Video Tours > Tour 5. Our Neighbors > 7. How Many Tenants?
expand/collapse this text box Summary
A story about how the number of tenants grew, how clean the apartment used to be, and how the bathroom was used.
expand/collapse this text box Translation of the Russian Transcript
Lena: At one time there were 25 people. That is, in every room besides the old couples, there were grown children who got married and brought in their wives--we mostly had young men here--and then they had children, and so each room eventually had five people living in it. That is, these older people, and then the young married couple and a little child. We were five people here too, but for the simple reason that we had a maid living with us. My mother didn't work, but my grandfather, who was a professor, he believed that we had to have a maid who would help my mother. My mother, well, the way it worked was my mother ran the household, that is, she cooked, because she was a wonderful cook, and the maid looked after the children.

Lena: So there were 25 people here, but still the hallway was completely uncluttered.

Vadim: It was empty. You weren't allowed to put anything in it.

Lena: You weren't allowed to put anything in the hallway.

Ilya: Was there some kind of rule?

Lena: No, it was the other tenants who...

Ilya: Or did they decide this on their own?

Lena: The neighbors decided.

Lena: But you know, at the same time the apartment was incredibly clean. Every three years without fail money was collected to fix things up, and this is despite the fact that people were much poorer. In the kitchen, every table had a little rug, like this. Every table, every family, had their own little rug. This part of the hallway, this little part, it had parquet, incidentally. And it had to be polished, and then we would put on foot brushes. Some tenants had floor polishers, they were fancy people.

Ilya: There wasn't one floor polisher for the whole apartment? We had this thing on a stick, it was terribly heavy. When I was small, I couldn't use it. It was like this, with a ball joint, and that's how we polished.

Lena: Sometimes the neighbors lived in harmony and sometimes they really screamed at each other, to the point that... I don't know, my mother would have a nervous breakdown because of it, but when there were holidays, everybody baked pies, that was the tradition. They baked pies, they baked cakes of various kinds, etcetera, etcetera, and everybody treated each other to samples.

Ilya: Did you already have gas stoves then or...?

Lena: Yes, gas ones. From my childhood I can only remember gas stoves. They were smaller, with only three burners, but they were gas. That's the story. And we baked pies. We took turns. And... with the bathtub too. Our day, I remember, was Thursday.

Ilya: This was always your day,..?

Lena: Thursday was our day for the bathtub. That is, beginning in the morning my mother could wash clothes in it and so forth. And in the evening we all took baths. In the mornings, we washed our hands and faces in the kitchen. We had water heaters. The building didn't have hot water, but they worked well.

Ilya: Yes, that was good.

Lena: Two water heaters, and I also remember, in the bathroom in addition to the water heater we had a wood stove. It wasn't used anymore, but once, obviously, there was a wood stove. You know, a tall one.

Ilya: Yes, I've seen ones like that. Was it there for a long time?

Vadim: Wood was kept in the courtyard and in the basement.

Vadim: It was there for a rather long time..

Lena: Yes, the usual firewood, and we, we played war, we played war. In the woodpiles in the courtyard, when they used to be there.

expand/collapse this text box Details in Photographs
Vadim and Lena
Lena and her husband Vadim (shown in the clips "We Laughed and Cried," and "Jew Rugs," Tour 5) are seated at a table in the room which serves as the living room. 2006.

Slawomir, cabinet with antique dishes
Slawomir is listening to Vadim and Lena, who are seated across the table, telling stories. The cabinet with glass doors behind Slawomir contains knickknacks and antique dishes. Room from Clips 8 and 9 in Tour 5. 2006.

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

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

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

What: In Lena's childhood, the apartment had almost three times as many residents as it has now.

The fact that the hallway was clear of junk is a sign that the tenants concerned themselves with how the hallway looked and how usable it was. Recollections of polishing parquet floors on a regular schedule are characteristic of narratives about past order and cleanliness (see, for example, the story about the prewar period).

The placement of little rugs at each family's table was in fact unusual and says something about this apartment. In most large pre-perestroika communal apartments people did not exert much effort to make their areas of public space particularly attractive or comfortable.

It is generally held that water heaters are better than hot water on tap, as gas is always available while the hot water can be turned off. In the summer, hot water is usually turned off for a few weeks in order to do repairs.

Stacks of wood in the courtyards provided natural places for kids to hide and play, especially when they were playing war.

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