Video Tours > Tour 5. Our Neighbors > 8. We Laughed and Cried
expand/collapse this text box Summary
A story about how very different people shared an apartment, sometimes getting along and sometimes not.
expand/collapse this text box Translation of the Russian Transcript
Vadim: There were all sorts of scenes here, you could laugh and cry at the same time. There was this woman who worked at the vegetable distribution center, she was a... a difficult person, so... Len, tell how they went after each other with sticks...

Lena: Get Sonya. Get Sonya!

Vadim: Yeah, right away.

Lena: Well we had all sorts of clashes, we did... So there was this Grandma Mera, well, of course, she didn't start anything, maybe she was just walking past, and she... maybe she said something... Well, in any event, in a word, this ignorant peasant woman, that, that woman, she decided that the other one had sprinkled something, cast a spell on her, in a word.

Ilya: Sprinkled something in her soup?

Lena: No, not in her soup, no, under her door. So at night she went after poor Grandma Mera, went after her with a stick.

Ilya: To whack her.

Lena: Well, maybe to whack her. In a rage, so to speak, and they got as far as... Grandma was in her nightgown, and there was screaming and yelling... You can imagine. They got as far as the first floor, and... and the janitress came out. Remember, they used to lock the doors at night.

Ilya: Yes, yes, the janitors were on duty, of course.

Lena: So the doors were locked. And the janitress came out. And then my father appeared. He wanted to separate them somehow. So that, well, so that, you know, there wouldn't be, you know, a murder. So that's what happened. But for the most part it was the women who quarreled, the men kept a kind of neutrality. It was the women who quarreled... And then later we had the Kubyshkins living in here. The apartment was...

Vadim: Lena is the apartment historian. She knows everybody.

Lena: Once there was another old lady living here, a Nobody's Grandma who went off her rocker with Russian Orthodoxy, and then at the same time another grandma moved in, this Kubyshkina, Stepanida. She was, on the contrary, a Baptist. And she would sometimes have visitors. So the doorbell would ring, you open it up, and there are these women in dark kerchiefs, big women, and they're all... these big, gloomy women and rough-looking men, women in kerchiefs. What they were doing was coming to a prayer meeting here. Because there was no what do you call it...

Ilya: That is, they were having prayer meetings here.

Vadim: Yes, Baptists have prayer meetings.

Lena: Exactly, they were going to that Stepanida, so...

Lena: And Stepanida, she'd go walking down the hallway, monstrously fat, she walks along [Lena makes a noise, imitating her], and her eyes are closed. She comes down the hallway, well, everybody scatters, obviously...

Vadim: Gets out of the way.

Lena: Yes, gets out of the way. And our Auntie Ksana, she was living here, a wonderful woman, a great diplomat, and she would say, how did she call her? It was so funny, well, she had some name for her, I don't remember, it's gone out of my head. "Well," she would say, "she's going down the hallway, and she isn't bumping into any furniture."

Lena: Then there was the Zislis family, they had the little girls Raya and Marina, they were living here then. Raya was Volodya's age, Marina was my age, just a little older. Their grandpa was a Rabinovich. I don't remember what his first name was... Efim? Efim. I forgot. He was a tailor. I remember we even had this copper sign on the door, "Tailor," no, "Tailor, Dressmaker" or "Dressmaking and Ironing," something like that. A copper plate. Rabinovich. So. They lived in that very little, yes, they were the only family in the apartment with two rooms. So they had...

Ilya: You mean everybody else had only one?

Lena: Only one, yes. Grandma Mera, that's what we called her, she lived in that room, that tiny little room. And Uncle Yasha was the director of a doll factory. And they had New Year's trees up to the ceiling, which amazed me, and these incredible toys. So. And across from us, where Edik is now, was this Paleev. He was Isaak Moiseevich, he was a doctor, a military doctor. And he had, he had a son Dodik and a wife Meri Davidovna, but her name was Meri. The other Mera, Grandma Mera we called her, because, probably, her name was Maria, but for some reason we called her Mera, maybe that was her name. But this one's name was Meri. Meri Davidovna. I didn't like her because she used to go up to the children and pinch them on the cheek, it hurt. But then later... When I was little I didn't like her, and then later, of course...

Lena: Well, in short, things varied, and sometimes we got along and sometimes we didn't.

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 Petersburg.

Who: Lena, who has lived in this apartment her whole life; Vadim, Lena's husband, who has lived in this apartment over 20 years; Sonya, a Moscow friend of Lena and Vadim; various neighbors, mentioned in the narrative, who used to live in the apartment.


Children gave one of the elderly neighbors the nickname "Nobody's Grandma," probably because all the other elderly ladies had grandchildren in that apartment and were called "So and So's Grandma." The name is also a reference to Ilf and Petrov's well-known novel The Little Golden Calf in which an old lady by that name lives on a loft-type space in a big communal apartment. Nobody knows what her name really is. She doesn't believe in electricity and eventually sets the apartment on fire.

Lena and Vadim have a telephone extension in their room. In the pre-perestroika period the apartment had only one telephone in the hallway (see the place where it hung). Because it is an extension, somebody else can answer and call out to the neighbor, and that person picks up the phone in his or her room. In this case, the person wanted on the phone is Sonya, Vadim and Lena's Moscow guest, who is staying in Vadim's room.

In Lena's childhood, the apartment had almost three times as many residents as it has now; these people varied according to their social class, their work and interests, their religious convictions, and their ethnic roots. Lena mentions two Jewish families; see also the clip "Jew Rugs." Most of the given names in the Zislis and Rabinovich families are strikingly Jewish, as are their professions, in the sense that Jews of the prerevolutionary period were commonly tailors and thereafter doctors.

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