“Snarling Dogs and Monkeys Chasing Each Other Through the Streets”

Leader of World Proletariat with Female Gate Attendant Reflected in Security Mirror, SUV, and New Year’s Tree. December 18, 2016, 11 Lomanaya Street, St. Petersburg

Monument to V.I. Lenin

Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov (pseudonym – Lenin) (1870-1924) was a Russian and Soviet world-class politician and statesman, revolutionary, founder of the Russian Social Democratic Workers Party (Bolsheviks), and one of the organizers and leaders of the 1917 October Revolution in Russia. The monument was erected on the 87th anniversary of Lenin’s birth on the premises of the former Proletarian Victory shoe factory. Unveiled on April 22 , 1957. Cast from a model by the sculptor P.I. Bondarenko.

Source: 2gis.ru. Photo and translation by the Russian Reader

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In Petrograd, “cryptic” messages like this one (spray painted on the fence of the now-defunct Krupskaya Confectionery Factory) are giving the sex ads stenciled everywhere on the pavements and walls a stiff run for their money. Basically, if you want to get whacked out of your mind on “bath salts” and then have sex with a prostitute, this town is the place for you. And it visually reminds you of that fact a thousand times a day, every which way you look. But don’t dream of holding a spontaneous political protest: then the law will come down hard on you. But gnarly, highly addictive drugs and prostitution (amidst an HIV epidemic) it can live with. ||| TRR, December 18, 2015
An important public service message from the kleptocratic post-fascist hybrid regime: Make your family strong, not your liquor! “In Russia, 16% of families break up due to alcoholism.” Uff da! ||| TRR, December 18, 2015

Post-Soviet “ethnic diversity” gone bad. Four “folk singers” from god knows what republic or “little people of the north” lip-synching a folk song at the New Year’s bazaar on Pioneer Square in Petrograd. ||| TRR, December 18, 2015

Darya Apahonchich: No Exit?

you must die“You must die.” ∴ “Wicked Russia.” Downtown Petersburg, May 6, 2018

Darya Apahonchich
June 15, 2018

My father died two years ago; my mom, a year and a half ago. Both of them were fifty-nine. They worked their whole lives, my mom a little longer. She taught physical therapy and physical education. Dad was a military man and volcanologist. He went into business after perestroika.

I don’t want to generalize, but they had very different, very complicated lives. They did not communicate with each other for the last twenty years. But they had one thing in common: they did not think in terms of the future. They did not look forward to anything. They did not dream of traveling. They did not plan to move house or look for better housing. They did not want new friends. They did not pursue hobbies. They never got the hang of computers. (Although Dad used them, he did not like them at all.)

One another annoying but important thing was that they drank a lot. When they were on binges, they would turn into people who could not care less whether there was a future or not. In the aftermath of their binges, they would experience an agonizing sense of guilt.

I find it horribly painful to write this, but it is not only my family’s story. It is the story of many families in Russia.

When we cannot choose our own reality, we do not think in terms of the future. Along with poverty and helplessness, we learn the important lesson that we cannot change anything, and all that awaits us is death.

I have always asked myself whether anything would have been different if my parents had more money and opportunities. When it comes to alcoholism, I don’t know. Maybe nothing would have changed. As far as despair was concerned, maybe they would have made a difference.

The new retirement age in Russia will be sixty-three for women, and sixty-five for men. The government has been instituting this reform hastily, while people are watching the World Cup.

Photo and translation by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Ms. Apahonchich for her kind permission to translate and publish her piece on this website.

Genre Scene

“Wanna drink?”

“Wanna drink?”

The question was addressed to my dog, not to me.

And indeed there was something to drink (or rather, lick up) because huge puddles of pungent alcohol had been splashed on the pavement all round the morning’s tragic heroes.

The particular genre scene had been made possible and has become more frequent due to the fact that the neighborhood outlet of the mighty Dixie supermarket chain, opposite where the drunks were hunched, had recently begun operating round the clock, and several months earlier, a 24-hour RosAl chain liquor shop had opened just round the corner too.

Dixie Supermarket
Dixie Supermarket

In Petersburg, retail, over-the-counter sale of liquor is illegal after ten o’clock in the evening. So in the wee hours, RosAl transforms itself into an impromptu dive, a poorly concealed ryumochnaya, the name for the humbly appointed but essential proletarian after-work bars that used to exist in abundance in Leningrad and early post-perestroika Petersburg.

More of RosAl's early morning clientele
More of RosAl’s early morning clientele

But RosAl utterly lacks the charm possessed by the legendary Little Twenty bar, a proper Soviet ryumochnaya, which had the stuff in spades. The Little Twenty was disappeared several years ago by the new proprietors of the large commercial premises on the corner, which had housed both the bar and the Soviet style Loaf grocery story. The Loaf had been a hundred times more human, humane, and convenient than the wretched Dixie chain supermarket that usurped it.

Back in the
Back in the allegedly wild 90s, this café had been the semi-legendary Palmyra, a lively eatery with excellent borscht, frequented by artists from the nearby art squat. Then it was made into a bland pastries and coffee shop, which has just as suddenly closed.

The Little Twenty had been lively and colorful and, sometimes, scary. Most of all, it was dripping with a specific kind of post-war Leningrad and 1990s-era Petersburg history. As more and more such joints disappear, it will be harder to retell this history in a way that would make sense to listeners. The new urban environment will simply not incline them to believe what you tell them.


How can you explain to the decent, clean-cut Russian kids of today or newly arrived foreigners that the neighborhood was a lot nicer and cozier when you had to get your groceries not by grabbing them off the shelf and dashing to the checkout, but by asking for them from not always friendly female store clerks on the other side of the dairy counter, the bread counter, the meat counter, the produce counter, the newspapers and magazines counter, the coffee, tea, and sugar counter, and so on?

The flip side was that once these microlocally powerful grocery matrons and maidens finally recognized you as a local, if not by name, then at least visually, they would treat you much more warmly and “loyally,” as they say nowadays. How do you explain to these rosy-cheeked Russian kids and eager tourists, who are either used to the new consumerist order or relieved to find it firmly in place in the former Evil Empire, that next door to this inconvenient grocery store was an outwardly nondescript saloon, where fights broke out much too often, and more than a few times you saw its patrons carried out feet first (because for whatever reason they were no longer able to walk out on their own two), and all this apparent awfulness and backwardness made the neighborhood a better, literally more democratic place to live?

The picture gets worse if you are a nominal old-timer. In the spot where the cynical filling station for binge drinkers known as RosAl now does its land office business between the hours of one and six o’clock in the morning, not long ago there was a flagrantly old-fashioned and utterly unfashionable but incredibly handy and inexpensive clothing and notions shop. Among other things the shop housed a clothing repair workshop.

The calm and quiet queen of this workshop was a seamstress in her sixties, who could handle whatever darning, hemming or other repair job you set her gracefully and quickly. She was probably the reason the people of our neighborhood looked more or less decent sartorially.

I have no clue where this wonderful seamstress has now ended up. Instead of her, this morning the night staff of the RosAl dive greeted us, so to speak, or rather, sniggered at the sight of a large, middle-aged man and a tiny dog out walking so early. They are probably nice young folks, but their only visible life skills are selling liter bottles of vodka and plastic cups to clinical alcoholics, like the sad duo slowly slipping into total incoherence on the corner.

Orchid Spa Salon
Orchid Spa Salon

A little further down the same alley as RosAl, dog and man happened upon a newish police van, parked right next to the so-called Orchid spa-salon (i.e., a brothel). Out of the corner of my eye I saw sleeping bodies in the back seat. It had been a tough watch, I suppose.

The former Technical Books bookstore

At the other end of our block, the well-known and seemingly beloved Technical Books bookstore has been closed and empty for several years now. One would imagine the spot would be a gold mine (right on the corner of the Nevsky, the city’s main main street), but the windows of its former premises have been boarded up long ago, and just to be safe, apparently, now they have been walled up too. It produces a scary and sad impression nor does it make any sense.

On the same side of the street as Technical Books, but much closer to the former Loaf grocery shop and current Dixie supermarket is another mysteriously long-abandoned commercial space, the former grocery shop Fairy Tale. (That was its name if memory serves me.) Since it opened round the same time as the Dixiecrats were savagely killing off my dearly beloved Loaf shop and the Little Twenty bar, I stubbornly patronized this ridiculous, badly managed grocer’s to the point they issued me a discount card.

24-Hour Supermarket
24-Hour Supermarket

I was not particularly sorry to see it go, but its premises have also stood empty for many years, although in the last month or so there have been vague signs of life as though something were on the verge of opening in the place, god knows what. By the way things have been going, it will probably be another Dixie. They have been breeding unaccountably in our district like mushrooms, quietly pushing all other forms of commercial life closer to oblivion.

“Life is serious, but not that serious.”

When I started this story, I just wanted to sketch a quick genre scene, but in the writing it has turned into a full-fledged albeit half-assed socio-economic portrait of our block.

Having read it, who would dare say the invisible hand of the market has managed the immovable objects and animated beings on our little street for the best? I wouldn’t.

Translation and photos by the Russian Reader