moscow’s tourism gurus wanted us to go up in a helicopter and snap some aerial views of the Kremlin. A plum assignment, right?
Nobody flies over the Kremlin.
Finally a compromise was reached at much higher levels than us, to coin a phrase. A KGB guard would accompany us to the roof of the Intourist hotel, a 20-story skyscraper (now rebuilt as less of a skyscraper) that was near the Kremlin Wall. We had 15 minutes.
At our appointed time we spotted a natty man in Bond Street threads at the hotel elevators. He punched the button to floor 20 – but as we exited on what we considered the top floor, he led us around behind the elevator bank. There was a service stairway leading up two more floors.
Both levels were wide open with videotape machines stacked along every wall. You can surmise from this as you may but we hadn’t seen all those James Bond movies without retaining certain suspicions.
On the roof, our KGB host indicated the Kremlin below us. He would not let us bring a camera tripod, but passed on Hal’s photographic collection that contained long lenses that could hide (a la Day of the Jackal) most anything.
As it turned out, it was probably a better view than we would have had from a chopper. You can judge for yourself from the photos accompanying this article.