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 play 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 🙂

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 🙂

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.  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. 
  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. 
  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.

Attending the University: Math-Mech Days

What else were we doing as students except for the studies? There were not many sports. Actually, among nerds it was not cool to do any sports, it was a strong presumption, that only people who can’t use their brain for anything productive, do sports. And the only sport I remember somebody was doing was our gymnastics team. If there were any other, they wouldn’t have any visibility.


There were obligatory political activities. There ere mathematical clubs in schools, which were called YMSCH – Youth Mathematical Schools. They were clubs, after-school activities, but we called them “schools.” And I will write about them at some point.


One of the highlights of student’s life was the Math-Mech Day. I can’t recall now, what was the way of choosing a date for it, but it was some time in spring, far enough from the finals. Later, it was transformed into the Math-Mech Week with different activities every day. But back then, it was not even a day, but just a performance – a student play, written, staged and performed by students, undergrads, grads and postgrads. That was probably the only one informal gathering I can recall from the Soviet era, definitely the only one in the University.

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Student’s Life: Financials

The economic situation of a student in the Soviet Union was very different from the one of the nowadays US college student. Even then, different people had different experiences, and I am going to describe how it looked for me.

We didn’t have to pay anything for our education, and most of us didn’t work, especially during the first two years. As I’ve mentioned previously, most of the college students lived with their parents, so technically speaking, you didn’t have any significant expenses. Most of the college students had government stipends. You would get 40 rubles a month if you didn’t fail any exams in the previous semester, 46 rubles if you got all B and A, and 50 rubles if you got all A.

Different families decided differently on how their college-age children would spend their stipends. Some would request to contribute all the money to the “family fund,” some would say: whatever you want to do with this money, up to you. But most families presumed that their college-age child would start covering some of their expenses. Most often, it would be public transportation, lunches at the University, school supplies, and some of the clothing.

That was doable, but you needed to plan carefully, which not that many of the students could do. Although my Mom taught me to record expenses since I was twelve, it was challenging for me to stay on the budget, when I had my own money for the first time. I guess money management is something you have to figure out from your personal experience.

The most substantial expense was food, lunches in the University, and whenever in the city I would end up wondering after classes were over. We didn’t have a concept of a brown-bag lunch, neither in grade school nor in the University or later at work.

The University cafeterias had commercial espresso machines, although we had no idea back then, that’s what it was :). The “small regular” meant one expresso shot, the “large regular” meant americano, a “double small” meant double espresso, and then it was a “large double” – and americano with an extra espresso shot. And there was no milk of any kind to add to your coffee unless you buy a carton of milk.

The most common food was a hotdog, but it was not what you think. It was a single hotdog boiled in hot water with a piece of rye bread. No hot dog bun, no relish, no mustard, no onions. That would be my typical lunch. Or you could buy two hot dogs. There could be some pastry, and I am trying to recall why I didn’t buy it. Also, there were chocolate bars with filling. And it always felt very exquisite when you purchase a double coffee and a chocolate bar. The bar cost 55 kopecks, more than a hot dog, and it felt like a gigantic waste of money, but it felt so cool :).

If we planned to go somewhere after we return to the city from the campus, we would usually eat pyshkas, a kind of donuts, in a small place right by the Baltic railway station. One pyshka cost 5 kopecks, and a “coffee” – a drink made of dissolved sweet concentrated milk with a coffee flavor – cost 11 kopeks. So for 51 kopecks, you could get four pyshkas and a coffee and be hunger-free until late evening. That was my and other people’s dinner more often than you can imagine.

The public transportation cost from 3 to 5 kopecks a ride, depending on the type of transportation, and electric train tickets were discounted big for students, especially if you buy 3- or 6-month pass. Those passes were non-transferable and had an owner name written in.

A Typical Day of the Student of the Leningrad State University(circa 1980)

On a typical day, I would wake up, have a cup of coffee (instant or greek, we didn’t have coffee makers) with a little bit of something, and head to the Baltic railway station. There was no subway station close to where I lived back then, so I had to take a tram for about 20 min and then walk.

Each class in the University was divided into groups, like homerooms at school, and everybody in a group would have the same schedule for all subjects, except for English and PE. We felt like one unit, and usually took a train together. Many groups had a designated train car (something like “the third from the locomotive”), and everybody would sit together. In some cases, people might get on the train at one of the subsequent stops, but they would still find their group, and those who got on the train earlier, would hold places for them.

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Attending the University: Military Studies, Schedules and Transportation

Last week, when I was in Helsinki, I also went to Saint-Petersburg for two days. There was nothing neither touristy nor nostalgic in this visit. I had an appointment with the realtor, and I also visited the HSE, where Boris is now teaching. Visiting this school and seeing how normal it is, made me think yet another time about my years as a student. I realized I’ve stopped blogging about this segment of my history, and now I will continue from where I stopped last time. There will be several posts describing our everyday life as students in the early 1980s.

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Attending the University: How We Learned to Program

Back to my years at Leningrad State University. In my last post related to this part of our family history, I described how most of the subjects were taught except for programming.

For a start, programming did exist in 1980, even in the Soviet Union, and I was very interested in it. Since I was enrolled into a specialized high school for mathematics and physics, we even had a computer!  

I believe this school computer was one of the “native” ones developed in the country, not copied from the Western prototypes (my former classmates may remember better). Since it was just one computer for a whole school, and not a super-powerful one, we did most of our programming on paper and didn’t debug our programs. We were only allowed “to touch the keys” a couple of times during a semester.

However, at the University, we had actual programming, and we were supposed to debug our programs and to show some results. 

Continue reading “Attending the University: How We Learned to Program”

Understanding Our Family History

Another topic of my conversation with Anna was about an understanding of people’s motives and preception of the world around them. That’s precisely the reason I started this blog; that’s why I try to be very honest with myself about the past.

Anna told me that she read somewhere on the internet about her great-grandfather, the one who was NKVD Major General, and about his career in the 1920s. She asked me whether she understood correctly, what he was doing in Middle Asia and Azerbaijan, and I confirmed. I think that it is essential to understand what many people were both the executors and the victims of the Great Terror. That is something I am not going to hide. And as Anna put it, she wants to understand, what was going on the people’s heads, how they could justify within themselves all these actions. How could a highly educated and very intelligent person consciously participate in the “kulak’s liquidation.” I can only guess about him. But I remember what his sister-in-law, my grand aunt, was telling me about her joining the Communist Party after most of her family was prosecuted. And I am going to write about it in the future. 

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Attending the University in the Soviet Union: English and PE

The list of subjects we studied was very limited. In addition to math classes and very politicized social studies, the only other classes we were offered during the first and the second year in the University were English and PE.

We had two “pairs” of both of them each week. Since my English was considered to be very good (I will explain later why) I was assigned to the most advanced level. This didn’t have any effect on the grade and was not reflected in the final transcripts, I was just fortunate to attend the better class.

Even in this better class, we had very little of conversational English. We’ve studied tons of grammar (to be forgotten the next day after the test) and completed lots of grammar exercises. Also, each semester, we were supposed to “pass thousands.” In this case “thousands” stand for thousands of symbols. I forgot both how many symbols per page was considered a reasonable estimation. I also forgot how many “thousands” we were supposed to prepare. But that’s how the process looked like.

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