By Ellie Levin
Morningside Gardens February 2015
It’s snowing today. I remember in 1982 when you came here from New Jersey through the snow. After dinner you insisted on going to Lincoln Center to see an Italian film, “The Night of the Shooting Stars.” It is such a beautiful, hopeful film about friendship between Americans and Italians in a small town during World War II.
Yesterday I went to see some old film footage made by two sisters, probably twins; it was called “Margarete” as that was the first name on some envelopes in the box where the films were found. Janek Turkowski on a hike a few years ago, stepped over the Polish border into East Germany and just for fun bought the films at a flea market. After he began to look at them he wanted to know who made them and why. It became the center of his work in theatre in Poland. He couldn’t find out how the films got to the flea market dealer. He did find Margarete with the help of a friend fluent in German. He went to see her. She was 99 years old, and in a nursing home. She could see just enough of the films to authenticate them.
The footage shown was mostly of the Soviet Union, starting in 1965. Margarete and her sister took turns holding the camera. One or the other is in almost every take. They filmed their visit to Red Square, the Kremlin complex, and the victory parade in Moscow at Lenin’s tomb commemorating the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II. Everybody looks happy that day, the Russians and the German sisters. We were not provided with any more dates from the films, so I do not know when they went from Odessa to Kiev, or both ways. They travelled on the water in Ukraine much as we did when we went from Astrakhan to Moscow in Russia in 2008. They and many smiling, sociable people are leaving Odessa on a sightseeing boat in sunshine. They are enjoying the warm weather as we did in Astrakhan.
I know you would have enjoyed the part that showed happy Russian women coming home by train from the countryside with arms full of wildflowers as they had on our trip to Tsarskoye Selo. The sisters filmed the many fountains that Peter built on his estate. On our way back to Saint Petersburg you especially liked watching the young girls make crowns of golden leaves on their head and have their picture taken before the leaves fell off. On the train like the one we travelled on the women wore housedresses, were mostly plump, and had their hair cut short flying every which way.
There were scenes, too, of small towns they visited with the pastel houses we loved so, and a single mysterious woman dressed in Parisian fashion hurrying along on the dirt road. It was déjà vu.
After the presentation was over, I asked Janek Turkowski what he wanted us to take away from the films of Margarete and her sister. He said, “Simple contact between people is much more important than any spectacular success.” I thought of the similarity of theme between the “The Night of the Shooting Stars” and the films of these German sisters. People found each other and were happy.
I couldn’t help thinking about all you might have added to my telling with your great interest in people, geography, and history.
Love always, E