An accordion for Ablogin
By Vasily Fedosenko
To Vladimir Ablogin, it may still seem like a fairy tale, but as he touches his new squeezebox “garmoshka” accordion, which had covered thousands of miles to find him in his dilapidated wood hut, he knows what has happened is real.
I arrived in his run-of-the-mill Russian village in the Smolensk region at Belarus’s border on an early December morning to take pictures of local peasants voting in Russia’s parliamentary election. Looking like it was still from the Soviet era, the election day soon turned into a rare holiday in this backwater settlement, which was until recently prosaically named “Gryaz” (Mud).
Paying little heed to my presence and already warmed up with Russia’s national tipple, a bare-footed Ablogin sat on a bed in his higgledy-piggledy home, playing a traditional Russian “garmoshka” button accordion to amuse his audience of several women and men.
He played his scarred and worn-out folk instrument adroitly, running his fingers down its buttons and squeezing joyous tunes out of its tired bellows. Displaying no avid interest in the vote — now overshadowed by Ablogin’s improvised show — his few spectators quickly ticked their ballot papers and cast them in a portable ballot box standing nearby.
The photographic assignment suddenly continued the next day as Jill Downing, Reuters Pictures Sales Specialist, forwarded me a letter from Maddalena Bucher in Britain, who spotted Ablogin’s picture.
“I saw the photo in The Guardian of Mr. Ablogin playing his run down squeeze box in Gryaz at the pre election polls. I felt for him and thought of the beautiful squeeze box that I had here and stayed untouched in its box since 2003, the year my husband Robert died in an accident,” Maddalena wrote.
Her husband Robert – “a translator and interpreter during the day and a musician at night” – died on Valentine’s Day in 2003 in an accident, Maddalena wrote. “He loved music and taught his four children (Francesca, Ottavia, Fabrizio and Stefano) to play various instruments. With Robert’s death, music in this house has not been the same.”
With the help of several enthusiasts and with some serious logistics involved, the smart-looking Schwyzerörgeli – the Swiss name for this type of the folk accordion – finally made its long journey from foggy Albion to the Reuters office in snow-clad Moscow. Reuters driver Sergei Zhakov brought the present to Ablogin’s village, which had already been betting on whether it would reach the forest wilderness at all.
“I was really moved by this whole story,” said Vladimir, tenderly touching the new instrument which he has yet to learn to play with the same virtuosity as his old Russian garmoshka. “It is very sad that Maddalena’s husband died – now one can only try and imagine the merry atmosphere in their home when this garmoshka was played there, and how sorrowful it all became when it went silent in 2003. But it is now back to life, and will play again – this time in a far-away Russian village.”
“Every time I touch this instrument I will recall Maddalena from England. Many heartfelt thanks for her gift.”
“I love the idea that one of Robert’s instruments will be played again with joy,” Maddalena wrote. “That brings me joy, and England and Russia nearer.”