Here I Am In My Childhood Apartment in 1965

My greataunt used to say that we had four different heating systems in that apartment. The only one who was working at the time of my childhood was the central radiator heating, where warm water from various industrial cooling systems was recycled for heating purposes. We didn’t control when the heating is turned on or off and what was the desired temperature.

The non-functioning heating systems were two masonry heaters; one of them looked almost exactly like the one on the picture, and another one rectangular-shaped and covered with tiles.

There was a huge fireplace in the largest room, and sometimes, when my cousin had a gathering with his friends, they would start the fire in the fireplace, and everything worked as expected:). Lastly, some heating system inside the walls was using hot water running through and heating the spaces. My greataunt called it the Amos heating, but I can’t find any references for this name anywhere.

We had only cold running water. In the bathroom, we used a small gas water heater. Each time you needed warm water, you had to lift the level, start the pilot with the match. Then, you would turn the water on, and this would turn on the heating.

There was another, even smaller gas water heater in the kitchen, but it was seldom used for some reason.
Bit overall, the kitchen was a fascinating place, with many objects to explore. I remember an iron nade of cast iron and brass mortar and pestle and a non-electrical coffee percolator.

And I remember the morning sun in the kitchen window and a thin water jet running from the small brass kitchen faucet, and me standing on the large rectangular wooden stool by the kitchen sink washing my hands in the morning.

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.

My Childhood Apartment Part I

I didn’t have time to continue with my historical posts for the past two weeks, and now I hope to use my mini-semi-vacation to catch up with these writings. In my last post, I showed the pictures of the former Anglican Mission building where I lived as a child.

As I already mentioned, I do not have pictures of our apartment’s inside, but I will try my best to describe it (edits from Igor and Anna are welcomed :)).My grandaunt received the “order” for this apartment sometime in the 1920s when she worked as a reporter for Smena – Leningrad Young Communists newspaper. All the sources tell me that the building was abandoned since 1919, and I have no idea why it sat unoccupied or so long when there was such a shortage of real estate. But my grandaunt Fania told me that when she entered it for the first time, it looked like the occupants left in a hurry and that there was a lot of furniture left behind, and even the priest’s library.
I do not know where the books went. As for the furniture, most likely, it was gone during the Seige of Leningrad. I remember only two pieces of furniture that survived. One was a “lomber table” – a small table for the Ombre card game, which was used as a phone stand, and I didn’t even know what it was until my grandaunt told me. The second piece was an English redwood armchair, just slightly darker than the one on that image.

Update: I found online the exact image of how it looked like, only made of a different wood:

Two more armchairs could be potential survivors as well, but I am not that sure about them.

Here is a picture of the courtyard from the previous post, with our apartment being on the right side on the second floor.

You would enter a door on the right (you almost can’t see it, it’s right after that black car). There were wide stone stairs that led to the first-floor landing. The back entrance to the department of tourism was on the left, and only the people who worked there were allowed to enter. To the right, there was a door with a lock, which led to the two apartments. On the first floor, there was apartment #7, the former servants’ quarters, which the janitor’s family occupied. The second door on the first floor (also with the lock) led to our apartment #8. To be precise, it led to the stairs – two flights of stairs. These stairs would lead to the apartment itself. Imagine that you live in a two-story house, but you can’t enter the first floor. Instead, when you enter the house, you have a separate door to the stairs, and you live on the second floor only. That would be the closest to how our apartment looked.

After you climb these two flights of wooden (painted with a dark brown paint) stairs, you would find yourself in the huge hallway. It was twenty-five meters long and two meters wide, which gives you 50 square meters in total (almost 500 sq. feet). The ceiling was 4.75 meters (15.6 feet) high.

All the rooms were on the left side of the hallway (the right one was the wall adjoined to the next building).

The first room was the bathroom with the bathtub from the Anglican Mission times, made of cast iron and placed on the four brass lion paws.

The next one was the kitchen. My grandaunt told me that the first of the rooms was a “blue parlor,” which was later converted into a kitchen, but since there was an old tile-covered wood-burning stove in the corner, it seems to be an original kitchen. I do not remember this stove being ever used; most likely, it was never used after the war. We used its surface as a place to keep different kitchen utensils and devices. Next to the kitchen, there was a smaller room where my father lived, and where he and mom continued to live when they married, and where mom and I lived after my parents divorced. This room had a second door, which led to the next room, but this door was never used.

The next three rooms were occupied by my great-grandmother Baba Gitia, her daughter Baba Fania, Fania’s daughter Aunt Kima, and Kima’s son Dodik. Who of them lived in which room has changed several times.

The hallway ended with the door to the Church, but since we could not go there, a large dead-end led nowhere. A long time before I was born, a curtain was placed to separate this dead-end from the rest of the hallway, and it became a storage of everything-which-we-do-not-want-to-throw-away. It was called “The End Of The Hallway.”

Since I can go on for hours describing this old apartment, I think I will stop for now 🙂

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.

Galernaya 57: My Childhood House

I do not have any pictures of the apartment I lived in for the first twenty-one years of my life. But about ten years ago, my old friend, who still lives in Saint Petersburg, went there and took several pictures outside my former house. If I wrote the family history properly from the very beginning, I would tell about this building in its portion related to the 1920s. That’s when my family first moved in there. But since I am writing in random order, this post is here:)

We lived in one of the oldest city districts. As it was very frequent in Saint-Petersburg, the house had a rectangular shape with a courtyard inside. One of the facades faced one street, and the opposite facade faced the parallel street. The other two sides were inseparably close to the houses on the right and the left.

The house we lived in was built at the beginning of the 19th century by the Italian architect Giacomo Quarengi for the Anglican mission. The Chuch wing was facing the English Embankment, and the opposite wing was facing Galernaya street. The street was named this way because of the Galley Shipyard located at its west end. The shipyard was there since the city was founded. It is still there even now, although the ships which are built there are not galleys anymore. The word galera means galley in Russian.

Here is the street view. The first one is in the direction of the shipyard, and the second – in the direction of the Alexander’s Garden:

Continue reading “Galernaya 57: My Childhood House”

Fall 1964, And Onward

I pause after the last post about my early childhood because starting from that time, I remember my life as a sequence of events. I know that this is pretty unusual; that’s why I wanted to say it explicitly.

I remember all the episodes from the photos starting from January 1964, mostly because my mom showed me these pictures shortly after they were taken, and at that time, I remembered the actual episodes well. Later, each time I looked at these pictures, I could still keep these memories alive. So when I say “I remember,” I actually remember the white platok on the little girl’s head and a grey platok on her grandmother. I remember the snow close to my face when I fall, and mom took a picture of me. I remember another episode from spring 1964, which is not on the photos, which I referred to as “how I learned to walk,” although I most definitely walked before. I remember getting out of the stroller (I had a stroller for a very short period of time). I remember the sun getting into the courtyard and the shiny particles in the asphalt, once again close to my face :).
I remember this walk with my mom from the summer pictures.

But after I returned from Sosnovaya Polyana back to our home in the fall of 1964, I remember how my life was going, not just separate episodes. I remember life as everyday life. I remember washing my hands in the morning. For some reason, I was doing it in the kitchen, not in the washroom. I remember that I would get on the large kitchen stool to reach the small and sleek brass faucet, turn it on, and remember how the water was shiny in the morning sun peering through the giant window. Walking with my nanny on the Neva River embankment every day. Hearing my parents fighting late at night when for some reason, they thought I was asleep.

Last week, I tried to picture our huge apartment in my mind, and I realized that although we lived there for so many years, nobody ever bothered to take any pictures of the apartment itself, except for the pieces that accidentally ended up being in the pictures.

Describing it while I still remember will be the topic for my next post :).

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.

Summer 1964: People Around Me

On Sunday, I was trying to talk to mom about that summer. She confirmed that she was returning to Sosnovaya Polyana every day after work, and thereby her commute was three hours every day. She said that my father “rarely” was there and that “she needs to tell me everything.”

Actually, she already gave me her letters to my father and his letters to her from that period, and she gave me her diary to read, so I know how it all looked like both from her and his perspective.
I do not doubt that I need to write about it, but I am still unsure whether to include their story in my or tell it separately.

For now, let’s say that my father came to Sosnovaya Polyana from time to time and that he took lots of pictures. I like the photos which are not focused on me because I can see the interior of this tiny apartment, and I can see Baba Ania, even if only in the background.
Also, when I look at these pictures, it is very visible to me that my father loved my mom, even if it was in the wrong way. I mean, even though he a completely messed up person, he loved her the way he could love.

Continue reading “Summer 1964: People Around Me”

Summer 1964, part 2

More pictures from the same summer. I poster the picture below in the previous post.

The building behind us is this three-story building where Baba Ania and Deda Fedia lived. Their studio apartment was on the third floor, one window was facing his scene, and the balcony and the kitchen window faced right (where the wooden huts are). If you look at the ground under the balcony (on the right of this picture), you will see some sand. You can’t tell that this is sand, but if I tell you that it is there, you can figure out where exactly it is.

Now, look at the next picture.

We are playing in this dirty grey sand and trying to build something:). And on the next picture, I turn my head up and yell towards the balcony for Baba Ania to drop my little shovel to me.

Continue reading “Summer 1964, part 2”

Summer 1964

The complete gallery is here, so that my children and grandchildren will know where to look for photos; I am not going to post all sixty :).

In the summer of 1964, I was one-and-a-half years old, and I spent the summer with my maternal grandparents. 

Deda Fedya (grandpa Fedya) “received” this one-room apartment from the Leningrad Commercial Port, where he worked after returning from his army service.

They lived in one of the houses built in the 1950s’, in Sosnovaya Polyana, the part of Leningrad only from an administrative perspective. I remember that in 1964, the peasant’s houses that surrounded it were freshly demolished. The wooded houses were gone, but the stone chimneys and the fireplaces stayed. Now that I recall this picture, it seems creepy, but I found it extremely funny back then. My grandfather would take me with him on expeditions to checked whether there was something worthy left in the abandoned gardens. He dug out some strawberries and planted them on his balcony, 

 I was there for the summer because of the firm belief, which I mentioned earlier, that children should have some “fresh air” during summer, and adults have to make sacrifices to make it happen. 

It was a one-room apartment, with only one normal bed for my grandparents. Mom slept on the camp bed in the tiny hallway. I slept on the small day bed. Mom walked to the train station every morning (almost 3 miles), and took a train and then a tram from the railway station to her work. My father was there only on the weekends, and I am not even sure whether their issues already started at that time.   

In any case, all these pictures were taken by my father during one of his visits. The most precious thing about these photos is that I can see parts of that apartment, and I can see Baba Ania passing by on some of them. 

The house was originally built with the woodstove only; the gas stove (on the right) was installed later) 

Mom sits on the balcony and tries to feed me some meat
Continue reading “Summer 1964”

My Life As a Toddler: The Beginning Of 1964

I am moving back to the beginning of my timeline – to the first four months of 1964.

In the previous post, I showed the pictures from my first New Year, when I was just nineteen days short of my first birthday. As I already said, I remember some parts of that day, and I remember that I was learning to walk, and the walls were not exactly straight and reliable – sometimes they would suddenly start slipping, and I would end up on the floor :).

The first five pictures were taken in January. On the first three of them, I am in my crib, where I was placed so that adults could do something without me constantly falling on the floor. I have a couple of my toys there, but apparently, I am not interested in them.

Continue reading “My Life As a Toddler: The Beginning Of 1964”

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 🙂

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.

Breaking the rules in private vs protesting in public and the Soviet mentality

Last week, my mom wrote about the seeming contradiction she’s seen with her Russian friends, who’ve seen even peaceful protests as somehow innately bad, while not minding violating laws on the sly.

I definitely get where she’s coming from. Growing up in Russia, I’ve often seen grown-ups express the attitude that it’s almost virtuous to take advantage of loopholes, and there’s nothing wrong with violating the rules so long as they aren’t effectively enforced. Similarly, I’ve seen plenty of people take pride in following the letter of the law while violating the spirit. And it’s not even a solely Russian thing – as I got older, I saw the same kind of attitude in many other ex-Soviet countries.

I’ve already been thinking about this a lot during the pandemic. During the Illinois lockdown, people weren’t supposed to go outside except for essential reasons, such as buying groceries. But there were several professions that were exempt from that, including journalists. So long as it was in the service of performing journalism duties, we were allowed to go wherever wanted.

Which is where the gray area came in. There is only so much journalism one can do from behind the computer screen. Sometimes, one has to go to places, see things as they happen, take pictures, talk to people. And sometimes, you need to see conditions on the ground to figure out what’s worth writing about. And so, as those of you who followed me on social media know, I took trips to the suburbs, just to get out of the house and have a change of scenery. I took pictures and took notes that could be used for the article. A few times, I even legitimately got story ideas this way, or took pictures that were actually used in articles – but there were times that I didn’t. And there were some instances when I took pictures for fun and wound up using them in articles because it just happened to be apropos. But there were also times when I didn’t use them for anything.

My mom wasn’t amused by any of this, chiding me for doing non-essential travel, but I honestly didn’t feel bad. Who was to say that any given trip wouldn’t retroactively serve a journalistic purpose? To quote Harry Dresden from Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, it was a technicality I intended to hide firmly behind, if anybody asked (which nobody did).

Honestly, I was more confused why my mom took issue with that. She actually grew up in the Soviet Union, and i know for a fact that, back then, she did things that weren’t legal, and things that were on the gray side.

It was the same thing with my visits to the Chicago beaches during the summer. While the beaches weren’t closed, the closures weren’t enforced after 7:00 PM. I didn’t feel bad about not following the rules when they weren’t in any way enforced, especially when other people did the same thing.

Now, unlike my mom’s Russian friends, I have no issue with protests, at least not per se. Even when I don’t necessarily agree with the goals, I don’t have this common Russian reaction of “what are they doing, they’re just stirring up trouble.” Protests bring attention to issues. They make a statement that the way things are won’t be tolerated. What is so wrong with people risking arrest and injury to stand up for their beliefs?

(Now, people wanting to protest without being willing to risk anything is another story)

As I commented on my mom’s blog, I don’t think the contradiction she talked about is that much of a contradiction at all. She and her friends grew up in the Soviet Union. Protest actions get people in trouble – ergo, those who start trouble are trouble-makers. Now, exploiting the blind spots of law enforcement, exploiting the loopholes and the legal particulars, doesn’t get you in trouble (if you do it right), so that’s okay.

I think it relates to the phenomenon Suki Kim described in Without You, There’s No Us, a book about her time teaching college students from North Korean Workers’ Party elite. She was struck by how her students lied constantly, without good reason, and how lying seemed so natural to them, and speculated that it was the consequence of growing up in a society where being truthful was a liability. DPRK apparatus is basically Stalinism on steroids, and my mom’s friends weren’t old enough to experience Stalinism in its original form directly, but I do think that any society where expressing one’s opinions has severe consequences makes lying feel more natural, and makes concerns about self-preservation all the more overwhelming. And, as my own example shows, one doesn’t need to live under Soviet repression to absorb some of the lessons it taught its citizens.

And, thinking at it now, I think another factor that may play into this is that my mom’s generation came of age during Perestroika, when protests helped end the Kremlin Coup and end Soviet Union once and for all – only to experience the economic devastation, privatization creating a class of oligarchs and plunging so many people further into poverty, things like job guarantees vanishing overnight… Might put a few people off protesting,

I don’t think it’s necessarily one thing, but an interaction of all three, with perhaps some factors I haven’t considered mixed in.

I will end with one side note. As several second-generation Russian-American immigrants have observed on Facebook, it’s been kind of fascinating to watch the same people who cheered on protests in Belarus complain about BLM protesters, and the same people who’d complain about police brutality in Belarus excuse police excesses in United States.

But that goes to a whole different, albeit related, bundle of traumas.