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:

Continue reading “Summer 1970: Narva-Joesuu”

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
Continue reading “1969-1970”

More Home Movies

I just received the digitized versions of two more home movies. I will need to write in more detail about their contents, but I short: they were filmed by my mom in summer 1975 when we went on a railway cruise through Ukraine.

I will need to spend some time identifying all the places. The trip started in Kyiv, continued in Lviv, then there is should be some footage from different places in the Carpathian mountains, Chernovcy, and Odessa.

The quality of the footage is really bad, there was something stuck to the camera lense, but it is what it is.

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.

School Uniforms In The Soviet Union

The other day, mom forwarded to me a video she received from one of her Russian friends. The video was nostalgic in a horrible way. 

The background song declared that the best time in Russian/Soviet history was the 1970s, and the singer wanted to travel in time to get to that moment in history. 

The video featured the girls in the school uniforms with huge bows in their hair, young pioneers in red ties, old-fashioned ice cream, and lots of old propaganda pieces. All together looked pretty horrific, so when mo asked me how I liked it, I had to tell her the truth. Then she would go: well, these girls in uniforms with huge bows weren’t they cute?

I asked her: mom, do you remember the deal with these uniforms?? Most girls hated it because they were out of style or just plain ugly. But there was something else. Can you imagine that we had to wear the same dress for months without washing?!

Yes, you would always get only one dress for the school year. It was made of brown wool so that the dirt won’t be visible. But then, you were not supposed to wash a woolen dress because you would ruin it; you were supposed to take it to the dry cleaners, which would take at least a week. Now that I am thinking about t, t is possible that sometimes we would wash the dress at home, but then t would also be very infrequently.

What I remember clearly is how I was refreshing the dress every Sunday.

First, there was a white collar and white cuffs, which I saw on Sunday evening, and then rip off at the end of the week to hand-wash and iron and sometimes even starch.

We always had pieces of old cotton linen in the house to use for steaming the clothes. I would take one of these pieces, wet it, place it over each underarm part of my dress, and press with a hot iron. This procedure would help to eliminate the smell of sweat. I would also steam the back of the dress, which was always wrinkled from sitting.

Later, the cuffs were dismissed, and the collars were most often made with synthetic lace, so caring for them became easier. When I was in high school, they finally let the aprons go (before that, there was a black apron for every day and a white apron for occasions). 

I forgot all about that underarm business until I saw that video!

My beautiful picture

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.

Soviet Propaganda (Almost Forgotten)

Suddenly, I remembered this episode; I didn’t think about it for years until yesterday, when it suddenly popped up in my mind.

Back when I was a child, not only did we not know anything about Christmas, we didn’t even know how Santa looks like. Grandfather Frost, who was in charge of presents, looked very different from Santa, except for the beard. And even his beard looked different from Santa’s πŸ™‚

So, we didn’t know how Santa looks like, and that’s what once happened.

I must have been in grade school, probably the 5th or the sixth grade. It was a winter break, and I was at the Yubileyniy Palace of Sports watching the New Year show on ice.

In all these shows, the scenario is more or less the same: Grandfather Frost is in danger, or got lost, or lost his granddaughter Snowgirl. And some good guys help him (most often, animals) and bad guys trying to prevent him from finding Snowgirl or take him hostage, or something else.

This time around, a villain was Santa Claus! He didn’t look like Sant at all, but we didn’t know. He was short and thin and wriggling, hunching most of the time. He wore a purple robe, which was too big for him, and a dark purple hat that looked very much like a night hat. He wore sunglasses (because spies wear sunglasses!). He had packs of chewing gum in his pockets, which he was using to bribe the good guys. There was no chewing gum in the Soviet Union, and it was labeled as bourgeois plague, and yet kids loved it, as one can love forbidden fruit.

This Santa Claus was trying to turn people away from Grandfather Frost and accept him as a main figure for the New Year celebration. In the end, he was defeated and sent away.
It was a long (two acts) and a beautiful ice skating show, and it ran twice a day through the whole winter break. The Yubileyniy arena was huge, so I won’t be surprised if most of the city’s grade school students saw this show. I didn’t feel anything wrong about it. I thought it was funny. And it was so along the lines of what we were told back then that I forgot about it entirely.
Now I think: it’s no surprise that so many people in Russia think about the US as their enemy. That concept was imprinted in people’s minds so early that they can’t even remember that.

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.

Santiago, Italy – a Documentary

One more of many Siskel Center offerings, Santiago, Italy is a documentary about the 1973 events in Chile, and about the chilean people who found their new home in Italy.

After many years of Soviet propaganda, and then after many years since the collapse of the Soviet Union, it is easy to fall into a habit of thinking that everything that we were told back then was propaganda :). It took me as a surprise to hear that Salvador Allende, indeed, was building socialism in Chile and that he indeed had the broad support of the Chilean people. And that the Communist Party of Italy was, indeed, a serious political power in the ’70s. 

Also, I saw a lot of footage of coup d’Γ©tat, which I do not remember seen back in the ’70s, and I do not know why especially because I’ve seen some other pieces. It was a very strange feeling. I have already forgotten that the events of 1973 were tragic ones, and this documentary reminded me of them. People are telling about their experience, real people, they pause, they repeat themselves and start over. They are trying to find the right words to describe their feelings; they laugh and cry…

Home Movies from the 1970s, Part 3

That is the last of the three digitized movies. It covers the period from summer 1972 to winter 1973. I am nine years old at the beginning and ten at the end. In the beginning, you can see that my front teeth are broken. That was due to an accident at the carnivals when Mom and I were riding a tiny electric car and bumped into another one. At that time, there was no easy way to fix them, and they remained broken until I was nineteen or so.

That summer, I was at the same place in Estonia, and I played with the same dog Neron as a year earlier. We went on a trip to see an Orthodox Convent. A cat named Dunia lived in the house where we were renting. Also, I think I’ve visited an exhibit of Rodin’s sculptures because I am trying to present them :).

In the last scenes of this movie, I am already wearing glasses. Mom and I are going cross-country skiing, and most likely, my Grandfather was filming us.

Enjoy πŸ™‚

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.

Home Movies from the 1970s, Part 2

Here is the second movie from the 1970s. It starts in the summer of 1971 and ends in February 1972. 

As I’ve mentioned earlier, good mothers were expected to rent a summer home somewhere “on the fresh air.” Like many other leninradians, my relatives from my father’s side were renting summer houses, or more often, a couple of rooms in a home in Estonia. Saint – Petersburg (back then – Leningrad) is situated very close to the border with Estonia, and from 1940 to 1992, Estonia was a part of the Soviet Union. The Estonian city of Narva was just across the border, and there was a resort Narva-Joesuu, which was renting out almost each and single home during summer. 

We rented a room and a veranda, which served as a kitchen. My great aunt Fania would stay there pretty much all the summer. My aunt Kima, my cousin, and my Mom were there periodically; my uncle Misha and his wife Nadia were renting one more room at the same house. 

  • This movie starts with us going on a tour somewhere nearby, I do not remember where exactly. 
  • Then there is me in a costume of the Pirate Queen Grace O’Malley, I read something about here that year. I was so fascinated with her story that I wanted to impersonate her. Most of the costume is assembled from different pieces of adult clothes and jewelry. The wooden sword was made by the younger brother of my cousin’s best friend. I know that it sounds too distant, but they both were around quite often and felt like family members. 
  • The big black dog is a Newfoundland owned by the friends of the family. He was not a purebred and was given away for free. His name was Neron, and I loved him and used each opportunity to stop by the house where he lived and play with him. 
  • “A Musketeer” episode. Traditionally in Russia, both adults and kids would dress up for Sviatki – the time between Christmas and New Year, culminating at the New Year masquerade. Since all religious holidays were forbidden in Russia, the tradition reduced to the New Year masquerades. This costume was constructed for my school New Year’s party, and I wore it at home for the actual New Year celebration. I was eight years old (almost nine) and was at the peak of my musketeers’ fascination. Everybody pitched in for this costume. My great aunt sacrificed her dark blue pure silk dress, the top was used for the jacket, and the skirt made the cloak. One of my great aunt friends lent a dark-blue velvet hat, another friend – some real antique lace collar and cuffs (all to be returned after the holidays :)). Not Brabant, but most likely old Vologda :). The baldric was made of dark blue bookbinding material (acquired by my aunt who worked in the publishing house) and decorated with the pieces of colored foil collected from the chocolate candies consumption:). The feathers on the hat came from two sources: the black one was a real ostrich feather my great aunt owned, and the white one was made of paper by my aunt – that’s when I learned how to make them, and I still can do it on the spot. I think that covers pretty much the whole costume.
  • The figure skating competition. The caption reads: getting ready for the White Olympics 1980. But that time (February 1972) I was nine, and I was taking the figure skating classes for three winters. We rarely got a chance to train inside, so it was always “weather permits.” I loved figure skating (and I still do :)). Our coach arranged for us to have a very close-to-real competition with the obligatory figures to be performed and with your own freestyle program. The competition was graded by three judges. My great aunt hand made the figure-skating dress for me. It was made of dark red wool with the giant grey snowflake on the chest and beautiful patterns on the skirt – and that’s what I wore during this competition.

Enjoy πŸ™‚

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.

Home Movies from 1970s, Part 1

In 1971 my Mom bought a movie camera and started making home movies. We both enjoyed the process a lot. She soon acquired a magnetic board with letters, and we began to add captions to the films.

I do not remember what happened to the movie projector, but it disappeared a long time ago, and I was wondering whether I will ever be able to watch these movies again. Fortunately, nowadays, many companies can digitize your old movies, and several years ago, I sent the first two reels to convert them to mp4. I liked the result, and now that Mom brought several more back, I finally sent them to the same company, and I liked the results even more. 

Today, I am posting the first reel, which covers the time from early spring early summer 1971.

Apparently, if I spent enough time, I should be able to add captions to this movie, but I do not have time neither now, nor in the next several years, so let me just briefly mention what it is about.

The title says “Lialia’s school break.” Lialia was my nickname, and a break was a spring break in the first grade.Β Β Everything was filmed in Saint-Petersburg (back then – Leningrad) and near suburbs.

By episode:

  1. I play with a big doll, which could “walk,” when you hold her by the hand. Her name was Walking Nina.
  2. I am walking around in the city center, close to the Church on Blood, not restored yet back then.
  3. In the Zoo
  4. In the courtyard of my home, playing “classes” on the asphalt.
  5. A canary named Solka. That was an amazing story – one cold November night, he flew inside our apartment when my aunt opened a window leaf for a minute. We tried to find out whether he was a runaway but didn’t succeed. Then we had to buy a cage and some books about canary care:).
  6. Waking at the Strelka – the edge of Vassilievski Island, then on the roof of the Peter-and-Paul Fortress, and then inside the fortress. Then I take a camera and record Mom.
  7. At Strelna, a near suburb. We are there with Mom and Grandpa Fedia, and it’s hilarious how he is trying to help me to climb on a tree, and then helps me to get off, and this all happens three times in a row.
  8. Walking along the Neva River, and then taking a trip on a small boat
  9. In the Alexandrovskiy Park, close to the St. Isaac Cathedral, and by the river again.
  10. Later in spring. Since we see balloons, it should be May 1 or May 2 – we didn’t have balloons on regular days, only for big holidays, and May Day was one of the occasions when kids got balloons. Mom is filming, and I am there together with Mom’s friend Alla and her twin daughters Sveta and Lera. They were three or four years older than me. As a prank, we attach our balloons to the teeth of one of the Griffons on the Neva embankment.Β 
  11. All of us are back to my house, and we play with a collie puppy in the courtyard (he is not my dog, somebody else’s).
  12. Later in spring, probably mid – May. Mom and I are in Central Recreational Park. First, everybody is casing a squirrel – they are unseen in the city.Β 
  13. Then – intensive rope-jumping:)
  14. We are visiting an exhibit, which is called “Made in Poland.”

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.