The Last Photos In Russia

Yes, we visited later, but still – the last ones while we still lived there. It should have been still September, but in October, there was no time for pictures.

We were taking a walk at the Peter and Paul Fortress that day. The outdoor pictures were taken by Boris, and the ones inside – by my mom.

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ADBIS 1996

This picture was taken at the ADBIS conference in Moscow in September 1996. I do not remember who took this picture and why, and when I got the print, getting the prints were not instantaneous at that time. It was the same strange time. I didn’t have a vise yet and was waiting for the second set of documents. I was mentally half gone but still didn’t tell anybody. I remember a couple of social activities, but the overall picture of that conference is pretty hazy in my memories.

It was the first time ADBIS became an international conference, not just some Russian professors and researchers hanging out with some Western colleagues. As I already said many times, one part of me was sure I would come back in two years, because despite whatever John Roseman was saying, I could not imagine myself living anywhere except Saint Petersburg.

The other part of me was similarly sure I am leaving for good. All the things I could not forgive my mom for were still raw and hurting, and this other part of me was hoping never to see her again. I didn’t see any way for Boris and me to achieve any stability in our relationships, and this other part of me was thinking that I will start my life fresh, meet some other man, and live happily ever after. I think that this was also an intention of Pam: she didn’t know about Boris; on paper, I was a single mother of three, and Val was divorced, and supposedly we didn’t have anybody else to lean on.
I always have the same thoughts when yet another anniversary of my coming to America is approaching. I think about how little I knew about what the future beholds.

Today, I was talking to Boris on Facetime, and at one moment, we stopped talking, and were just looking at each other. And I felt so strongly how lucky we are to have each other. And how much our lives changed because we have each other. Not only the family/personal life, but also the professional life, and overall what kind of humans we have become.

It’s crazy even to think about this: I would never decide to go to America if I wouldn’t be sure that we can’t resolve our issues. I am thinking: if my mom and grandpa won’t be both so difficult, and if my mom could secure my grandpa’s apartment after his death, Boris and I would have a place to live. And I would never-ever decide to go anywhere. And that apartment was so small and miserable that it would be a miserable life. But I wouldn’t know about it.
And even more horrifying, if we would never enter these relationships… We both would live our lives and think that everything is great, and we would be different people (I can see it clearly, what kind of people we would be!).

OK, seasonal thoughts:) and one more night, I am up way later than I planned! I am leaving myself here, on September 15, 1996, and I can’t even imagine how somebody could be as ignorant as I was!

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.

End of Summer 1996

There were more pictures that summer that during the previous three years :). Still by nowadays standards, very little, but I am glad to have what I have.

Judging by the weather, it should be the end of August, but when I am looking at these pictures, I keep thinking that it should be after our visas were granted. They were granted in September, and we left Saint-Petersburg on October 21. So it should be after my first visit to the consulate, when I was asked to provide more supporting documents. I described these last months here. Maybe, by that time I was already more certain that we are leaving.

Boris brought his camera, and we walked a little bit away from our apartment building in Saint-Petersburg. Same as in the previous post, lots of almost identical pictures, but I can’t decide 🙂

I like these pictures :). Still, five years into new economy, we all are dressed into humanitarian aid second-hand clothes; only sandals and socks are from the stores. And yes, socks with sandals are must, even for adults 🙂

The girl on the right got into the picture accidentally
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Summer 1996. Lichtenberg Park

Our University Campus was built close to the old Lichtenberg Park. I know that I should check my facts and tell you exactly who from the Lichtenberg House was related to the Russian Royal family, but I will not do it now. It is not essential for my story. What is important that there was this beautiful park on the other side of the train tracks. The park was in the half-deteriorated state, and the palaces and pavilions and the church were even more so, but it was a great park for walking.

I do not remember which days the pictures were taken, but it was one of the days when Boris and I already knew that those might be the last week of my staying in Russia. If not that, I am sure I won’t convince him to take pictures with kids. Igor was most likely with my mom in the city, or possibly with his other grandma – she was taking him sometimes to another vacationing place, which Igor himself can describe better.

That’s all I can say about these pictures. Now that I look at them, I can sense a bittersweet feeling, joy, and sadness simultaneously.

Vlad is wining about something, as usual 🙂

The next several pictures are almost identical, but I am going to post them anyway, because we do not have that many pictures, and I know that Vlad and Anna would like to have them all 🙂

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Summer 1996, Peterhoff

I have more pictures from that summer than I had for the whole previous year. It was a strange summer. Events that I described in the post How I decided to go to America happened at the very beginning of it, and then it was a long wait. I briefly mentioned in my other post, Getting ready to go to America, but there were months of uncertainty in reality. Only Boris and my mom knew that I was waiting for the papers, but I was trying to make most out of this summer with all uncertainty. 

We stayed in the University boarding house yet again, and I worked on Stylus documentation at night (My last job in Russia). In the daytime, I took kids to places almost every day. Vlad and Anna were already big enough to appreciate art. We took full advantage of that fact. It was a strange mixture of “I might not even get a visa,” “I am not going to leave forever, we will come back in two years, and I will be happy to come back,” and “I will never be back again.” In reality, none of these happened, but back then, I was frantically trying to squeeze into our days as much of the art and architecture. 

The Boarding house was relatively close to the palaces and parks of Peterhoff, Peter the Great summer residence. We often took a bus to spend a half-day there, enjoying the fountains and visiting palaces. My friend Olga, whose family lived in the same apartment building with us in Saint Petersburg, came to join us on this adventure. I think it was more than once, but I only have pictures from one of these occurrences. Here they are.

Vlad, Anna and Ania in the Upper Park of Peterhoff
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1996: My Last Job In Russia

My life in 1996, as it started, was pretty much the same as in 1995. Being a research associate at the University paid very little, and I always searched for additional gigs. One interesting thing in 1996 was that Urbansoft moved to one of Boris’s research lab rooms. John ran out of money (I am not even sure whether he had any investors by that time), and I forgot whether Boris was the first to come up with this idea of it was John, but the idea was the following. Boris and John signed the contract to the effect that Boris’ lab will perform some research for Urbansoft, and Urbansoft will pay for this research, but in reality, it was rent. It’s just that the University was not allowed to lease its space to anybody. It was all the sequence of really awkward situations: John didn’t know that Boris and I were in relationships and that Vlad and Anna were his children. And then he realized that Boris knew all this story about the key and me being fired. So there was a lot of awkwardness!

For several years, however, it was a good collaboration. 

As for me, I still needed some other work on the side. The Smolny thing was over. The bank gig was over. 

I do not remember what I was doing in winter, but it was Stylus, Prompt Corporation by spring. The first Russian Automated Multi-language Translator. Looking back, I have a lot of respect for their leadership. They were trying hard to build a healthy business model. At times, when working for any private company was considered a risky business, they would not hire part-timers. They insisted that if somebody wanted to work for them, they should focus on Prompt one hundred percent. 

It sounds trivial, except that in post-Soviet Russia, it was almost revolutionary. They were paying five bucks to anybody who would find a bug in their product, no matter QA or not. They catered lunch for the whole office every day, and that was unthinkable. 

In terms of full-time employment, they made an exception for me. I had to write documentation for Stylus, yes, documentation again! Once again, I do not remember who invited me there, but apparently, they knew “that I could write.” I brought with me some excerpts from the HighDoc documentation, and it was found to be acceptable. We negotiated the price and delivery schedule, and I started.

The documentation had to be in the RTF format. Once again, when summer arrived, and I had to go to the University boarding house, I was left with my primitive laptop with MS-DOS and Norton text editor and 8K RAM. 

I had some pieces of documentation which I already completed in WordPad. I used them as examples and pieced together the next parts, putting all the markups in manually. Once a week, when I went back to the city, I copied these files to my desktop and tried to correct them if they ended up being non-readable. 

On the second time, something went wrong with my desktop. I can’t remember what exactly, but it was the whole sequence of unfortunate events, and I ended up not bringing the next portion of documentation. I can’t even remember whether only some of the new parts suffered or could not put together anything. In any case, I came to the Prompt office and told my supervisor what had happened. He told me that he was sorry and understood that there were circumstances beyond my control, but since I didn’t deliver what I was supposed to deliver, there would be no pay. I do not remember how I lived for the next two weeks, and where I managed to find money, but I remember my feelings walking down Liteynyi Prospect: what I am going to do?! I can’t say anything in my defense; I didn’t turn in my work, but how will we survive

I worked for Prompt almost until the very last day in Russia. I told them that I am leaving when my work visa was granted. They were mad because their previous technical writer left for America several months before that (and that’s why they hired me). But there was nothing they could do. That was my last contract job in Russia.

As for my position with the University, I didn’t have the courage to quit. After all, I was still in the “I may come back” mode. But since Igor was a special needs child, I had a right by law to go on unpaid leave “to take care of the child” until his 16th birthday. Then theoretically, I could return on any day and get my position back. 

Now, I need to san a hundred pictures from our last summer, because somehow that last summer is very well documented 🙂

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.

The Event – a Documentary

I just learned about this documentary, although it was produces five years ago. In short, it combines the footage filmed on the streets of Saint Petersburg (then still Leningrad) on August 19-24, during the attempted coup d’etat.

I didn’t even plan watching it today, because I have a book chapter deadline, but I decided to rent in on Vimeo, and just watched in on zoom with Igor.

It is absolute must-see for anybody, because there is close to no footage of these events, because the little which is available is not shown to general public, because of Belarus, and because of many other countries. And because it’s a good reminder that that is us. I do not really like the trailer because of the choice of the episodes and how they are linked, but still – better than nothing.

I was not there during these events, because those were the very last days of my pregnancy, Vlad and Anna were born on August 23. But even without internet and without any information on the television, I knew what was going on, and I was upset that I could not be there.

I rented it here, and I think it worth five bucks to pay for 24 hours streaming. Vlad and @abailliekova – it’s a must-see, and I mean it.

Baby Clothes in the Times of My Motherhood

In August, when my girls were visiting me here, Anna and I started talking about baby clothes when they all were babies. I funny thing is that there was a very little difference between the times when I was a baby and Igor’s times. Things just started to change at Vlad’s and Anna’s time, but a little bit too late for us – I still got a full share of caring for the babies without civilization’s advantages.
When I finished my story, Anna said that I should write a blog post about it because she never understood my challenges before. To illustrate my story, I pulled up a couple of Igor’s pictures when he was 1-2 months old; however, you’ll mostly have to use your imagination :).

There were two tops; both didn’t have any buttons or snaps or fasteners – nothing to hold them together. Such tops were called raspashonks – which can be translated as “no fastener.” The one going under was made of chintz (cotton, but not the stretchy kind). It had short sleeves and was put on a baby with the opening on the back. The upper one had long sleeves and was made of thin flannel, and it was put on a baby with the opening on the front. Both were short, just to the baby’s waist.

Diapers were made of gauze. Most of the time, three layers were sewn together in a triangle. You would fold this triangle twice and put it over the baby’s bottom, between the thighs and over the hips. If you are wondering whether there was anything water-proof, the answer is no. Even when the first leak-proof covers started to appear, pediatricians disapproved of them. They were saying babies develop a rush because of them.

Over a diaper, you would swaddle the baby’s body’s bottom in a small rectangle chintz swaddler (pelenka). Then you could put a small rectangular piece of plastic under the baby’s butt, and then you would swaddle her with a flannel pelenka. For night sleep, you would swaddle in the baby’s arms as well.

I believe this gives a good idea about the volume of washing – cleaning required, and why I was never rushing to change the diaper the moment, it was wet. Oh yes, and multiply by two, and by the absence of a washing machine!

January 1, 1996

One more year, one more set of pictures taken on January 1, at the family gathering on Aunt Kima’s birthday. Once again, I do not remember who took the pictures. I am sure there were tons of pictures of everybody, but I only have pictures where my children are present.

They are dressed in the same costumes as on the photo with a children’s musical cast. Igor is a Vampire, Vlad is a Dwarf, and Anna is a Little Red Riding Hood. I am recycling my High School Graduation dress with all accessories.

Igor, Slava, Petya, Vlad
Aunt Kima with Anna, Iya and Vlad, with Igor on the left
Me with Ann on my lap and my second cousin Ania with her daughter Iya
Continue reading “January 1, 1996”

Saying Goodbye to 1995

The year 1996 was fast approaching, my last year in Russia, although I didn’t know about it back then. To be precise, the first call from Vin.NET International happened in December 1995, but they didn’t offer a job for me then, and I didn’t think there will be any followups. So I didn’t know what the New Year had for me and celebrated it’s coming.

New Year was always a big deal. As I already explained, the New Year festivities were reinstated in the early 1930s to compensate for banned Christmas and Sviatki – the week between Christmas and New Year. Since Orthodox Christmas was celebrated two weeks later than the Catholic one, on January 7, all the festivities would start right before the New Year Eve and would continue for a week or more. The “Old New Year” was celebrated on January 13, and the school winter break started on December 30 and lasted until January 10.

The New Year concerts and parties at schools were usually held on one of the last days before the winter break, and between January 2 and January 10, there were lots of events. Most of the Children’s theaters were running their New Year specials, and also, there were tons of “yolkas.” Yolka means a fir tree or a Christmas tree, but according to an old Russian tradition, Yolka also meant a party, mostly for children, with some New year-themed performance, games around a New Year Tree, and at the end, everybody gets presents. Presents were usually bags of assorted candies and chocolates and maybe a pack of waffles and a mandarin orange.

The first picture, however, was taken at Vlad’s and Anna’s detskiy sad. They had. New Year party and I took Igor to watch it with me. After the party was over, a photographer suggested that he take additional pictures of the children, whose parents would be interested in purchasing more. That’s where this picture came from.

The next one was taken in the Children’s Theater, which we frequently patronized. It was called “Skazka” – a fairy tale. They put on some New Year show, and we went there with two other families. Families meant mothers and children because it was very uncommon for fathers to participate in such activities. A mother was considered to be enough 🙂

I already mentioned, kids (and sometimes adults) dressed up for New Year parties, and Igor, Vlad, and Anna are in their costumes (I have better pictures of costumes, which I will include in the next post). After the show, everybody could take pictures with the cast.

There is a Prince (Tsarevich) and a Princess (Tsarevna) on the back. Next row: a girl who’s name I can’t remember, to my shame, then Igor dressed as a Vampire, and then our friend Ania, who participated in so many activities with us. Finally in the first row: Snow girl (Snegurochka), a granddaughter of Grandfather Frost, Anna dressed as a Little Red Riding Hood, Vlad dressed as a Dwarf and Grandfather Frost himself, is his blue and white coat.

We had more pictures with the cast, but for some reason only this one survived, and I am glad I have it!

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.