Video Tours > Tour 5. Our Neighbors > 3. Who Lived Here Before the Revolution?
expand/collapse this text box Summary
A resident of a small communal apartment tells about the apartment's distant and recent past. We see the kitchen, the "empty" room, the hallway and the entryway.
expand/collapse this text box Translation of the Russian Transcript
Lena: Here are slippers. Let's go. A professor's family had this apartment, apparently. A professor's family.

Ilya: Is this the original apartment? It wasn't subdivided?

Lena: No, it's the original one. Right over here was the library, and it was sort of, as far as I know, set off by a door, so that the professor would, you know, not be bothered. And further down, the way I understand it, that's where the family's rooms were, that's where the family's rooms were.

Ilya: Everything is just on one side?

Lena: It's a "comb" apartment, yes. Let's turn on the light. What this was, was, I guess, a living room, I don't know. This may have been a children's room. This was probably a bedroom. It had a second entrance, a back entrance. And the maid lived in this room, but it's locked.

Ilya: So this is a kind of store room?

Lena: No, it's fourteen square meters with a bay window.

Ilya: Oh, I see. So this is, as it were, the masters' half, and this is the servants'?

Lena: Yes. And the kitchen servants, the one who was the cook, probably, right? The cook lived right here.

Ilya: Oh, in the room off the kitchen.

Lena: Yes, in the room off the kitchen. They had to use the back staircase, they didn't have the right to use the main one. They used the back staircase. I would, you know, if this were all my apartment, I would take this wall down and make a bathroom with a window.

Ilya: Oh, I see, this window...

Lena: Yes.

Ilya: It's blocked now, looks like with brick?

Lena: Yes, with brick. This was the window into the bathroom. I would make a bathroom with a window.

Ilya: And what's going on with this wallpaper?

Lena: We wanted to put up wallpaper, but we haven't gotten around to it. And Svetik, when she moved in, at first she tried her best, she started to fix things up, she fixed these... she painted the ceiling here. We painted too. It used to be worse. Here there used to be shelves on the wall; we took them down. Svetik was really trying to make it nice here. She brought in this little table, we put in a TV, and we yak away. Some people smoke, some people do other things. You see, you can roll this table out, and then you can sit down and have a cup of coffee. I go in to make coffee, I make it for everyone. Everyone gets a cup, I put them on the table. That's what I do.

Lena: We used to have a wooden floor.

Ilya: There's a wooden floor under this?

Lena: There is. But the Housing Office came and said, "You want linoleum?" We said yes. They came and look what they did. You see these? Now all of them are nailed down. Marina goes and nails them in.

Lena:We used to have a lot of tables here. There were three right here. This is where my place was. There were only two stoves but we never argued over that. In the evening the kitchen was always free, go cook whatever you want.

Ilya: So you never needed to make a schedule?

Lena: Absolutely never. And we baked, too. Everybody baked pies for holidays. I'm not a good baker, but I made Napoleons. But Pasha Davidovna, she baked a lot, and she treated everyone. Everyone got a piece on a little plate, she'd carry them in, put them down, can you imagine? She treated everyone.

Lena: You go into the kitchen, in the morning someone is always up and about. You get yourself a cigarette, make some coffee, and yak away.

Lena: We had one garbage can for the whole apartment. So every time I had my two-week cleanup duty I would have to take the garbage can out and empty it every day. And finally one day I just had it, I bought my own little can and I said, "that's it, friends, there is no way I can deal with something that heavy." They grumbled for a long time, but in the end everybody got used to it. And then they gave in, and pretty quickly everybody got their own little cans.

Ilya: Let's have a cigarette.

Lena: Let's do that, that's a good idea, let's have a cigarette.

Ilya: Does the building have hot water now?

Lena: Yes. When they got the hot water connected, we were just thrilled. Because before there was only cold water and a hot water heater in the bathroom. We heated the water, and everybody washed their dishes in a little basin. This is an exhaust pipe. There were fireplaces everywhere. Everywhere, you see how they were everywhere. Everywhere there were fireplaces.

Lena: The kids did this. Vlad was very little. Sasha. So, the children were little, and when the grownups would get together, well, you remember how it was in a kommunalka. The grownups would be at the table, and the children would be sent to the hallway. And they'd run up and down and chase a ball.

Ilya: Chase a ball?

Lena: Of course, what are you surprised about, they even rode their bicycles... Hello, Nastya! This is our neighbor Nastya.

Lena: In this apartment everybody always loved children. No kid ever got scalded or burnt with a hot pan.

Ilya: Do you know the people in other apartments on this staircase?

Lena: On this staircase? Well, we say hello, but I never visited anybody.

Ilya: Thank you!

Lena: You're welcome.

expand/collapse this text box Details in Photographs
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.

Hall, storage loft
In the hallway of the apartment from the clip "Who Lived Here Before the Revolution?" (Tour 5) things are kept in storage lofts, children have been allowed to draw all over the wallpaper and renovations have never been done. 2006.

Couch in kitchen
Lena is shown in this kitchen in the clip "Who Lived Here Before the Revolution?" (Tour 5). The couch (highly unusual in a communal kitchen) is a place for talking with neighbors while having a smoke and a cup of coffee. 2006.

A kitchen shelf
In the kitchen of an apartment whose residents care particularly about coziness, (clip "Who Lived Here Before...?" Tour 5), a shelf holds empty juice bottles, light bulbs, and electric fuses. At right are potholders belonging to one of the families. 2006.

Kitchen television
This television goes on when tenants are puttering about the kitchen or is viewed from a seat on the couch. It is highly unusual to have either a television or a couch in the kitchen of a communal apartment. 2006.

Stove, kitchen table, sink, and garbage pails
In the kitchen of the small apartment shown in the clip "Who Lived Here Before the Revolution?" (Tour 5), there is a work station (shown here) and a relaxation area (see photo "Couch in kitchen.") 2006.

Sink and sponges
These five bottles of dishwashing detergent belong to different residents. This kitchen is shown in the clip "Who Lived Here Before the Revolution?" (Tour 5). See a close-up of the sink and the shelf. 2006.

Multi-colored linoleum
A patched-together linoleum floor in the kitchen seen in the clip "Who Lived Here before the Revolution?" (Tour 5). 2006.

The door to the apartment shown in the clip "Who Lived Here Before the Revolution?", Tour 5, leads to the entryway. The photo "Armchairs in entryway" shows what is to the left, around the corner. 2006.

Lena, coats
Lena from the clip "Over A Cup of Tea" (Tour 5) in the entryway; this same apartment is shown in the clip "Who Lived Here Before the Revolution?" (Tour 5). 2006.

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

Where: A midsized apartment (eight tenants) in a prestigious St. Petersburg neighborhood.

Who: Lena, who has lived in this apartment for over 25 years with her daughter Marina and the sixteen year-old Vlad.

What: Information about how the original inhabitants (the professor's family) arranged their living space could have reached Lena through oral sources: the tenants who lived in the apartment in the post-revolutionary period. Lena herself could not have had any contact with the original residents.

The definition "undivided apartment" refers to very large apartments that were split into two or even more smaller ones. The term "brush" or "comb" refers to an apartment that has all its rooms on one side.

If the original apartment had a back staircase, it was easy to split that apartment in half, with each half having a different entrance. This led to a numbering system that has often confounded visitors to Petersburg buildings: next to an apartment 9 (undivided) there can be, say, an apartment 43 that got its number after apartment 10 was divided. The remaining half of the original apartment 10 retains the number, but has its entrance on a different staircase.

Describing the lifestyle of the professor's family and their servants, Lena exaggerates the class division. The servants most likely had the right not only to appear in the masters' half of the apartment but also to use the main staircase. Living in the masters' half of the apartment, and proud of her own aristocratic forebears, Lena probably takes some satisfaction in commenting on the life she imagines that the early (bourgeois) residents of the apartment led.

A room off the kitchen was often found in upper-class apartments. In the Soviet period, these rooms often became additions to the kitchen, so that every family would have some space. We can see this arrangement in "Cooking Saltimbocca" and the clip "Anna Matveevna" in Tour 3.

When Lena says that the room is locked, she means that it belongs to people who don't live in the apartment so that it is, in fact, always locked.

We hear about the system of removing garbage and how it changes in the post-perestroika period in the clip "Who Pays and Cleans?".Here also, a system in which the person on duty is responsible for taking out a single garbage can is replaced when the tenants get their own. Ilya's question about hot water refers to centralized hot water, supplied from a variety of places in or outside of the building. For a long time, many apartments had only cold water, heated with a wood-burning water heater. Even now, gas water heaters are widespread; they are valued because centrally supplied hot water is unreliable and, on top of that, is shut off for a few weeks every summer for repairs.

The phrase "grownups at the table, and children out into the hallway" describes a way of organizing leisure for both adults and children in a kommunalka. If there were children who could play together, they often did that in the hallway, where they were on their own, while their parents could talk and eat with their guests. The phrase does not mean that all the parents of all the children playing in the hallway were sitting at the same table.

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