In self-isolation, Petersburgers read stories to children over the phone, hang out in online bars, and deliver free food to the elderly
March 25, 2020
There are only penguins about, and they all look the same! You wouldn’t be able to pick out your own mom. And the snow is blinding, your beak is frozen, and your fins are tired. If you think you have problems it’s just because you’ve never been a little penguin in icy Antarctica. He lucked out in the end, however. He found a wise walrus who showed him how to find meaning and a source of strength in everything, to see beauty and come to the understanding that everyone has hard days, but no one can live our lives better than we can. Jory John’s Penguin Problems is one of the books that librarians in Petersburg’s Frunze District now read over the phone to housebound kids.
And not only children—there was a case when a depressed 25-year-old man asked the librarians to cheer him up with a story, and they did. The ten minutes when he became a child again, feeling warm and safe and protected, were the best medicine.
The project has a backstory. Fifteen years ago or so, one of the current on-duty storytellers, Marina, got a call on her home phone from a girl who was bored and dialing numbers at random. Marina read her a story, and the girl began calling every day to listen to one.
Library storytellers Marina, Veronika, and Serafima. Photo courtesy of social media and Novaya Gazeta
When we were children, there was such a service—Stories by Phone—but it was a paid service and involved no choice or live communication. The voice on the other end of the phone was a recording.
Today’s Telephone Tales are read for free, but the storyteller’s most important duty is to help children feel that they are not alone, they are fun to be with, and the questions occupying them are important. The actual reading of a story usually takes around ten minutes, but a single call can last as long as forty minutes, as happened when Marina read a poem to an inquisitive child who kept having questions. Marina had to tell the child who legionnaires, musketeers, and cowboys were.
Children usually let the storytellers choose books for them. You cannot worry about the outcome with such excellent pilots in the world of children’s literature. Some children hear Ekaterina Panfilova’s The Ashones: A Tale from the Branch of a Rowan Bush, a glorious story of elves who bring comfort, the smell of buns spread with rowan berry jam, and a sense of security to a home. Others are treated to Karel Čapek’s stories of his wire fox terrier puppy Dashenka, poems by Mikhail Yasnov and Artur Givargizov, or something from the works of Roald Dahl or Nina Dashevskaya.
The three library storytellers—Marina Terekhova, Veronika Makarova, and Serafima Andreyeva—read only on weekdays:
- Marina reads from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.; call +7 (921) 595-1596.
- Veronika reads from 12 to 3 p.m.; call +7 (911) 937-9849.
- Serafima reads from 3 to 6 p.m.; call +7 (931) 357-5041.
While children are listening to stories read over the phone, adults now have the chance to drink and chat with a motley band of people without leaving home. In Petersburg, a fictional street featuring a dozen virtual drinking establishments could become an alternative to the “restaurant street” on Rubinstein. You can visit the online bar, the brainchild of Mikhail Shishkin, the director of a creative agency, at this link. When you click on one of the neon signs, you end up in a particular group video chat. Depending on the joint’s “capacity,” your screen will be divided into several windows (from four to twelve, depending to number of participants). It’s BYOB, as they say, with everyone drinking what they pour in their own non-virtual kitchens.
The main page of the virtual Stay the Fuck Home Bar
The idea was a good one: the Petersburg online bar has been gaining popularity in different Russian cities and abroad. A week after it opened, it has not been so easy to find a free spot. As for the patrons, it’s the luck of the draw. There are interesting interlocutors, but you can run into a boorish jerk, just as in real life.
We Are Responsible for Those We Have Fed
Spouses Alexandra Sinyak and Yevgeny Gershevich are owners of Dobrodomik, a cafe that had been providing free daily lunches to as many as three hundred elderly people. Due to the coronavirus, it had to stop its Grateful Lunches for Pensioners campaign.
“But with their miserly pensions, our elderly patrons have grown accustomed to not spending money on groceries to make lunch, and so we can’t stop helping them overnight. Therefore, all the pensioners who visited Dobrodomik can call Alexandra, and we will be happy to bring them food,” the owners announced on the cafe’s social media pages.
Thanks to support from their partners at AgroInvest, Dobrodomik (“Good House”) was able to give away one ton of fruits and vegetables during the campaign’s first week.
The help arrives quickly. On March 20, 83-year-old Nina Zakatova wrote that she was running rather low on food, and it was hard for her to go out. On March 21, she found a full box of produce on her doorstep, including potatoes, onions, cabbage, apple, tomatoes, and tangerines.
In addition to distributing fruits and vegetables, the campaign delivered one hundred food parcels in its first week. Each parcel contained bread, milk, chicken, vegetable oil, pasta, rice, buckwheat, canned peas, and cucumbers.
An elderly woman with a food delivery from Dobrodomik. Photo courtesy of social media and Novaya Gazeta
“An elderly person comes downstairs, you give them food, and in return you get a look that cannot be described in words,” the instructions continue. “You send a photo of the receipt and, preferably, a photo of a happy elderly person to Dobrodomik, and we will reimburse you.”
Of course, you can buy and deliver food without being reimbursed, if you have the means. Or you can donate money to Dobrodomik using the details on their website. Or you can help with deliveries. You can also help clean the apartments of elderly people who live alone and cannot manage themselves, or you can help with repairs (Dobrodomik also offers this service), either by buying building materials or taking part in the repairs if you’re handy. Finally, you can donate unwanted clothes, shoes, and appliances.
Helping Is Easy—Easy Peasy
Meanwhile, a whole big family of other equally good houses has come under attack by the evil coronavirus—the ceramic houses produced by Petersburg in Miniature, a project run by the charity space Easy Peasy (Legko-Legko). The houses were made by disabled people in Easy Peasy’s studio on Bolshaya Pushkarskaya, but now the workers cannot get to the studio.
A replica of the ballerina Mathilde Kschessinska’s mansion on the Petrograd Side in Petersburg, as produced by Easy Peasy’s disable craftspeople. Image courtesy of Petersburg in Miniature
Easy Peasy’s Tatyana Nayko made the following suggestion to people on the Facebook group page Petrograd Diaspora:
“I have an idea. Would historians, art scholars, tour guides, and journalists help us write the stories of buildings on the Petrograd Side? We will post the texts on our website and on social networks. During the quarantine, we will design new miniatures to go with your texts. Write to us about the houses where you live or about buildings that mean something to you, that are dear to your heart. People who are staying at home can entertain themselves while benefiting our project. We have to share our love of Petersburg with everyone now. Let’s write and then read the stories we have written about the houses we live in and the people who have lived in them.”
The same group page, Petrograd Diaspora, also published an announcement that Konstantin Sholmov’s Wonders and Adventures Creative Workshop would be releasing a series of entertaining video lectures on crafts for children. The first lecture (about the properties of different types of wood and ways of working and experimenting with them) has already been posted on YouTube.
Another area in which new grassroots campaigns have emerged is support for small and medium-sized businesses. Groups urging people to buy, order, and eat in their neighborhoods have been proliferating on social media.
The owners of a cafeteria on Aptekarsky Prospect have suggested that neighborhood residents organize themselves through the chat groups of residential buildings and office space renters in the same office buildings to avoid overpaying for orders when they are delivered by third parties. The cafeteria owners are willing to pay for delivery of bulk orders made by these groups.
Together with the volunteer movement COVIDarity, Novaya Gazeta has launched the COVID Infobot on Telegram. This chatbot allows people to get prompt consultations on questions regarding the spread of the coronavirus in Russia. You can use the bot to see the latest infection statistics and read quick guides about symptoms and prevention. You can also use it to get help, for example, with buying or ordering groceries for someone in self-isolation, consulting with a psychologist, and finding out where to buy protective equipment. Your requests will be forwarded to the volunteers at COVIDarity.
Translated by the Russian Reader