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Going to a Communist youth festival in Russia and winning a rug

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A motor scooter trip through Eastern Europe
Albert Maysles Film-maker
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1956, the year after I made my first trip to Russia, I was determined to return and through one of my brother's contacts I met a guy who was a publicity director for the Vespa Motor Scooter Company and I thought- oh, well, if I could get a motor scooter then I'd like to ride it all the way through Eastern Europe into Russia. And so he arranged so that if that were the case, if I were to do that, then all I would have to do is to go to Genoa, Italy, at the factory, and he'd have arranged for me to pick up one, free, and off I would go. But I was really short of cash, certainly not enough to make the trip, and my brother, the week before I left, my brother said- what, are you crazy, you don't have any money. How much money do you have? So I checked through my wallet and so forth and I had $7. And you're going to Russia on a motor scooter? Oh, I don't know, I'll get it. Well, and I think it was just the very next day I got a call from a woman who had heard of my teaching at, at Boston University and heard that I had been to Russia the year before, and she was going to go to Russia with a group who were studying social services in Russia and she wanted to get whatever tips she could. So I said- well, let's have lunch. So during that lunch I said, that- how are you going? She said- oh, I'm going by, with this group. And I said- well, I'm going but- and I'm going by motor scooter but I'm a little short of money. She said- oh, well, if we went- don't worry about that, I just inherited $125,000. So off we went, the two of us, on the motor scooter. I had already had, you know, a lot of experience riding a motor cycle all over east- all over Western Europe in 1954. So I certainly could ride it, but at one point when we were still in Italy we- she got curious and thought that she'd like to drive it. Of course, we were all loaded up with whatever we had to travel with and shortly after we got on the road with her we crashed into a fruit stand which somehow or other we got through all right. And, and we made it all the way into Russia. When we got to, to the border of the Soviet Union we were required to put the motor scooter on a train. They weren't about to just let us roam around at random. And that took us to Kiev. And- but when I got to Kiev I decided to strike out on my own to see what it was like in the countryside. And I remember that I ran out of gas and all- of course, all the trucks were owned by the government so that an official truck was in- I flagged down. And the guys were only too happy to help out and fill up my gas tank and the extra tank that I carried with me and so that foray into the countryside was kind of nice. I came back to Kiev to stay, to stay longer.

Albert Maysles (1926-2015) known for his important documentaries on Muhammad Ali, Jimi Hendrix and The Beatles, pioneered the documentary style known as Direct Cinema. He helped create techniques still widely used in modern documentary production, as well as many of the techniques used in reality TV.

Listeners: Rebekah Maysles Sara Maysles Tamara Tracz

Rebekah Maysles, daughter of Albert Maysles, is an artist living between New York and Philadelphia. She has her own line of clothing, Blackberryrose, and co-runs the store Sodafine in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, New York, a vintage and handmade store that sells clothing, books and other products made by artists.

Sara Maysles, daughter of Albert Maysles, is currently doing her BA in East Asian Studies at Columbia University, and working as an Archivist of the photographs and photographic material at Maysles Films Inc., Albert‚s film production company. She spent ten months out of two years working with Tibetan refugees at a center in Nepal, and continues to travel back and forth between America and Asia.

Tamara Tracz is a writer and filmmaker based in London.

Tags: Russia, Vespa Motor Scooter Company, Eastern Europe, Genoa, Italy, Boston University, Western Europe, Kiev

Duration: 4 minutes, 25 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2004

Date story went live: 24 January 2008