Video Tours > Tour 5. Our Neighbors > 2. Over A Cup of Tea
expand/collapse this text box Summary
A woman living in a midsized apartment talks about old times and recent changes.
expand/collapse this text box Translation of the Russian Transcript
Lena: At some point I was reading about this building. The first floor wasn't considered good, and neither was the fourth; the fourth, the fifth and the sixth floors weren't considered good because by the time you got up there the ceilings were low. But professors' families lived on the second and third floor. Professors lived there. This building was, of course, what do you call it, a rental building. But it wasn't for just anybody. It was for people of means.

Ilya: Hello, we're coming to see you! Nice to meet you. My name is Ilya.

Vlad: Hello. Grandma!

Lena: Oi!!

Ilya: Don't worry about it.

Lena: Let me get some napkins. Right away. Right away. These are my grandmother's napkins. A dowry. She was a Baroness von Taube. This is my great-grandmother sitting, and Grandma is standing.

Ilya: They were German?

Lena: They were German, yes.

Lena: When I first walked into the apartment, I actually liked it; I even liked the neighbors. Old Petersburgers, you know the type? All of them have gone to Germany. They were Jews, but even so they were fine people. They were very nice to me when I moved in.

Ilya: How many were there?

Lena: There were people in every room. Right next to me, in the room next door to me, lived a daughter, well, she was already middle-aged, with her father. Further down was a young woman—I got to be friends with her—named Lena. She lived alone. So, in Sveta's room was a family: Nina Ivanovna, and then Viktor Ivanovich, he died in an accident, he was run over by a train, and their daughter Galya, she was little. Sometimes I looked after her. They would look after my daughter, and I would look after theirs. Further down was Shura. She was an engineer, a highly qualified engineer, she worked at Poligrafmash.

Lena: You know, we were never afraid here, we weren't afraid not to lock the doors, I mean we kept them open. I would go to work, I lived alone with my daughter. I would go to work, and they would feed my Marina, feed her, and give her something to eat—I mean, I would leave the food, they would heat it up, and then they'd call me at work and say, "Everything is fine, Marina did her homework; Lena, don't worry," because I would come home late. Especially when I worked the evening shift, I'd come home late.

Ilya: Did she go to bed on her own or did they put her to sleep?

Lena: Well, they would look in, make sure that she went to bed, that she had turned out the light, that she had done her homework. That's the kind of neighborly relations we had. I miss those kind of relations. It's not like that now.

Ilya: Why not?

Lena: Well, if I had to put it in one word, I'd say that people are more individualistic now. We used to live together like one big family, one apartment. We celebrated the New Year together. Some of them would come to my party, and I'd stop by at theirs.

Lena: We knew when each other's birthdays were, and we gave each other presents, well, small ones. Not necessarily something expensive, some kind of souvenir. We'd try to make each other happy. Maybe we'd give flowers, or a little cup, or something... You know, you'd go into the kitchen, and people would say, Lenusya, happy birthday! Many happy returns! And it was nice because people remembered. They always remembered. And when there was a sad event, say when Lena's mother died, the whole apartment took care of her, because she wasn't a very strong person, so we took care of her. And then for example when my daughter got married, the whole apartment had a party. I invited everybody. Everybody came, they sat at this table, they had a party. And lots of people would need to wash things in the bathroom—there were eleven of us, all women, and everybody had to do the wash, and wash themselves, and wash their children, their kids. And we never had... now you see a lot of people put up schedules, we have a schedule, who can use the bathroom at what times. But we never used to have anything like that.

Ilya: But now there's a schedule...

Lena: It's there because we put it there, because this woman moved in, that kind of a woman. She's already gone, she doesn't live here any more, the crook. But when she was here she made scenes, that she had to wash her child at 9:00 pm, and somebody would be using the bathroom, and everybody got sick of it, the bickering, so we went and put up a schedule.

Ilya: You say she was a crook?

Lena: Yes, Sveta was cleaned out four times, and the fifth time we were both cleaned out.

Ilya: You mean she stole from you?

Lena: August 15, yes, the apartment was robbed. They took our tele... I had an icon, from the eighteenth century, John the Golden-Tongued, it used to be right here. I never hid it, it was right here. We just didn't live like that, we didn't keep anything hidden away, everything we had we kept out. I feel worst about John the Golden-Tongued, that he was taken away.

Ilya: And nothing was ever found?

Lena: They told me to go around second-hand stores to see if my icon was there but I said to myself, well, the heck with it. In the end what if somebody else has him, we had him how many—two generations. So now let them have him.

Lena: Vladyush, can we photograph the bay window? Stand up. This is Vlad's corner.

Ilya: No need to do anything, we don't want to bother anybody.

Lena: You can see the Karpovka. Look, the whole Bolshoy Avenue. That's how he used to go to school, and I...

Ilya: At what age did you let him go by himself?

Lena: Starting in third grade, probably, in third grade he went by himself. He went alone. There used to be a dining room table here, there used to be... Well, that's where we ate, this was like our dining room.

Ilya: You can see that there was a chandelier right here in the center.

Lena: Of course, of course, that, over here on that hook there was a chandelier.

expand/collapse this text box Details in Photographs
A bridge over the river
A view of a bridge not far from the apartments shown in Tours 1, 2, and 3, as well as in a few clips from Tour 4. 2007.

A house at the corner of Bolshoy and Karpovka
Two streets often seen by Marina and Lena from the clips "Over a Cup of Tea" and "Who lived here before the revolution?" (Tour 5). 2007.

Staircase window, railing
In a stairwell where there are many communal apartments (including the apartment from the clip "Who Lived Here Before the Revolution?" of Tour 5) the window has several panes of colored glass which date back to the early twentieth century. 2006.

Apartment VI floor plan
Floor plan of the apartment that is home to Marina, Lena, and Vlad from Tour 5 (clips 2-4). 2006.

Lena's and Marina's rooms
A diagram showing the rooms from the clip "I Know Their Footsteps," Tour 5: entryway, Marina's room, and the common room with its "compartment" for Lena and "Vlad's corner," walled-off by a cabinet. 2006.

Sideboard and stove
A functioning stove in the room from the clip "Over A Cup of Tea," Tour 5. This part of the room (see diagram) serves as the living room. 2006.

Chart: Who gets to use the bathroom
Times that each tenant can use the bathroom in the morning and evening are indicated on a chart. 2006.

Computer in bay window
The corner belonging to high school student Vlad (see diagram), which is walled off by a cabinet, has a desk in front of a bay window. See also the photo "Vlad's bed." 2006.

Vlad's bed
This corner, walled off by a cabinet (see diagram), belongs to Vlad, a high school student who is the son of Marina, seen in "I Know Their Footsteps" and "Who Lived Here Before the Revolution?" (Tour 5). 2006.

Part of ceiling
The room is divided into three sections (see diagram), so the chandelier is off-center. Lena and Marina, from the clip "I Know Their Footsteps," Tour 5, live here. 2006.

expand/collapse this text box Basic Facts and Background
When: 2006

Where: A midsized apartment (8 residents) in one of the prestigious neighborhoods of St. Petersburg. The apartment has five rooms plus the room off the kitchen, which is used as a store room.

Who: Lena, who has lived in this apartment for over 25 years with her daughter Marina and her sixteen year-old grandson Vlad. Masha, an acquaintance of Lena and Marina. Ilya climbs up the stairs with her at the very beginning of the clip.

What: Lena talks about her forbears, Baltic-area barons, and shows photographs; she does not hide her ancestry but takes great pride in it. This would be hard to imagine in the Soviet period, when an aristocratic or bourgeois background was passed over in silence, while proletarian roots gave the advantage of affirmative action (for example, in admissions for higher education). After perestroika, pride in one's aristocratic forbears became fashionable, and old photographs were retrieved from dusty corners and hung on walls; compare the narrative of a different woman. Allusions to eighteenth century family relics can serve as a means of constructing one's image.

Ilya's final comment about a hook in the middle of the ceiling refers to the layout of the rooms in which this family lives. In this floor plan, we can clearly see the three sections created out of a large room by means of thin walls and a cabinet.

Lena's use of the phrases "old Petersburger" (in other contexts, "real Leningrader") relates to Petersburg notions of educated, well-mannered, polite, and kind people who continue to act as such even in communal conditions. Lena doesn't directly put herself in this group, but rather attributes these qualities to her former neighbors. Discussing them with admiration, she does not notice the everyday antisemitism in her comment "They were Jews, but even so they were fine people."

Moving to Germany, which accepted Jewish immigrants from Russia, was widespread in the post-perestroika era, when emigration was much easier than it had been in Soviet times.

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