Vacation Resort for the People, Sochi, USSR, 1961

Sochi: A Resort for the People

Visiting Sochi (the site of 2014 Winter Olympics) on the Black Sea in Russia in the summer of 1961, at age 17, I encountered a vacation resort town like no other I had ever heard of.  It had sun and beaches (if rocks can substitute for sand) and lots of tanned people like other resorts. What was unusual, maybe unique, was that it was run by unions and industry associations for workers. Looking at the buildings I could see its noble past.  Great columns and waterworks testifying to the wealth that had built it.  But when the Russian revolution essentially eliminated the noble class and confiscated their property, it turned these mansions into health spas for the people. See my video of still photos with music “Sochi, 1961 Resort for the People.”

As part of our tour of the Soviet Union, we visited the union run spas and learned that miners, whose conditions of work were so hazardous, received extra vacation days annually with special therapy and medical attention to keep them healthy. My father, Harvey Richards, had recently completed a film, Perch of the Devil (1960) about miners in Butte, Montana, where the hazards of mining work were repaid with an early grave and miserable poverty.  The contrast has never left me.  Sochi became a place forever associated in my mind with a society that marshaled its resources for the benefit of the people.

As good as these resorts were, the real reason Russians flocked to Sochi was sun and the beach. Russians are sun worshipers.  Probably because of the cold climate and the long winters.  Sun bathers brought boards to the beach and found ways to follow the sun by moving them to keep the best angle for maximum tanning.  Bathing suits were tiny, tiny, tiny.  I was not used to it in those days, coming out of the uptight 1950’s in California and being only 17 years old.  I wandered among vast crowds of barely clothed people of all ages, families and all worshiping the sun.  When the vacations ended, people returned to the cold north with brown skins and fond memories of the warmth of the sun.


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