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 All I know is that I would rather own older, even outdated objects, even if they’re objectively more hassle to use.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.

More exciting stories and videos on Russia Beyond's Facebook page

This website uses cookies. Click here to find out more.

Accept cookies