Communal Living in Russia: Video Tours
Tour 4. Smaller Apartments: 2. A Rented Room With Icons
  Ilya shows us a mid-sized communal apartment and asks questions of a student who is renting the room of a very religious woman.
  Basic Facts and Background
  When: June 2006

Where: A midsized apartment in a prestigious neighborhood in the center of St. Petersburg. The kitchen, hallway, and then Sveta's room.

Who: Sveta, a student renting a room in the apartment; Slawomir, who asks Sveta questions as he films the scene; Ilya, who teaches at the university where Sveta is a student; he came to see Sveta in order to interview her neighbors. He is cooking risotto. Alla Ignatevna, mentioned by Sveta, has lived in this apartment since the mid 1990s, that is, longer than the other residents. She appears in the clips "There Shouldn't Be Any Communal Apartments" and "The Archangel Michael" from the Tour "Our Neighbors."

What: It is expected that a kommunalka resident who answers the telephone will call other neighbors to the phone, and take or pass on a message. Sveta picks up an extension that is in the kitchen.

Talking to Sveta, Ilya mentions the icon corner. The usual Russian term is "krasnyi ugol" (beautiful corner; using an old word for beautiful, which in contemporary Russian means "red"; our translation simply says "religious corner.") Ilya puts a diminutive on the word for corner, making it "krasnyi ugolok." That is a joke. In the early Soviet period, a "krasnyi ugolok" (little red corner) held portraits of government leaders. Later, that name was used for rooms in official places like housing offices and dormitories, which were meant for political events and organized leisure activities; naturally, those places also had portraits or busts of government leaders. At the time this was filmed, the monthly rent paid by the two young women is approximately $165.This is more or less equal to the monthly fellowship money received by an out-of-town graduate student in the department where the young women study. In this case, the two of them share the payment.

If somebody doesn't have enough forks or glasses to serve guests, it is fine to ask to borrow some from a neighbor.

Music ("Sometime Later" by Damian Turnbull) is licensed from Hansler-Verlag, c/o

  Translation of the Russian Transcript
  [on the radio we hear the end of an advertisement]

Ilya: This is Italian poor people's food. Actually, instead of the mushrooms we're going to put in here, we should put everything that was left from yesterday's dinner.

Sveta: You know, I can't tell you right now. Why don't you call later, because the neighbors aren't here yet.

Ilya: It has to stay on a low flame...

Ilya: These are wires that lead to the doorbells. Outside the door there were seven bells, and at one point there were eight; one cable is missing. This means that there used to be seven families here. Look at these holes over the door.

Ilya: This is where the telephone used to be. But now some rooms have their own telephones with the same number. One wire goes here, to Sveta's room, another one goes somewhere over there, one goes this way.

Ilya: This room is being rented out by a very religious woman. If we look inside, we'll see a whole icon corner. An icon corner is still here.

Slawomir: Is Sveta religious?

Ilya: No, Sveta isn't religious. You can ask her about this. The icon corner belongs to the woman who rents out the room. Sveta isn't religious. But the woman is religious, and of course it would be unthinkable to dismantle the icon corner. Okay, let's go now... Incidentally, this does double duty as a sideboard and a room-divider. And here's a screen that divides space.

Ilya: Two girls live here. They are renting this room; they're students at the university.

Slawomir: How much do you pay for your...?

Sveta: 4500 a month. But I live with... with another girl.

Ilya: So together you pay 4500, each pays half?

Sveta: Yes.

Ilya: Do you go to church?

Sveta: Anka and I went, maybe, a couple of times just to see the interior. Otherwise, no. Alla Ignatevna is the one who goes to church.

Ilya: Alla Ignatevna will tell us about it, of course. I just noticed the cross on the door and the religious corner, the icon corner, which really stands out.

Sveta: It's just that the woman who rents out the room is very religious and when she comes, she's very strict about these things. Like she wants to know if we wear crosses.

Ilya: But you don't wear them, so what happens? What does she say to you?

Sveta: She tells us that we absolutely have to wear them. I mean, she comes, and if we're not wearing a cross, she says, "Put it on." Like that. And then we have to put one on, just to show that we're Christians.

Sveta: So, you know, please call later, maybe someone will be home.

Sveta: Five glasses?

Ilya: Yes, we need five glasses, right now.

Ilya: This is our risotto. We thought we'd make it with porcini mushrooms, but we couldn't find any.

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