Audio > Our Building: What Life Was Like > Nobody thought about money
expand/collapse this text box Summary
The good old days and New Year's parties before the war.
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: A friendly life before the war; childhood memories of New Year's festivities.

The most important holiday in the Soviet Union was New Year's eve. Christmas, as a religious holiday, was not celebrated in the atheist state. Beginning in the 1930s, the government encouraged New Year's celebrations by organizing special children's parties. The main such party took place in the Kremlin.

It is customary to decorate trees, the equivalent of Christmas trees, and exchange presents at the New Year.

Our virtual museum has only one photograph from this apartment ("Partial view of a kitchen") and no video materials.

expand/collapse this text box Translation of the Russian Transcript
G.À.: Before the war everybody got along well. People helped each other, and there were never any quarrels. Nobody saved their money. They got their salary, and spent it right away. We were happy. We got along well, we never had any quarrels, not like after the war when... somebody would be saving up money, or somebody says don't come see me and I won't see you.

Ilya: Did people visit each other before the war?

G.À.: Did they ever! In our big room, the one that's the kitchen, we, all of us children would get together and have a New Year's party. We got along, everybody got along. Nobody saved up money, everybody thought, well, maybe there'll be a bad year, so there'll be one, so what. There were girls, they had two rooms, they had a whole bookcase of children's books. I didn't. So I was little but I went to see them and I'd take books and look at the... I looked at the picture book. I wanted to learn, I wanted to read all those books there, all of that. So. Another girl, when we had our New Year's party, she had a very good handwriting. And people there would give her a nut or a tangerine. Tangerines used to be sold wrapped in tissue paper, you'd buy one at a time. If my parents bought them, they'd buy five, never a kilogram. One orange, that's all. For the New Year they used to give me a chocolate fish, that's all.

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