May 01, 2003

Piter Then and Now

In my childhood, I spent every school vacation in Leningrad. Our closest family members lived there. My Jewish grandmother came to the city in 1941, escaping sure death when she hopped on a truck to leave her home in Belorussia just as the Germans were about to enter the town. She  worked as an electrician during the blockade (in old black and white photos I see a smiling coquette, standing on the roof without a hat on, flirting with a tall soldier in a long overcoat), and has always been an example of optimism and toughness for my family. Grandmother adopted Leningrad completely, even taking part in all the city’s “walrus” outings.

My aunt, a programmer, worked in the Bus Terminal and I proudly imagined that she made all the buses and trolleys and trams in the city run on time.

Then there was my cousin. She was a year older than me, but I still found a dozen reasons I, a Muscovite, should be condescending to her. I found her taste in clothes and music corny. Even provincial. Yes, that was the word. I found my cousin desperately provincial, just like her seventh floor apartment in the Four Idiots district, comprised of the prospects Nastavnikov, Udarnikov, Peredovikov and Entuziastov (the streets of the Exhortators, Shock Workers, Vanguardists and Enthusiasts). Not that I lived more luxuriously, just that life in St. Petersburg always seemed grayer. People were dressed more modestly. Deficit foods and clothes were even more in deficit (I don’t not know why, but we always brought kilos of buckwheat for our northern relatives. And we brought back to Moscow books and art albums. Moscow was richer materially, but less educated).

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