Communal Living in Russia: Audio
Our Building: What Life Was Like: How many residents and where they are from
  A count of residents; a story about how people started washing the floors after the war.
  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 count of the number of residents before the war; professors living in their own apartments located on the same staircase; polishing floors; the drop in cleanliness and order with the postwar influx of non-Leningraders into the apartment.

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

  Translation of the Russian Transcript
  G.A.: Now we have something like eighteen people; after the war there were forty, and before the war I didn't... I didn't count. I can try.

Ilya: Were there more or less?

G.À.: I can try to count, I don't know how many, I can try. So in the first from there was one woman, that's one, in this one three, that's four, we'll count together. Four? In this... room there was one, that's five, in these two, seven, that's ten, in this one three people, thirteen, and our family had, it had four, thirteen and four, that's seventeen, and there were four of them. How much is seventeen and four? Twenty-one. There were twenty-one people living here before the war.

Ilya: And why were there so many after the war, forty?

G.À.: People were moved in into every room, big families too, a small seven-meter room had four people. People were moved in. Then grandma came, so there were five. After the war this apartment had forty people. There were forty people here. So... and now there are eighteen, so, then, before the war there were more than twenty, more than twenty people, twenty of them. That's everybody. One by one they all died, and I'm the only one left. So, what did we have here before the war... In the small apartments, the ones they were... well they were right here, there was a little apartment, you know what I'm saying? Next to the elevator. Across from here. That's where our professors lived. There was a doorman by the elevator, in a braided uniform. Across was a palm tree, a palm tree. I think there were even two, in tubs, we had palms, we had them. We had carpets. From the doorway to the elevator there was a carpet. The professors were driven in cars. A car would drive up, he didn't usually come down from the second floor on the staircase, he used the elevator. So the way it was, there was nobody but professors there, they used to have whole apartments, and we were here in the communal apartment. In the communal apartment. The floors were done by a floor-polisher, we didn't wash anything then.

Ilya: Where did the floor-polisher come from, did you hire one?

G.À.: Yes, of course.

Ilya: Who paid?

G.À.: We did, of course, who else? We paid... Nobody... nobody was interested in washing floors. Everything was polished, and you weren't allowed to wash the floors in your room either, in your room you also polished.

Ilya: So you never washed the floors?

G.A.: We never washed them. Only in the kitchen. Only in the kitchen.

Ilya: And when did you stop polishing them?

G.À.: After the war. The people who came in were country people, from all over, from Pskov region, Novgorod region, they were... from all sorts of different places. So they, they said, we're not lazy, we're going to wash the floors, so they started here in the hallway, the floors, they started scrubbing and washing. After the war. Before the war we weren't allowed.

Ilya: Why wasn't it allowed?

G.À.: It's oak! You have to take care of it! Parquet! Everything had to be polished.

Ilya: Do you know where the new tenants came from?

G.A.: Of course! The first room was Belorussia, the second was Novgorod, these were from around Yaroslavl, and that other woman, I don't know, she never speaks about it, she never talks to anybody about anything, I don't know where she came from. Over here they're from Pskov region, and over there from Kalinin region. Different places.

Ilya: That is, there was nobody from Petersburg?

G.A.: But I already told you... sorry... I told you that I'm the only one.

Ilya: Aside from you...

G.A.: I'm the only one left from before the war, the only one. Everybody died, one by one they died, one by one, nobody's left.

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