Thursday, June 11, 2009

A Yulinka Cooks Travelogue: A Blast From the Past. Part 5 of 6.

[This week I'm blogging my July 2008 trip to Estonia and Russia. Go here for an intro and previous posts. In this entry: down memory lane in St. Petersburg.]

One day, we go on a walk down memory lane.

We see the communal apartment where my parents lived in the early 1980s. I spent the first year of my life here.
We walk past the building where my dad grew up. He stops at the front door, considers ringing the doorbell, but thinks better of it.

There was a store on this corner, a public bathhouse across the street, he says. They’re gone now. Later, without us, he goes back to his old primary school, and gets kicked out by the custodian.

He had lived in this city for more than 30 years. Now, he has a whole different life in the U.S. His life is split in two.

-Does that make him sad, wistful?

-No. He’s firm on this. I can’t imagine what I’d be doing if we had stayed here.

Neither can I. It seems inevitable that we should immigrate to the U.S. How would my life have turned out had we stayed? I don’t know. I rarely even wonder about this alternative universe.

We go to Kupchino, a suburb on the outskirts of St. Petersburg. This is where we moved when I was a year old. Kupchino is home to ‘70s and ‘80s-era high-rise apartments, gray, multi-story blocks. These days, it's also filled with strip malls and big-box stores. They’re even building churches, unimaginable in the atheist Soviet times.

I may not remember the palaces and museums of downtown St. Petersburg, but I do remember Kupchino. I grew up here, I went to school here, I played on the playground in the courtyard of our apartment building. Today, everything looks decrepit, unkempt. Some apartments are boarded up.

This is where we’d be living if we hadn’t left Russia, says my dad. This place leaves a bad taste in his mouth.

Everyone wanted an apartment here once, my mom sighs. There was a 20-year waiting list for one these!
Across the street from our old apartment building, there’s a children’s hospital. It was under construction from the early ‘80s to the mid-'90s. Now it’s open for business, but like everything else, it looks empty and abandoned. We visit my old school (below); it’s closed for renovations. So is the neighborhood library where my mom once worked. There's nothing here for us. We head back to the city. The nextday, we’re off to Moscow (where we almost get arrested).

4 comments:

Rozmin said...

So far it reminds me very much of the trip my family took to India last August. Especially the part about looking at the old apartments. We went inside the apartment where my dad grew up, but 1) it's a different culture and 2) there never existed, or will exist, a person who my dad does not fee comfortable talking to, about pretty much anything.

Probably there was less "what if?" in our case, since my sister and I just wouldn't exist if my dad had stayed in India.

m.v. said...

I remember how my wife's apartment in the 9-story building seemed like a dream because we lived in the communal apartment with one toilet,16 people and no hot water. on my last trip it looked like projects, which is what it was anyway. I didn't go into the old apartment either.

Anonymous said...

LOL, the condition of the buildings and everything looks like the neighborhood in Los Angeles I lived in!

Kevan

Julia (alias Yulinka Cooks) said...

Rozmin--I liked looking at our old apartments...it was a fascinating glimpse into what could have been.

m.v.--Unlike my dad, I didn't think this area looked all that horrible. I actually have pretty good childhood memories of living in this place. I'd say Kupchino is (or maybe just was) the Soviet equivalent of cookie cutter American suburbs.

Anon--Ha! I've never been to LA, so I can't compare.

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