on USSR / Russia · St Petersburg

Architectural Walks in Kolpino Part 6 – Prospekt Lenina

Kolpino, St Petersburg

This is the 6th post in the Kolpino architectural series (part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5), dedicated to the formerly main street in the town, prospekt Lenina. At first I was planning to make a 7th post on Kolpino but then I merged the last two into one. So we’re going to see the Lenina, Pavlovskaya street and the district in between them, constituting quite an old-school part of Kolpino. The one where I’ve spent most of my life, actually!

Kolpino, St Petersburg

As in many cities which underwent the massive Soviet renaming campaign, the main street in Kolpino is called after Lenin. It has had a more or less fixed appearance for so many years and then recently the prewar two-storey buildings started to be gradually taken down. This post features some of them – they were still there when I was taking photos back in 2014.

Kolpino, St Petersburg

We’ll start with the Stalin-era residential buildings along Lenina – most of the built or finished / rebuilt after the war, in the early 1950s. After being revamped recently they look quite nice from the outside, all in different colors. But the gates are in a very sad condition – they look more like a ruin, actually (see first photo). The iron decorations have not survived the years well either:

Kolpino, St Petersburg

Moving farther along the road and also further in time we will find a more solid grate:

Kolpino, St Petersburg

This part of the district has always seemed to me so monumental and so cool… These late-Stalinist style residential buildings appeared in 1955-56 and are still quite flamboyant in their excessive decorative details, classical and Soviet-invented symbolic combined.

Kolpino, St Petersburg

And although there was (and still is) the most abhorred place for children, haunted with all the tortures a kids’ dentist could bring, yet I was (and still am)  attracted by its secluded courtyards and solid elements. Even now when I walk through these inner courts I feel this special spirit of the place.

Kolpino, St Petersburg

You can easily imagine an ideal family with a Father high-rank-engineer and a cultivated housewife Mother living in these decorous houses with their adorable children. An ideal life in the ideal country (Stalin-era movies filmed in Moscow spring first in memory). Loyalty and dedication guarantees you a stable life, all commodities included.

Kolpino, St Petersburg

This detail is adorable:

Kolpino, St Petersburg

And who would believe all this exquisite lavishness was built just ten years after the war ended?

Kolpino, St Petersburg

But hwy, wait just some 7 years more (1962) and here’s how the ideal Soviet home will look like in Khrushchev time, with all the excessive decorativeness banned 100%, the infamous khrushchevka:

Khruschevka

But as we have just taken a turn into a street leading to Pavlovskaya (named so after Pavlovsk where it theoretically leads), we’re moving into the territory of the pre-war Kolpino, currently being destroyed and turned into a Swedish-style residential area.

Kolpino, St Petersburg

These minimalist in their facilities two-storey houses (no baths) dating back to 1940 have always been called the barracks and associated with a very old-school or babushka-like appearance that this particular street has. Weird details, smelly and aaaalways damp staircases, as long as I can remember these houses looked like something from the Peter the Great’s era!

Kolpino, St Petersburg

A door has grown shorter as it sank into the ground, now conveniently adapted to an average babushka’s height:

Kolpino, St Petersburg

And now we’re taking a leap into the brutal 80s with the Soviet modernism style which can be called urban brutalism or something. This is a Brezhnev era cinema hall built in 1984. The irony of architectural choice: the punkish brutal red-brick style chosen for the cinema hall commemorating the soldiers who courageously defended the city against the Nazi during the Siege of Leningrad. Its name Podvig, the Feat, was voted for by the citizens.

Kolpino, St Petersburg

You can’t see it on my photos but there’s actually a whole in the middle of the building with a staircase leading to the entrance (which I climb during my morning run, impersonating Rocky). And yes, until very recently they hand-painted the film posters there:

Kolpino, St Petersburg

They say the foundation for the cinema hall appeared already in 1977 but then the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games put the construction on hold. Ironically, the architect used to be St Petersburg chief architect and is the head of the company responsible for all the Olympic Games construction.

Wall Painting 'War' at Podvig cinema hall in Kolpino

Once again on this blog, the wall paintings inside the cinema hall, war & victory-themed. It’s weird but during all the years that I was a quite loyal customer of this cinema hall, I paid a very limited attention to these pieces of art.

Wall Painting 'Salute' at Podvig cinema hall in Kolpino

Hm, just remembered, the walls inside were decorated with seashells (!) which we would try to ‘scoop’ out. Oh those after-school cinema shows with Titanic, Notting Hill and whatnot which sometimes almost failed to happen for the lack of cinema-goers! I remember we had to fish out an extra – eventually even two, the third and fourth – person so that they would show us some movie with George Clooney 🙂

Thank you for reading my blog!

Adding this to my St Petersburg series.

G.

on USSR / Russia · St Petersburg

Architectural Walks in Kolpino Part 5 – Around Railway Station

Privokzalnaya Square, Kolpino, St Petersburg

My home town Kolpino has celebrated its 293 years in 2015. They are not many, the architectural sights of Kolpino, but thanks to the town’s compact size they are also easy to reach and to be admired 🙂 This is the fifth post in the Kolpino architectural series (part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4), dedicated to some of the buildings near the railway station.

Kolpino, St Petersburg

In my last post on the Privokzalnaya Square in Kolpino I talked about the new plans of redesigning Kolpino after the war. In brief, the town should have been restructured in a very straightforward – classical – way with all those Stalinist neo-classical buildings. And this district is indeed quite rich in various takes at what we call the Stalinist neo-classical style. The Privokzalnaya Square was supposed to set a perspective for the ‘new’ Kolpino, resurrecting after the damages of the Second World War (Kolpino was right on the front, defending Leningrad from being conquered).

Kolpino, St Petersburg

This is one of my favourite residential buildings in the entire city – it is not situated somewhere where it imposingly stands out and yet you somehow feel there’s something … intelligent to this house with arches and columns and rounded staircase shaft at the back. I also like it because it has a library on the first floor, hidden beneath the bushes with its windows cozily lit.

Kolpino, St Petersburg

This small building next to the banya reminds me of my walks in Ano Poli of Thessaloniki, Greece, where the nature also gradually takes over, claiming back its own.

Kolpino, St Petersburg

A typical Soviet paradnaya painted in the typical green on the bottom and white on top, with a typical central heating element and tiled floor. Add to this various smells and objects. Not the most pleasing sight but at the same time so very typical most Russians wouldn’t even notice its state!

Kolpino, St Petersburg

An atypical staircase leading to the entrance: the door is also quite tall to be categorized as typical.

Kolpino, St Petersburg

This building remains a sort of a mystery to me – its back wall is blind and the front is all covered with these plants so that you cannot make head or tail out of it really. And the entrance is blocked, looks like it’s a private house or something, with a garden (atypical for a city!).

Kolpino, St Petersburg

A relic from the past – a wooden house, on sale since 2006. No chances for this ol’ guy, unfortunately… They say it used to be an orphanage before the revolution and then apparently served as a residential house for loooong years.

Kolpino, St Petersburg

A real relic, as if you suddenly travel to a provincial town or a rich village…

Kolpino, St Petersburg

Trees growing out of the roof and walls but the wood is still sturdy (oh those decadent details!)

  Kolpino, St Petersburg

Cobweb instead of letters:

Kolpino, St Petersburg

…and back to the post-war residential buildings – after some renovation and especially on a fine summer day these houses look almost pastoral:

Kolpino, St Petersburg

the balconies look suspiciously not classical:

Kolpino, St Petersburg

I wonder when this lamp was lost – apparently since then no one really cared for it anyway:

Kolpino, St Petersburg

ha, this is typical – of any period in time and history 🙂

Kolpino, St Petersburg

When Khrushchev took over as the First Secretary of the Central Committee, he started the campaign against the excessive ornamentalism in the architecture. He would fight against these bas-reliefs, too:

Kolpino, St Petersburg

Although I do like those details – as well as the houses themselves (the one below is from 1950-1951) which look pretty un-Soviet, almost individualistic and private (we won’t mention that most of the big flats got soon transformed into kommunalka (communal flats) and people had to live in tiny rooms sharing space with many others).

Kolpino, St Petersburg

One of the two identical 1952 residential buildings forming a kind of ensemble close to the Kolpino railway station – see all those medallions with faces and stars at the top:

Kolpino, St Petersburg

The ballerinas on this frieze look perfectly Stalin-era-like – the real Russian women with a strong body and those Roman / Ancient Greek looks. This is an ex-cinema hall and now a restaurant. They say it was built long ago and that even Mayakovsky used to read his poems there but due to all the damages during the war, it was rebuilt in 1958 in the late Stalinist style.

Kolpino, St Petersburg

A perfect staircase for a kindergarten. I bet it’s in a better state a year and a half later but in August 2014 it was really impressively decadent!

Kolpino, St Petersburg

No, this is not a toy house for the children to play in. This is one of those things that people born in the fridge-age ignore the purpose completely – it’s a proto-fridge 🙂 one of those icehouses (called lednik) where the food was kept in relative safety. They got massively eradicated in the city but some of them, those which were lucky to find a different use rather quickly, were kept.

Kolpino, St Petersburg

And here’s the kindergarten itself, with the inevitable columns and portico in a late Stalinist fashion, already looking much less decorated than what it could appear like were it built several years earlier:

Kolpino, St Petersburg

And right there in the midst of such a Stalinist realm there’s this 1934 constructivist communal kitchen – still functioning as a food production site, though now making Russian ravioli called pelmeni. I have always treated this building as a ‘modern’ one, filing it under ‘those ugly Soviet boxes’. When I learnt it was actually one of the few remnants of the constructivist boom, I started looking at it quite differently.

Kolpino, St Petersburg

Back in March 2015 when I was preparing this post (well…), I wrote this: I’m actually reading a book on Avantgarde architecture in Leningrad (1920s-1930s) and I find constructivist buildings attractive and repulsive at the same time: they intrigue you by their shape and their strict functionality (a constructivist architect would never sacrifice functionality for the sake of appearance or style) and they can be quite ugly and soulless especially when all in ruins. I think I like this style for its meaningfulness, I mean, it was built to function, to be useful and used, not just to look nice. Most of the Avantgarde buildings were just projected on paper and never ever built – though some of them were truly impressive, covering all the spheres of the civil engineering, from creating an island of baths (or banya) to constructing entire districts for workers with all the infrastructure. The legacy of avantgarde and constructivism in particular is kind of hard to find, although it remains quite abundant. Some of the buildings were demolished or completely redesigned with additional floors or rich neo-classical decorations and some still function but are almost indistinguishable under the kitschy patchwork of signs and advertisements.

Adding this to my St Petersburg series.

G.

on USSR / Russia · St Petersburg

Furshtatskaya and Kirochnaya Streets, St Petersburg

Furshtatskaya Street, St Petersburg

It recently dawned on me that it’s been over 10 years that I’m in love with Pink Floyd (obviously triggered by my reading of Nick Mason’s Inside Out) and suddenly some very first pictures I copied to our first very slow computer came to my mind. I searched for them on my laptop and found some silly curious stuff I totally forgot about. This is indeed a very strange thing when you can somehow make those particular sensations re-emerge ten years later with the help of music and reading! And sure enough I recalled the – now defunct – DevotedToDavidGilmour.co.uk website which at the time gave me so much joy and relief in that I was not the only one crazy in love with a certain David Gilmour! You might say – and what does this teenage fan love have to do with the post on St Petersburg? Well, absolutely nothing 🙂 Just wanted to pay tribute to that time and to those people I found through Pink Floyd, especially you, my overseas Mexican guitar-star Paloma!

Kirochnaya Street, St Petersburg

I could have told you a lot about my teenage love but let’s face it, I still love Pink Floyd 🙂 So we’d better turn to the other favourite of mine – the architectural discoveries of St Petersburg. I actually treated myself to this new walk in the center of the city, as I decided not to attend to a free excursion organized by the public library. Instead I walked along the Furshtatskaya and Kirochnaya Streets peeping into the cortyards where possible and also taking to the habit of raising my head more often. Both streets are a perfect example of what can be epitomized as ‘dvuliky Peterburg‘ or a two-faced St Petersburg.

Kirochnaya Street, St Petersburg

Kirochnaya Street runs from Dom Ofitserov on Liteyny Avenue which I talked about recently. Its name derives from a Lutheran Annenkirche built in late 18th century (and turned into a cinema hall you-know-when). However, almost anything starting with Kiro… has to my ear a certain – and in this case fake – Soviet connotation (like the city of Kirov, for example) – this pseudo-etymology plays tricks with my mind in immediately attributing something Soviet to this otherwise innocent street. In fact it used to be called Saltikov-Shchedrin Street over the Soviet period, commemorating a 19th century writer whose books are on the “obligatory reading” list for schools. The street is just laden with various architectural styles, most of which are not in the perfect shape – both in the inner courts and on the front line. Would you believe this is in the full center of St Petersburg?!

Kirochnaya Street, St Petersburg

… and next to this:

Kirochnaya Street, St Petersburg

This eclectic-style monumental dokhodny dom (revenue house) stands out of the crowd, occupying two house numbers along Kirochnaya Street (1899-1900 by Pavel Syuzor). It’s green for starters and it has an enormous arch.

Kirochnaya Street, St Petersburg

  And the frontal view:

Kirochnaya Street, St Petersburg

It’s richly decorated in the best traditions of the eclectic style. It’s one of those buildings when you take a photo and only later discover more details: your head just won’t keep that long propped up!

Kirochnaya Street, St Petersburg

Always wanted to get inside… But now even the entrance to the interior cortyard (cour d’honneur) is blocked. This very helpful and informative source on St Petersburg architecture gives you lots of photos of the interior. And oh-oh, looking at the inside photos of this modernist building make me want to get in there at once!

Kirochnaya Street, St Petersburg

Built by Boris Gershovich in 1904-1905, this house is easily spotted (as long as you pay attention to the facade rather than to the bulky signs on it) and if you’re a fan of modernist architecture, its door ‘roof’ will transport you to Paris 🙂 Oh, the curvy and rounded details! The exterior door was open but the second was was not so I did not see all the treasures hidden in there (including stained-glass windows and galleries). Just found out there was an excursion in this house todaaaaay and I missed it…

Kirochnaya Street, St Petersburg

I guess this has been trod upon for more than a century:

Kirochnaya Street, St Petersburg

I pretty much like the rustic masonry too:

Kirochnaya Street, St Petersburg

And the grate:

Kirochnaya Street, St Petersburg

And here just next to it is the other side of the city – what’s left from the – then super-innovative – 1936-1937 constructivism building:

Kirochnaya Street, St Petersburg

And again – side by side to the Soviet addition is this mid-19th century PINK mansion built for Caesar Kavos:

Kirochnaya Street, St Petersburg

Somewhere after that I turned into the depth of the first open cortyard (this is the golden rule of St Petersburg – and probably of many more cities – just follow the folk and enter anything that is open 🙂 and by winding my way through less parade-like typical St Petersburg yards…

Kirochnaya Street, St Petersburg

…I ended up rejoining Furshtatskaya Street (see the very first picture) which actually runs parallel to Kirochnaya! This is a narrow early 19th century building by an unidentified architect redesigned in 1901 to become a modernist house. Again green and white and again – standing out of the crowd, though this time the size doesn’t matter!

Furshtatskaya Street, St Petersburg

Furshtatskaya Street bears its name thanks to the Preobrazhensky regiment which was housed there (renamed after a revolutionary during the Soviet times). It has a pedestrian alley right in the middle of it and is best known for two things – consulates and one of the oldest and the most beautiful civil registry halls in St Petersburg. In this eclectic-style late 19th century mansion my sister got married:

Furshtatskaya Street, St Petersburg

Ah yes. And this is how it looked inside on that day in June 2013 – or just a sneak peak into what an civil marriage ceremony involves in Russia – a beautiful couple, lots of guests throwing rose petals in the streets (this is how you can easily tell a civil registry hall from a plain building) and a pompous speech delivered for the umpteenth time by a registrar which no one ever remembers .)

Furshtatskaya Street, St Petersburg

There’s much more to both of the streets – but I would bore you to death with the photos if I followed them house-by-house! Although for me they are far from being boring. Adding this to my St Petersburg series.

“And then one day you find ten years have got behind you…”

In apprehension of more Kaliningrad adventures.

G.

on USSR / Russia · St Petersburg

Architectural Walks in Kolpino Part 4 – Privokzalnaya Square

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This is already the fourth chapter of the architectural walks in my native town Kolpino which is located close to St Petersburg and is actually a part of its agglomeration. I’ve started the Kolpino series (part 1, part 2, part 3) back in 2014 and all the photos were actually taken in the summer. Let’s investigate into the Square that surrounds the railway station this time. This Privokzalnaya square (literally around the railways station) is the first thing one sees when arriving in Kolpino from St Petersburg by train – it forms a true ensemble which doesn’t fit in one post – or one shot! : )

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The book that I’m reading now (on Avangarde architecture in Leningrad) cites various projects designed by Alexander Gegello, a prolific Soviet architect who created or rebuilt quite a lot of buildings in Leningrad and the USSR. For example, the Dvorets Kultury (the Palace of Culture) in Kolpino was Gegello’s work. And this ensemble I would like to tell you about today was also partially designed by Gegello but mostly by Mikhail Klimentov, in collaboration with other architects, and finished by 1955.

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Gegello was working both in the constructivist and the neo-classical (or Stalin’s empire or Stalin’s neo-classicism) style – the latter following the former and becoming the dominant style up to Stalin’s death. Klimentov already belonged to the Stalin’s official style and you can instantly feel that in the ensemble.

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This district was heavily bombarded during the Second World War as Kolpino was just on the front line. Actually, entire city was almost erased and only some old buildings remain. So the in the 1950s Klimentov’s architectural bureau responsible for the reconstruction of the district was trying to commemorate the bravery and the struggle of Kolpino citizens by making monumental buildings. They were thinking BIG.

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Hence this dominant tower with a spire and the figures of a worker and a woman impersonating the Motherland for sure. Peace, labour, new life and the revolution, of course. There are also various bas-reliefs all around the building. It looks both onto the railways and to the Komsomolsky Canal, and IS still visible from a distance since there are no other high buildings around blocking the view.

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I always wanted to get there, to the top floor of the tower and look around. Here’s a chance to get a closer look at the sculptures on the top and some shots from the roof here. But I usually just pass under one of its arches leading to the inner court – a habitual shortcut from the railway station to my home.

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But boy are these arches tremendously elaborate and oh so dilapidated (and smelly)…

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The Stalin’s official style, neo-classicism, was all about grandeur and at the same time lavish details, resulting in a weird cross between the classical Roman monumentality and the Soviet decorative propaganda.

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I wonder if this VKHOD (entrance) sign was lit in the night? The lamp is definitely very old too:

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Gosh, this door has seen a lot! And is almost “eating” the ground now.

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Another arch unveiling another building by Klimentov and Co:

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This building – although in a distance from the Square – is right in the center of the two curving sister-buildings. They say it used to be a local library and then housed a bank. In pure architectural terms it is there to create a perfect perspective (see the second picture from the top).

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This is the inner part of the sister-building on the other side of the square. It is rounded as it follows the curve of the round square – and doesn’t look that very sophisticated.

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Here’s the curve from the Square side:

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The curve in its perspective plus some Kolpino folk:

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And some more details of the ground floor, obviously designed to house stores and organizations. The grate:

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This lamp did not survive to the passing of time but look at the decor:

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The center of the Square just could not do without a statue of Lenin by Manizer and Fedotov, 1957:

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One of the things people usually notice in Lenin’s or other communist statues is where they are looking at or pointing at. Lenin is looking somewhere in the direction of this:

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Who knows if he approves of it or not, hard to tell from his noble face. But the thing I can tell you is that this phenomenon of lampposts, walls, bus stops, entire kiosks etc covered with small paper stickers and bearing traces of milliards of stickers preceding them is something that is going away. People used it before Internet arrived, you know 🙂 This bus stop board is a survivor from God knows when. I did not check since the summer 2014, it might as well not be there anymore.

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But this flag-holder is here to stay in its relative safety up there on the wall. The Square was the starting point of many an organized manifestation-demonstration in the Soviet times and anyway every building had such a flag holding thing for the May 1st or November 7th celebrations.

Why are the old things infinitely more attractive than the new ones? Because the old things have history. They might have belonged to someone else and that makes you curious to begin with. They might have some mystery about them, some unknown facts that you would love to find out. The old Russian proverb says ‘An old friend is better than two new friends’ and I agree with it.

Will try to finally publish all the Kolpino walks soon(er or later). Adding this to my St Petersburg series.

G.

no recipe · on USSR / Russia

Breaking up of the Soviet Union

'Forbidden to stand' - the rest is painted over
‘Forbidden to stand!’ – the rest is painted over

I’ve just read this ‘Leningrad Lexicon’ book by Igor Bogdanov which I took at the library. It has the brightest symbols and specific Leningrad words explained in an alphabetic order. Some of the articles were just hilarious, some were too sour with the ‘it was so much better in the past’ feeling. I learnt a lot, cause behind these words there were all those general Soviet realities most of which are now lost and not ‘real’ anymore. I would love to share with you lost of these things, some of them food-related too, but then I felt I would just end up translating the entire book!

Khruschevka
Khruschevka

I will share with you this idea though – Why the country which occupied one fourth of the Earth’s dry land stuffed its population into kommunalki, communal flats with 1 toilet per 30 people, or into khruschevki with the ‘norm’ of 9 m2 per capita? Why with all this spare land stretching way beyond the horizon the Soviet people had to line up all along the street in order to get something? Well, these are rhetoric questions.

USSR Ethnic Groups 1974
USSR Ethnic Groups 1974 (from Wikipedia)

With all these memories of the author who was born in the 50s, you just feel as if you were there with him. After that, we were naturally discussing with my Mother the USSR and in particular that period when the USSR broke up. She witnessed it, she lived though it, so I believe her. I’m sharing with you a sum up 🙂 But first…

Telegraph - the fastest means of communication
Telegraph – the fastest means of communication

My personal attitude towards the USSR is very complicated. The Soviet heritage in my veins just never leaves me alone, at the same time I can hardly be called an objective witness as I was born too late to experience and remember a lot from the Soviet years and too late to not be concerned. My in-between generation has sampled both the decadent years of the dying Soviet empire and the early crazy days of ‘building democracy’. It’s a relationship of hate and love: when I hear people criticizing or even blackening those times, I feel hurt and want to contradict everything said, whereas I myself criticize it at large and often make laugh of lots of aspects of Soviet life with certain pleasure. There’s as much I’m proud and love about it about it as I hate about it.

Chelyabinsk, Russia
Dreadful Lenin monument in Chelyabinsk

Most of the time my feelings towards that period in our country’s history can be described as a pretty strong bond that keeps me tied but remains something unattainable – you cannot turn back the years!

Sometimes it feels in one of my previous lives I must have lived in the USSR in the 70s, I don’t know why but this blemish (somehow the movies from that period are all filmed on a blemish-coloured film although people are sometimes wearing gaudy coloured synthetic clothes) era. It was after the enthusiastic and more or less ‘free’ 60s and before the boggy 80s when people stopped believing in their Soviet religion.

Children Clothes from Domovodstvo (Homekeeping) 1959
Children Clothes from Domovodstvo (Homekeeping) 1959

The people – already Russian and Soviet no more – were tired and pissed off, they wanted to get rid of, to say (too tired to shout) good bye to there previous life. So many things – good things or just ‘innocent’ things – were destructed or just thrown away. And I’m talking both about the material and immaterial stuff. People were so tired with the worn-out propaganda and motto and ideas and ideals that they eagerly renounced from them. The entire country was too tired, too hungry and too deep in ‘byt’ (everyday life chores and more ‘traditional’ Soviet problems of getting food and even most necessary things, the lack of which was growing really awfully fast). No energy, no desire, not even an idea came to the people’s heads to preserve the past which everyone preferred to forget as soon as possible.

Soviet propaganda of the 1980s
Soviet propaganda of the 1980s

A huge part of the communist ideology seems artificial and far-fetched to me – and not only to me. When I think about it I always imagine those propaganda posters – not the first avangarde style masterpieces but the later phony posters which showed or claimed something which nobody noticed and nobody cared about. Just because there were so many things that were done merely because they ought to be done according to this ideology, they soon lost all their meaning. And already the generation of my parents could hardly ‘eat’ any more of them. And although they were fed with these ideas and ideals from the very first years of their lives, it got harder and harder each year to get these ideas through so that they reach their minds and hearts. And for most of them it never did, remaining just the shell, the cover.

Women Clothes from Domovodstvo (Homekeeping) 1959
Women Clothes from Domovodstvo (Homekeeping) 1959

I guess that the State’s politekonomia, political economy (the State being the only producer, consumer, owner, lender, seller and buyer), with uravnilovka or levelling out (the colloquial ‘synonym’ to the communist dream of everyone being equal; two people occupying the same position in any organization all across the country were getting the same money – there was no such thing as unemployment in USSR simply because all the people were artificially ’employed’ somewhere, which meant being ‘ascribe’ or attached to some organization without doing any real job there) and all the while the thriving black market (no other way to get your jeans, LPs and not so rarely – food) also ‘helped’ undermine the whole idea. . . Would you cherish the communist ideas when they do not give you decent life?!

Soviet gelatin of third and second quality degree
Soviet gelatin of third and second quality degree – oh that Soviet packaging design!

Hence the inevitable loss and some times really ruthless liquidation of the past which just yesterday was meaningful and now lost all its sense. And probably only now, more than 20 years later, do we start reevaluating the past, feeling remorseful for what’s now lost. At the same time those some 20 odd years were enough to raise a generation which was born immediately after the breaking up of USSR or some years later – a generation raised in the atmosphere of change but even more so of heading anywhere it would take us to get as far from the well-thumbed Soviet ideology as possible. This new generation knows really little about the USSR, either considering it a very boring period not worth of remembering or making some sort of a pastiche of its ideas and symbols.

Wall Painting 'Salute' at Podvig cinema hall in Kolpino
Wall Painting ‘Salute’ at Podvig cinema hall in Kolpino

With all that a significant number of people, most of them the children of the Stalin era, were ‘discarded’, denied and disposed of as they felt. True and loyal children of the post-revolution Russia, they felt that their whole life was being thrown away together with the ideas and the ideals they lived all these years. And what’s more important – the believed in all this. They fought for this, they defended their country, they won the great war… That was a shock not all of them could live through. And while the rest of the population – a younger part which was born years after the war and did not know much of the hard life of their parents – got head over heals with the ideas of the free market, open borders and everything plastic, synthetic, multi-colored, disposable and made in China (this is how I remember the early 90s from my child’s point of view), their parents got the stress of their lives. Ironically, these resilient and super-resistant generation that has gone through the hardest times of the 20th century, were suddenly abandoned together with their bravery, their feats and achievements. A very sad and truly dramatic moment for them.

Wall Painting 'War' at Podvig cinema hall in Kolpino
Wall Painting ‘War’ at Podvig cinema hall in Kolpino

Even with my child’s eyes I could realize that my Granddad was deeply wounded with what was going on, with the destruction of the system, when the gigantic country was falling apart in front of his eyes. The country he helped to get forward, working for it all his life. And all those people around him and on TV (the TV which always told the truth and nothing but the truth!) they were constantly denying, discarding, throwing away and devaluating all his beliefs. What else could he possibly feel back then rather than unjustifiably rejected?

How to block the entrance
How to block the entrance with the Soviet heritage

If you’re interested in this period, I have posts dedicated to what happened immediately after the breaking up of the USSR – the infamous 90s (here and here).

Adding this to my USSR/Russia collection of posts.

And very soon – food! And a trip to Kirov – kilograms of rye malt, I’m coming!!!

G.

travel

Aegina, Greece: Island of Enchanted Places

Agia Marina, Aegina Island

Last time I told you about Aegina Island‘s village called Agia Marina and the warmest and dearest feelings I have towards this place. Someone might call it tourist-oriented, some might say it’s so deeply old-school they forgot it’s 21st century out there. But I don’t mind (and my family joins me here), on the contrary I just wish it would really go on like this: we would come back there and each time find the dear old details and people. As my sister has put it, there’ll be no other place like this for us anymore cause a child’s perception of the place is unique.

Aphaia Temple, Aegina Island

We’re now heading from the small seaside village Agia Marina on top of the hill above – which houses on of the most visited and no less enchanted places of the island – the ancient temple of Aphaia, one of the best preserved ancient temples in Greece. Aphaia means transparent in Greek and there’s this beautiful (could it be ugly?) legend about the goddess fleeing from Minos’ lust. Anyway, the temple is very … I don’t know, I cannot call it beautiful but it is so much matching the place, standing on top of the hill from where one can see Piraeus and even Acropolis if the weather allows. They say that the temple creates a magical triangle with Parthenon and Sounion. You can take photos of the temple from all the angles and still its … beauty (for the lack of a more appropriate word) escapes you. I like the colour of the stone and the silence around it – even if the place is crowded with tourists, there’s this majesty and power about it, the silent knowledge and detachment. The sculptures from the temple are in Munich by the way.

Agia Marina, Aegina Island

In fact Aegina has it all: beach, ancient temple and a column (ex-temple of Apollo), medieval fortress and a hill full of old churches, a house-size camera obscura, the monasteries (among which the one built by one of the most recent Greek Orthodox saints), the house of Kazantzakis (yes, the one who created Zorbas), the oldest trees in Europe (olives – still have to see them!), the mountain peaks, the wild-life hospital, ex-military base, pistachio & olive groves and what not, really! It even has its own pistachio festival to celebrate the tastiest pistachios in the world. A list can be found on this website.

Agia Marina, Aegina Island

It also has the ruins of a wanna-be largest hotel on the island which was abandoned in 1974 and from then on has never been finished. Its ruins (cause it’s gradually dilapidating) can be seen close to Agia Marina and they make part of almost all the panorama photos of the village (see the first one). The taverna guy told me the hunta regime wanted to create a resort there for themselves but they never did. The hotel is gaping with its open windows and has a more powerful effect on me than any other building on the island. It’s surrounded by a (also dilapidating) wall which is covered with impressive graffiti. The church from the photo above is right at the wall.

Paleochora, Aegina Island

In this picture you can see both the medieval church and the most recent church built on the island – the ex-capital of the island called Paleochora (old town) and Agios Nektarios church. I love the fact that they are situated so close (although it takes some time and strength to get from one to the other on foot!), just opposite each other. From the monastery of Agios Nektarios (he died in 1920 and is considered to be saint, healing people and whispering them words from his shrine) you can see the imposing hill where Paeochora is (and it is essentially a hill with loads of old churches scattered around it + topped with a fortress and 2 churches), ochre in colour and as if made from ancient stones. From the hill itself the monastery looks like a ceramic house from a souvenir shop. They do match each other!

Paleochora, Aegina Island

Paleochora is a magic place. You need to go there in the morning before it gets too hot. Because I assure you you will regret it if you do not climb the slippery stones right there to the very top of the hill (at this point it will seem more like a mountain…) to feel the wind all around you and see this:

Paleochora, Aegina Island

And yes, do not step on the ruins! Although ruins are just everywhere 🙂 The Greek phrase actually warns you against climbing on the ruins, which is just the same thing.

Paleochora, Aegina Island

Before you reach the top you will take several dead-ends, by this I mean quite dangerous paths that seem to be leading somewhere but in fact just ending sharply with no chance of getting further. Even the Greeks get lost there. We by chance found a ‘guide’ just when we arrived at the foot of the hill – he said his father found relics of three saints on Paleochora and then built a church there.

Paleochora, Aegina Island

And when you feel tired, take out that tiropita which has been emanating the delicious tiropita smell in your bag all the way up the hill and down, up and down! The view is amazing too.

Paleochora, Aegina Island

And if you’re in the mood for a Greek party – join in the festivities in the church yard, with considerable amounts of (obviously not vegetarian) food and wine to be expected once the mess is over. They all gathered round the loud speaker, listening to a transmission of some Greek Orthodox chants.

Paleochora, Aegina Island

We then went on to the monastery, which is another place of power on the island. This is actually a convent and it’s beautifully decorated with flowers. The church is still under construction.

Agios Nektarios Monastery, Aegina Island

The sisters of the monastery support the island people in need, they prepare food and also help at the old people hospital. Greeks from all over the country come to this place to ask Agios Nektarios for something. Once on a stormy day my father saw a bottle in the sea, reached it and found a note inside, asking to order some church service for someone. We did – we brought it to the monastery.

Agios Nektarios Monastery, Aegina Island

And if you’re more into town – then do visit Aegina’s capital – well, Aegina. It’s a place for those of you out there who enjoy Greek style and decadence : )

Aegina, Aegina Island

This cafe was closed on Monday so we sat there and ate our second Italian breakfast – bread with jam. Then we carefully placed the chairs back in order and went on to explore the narrow streets of the town.

Aegina, Aegina Island

It’s the island’s most important port so what else would you expect to eat there rather than fish? Fish (and just) market is also famous for its mezedakia places where you can drink your ouzo and enjoy some saganaki…

Aegina, Aegina Island

The ever-present cats in Greece must be dreaming of this:

Aegina, Aegina Island

Once you got yourself loads of pistachios and pistachio brittle and pistachio honey, leave the market to see some of the old buildings and signs.

Aegina, Aegina Island

In Aegina the streets are narrow and winding as if trying to get all the pirates (who were never scarce on the island) lost and never found 🙂

Aegina, Aegina Island

I wish I had more time to walk up and down the streets. Decadence!

Aegina, Aegina Island

Decadence is more visible with every year, unfortunately. So when you get a bit stifled with it, go out in the open, to the port. There’s a tiny white-washed church and a new church and that imposing but now completely degraded building at the beginning of the port. There’s also a woman selling fruit right on the seafront. She once  had no change and so gave us a banana =)

Aegina, Aegina Island

I love the small boats, look so much better than the hi-tech yachts. And I love the blue colour in Greece. They just know how to use it!

Aegina, Aegina Island

Photography and art =)

Aegina, Aegina Island

And some more blue…

Aegina, Aegina Island

And then you get hungry before getting on the hydrofoil – and you eat your last gyros with Haloumi cheese (which is actually a Cypriot cheese). I’ve discovered this nutritious vegetarian version of the – usually – meat gyros and I loved it! Here’s the place on Tripadvisor, and here is Pita Tom, the best place for (vegetarian) gyros in Agia Marina, celebrating its 20 years this October!

Gyros me Haloumi, Aegina, Aegina Island

I couldn’t have NOT ended this post without food ,)

Love this island. Will come back.

That’s about it for today!

G.

travel

Aegina, Greece: Island of Sea, Food and Sunrise

Agia Marina, Aegina Island

I think I’m going to have another post on Aegina, this one will just not fit in even few of the things this island means to me and evokes in me each time. In one of my previous posts I mentioned the pistachios from Aegina, the super-fragrant pistachios that are so addictive and create such warmth (!) you want travel to the place where they got all these wonderful flavours. Pistachios from Aegina are my ‘madeleine de Proust‘.

Arriving

This magic place is more than just sea & beach, although it was the first place I ever met these in my life.

Agia Marina, Aegina Island

Aegina is the first in lots of things. First foreign place, first restaurant, first hydrofoil, first pizza, first pistachios, first white wine, first time on motorcycle, first time in a hotel,… Well, all things considered, that was the first time I went abroad on a plane. And that was back in 1996.

Agia Marina, Aegina Island

And back in 1996 the place was crowded like hell with tourists, especially the popular touristic village called Agia Marina where we stayed along with people from Germany, UK, Netherlands and Russia.

Agia Marina, Aegina Island

When we came after an almost 10 year gap we discovered the village and its tourist places so much run down and deserted. Also the things seemed so much smaller (cause I visited the island first ‘when the trees were taller’).  Less than 20 years later and here I am coming there for the 6th time in my life.

Agia Marina, Aegina Island

Each time I come here I notice yet another hotel or shop shut down or the level of neglect the things are left in. Cause the locals (or those who run the hotels and shops) seem to be really Greek in the way they resist anything new.

Agia Marina, Aegina Island

And I thank them for this decadence, although I can’t stop comparing it to what I recall from 1996, nor can I escape the thought that this just cannot continue too long.  This bar shut down for lots of years already has all the things abandoned there inside with an impressive wall of photos with the fading faces, smiles and memories.

Agia Marina, Aegina Island

I recognize that Greek attitude even in the best and most brand new things they do. They always leave some space for letting the things flow and even better – stay as they are, the good ol’ way. The Greek way. It’s very-very close to our Russian heart, I guess.

Agia Marina, Aegina Island

Probably that’s why each time I think about Greece, I dream about the first place I went there (apart from the airport and seaport). And I do not regret coming to this place for the 6th time : )

Agia Marina, Aegina Island

And I already think about the seventh…

Agia Marina, Aegina Island

I just cannot stop taking photos of the same places on Aegina. And I hear Haris Alexiou in my head, cause that first time in Greece was when we first listened to her songs. And fell in love with Greece even more.

Agia Marina, Aegina Island

This same rope on the rocky beach where we spent most of our time can be seen on our photos dating back to 1996. I just love this conservative attitude 🙂

Agia Marina, Aegina Island

Thanks to which the sea is clean and there are no enormous all-inclusive hotels around. The largest hotel there should have been is the one that has never been finished and is left there in its unfinished state from 1974.

Tiropita and Ayran

And of course if you want the best good ol’ breakfast on the rocky beach of Agia Marina – get yourself a Tiropita (white cheese pastry) from my favourite bakery (ex-crafts shop where we used to get our souvenirs) an the magic (!) Greek milk (or Ayran, the substitute for kefir)!

Agia Marina, Aegina Island

And then saganaki (fried / grilled) cheese with Greek salad for dinner, oooh! I think I liked it more than the Bulgarian Kashkaval version. Out of the limited number of tavernas that I think I already know by heart this time we chose On the Rocks, right in the port of Agia Marina:

Agia Marina, Aegina Island

Next to it is another tasty place – Lighthouse taverna. There usually all the ducks gather to get their traditional meze of the day =)

Agia Marina, Aegina Island

I took photos of  these tavernas at the sunrise, the most emotional time of the day. Just before the sun rises there are small insects buzzing frantically around white flowers, there is this freshness in the air, the changing light. Love those moments.

Agia Marina, Aegina Island

With the sunrise and sunset photos you never know which one is which. These are all of the most impressive sunrise – when the bright golden disk of the sun appears somewhere from the sea behind the rock. With all my inclination towards decadence I prefer this special time just before the sunrise… or before breakfast ,)

Agia Marina, Aegina Island

I made my sunrise walk each morning, getting early thanks to the hour difference with Greece. And as soon as the sun rises, the world around – as if it was just holding its breath – gets on its usual carousel ride, the sun gets so hot, the crazy cicadas start ‘singing’ with maddening volume and… the shops open.)

Agia Marina, Aegina Island

Next time will surely do two things – swim before the sunrise and after the sunset when the sea is dark and a bit menacing.

Part two with shots of the rest of the enchanting places we managed to visit within the three days on Aegina is coming soon.

G.