|Communal Living in Russia: Video Tours|
|An old woman, a comparatively recent resident of a communal apartment, explains how she is helped by her sense of humor and shows her "defenders."|
|Basic Facts and Background|
When: June 2006
Where: A midsized apartment in a prestigious neighborhood in the center of St. Petersburg. Sveta's room.
Who: Alla Ignatevna, who has been living in the apartment since the mid 1990s, that is, longer than the other residents; Sveta, a student renting a room in the apartment; Slawomir, who films the scene; Marcus, a German student who is friends with Sveta and has come to see her; Ilya, who teaches at the university where Sveta is a student; Ksyusha, who is renting a room in the apartment.. Sveta mentions Cherepanova, the student she shares her room with.
What: Demonstrative religious behavior was not characteristic of citizens of the atheist Soviet state. However, the post-perestroika government not only stopped making difficulties for the Russian Orthodox Church, but began assisting it in many ways. Religion in general, and Russian Orthodoxy more specifically, became very popular. Alla Ignatevna most likely became an active church-goer during this time.
The paper icons that can be seen at the entrance to her room are sketches for the decoration of a church, done by an artist who is an acquaintance of A.I. Hanging icons, and writing out the texts of prayers by hand, are used as a magical means of protection. In this clip we see such a text hanging in a transparent envelope next to an icon. Protection from thieves (even symbolic protection) is a concern of many residents of communal apartments (see the clips from the Tour "Thefts and Losses"). Fear of thieves asserts itself in the various locks we see on the doors, kitchen cabinets, and cabinets in the hallways of many apartments.
The phrase we have translated as "a complete absence of culture" is literally, in Russian, "a complete absence of spirituality." Absence of religiosity is probably an element, but A.I.'s complaint relates mostly to people who are uneducated, boorish, and have no interest in high culture.
"Khrushchev housing" is the name given to ubiquitous housing complexes consisting of five-story buildings without elevators. Beginning in the early 1960s, construction of these complexes enabled people to move from kommunalkas to small private apartments. These bare-bones apartments, no longer in good condition, are one of the cheapest types of housing now available.
In the clip we can see a television antenna wire extended along the entire length of the wall.
|Translation of the Russian Transcript|
Anna Ignatevna: If you had come here just a few days ago, you would have, you would have seen that we were up for almost a whole night. You know why?
Ilya: Because of drunks?
A.I.: Upstairs there's this poor drunkard who, first of all, right above... right above me on the ceiling there was somebody rolling a bottle, that's right, rolling a bottle.
Ilya: Along the floor?
A.I.: Along the floor. And a couple of days ago there was some kind of punching, some kind of sounds, like, like I don't know, like elephants were fighting.
Sveta: I even thought that maybe there's some kind of dance class up there, some kind of lessons that were going on regularly.
A.I.: It's a mystery, you know, a mystery wrapped in a fog.
Sveta: Cherepanova and I decided that there are ghosts up there, though of course we're joking.
A.I.: The only way to manage in a situation like this is to have a sense of humor.
Ilya: Did anyone offer to buy you out, so you could move?
A.I.: You mean here?
Ilya: Like when you were living in the Khrushchev housing.
A.I.: No, not yet, there haven't been any offers.
Ilya: But if you had one, you would still want to remain in the center of the city, right?
A.I.: Of course, of course, I still wouldn't move to Khrushchev housing. Not only because the apartments are bad, but because the whole neighborhood is bad, that is, a complete absence of culture. As we put it, people go out and sit on a bench and just yak away, about nothing. That's boring, that's not for us, right?
Ilya: You wouldn't happen to have a fireplace in your room, would you?
A.I.: I do, a beautiful one.
Ilya: A fireplace?
A.I.: Of course.
Ilya: Because fireplaces are such interesting architectural details, interior details,.. how they are preserved. They are architectural monuments, they're all registered.
A.I.: You know, the main thing is, if you sell your room, then I thought you could get more because there's a fireplace. That's completely untrue.
Ilya: Yes, because the fireplace doesn't belong to you. It doesn't belong to you, that's why.
A.I.: But it belongs to the room.
Ilya: It belongs to the state, not to the room..
A.I.: And this is my granddaughter.
Ilya: She's so pretty!
Ilya: You worked in an architectural studio. Are you an architect?
A.I.: Well, I graduated from the Construction Engineering Institute, and here's my portrait right here
Ilya: This is your portrait?
A.I.: This was done by, done by an artist from the architectural studio, where I worked. She did this portrait, and then my granddaughter's.
Ilya: I see.
A.I.: This is also hers.
Ilya: It would be interesting to try to use it, because, you know, I've seen in various places...
A.I.: You know, I've tried just, say, lighting candles and putting them in there...
Ilya: Oh. Is there a draft?
A.I.: I couldn't tell. Probably it needs to be cleaned.
A.I.: Here are our biggest defenders, like, for example, St. Michael. Look at him, he has a sword, and he won't let anyone—no thief can come in here.
A.I.: Oh Holy Michael the Archangel, have mercy upon us sinners, who ask for your intercession, save us slaves of God, named such and such, from all visible and invisible enemies.