|Communal Living in Russia: Video Tours|
|A conversation about the bathroom: how clothes are washed and dried, how people wash.|
|Basic Facts and Background|
When: Summer 2006
Where: The bathroom, kitchen, and "empty" room of a communal apartment in a building on Kamennoostrovsky Prospekt, in the prestigious historical center of St. Petersburg. Friends and acquaintances of Ilya live here. The apartment is in the same entryway as the one in which Ilya lived for 30 years. Eleven families now (2006) live in the apartment. There was a time when 16 families lived there.
Who: 1) Ilya Utekhin. 2) Sonya, who has lived here all her life. 3) Yulya, who has lived here all here life (she walks out of the bathroom at the beginning of the clip, and later washes her daughter's hands in the kitchen). 4) Dasha, Yulya's daughter. 5) Iraida Yakovlevna, a former janitor, who has been living here for 40 years. 6) Denis, who is renting a room from Iraida Yakovlevna's daughter Natasha (Natasha herself lives in her husband's apartment). 7) Anna Yakovlevna, a former teacher, who has been living here for six years. 8) Slawomir, who is filming.
What: The public bathhouse, mentioned in the conversation, was for a significant portion of the urban population during the Soviet period the place to go if you wanted to wash yourself with hot water. Many people continued to go to the bathhouse out of habit, even after bathrooms and hot water became a feature of apartments. Soviet-style laundries kept people's wash for several days, sending it out to centralized units for processing. Self-service laundries appeared in Russia only recently and are not widespread. They did not exist in the Soviet Union. Up until perestroika, large numbers of people used the affordable services of the laundry, despite the presence of washing machines even in communal apartments.
A reference is made to things that someone is intending to take to the dacha. A dacha is a small house outside the city used in the warm weather for recreation and, as a rule, to grow a vegetable garden. A large number of Soviet urban families had dachas. They had fewer amenities than the city apartment, and standards were lower, so that a broken chair or propane canister could be of use there.
The tires belong to one of the tenants who has a car. In Russia today, in contrast with the Soviet period, owning a car is not always the mark of someone making a good living. There is nothing surprising in someone in a communal apartment having a car.
The washing and reuse of plastic bags is not associated with concern for the environment. The practice, which is no longer as common, was universal in the Soviet period because bags were in short supply. Purchases in stores were wrapped in gray paper. Decorated plastic bags became available only in the 1980s. In this video, an old woman is washing a plastic bag in the sink.
The safeguarding of new items that have been bought with money collected from tenants is always a cause for anxiety. See, for example, the written appeal warning tenants to be careful when using a new shower in another apartment.
|Translation of the Russian Transcript|
Sonya: When there's a rag here, that means that somebody's in the shower and you can't turn on the water.
Ilya: It doesn't matter that the faucet drips all the time?
Sonya: Oh, the bathroom's free now. Okay.
Ilya: You said you would show us the new shower.
Sonya: So, here's our new shower. Although we didn't have an old one. So it's called new for the sole reason that until now we didn't have one. People mostly went to the bathhouse.
Sonya: This is our washing machine. And this is our dirty laundry. Other people also have washing machines here, I don't know whose is whose. They have their own basins for dirty laundry, other things of theirs. Everybody hangs things out to dry on the clotheslines.
Ilya: Does anybody take their wash to the cleaners?
Sonya: A lot of people wash their things by hand. I don't know if anybody takes wash to the cleaners.
Ilya: It used to be that you would boil the sheets. People put these huge buckets, enamelled or just galvanized, onto the stove and that's where they boiled the sheets. So as not to do that, not to take up the whole kitchen and bathroom, we took the sheets to the cleaners.
Sonya: I see a lot of people boiling sheets. They put an enormous bucket on the stove.
Ilya: You mean even now?
Sonya: Even now, yes.
Sonya: Well, some people simplify things; they just wash everything in a basin. And other people completely modernized.
Ilya: Are the clotheslines divided up?
Sonya: Not at all. If you see an empty spot, you take it; that is, at some point you can come in and see that that there's no space, no place to hang anything. Then you have to go to what we call the "empty room" and hang all your stuff there.
Ilya: And these buckets here?
Sonya: They are pretty much used for heating water when there isn't any hot water and for washing the floor.
Ilya: But now you have hot water all the time, don't you?
Sonya: No, for example, right now there's no hot water.
Ilya: Wait a minute, how can that... You get hot water from the water heater that's in the kitchen.
Sonya: Whatever, but at the moment we have no hot water. Something broke. I have no idea what, but we have no hot water.
Ilya: That is, you have hot water in the kitchen, but in the...
Sonya: There's no hot water in the kitchen now either. Now there's no hot water at all.
Iraida Yakovlevna: You left something in my room.
Ilya: No, that's for you.
I.Ya.: Why for me? It probably has a lot of sugar in it, I can't have it.
Ilya: It's not very sweet, but it's good.
Ilya: And you'll have guests…
I.Ya.: Not any time soon.
Ilya: Maybe one of these days they'll come. Of course. For tea. And these are very good, I've tested them myself!
Sonya: Natasha will come to see you.
I.Ya.: Natasha doesn't really eat sweets either...
Ilya: It's not very sweet, try it!
I.Ya.: Not very sweet?
Ilya: Not very sweet.
I.Ya.: And I thought, what's on the table? I couldn't figure it out. Oh God... I thought you left something by mistake.
Ilya: No, it's okay, it's okay, it's, it's for you.
I.Ya.: Thank you very much!
Sonya: This room is called the "empty room," and also the "drying room." People hang their wash out to dry here, but not only here; in the bathroom too, and also people keep bath sponges here, people keep things that they plan on taking to their dachas, propane cans, for example. And in fact all sorts of unusable things are kept here, things that people don't want to throw out, but don't want to keep in their rooms either. So it all goes here. Judging from my own behavior, people use the drying room to store everything they don't want to throw away but they don't know where to put. Some people dry plastic bags here. Once I overheard a neighbor's kid telling someone over the phone that he couldn't go out and play because he had to help his parents wash plastic bags.