The First Day Of School!

In the Soviet Union, kids started school when they were seven. Although we had a “prep” group in the detskiy sad, it still wasn’t considered “school.” Going to school meant that you were “a big kid,” and everybody counted the days left until their first “September First” (the official start of the school year countrywide). Very soon, the novelty would vanish, and at least half of the kids would start to hate school, but it was not the case on the first day of your first school year.

During summer in Estonia, Grandma Fania gave me lessons. I could read decently by that time, but she also taught me cursive, and we did a lot of writing exercises. I have no idea why she did this – it was by no means required. Possibly, she kept the memories of the Gymnasium in the Czarist Russia she attended – to be admitted, you had to demonstrate the ability to read, write and do basic arithmetic. Or maybe, she just wanted me to be in the top of my class from day one.

In any case, I was ready and excited. I had my new school uniform on with the “holiday” white apron, and I had flowers in my hand – that was also a must for September 1 – the flowers were given to the teachers, and everybody had to have a bouquet.

The school was less than ten minutes walk away, but I was afraid to be late!

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A War Memorial For The Fallen Finnish Citizen Destroyed

I saw this in the news yesterday- this act of vandalism was performed after Putin Visited Saint Petersburg on the Day of the End of Seige of Leningrad and mentioned that “all our enemies are our enemies, regardless of nationality.”

Details in Finnish and in Russian.

Before

And after

Narva-Joesuu, part 2

Turned out, I have a lot of pictures from my last pre-school summer, although it looks like they cover just two or three days – as usual, when somebody with the camera was around.

Blueberries picking: looks like my mom is taking pictures from the nearby hill. I and Baba Fania
Looking fro the next blueberry spot. I had this basket for so many years after! I won’t be surprised if it is still sitting somewhere in Saint-Petersburg
Surprisingly, I remember the name of this lady, who was Baba Fania’s close friend. Her name was Anna Maximovns Bomach, I think, and she was a retired pediatrician. I do not remember what her relation to Eugeny Mravinsky was, but there was one. And it’s because of her that I got a ticket to the only Eugeny Mravinsly concert I ever attended (several years later)
A view of the mouth of Narova RIver from the nearby hill
On the Narova shore
Mom, which means that my father was visiting
On the way home from the grocery store
With Aunt Kima
On the beach. I am sitting on yet another ruin of yet another villa…
End of summer, and we are leaving on that day. I am dressed nicely (the same white lace dress as a year ago, probably redone, and I stand by Uncle Misha’s car. He would drive us back to Leningrad.

Summer 1970: Narva-Joesuu

That was my last summer before school, and that summer, I was not sent to a dacha with detsky sad, and I didn’t go to the sanatorium. Instead, it was the first of many summers I spent in Estonia, in Narva-Joesuu. When I published my old home movies, I talked about that time here. I know that my father’s side of the family spent summers there for many years before that. My great-grandfather (the father of my father’s mother, David Solomonovich Levitin died there and was buried at the local cemetery. As I mentioned earlier, I know that I spent at least some part of my very first simmer there, and I have no idea what happened later and why I never went there for seven years.

These questions didn’t bother me back then, though. For most of the summer, I was there with my great aunt Fania, whom I called granma (baba) in the absence of an actual grandma. As I mentioned earlier, my great uncle Mish and his wife Nadia rented another room in the same house. In contrast to baba Fania, uncle Misha, eight years younger than her, didn’t like being perceived as a “grandpa,” so I called him uncle. His wife Nadia was even more concerned with looking younger than she was, and I called her aunt. I know that the rest of the family just barely tolerated aunt Nadia. I do not know the actual reason, but I remember that she was criticized for exactly that: behaving as a grand dame, taking good care of herself, etc. In the pictures below, she helps me to get into the “bridge” position (remember my PE/figure skating?). Since uncle Misha was 58 at that time, she should have been fifty-something and looked outrageously good for her age (by that time’s standards).

More of me doing exercises:

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1969-1970

It was my last year before school. When we returned from Loo, I started to attend the “preparatory group” in my detskiy sad, which would be the equivalent of Kindergarten in the US, only it was more rigorous.

All the children who turned six and would start the first grade in the fall had two “lessons” a day. We sat at desks that looked a lot like school desks (two kids at one desk), and we did a lot of counting and other math exercises, speech development, and so on. We had to “tell the story looking at the picture” (which I hated with a burning passion). But overall, we were enormously proud to be “almost schoolchildren,” and I liked to wear a navy blue corduroy dress with a white lace collar resembling the school uniform (it was way before I started to hate school uniforms!).

Also, I started to take figure skating classes. They were free and were run by a local enthusiast, so nobody thought a big deal about them. Unlike the famous Soviet “sports schools,” there was no selection of future champions, and we just had fun and tried our best.

We didn’t have an option of skating indoors, so in the fall, we had PE in the local school gym for two evenings a week, and it was also enormous fun.

In some of the photos below, I show the exercises we learned during these classes.

IN the kitchen, sometime in fall 1969 with my favorite stuffy named Boska
Mom
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Loo, September 1969

That was my second and last trip “to the South.” We rented a room from the same landlord and passed the time the same way as a year before. That meant that we spent mornings at the beach, then went inside to hide from the intense sun. We had milk and bread at home, and then went back to the beach. We had dinner in a small diner close to the beach and would go back to our room. Sometimes, we would wait to see a sunset over the sea.

Mom made friends with another mom who was vacationing with her son, named Sergey. He was approximate my age, and we played on the beach together. A couple of times, we went hiking in the mountains – the mountains started right there, behind the houses. Sergey and I loved making our way through the ferns. Also, that was the first time I saw blackberries and tried them. In Russian, blackberries a called hedgehog berries, and I asked mom whether it is true that only hedgehogs could it blackberries:)

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Sanatorium, part 3

Although most of the pictures from the sanatorium show me hanging out with boys, I mostly remember interactions with girls.

Since the purpose of our stay in the sanatorium was “to get more fresh air, we were outside a lot; almost all the time when it was not raining. When outside, we mostly played role games. We liked to pretend that the group of us was a family with many siblings. Since all the fairy tales were about girls or boys from poor families who would later become princesses or princes, we always played ” a poor family,” where everybody had to work.

As I mentioned earlier, there were two big girls in our group, Lilya was seven and Lyalya was six. Lilya just finished the first grade (she should have been close to eight then). They both, but especially Lilya, tortured us by “playing school.”

Lilya made small notebooks and actually taught a small group of younger kids to write in cursive. We hated it because our letters were coming out clumsy, and Lilya would yell at us (like teachers would do) and mark our work with bad grades. Somehow, I remember being more miserable when she yelled at us than when this would come from our teacher.

My stay at the sanatorium seemed endless, but finally, it was over, and mom and I went “to the South” again.

My historical posts are being published in random order. Please refer to the page Hettie’s timeline to find where exactly each post belongs, and what was before and after.

Sanatorium, part 2

It has been several months since my last historical post. I published the last one on March 13, and it was in the making for a while. After that, the war took over, and somehow I could not return to the stories of my childhood, although I made several attempts during these months.
Here is another attempt.

***

I stayed in the sanatorium for at least two months, and I do not recall missing mom too much. Actually, I do not recall missing her when I was at dacha either. Later she told me how she was looking for excuses to visit me more often (the “parents’ days” were once a month). I think she subconsciously tried to develop in me an unhealthy attachment to her. When I was much older and stayed at the “pioneer camps,” I missed her and dreamed about the day the camp would be over.

However, in the summer of 1969, it was not the case yet. I was happy to see her when she visited, but I was not crying when she left.

On parents’ day, we had a concert for which we rehearsed for weeks.

I believe we danse and sang “Vo pole berioza stoyala…”. I am the one on the left.
Reciting a poem
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The Judgement at Nuremberg Movie

This summer, the Siskel Center is running the Judy Garland centennial retrospective, and this week, they ranĀ The Judgement at Nuremberg. I know that “everybody saw it,” but it was not screened in the Soviet Union and somehow never ended up on my “must-see” list. I knew this movie existed, but the list of the movies I never saw is too long:).

So yesterday, I spent three hours in the middle of the warm and sunny July Saturday in the dark theater and was so impressed by the movie that it took me some time to start putting my impressions in words.

The movie appears to be highly timely these days, and the parallels with the Russian invasion of Ukraine are more than apparent.

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