Audio > Our Building: What Life Was Like > The apartment long ago
expand/collapse this text box Summary
An old woman tells about the original floor plan of the apartment.
expand/collapse this text box Basic Facts and Background
When: February 2, 1998

Where: A communal apartment in the central entryway of a five-story apartment building in the prestigious historical center of St. Petersburg. The apartment, home to 18 people, is at the back of the central courtyard (the architectural term is cour d'honneur, a formal three-sided courtyard that is a feature of European palaces and mansions beginning in the seventeenth century).

Who: G. A. Z—, born 1932; the interviewer is Ilya, an anthropologist doing field work in communal apartments.

The informant is bedridden; she is looked after by neighbors and a city aide. During the interview, the aide was in the room, cleaning; she also brought in the meal she had prepared in the kitchen.

The oldest tenant in the apartment, living there since 1932, G. A. Z— was in active conflict with all the other tenants ("I'm lying in a state of boycott," as she put it). Unlike her memories of the past, which she could relate more or less calmly, everything that in any way touched her relationship with her neighbors today agitated her and made her stutter; it was very difficult for the interviewer to change the subject.

What: G. A. Z—, mentally reconstructs the floor plan of the apartment, working from furniture and architectural details remaining from that time. She tells about the first tenant who lived in the entire apartment.

See this apartment's kitchen in "Partial view of a kitchen."

expand/collapse this text box Translation of the Russian Transcript
G. A.: So I will tell you about this apartment things that nobody else could.

G. A.: My mother brought me here when I was a month old; she put me on this bed. This bed is prewar, it's iron, prewar, bought before the war. Some the things here, this whatnot and this little table, are prerevolutionary, they aren't my things. They belonged to the engineer who lived here... beginning in 1917... here for three years, from 1914 to 1917... no, not beginning in 1917 but from 1914 until 1917 an engineer lived here. He lived in this whole apartment. This whole apartment.

G. A.:So, the first room, this first room, it had glassed-in doors, these doors were glassed, you can probably see that even now. This is where the servant girl lived. Fifteen meters.

G. A.: The second room is forty meters, thirty eight or forty, a big one. This was their ballroom. They used to dance there. The next room is two rooms now. The walls are plywood, they never used to be there, there was just a little hallway. These rooms weren't there, before the war these rooms were, you know, they made these two rooms. Apartment 19 still has the little hallway, there aren't rooms in that place. So.

G. A.: The next room, directly opposite, that next room, it's twenty-four meters, that was his bedroom.

Ilya: Do you remember the engineer's name?

G. A.: No, I was born in '32, and he, he lived here only between 1914 and 1917. So. You know, later. I didn't ever set eyes on him.

G. A.: Now the next, the next room, it's really narrow, narrow and in the corner. This was his smoking room. No, the next room was his study. From the study into the hallway was a door, a narrow one, that's where his smoking room was. This corner was his.

G. A.: Until the war this lavatory that is now opposite us—the lavatory and the bathroom—they weren't there, they were there in the little hallway; the place where the bathroom was is now a closet. There were two lavatories next to each other. And this, this bathroom and the, what is it, lavatory, they were his closets. They were closets.

G. A.: There was a kitchen, the floor was pink, pink travertine, now there's linoleum over it, and there used to be something like clay there, pink clay and when you washed it, the couldn't mop it up with a rag. It was pink.

G. A.: The stove across there, where those, those kitchen what do you call them, those gas ranges are, there was a, a stove. After the, the war they took it away and they put in these gas ones. After the war. That's what I remember. Yes, you know all the people here were dying. Our room, our room was the children's bedroom.

Ilya.: This one.

G. A.: This one. This was a children's room. Well, this door here was put in after the war, this door wasn't here, there was, you see, a door over there in the wall. A door in the wall, and that room next to it, twenty-four meters, that was his dining room.

G. A.:And further down, further down, now there is a door here, they broke through the wall. That was also a children's room. And before the war—only I don't know what happened to it—there was a fireplace there. Before the war there was a fireplace, it was white, and low like a chest of drawers. I don't know what happened to it. There's no fireplace there now. So. And this, what do you call it, fireplace that we have in the hallway, is green and tall.

Ilya: Yes I saw it, it's pretty. When was it last used?

G. A.: I couldn't say. In my lifetime it was never used.

Click the image to see a larger version, uncropped and annotated.