Communal Living in Russia: Video Tours
Tour 7. Things That Happen: Grandma Does the Dishes
  Grandma washes dishes and plastic bags.
  Basic Facts and Background
  When: 1998

Where: The kitchen of a large communal apartment in one of the central districts of St. Petersburg. The room of Elizaveta Vikentevna.

Who: Elizaveta Vikentevna, who lived in this apartment, with breaks, from 1924 until her death in 1999; Ilya, her grandson, who is doing the filming. Arseny, who E.V. refers to, is her great grandson (Ilya's son); during this filming, he is taking a bath.

What: E.V. brings dirty dishes from her room into the kitchen and washes them in the sink under the water heater. She brings the clean dishes back into the room.

E.V. is washing plastic bags. This was necessary at a time when bags like that were hard to get. Various types of packaging were reused many times for a variety of household functions. Plastic bags were washed along with dishes and hung out to dry. It was usually large bags that were treated this way. At the end of "A New Shower," Tour 3, we see plastic bags hung out to dry in the storage room. Dishes are washed in a big bowl or basin that is put into the sink (not directly in the sink, but on top of a special rack that doesn't stop the water from draining). People try not to let dishes touch the sink, which is not considered sufficiently clean.

You can see a rag wrapped around the faucet. The faucet is broken and can't be closed all the way. But if a rag is wrapped around it, the flow of water isn't that strong. Sometimes when a faucet can't be repaired, a rag is wrapped around it in such a way that the water flows along the rag into the sink, and nobody hears the drip.

E.V. asks Ilya, "What's Arseny doing?" She means that her great grandson is taking a bath at the same time that she's washing dishes. Usually a child's bathtub or plastic tub (see the clip"Washroom," Tour 2 "Where I Used to Live") is put inside the bathtub and the child sits in it. Warm water flows out of the faucet from above where the child is seated.

As we explain in the clip "Washroom," Tour 2, a single water heater serves both the bathroom and the kitchen. For this reason, Grandma tries not to keep the hot water running continuously, and turns it off before she finishes washing all the dishes. But Arseny has not turned on the hot water in the bathtub: if he had done that, the water heater would be on, and it is not. Arseny is sitting in water that has grown cold. ("He'll get cold, go see").

  Translation of the Russian Transcript
  Grandma: Will you be home tomorrow?

Ilya: Not in the morning. I'll be here in the afternoon.

Grandma: I have to... buy soap and salt.

Ilya: Okay.

Grandma: I also have to buy... Maybe I'll even go to the store tomorrow and buy some salt. I also have to... I can get you some too.

Ilya: Well, if you can get me some salt, thank you.

Grandma: What?

Ilya: Buy some salt.

Grandma: I need bread too.

Grandma: So I'm taking all this to the kitchen to wash it. What's Arseny doing?

Ilya: He's taking a bath.

Grandma: He's taking a long time. Watch out or he'll get cold.

Grandma: It's so hard for me to raise my arms. I raise them and my head starts spinning.

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