Lifestyles


Tacoma Cobbler

Mihael Blikshteyn Photography | Trade

Gary Aitchison has been repairing shoes around Tacoma, Washington since he was 15 years old. That’s 45 years of being a cobbler. His father opened the repair shop, Syd’s Shoe Repair, and got Gary interested in the business.

The store moved locations several times over the past decades. It’s now located at 4605 Pacific Avenue. Walking into the shop is like traveling back in time. Heavy, antique, shoe-repair machinery crowd the narrow walkways behind the counter. Made many, many decades ago, these machines have the aura of the ancient redwoods and will continue to do their work while the operator is around.

I watched Gary do his craft. He knows his trade. He can do magic on your dress shoes or mountaineering boots, giving them a facelift or bringing them back to life. He’ll repair your belt or a leather jacket or a bag.

He welcomed me into his shop with open arms and let me disrupt his work for hours. He was excited to tell me about his trade, the trade now done by so few, the old machines, the people he’s worked with.

Stop by Gary’s shop. Check it out. You don’t even need to have anything fixed.

Mihael Blikshteyn Photography | Tacoma

Mihael Blikshteyn Photography | Corporate

Mihael Blikshteyn Photography | Washington

Mihael Blikshteyn Photography | Olympia

Mihael Blikshteyn Photography | Small Business


First of September: Russia’s Day of Knowledge

First of September at School 24 / Mihael Blikshteyn

For every kid in Russia, September 1st is the official first day of school. Every year, every school. First graders, going to school for the first time in their lives, are quiet and apprehensive. Dressed up, barely bigger than their backpacks, holding bouquets of flowers for their teachers, led to schools by proud parents. Flowers in one hand, their parent’s hand in the other. Big white bows on girls’ heads bobbing along the sidewalks. Even most senior students are well-groomed and many are carrying flowers.

On my last trip to Russia, a detour to my birth city of St. Petersburg happened to coincide with September 1st. I knew I couldn’t miss the festivities at my childhood school, School № 24 on Vasilyevsky Island. I haven’t been back to that school – or even Russia – for over 20 years. Now was my chance to relive this childhood memory as an adult, a guest and a foreigner.

Before collapse of the Soviet Union, there was just one uniform for all school kids across the 15 Soviet Republics. The uniforms were mandatory and students were penalized for not adhering to the strict dress code. Boys wore blue suits with plain shirts while girls had knee-long brown dresses and black aprons. During special occasions, boys would wear white shirts while girls would put on crisp, ironed, white aprons. In the third or fourth grade, after joining the mandatory Young Pioneers organization, students would also wear the famous polyester red neckties. Uniform rules were relaxed at the beginning of the 1990s and altogether abandoned in 1992.

All first-graders, and some senior students, attend the First of September celebrations held at every school across the country. At my school, parents crowded around the second-floor balcony as their kids were solemnly assembled in the gym below. During the official ceremony, teachers welcomed the new crop of students, advising and cautioning them of the highs and lows they would experience over the upcoming years at school. A few senior students read instructive excerpts and put on performances. The ceremony ended with the ringing of the first bell that signified the beginning of the school year.


A dinner for 200: feeding fish processors in Ozernovsky, Kamchatka.

Food preparation at the Vityaz-Avto plant

One of the most successful and largest fishing companies in Ozernovsky, Kamchatka has many mouths to feed.  Not even counting their fishermen, who eat at their posts – either on boats or at fish camps – there are still over 200 fish processors. They come to the galley in waves, looking for hearty, tasty meals. The food is excellent and made from scratch, and includes soups, main dishes, and deserts. The owners and managers eat the same food as all the other workers, although, admittedly, the top management supplements their dinners with caviar from a jar in the fridge.

Food preparation at the Vityaz-Avto plant

Food preparation at the Vityaz-Avto plant

The company also runs the only bakery in town, which provides bread not just for the fishing company employees, but is also sold to the town residents.

Vityaz-Avto Bakery and Delivery Truck

Some employees, who live in town year-round, have their dachas a kilometer or two from the town center, where they grow their veggies.

Sergey Krukov's Dacha, Garden and Greenhouse


Kamchatka: the Town of Ozernovsky 1

On the coast of the Sea of Okhotsk, on the southern bank of Ozernaya River, at the tip of the Kamchatka Peninsula lies the southernmost settlement of Kamchatka, the town of Ozernovsky. A town of 2,500 people lives and breathes sockeye salmon. The Ozernaya River has the largest run of sockeye salmon in Asia and the whole economy of this town revolves around it. Without fish, there is no work, no life.

Located about 140 miles from Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, the regional center, Ozernovsky was founded in 1907. Most buildings are dilapidated, dating to the Soviet times of the 1940s to the 1980s. Dirt roads, hardly passable after rain, connect Ozernovsky to the village of Zaporozhie, located on the opposite side of the river. Pictured above is a kindergarten, located in Zaporozhie.

About half dozen companies fish for salmon in the river and along the coast. A number of processing plants process the fish on-site and load finished product on trampers, cargo boats that transport fish, waiting just off shore. Rusted parts of one of such vessels still stick from the intertidal and lay scattered along the coastline. The story goes that about 5 years ago, a 200-foot vessel was anchored offshore when a major soccer game started on TV. The crew decided to move closer to town for better TV reception, but a storm picked up, and by the time they’ve realized they were being pushed on shore by waves and wind, it was too late to save the boat.

The town’s coastline is actually litered with rusted boats and unrecognizable metal parts. Old cards scatter the grasslands around town, giving it a ghost-like appearance.

One day I was exploring the hills south of town. I came across an old cemetery, overgrown with wildflowers. Red stars on metal peaks adored more patriotic graves. The cemetery looked forgotten, as if the people who were supposed to visit it have also died or left town. A little further down the bluff, a non-functioning lighthouse came to view. It piqued my curiosity. Only when I sat down on a bluff did I see a rusted sign with a radiation warning (pictured below). As I later found out, the lighthouse contained batteries with plutonium, or such, that are still scattered around the site. But do not worry, I was told, it’s probably safe if I don’t touch anything.

Also see Part I: Kamchatka and Part II: Kamchatka: the MI-8 Helicopter.