Communal Living in Russia: Video Tours
Tour 4. Smaller Apartments: 3. If All This Were Yours...
  Summary
  A husband and wife show their apartment and talk. We see the kitchen, hallways, bathroom, and also a room and office, carved out of what was once a large room with four windows.
  Basic Facts and Background
  When: 2006

Where: A midsized communal apartment in a prestigious neighborhood in the center of St. Petersburg.

Who: Lena, who has lived her whole life in this apartment; Vadim, Lena's husband, who has lived in the apartment over 20 years; Eduard (or Edik), a neighbor; Ilya, an anthropologist visiting Lena and Vadim; Slawomir, who is doing the filming.

Edik also appears in the video clip "Edik the Cabinetmaker."

What: At the opening of the clip we see animals in the hallway, which is not really characteristic of communal apartments, at least large ones. People often fear for the safety of their pets, expecting that neighbors will intentionally harm them. The presence of pets in the hallway is a sign of good relations among the residents. We even catch a glimpse of Vadim and Lena's dog lying quietly in his arms, an indication that the dog accepts him as family.

Lena mentions "Rooks' Row." This is the name of a chaotic communal apartment in the satirical novel The Little Golden Calf (1931) by Ilya Ilf and Yevgeny Petrov, where neighbors cheer the disappearance of a heroic pilot because his room will become vacant, among other violations of common decency (the apartment eventually goes up in flames). Lena maintains that their apartment cannot be compared to the usual kommunalka, in which neighbors are out to get one another. Another reference to the same novel is made by Lena in the clip "We Laughed and Cried."

In his story about the history of the building, Vadim mentions that the boundary between the two apartments changed as a result of a renovation. It often happened during a renovation that one large apartment would be made into two or even more. The absence of a bathroom, mentioned by Vadim, was common.

Vadim and Lena made use of the high ceilings to build a loft in each of their two rooms, which greatly increased the usable space. Their rooms were created from what was once a single very large room when thin walls were put up. But between the living room (which also serves as Lena's room) and Vadim's room is a third room belonging to someone else.

  Translation of the Russian Transcript
  Ilya: Oh, kitty! She isn't going to run away? And another! Oh! And he doesn't fight with...

Edik: No, they're friends, they're friends.

Lena: Ilya, we have four cats. Two females and two males, a gray one and a white one. But the gray one, he's twice as big.

Ilya: A cat can get that big?

Lena: The orange one is that size also.

Ilya: Hello!

Edik: Hello!

Slawomir: Hello!

Vadim: This is a huge apartment.

Lena: But it's not out of Ilf and Petrov

Ilya: No, of course not, there's nothing to make fun of here. If you have valuable things in the hallway, that means that people get along with each other.

Vadim: Yes, of course.

Ilya: That's the most important criterion.

Vadim: Our dog has his own apartment.

Ilya: Oh.

Vadim: This whole apartment is his territory.

Slawomir: How long have you been living here?

Edik: Since 1979. How much does that make. Twenty-seven years already. Twenty-six.

Slawomir: How many people live here?

Edik: How many, Lena? There are eight of us now, right?

Lena: There are nine. Oh, no, wait, how can there be nine, let's see, let me count. Eleven, I think. A group of three, a group of four, another two, that's eight. Edik, you're nine. There are nine of us. When Afonya was here there were eleven.

Ilya: And your tee shirt, is that your original dog?

Lena: No, I bought this in America in 1991. I had a dog then called Filya. And I have to say, this looks like him.

Ilya: That is, it's more like Filya?

Lena: It looks just like him. I missed him, I was there three months, I really missed my dog, and so I bought myself this tee shirt.

Vadim: This building was built for the teachers of the Annenschule Gymnasium, so it was a very well-supported building, a good building. Not opulent. It doesn't have any special architectural flourishes, it has, I would say, a kind of bureaucratic exterior, that is, without decoration. Buildings like this were characteristic of the time of Nicholas I, they represent the kind of bureaucratic standard that he brought to Russia. We're on the second floor; it was a huge apartment for the school director. Before the revolution this section wasn't part of the apartment. When they reconfigured the building they took a part of the wing to make a bathroom and lavatory. That's why there are some steps; it's a different floor. That's why we have to climb the steps here. This was a bathroom before the revolution too, only it belonged to a different apartment. The entrance was here. It was rebuilt so as to... put it in this apartment. A lot of communal apartments before the revolution, that is, when they were splitting up apartments after the revolution some of them lost their bathrooms, and so a lot of kommunalkas had bathtubs in the kitchen or somewhere else, that's how it was. [Lena talks to someone on the telephone, wishes that person a happy name day.]

Ilya: I envy people who can do things like this with their hands. Because... well, there are men who are good with their hands, who can fix things, people respect them, although it's true, a lot of them drink. There are men who aren't good at everyday life, including the communal kind. And for them to pull off something like this would be an impossible feat. But Vadim Yurievich pulled it off. And I envy him.

Vadim: If you want, I can show you my study.

Ilya: Yes, let's go there now, absolutely.

Vadim: But it's a mess, it's a creative retreat.

Ilya: I know what that's like.

Vadim: Yes.

Ilya: Oh, this is great! This has a good feel to it. To do this with your own hands...

Vadim: Well this little bit is what I really did here, but more generally I managed to organize space here so it would be comfortable to work. It's an egotistical room, you see, there's no room for two people in it.

Ilya: Well, there's plenty of room for one, and the light from the window is very good. It's great.

Vadim: So.

Ilya: And this was here before?

Vadim: Well, actually, actually, the thing is, our room and this room were one unit.

Ilya: Oh, yes, I see, there on the ceiling.

Vadim: It's simply... Yes. Exactly. You can look at the ceiling and see it. This was a big room with four windows. So. And it was split up into three rooms, with these false walls over here.

Ilya: Imagine if all this were yours, you could take down the partitions...

Vadim: Yes indeed.

For credits, copyright, and contact information please see the "About" page at Communal Living in Russia: A Virtual Museum of Soviet Everyday Life, http://kommunalka.colgate.edu/.