|Communal Living in Russia: Video Tours|
|Ilya shows the washroom in his former apartment and talks about his former neighbors.|
|Basic Facts and Background|
When: Summer 2006
Where: The bathroom and kitchen of an apartment in a five-story apartment building in the high-status historical center of St. Petersburg. At the time of filming, eight families lived in the apartment.
Who: 1) Ilya Utekhin, who lived in the apartment for around thirty years. At the time of filming, he still had a room here. 2) "Auntie" Asya, who has lived in this apartment over forty years; 3) Slawomir, who is filming.
Arseny, whom Ilya brings up in conversation, is his oldest son, born in 1987. He spent his childhood in this apartment.
What: This bathroom is the only place in the apartment where you can take a shower or just wash yourself out of sight of the other tenants. The apartment does have a sink, in the kitchen, which is used for preparing food and washing dishes. Some tenants brush their teeth there, if it is more convenient for them or if the bathroom is occupied. Those who try to wash their hands after using the lavatory do so either in the kitchen sink or here in the bathtub.
The bathroom is also used for washing and drying clothes. Clothes can also be dried in the kitchen (above the tables and stoves) and on the roof, in the open space that the tenants call the "veranda" (or "large balcony"). Nobody in the apartment has a clothes drier.
There is no toilet in the bathroom. This is the usual setup both in communal and in many private apartments.
Ilya mentions a piece of paper or a rag that is often wound around the faucet in the kitchen to let people know that they shouldn't use hot water because someone needs it in the washroom. In another apartment the same purpose is served by a note.
There is a mention of prostitution in the narrative. As an institutionalized system, prostitution arose only in post-Soviet Russia. In the USSR, at least beginning in the 1930s, there was nothing like it; hard currency prostitutes working for foreigners under the control of the KBG don't count. Of course there were women who sold their bodies in a variety of circumstances and there were probably underground bordellos, but the average Soviet did not expect to see or visit one. That was a part of a different, bourgeois lifestyle.
|Translation of the Russian Transcript|
Ilya: Here is someone's new washing machine, and another new washing machine, and I think this old washing machine used to be ours, and now it's just being used in here as a table. Yeah...
Ilya: And every family here has their own shelf. To tell you the truth, I can't quite remember. I think this used to be our shelf, and it seems that it got automatically transferred to whoever took our place. So every family has their own shelf, although Jan, who used to live with us here, he was an instructor at the European University, would complain about his shampoo disappearing. Someone was using his shampoo, so he started carrying it back to his room with him.
Ilya: You see, here is an electrical outlet, and here's another outlet, and here there were two more outlets. These outlets belong to different neighbors. The wires run here from their rooms. We had a giant spool of electrical cord which we would unwind and hang outside on hooks. See this nail? You can't see it very well, but this is a nail. This nail is for hanging the cord which would be threaded through here, the extension cord, and into it we would plug our washing machine. The cord ran here all the way from our room.
Ilya: This is where we would hang clothes out to dry, and these clotheslines were not assigned to individual families. By the way, this window... in several places we've seen washrooms with a window. This window looks into the neighboring room. So the room we're in was not always a washroom. The washroom was originally located in one of the rooms which is currently occupied by tenants.
Ilya: I remember the bathtub already being here, but it wasn't this same tub. No, there was a giant claw foot tub; the feet were cast iron. It was a very beautiful, quality item. But it had a non-standard drain plug. It was very large, and when it started to leak down there, they said, Let's just replace the whole tub. And when they put in a new tub, it became damaged very quickly.
Ilya: It's an interesting situation here. Every family had their own wash-basin here, and here you can still see these old washtubs. We used this old washtub to wash Arseny. It's our old washtub. And what's interesting is that the large bathtub itself was rarely used for bathing—only in the first few days after somebody had washed it out with chlorine powder at the end of their cleaning duty period. But normally you'd just take a basin—like this—you'd put it right here in the bathtub, turn on the water, and wash yourself right inside.
Ilya: Of course not all the tenants are equally clean—some are dirtier than others, and the apartment drunk, if he wanted to use the washroom to wash his dirty trousers, let's say, in this shared washroom, then this could create a problem, they could try to keep him from coming in here, and if he brought home some dirty woman from the street, a street woman, and wanted to wash her here in the washroom, in the same washroom where children are bathed, then they wouldn't let him in here, there could be an argument. But actually, he didn't really insist all that much, because he somehow understood that he was really in the wrong, so to speak. That he was violating custom, as this woman had no relationship to the apartment, she wasn't part of this system, she wasn't a permanent resident here, so he wouldn't really insist.
Ilya: Then again, we had a tenant here who would invite prostitutes over, so public opinion in the apartment, uh, they didn't want to let the girls into the washroom. "Where are you going? This is our washroom. You can't wash here." In fact, he would even talk on the apartment telephone and discuss what kind of girls he would like brought to him, and all this was in front of the tenants, who of course would overhear these phone conversations. So, uh, this was absolutely transparent. These girls would come over, their bodyguards would wait on the stairs. This was, uh, all too real.
Ilya: But actually people would very often wait their turn for the washroom right outside with a towel over their shoulders to keep someone else from jumping in ahead of them. In fact, sometimes you would see two people waiting in line, both with towels, they're chatting, and at the same time they're waiting in line. The door opens, someone jumps right it—the most important thing is not to let anyone slip in front of you.
Ilya: The hot water... just a minute, I'll show you. The hot water comes from the kitchen, from the gas powered water heater. Here it is. When we turn on the water to wash dishes, in theory, it should ignite. And the same thing happens when someone runs the water in the washroom. This pipe leads from the water heater, see it, see it, see it, see it, it goes through there to the washroom. So if someone in the kitchen turns on the water to wash dishes, the water goes cold on person in the washroom. So you always used to take a little piece of paper or a rag and wind it around the faucet in the kitchen, to let people know that they shouldn't turn the water on or the water will go cold on the person washing in the bathtub. And sometimes the cold water was used as a signal. Let's say the washroom has been occupied for 15 minutes already, and it's really time to let the next person use it. You'd give him a little blast of cold water on purpose so that he'd hurry it up.