The Material Question

‘ “The workshop takes orders for all kinds of alabaster and plaster models such as: statuettes, domestic and wild animals, fruits, etc., etc., and also makes plaster masks of the dead.
‘ “We execute orders for artificial flowers in bread, wax, velvet and coloured paper, for wreaths, bouquets, ladies’ hats and ushers’ buttonholes.
‘ “We write by hand, print, and decorate visiting cards, greeting and anniversary cards, and invitations.
‘ “We take orders for corsets and trusses and also make old ones into new.
‘ “We make ladies’ hats from the latest Paris models.
‘ “Etc., etc.”

‘As soon as we arrived in Ashkhabad I found lodgings and obtained permission from the police to print and distribute the advertisements. The next day I rented, in the centre of the town, premises for the workshop, consisting of a large room opening on to the street for the shop, and two small rooms at the back; in addition, there was a small yard and a kind of shed.

‘Having bought the most necessary tools and hastily set up a homemade Bunsen-battery and adapted some old wash­basins as vats for galvano-plastic work, I hung over the entrance a large sign with red letters on a white cloth, which said:

here for a very short time
Makes, alters and repairs everything

‘The next day, when the advertisements were ready, I pasted a great many of them on walls with the help of a street urchin and distributed the rest by hand. And then the fun began.

‘From the very first day, a whole procession of Ashkhabadians brought their things to be repaired.
‘Lord! What on earth did they not bring!

‘Much of what they brought I not only had never seen before but had never even heard of. Indeed, there were the most unlikely things, such as an apparatus for plucking out grey hairs, a machine for stoning cherries for jam, a grinder for grinding copper sulphate to sprinkle on the sweat zones of the body, a special iron for ironing wigs, and so forth.

‘In order to have a better picture of what went on there, you must be told, if only a little, about the local conditions.