What’s a good price for an abacus?

Old things have their own past, they’ve lived a previous life, they connect you to a vanished time. Source: George Butchard.

Old things have their own past, they’ve lived a previous life, they connect you to a vanished time. Source: George Butchard.

Try as I might, I just can’t convince myself to be a technophile. I know that technology has made my life vastly easier, but I have a strange wistful longing for a simpler time.

I love being around objects from those bygone days before Apple ruled the world and you could get an app that tells you how long it’ll take your beer to reach a specific temperature in the fridge.  I came to this conclusion last weekend while wandering through Izmailovsky market, a huge open-air jumble sale in east Moscow that sells all kinds of Soviet-era bric-a-brac. Or as my long-suffering fiancée put it bluntly, “junk.”

“Why do people buy this old trash anyway?” She asked, sighing and tapping away at her smart phone.

“Nostalgia” I replied, as I wandered over to a man selling an abacus.

“Nostalgia for what? You weren’t part of the Soviet period.”


View Larger Map

“OK then, a sense of history. Old things have their own past, they’ve lived a previous life, they connect you to a vanished time. How much for the abacus?”

“2000” replied the stallholder, eyeing me warily, as if to understand if I was a man who knew his abaci, or if I’d accept this hugely inflated price. I bartered him down to 750, before realizing that on balance I probably don’t need an abacus. That was the story of the day, me seeing something I had to buy, Ksenia stepping in with cold hard reality.  The questions came thick and fast: “Why do you need a bust of Stalin? Why do you need a load of World War II bullets? Why do you need a candlestick?”

All very logical, but they somehow miss the point of such a market, where “need” is not a word you should ever utter. In the end I left empty-handed, with my wallet undamaged and my desire to own a bit of history unfulfilled. The wider question remains, however, which is why I love old, useless memorabilia, and why new technology doesn’t fully satisfy me. All I know is that I would rather own older, even outdated objects, even if they’re objectively more hassle to use.

I’ve got a strange urge to rush off to Izmailovsky right now and buy a typewriter, so I can pretend to be Bulgakov when I’m writing my next blog. Perhaps I can convince the editors to accept a typed and mailed copy for all future submissions. We shall see!

All rights reserved by Rossiyskaya Gazeta.