04 September, 2013

Remembering: Krylatskoye


Krylatskoye was my home for six years. Moscow is divided into districts – rayon in Russian – Krylatskoye is one of the districts. It was new construction, with high-rise apartment buildings. All residential, I remember only one grocery store (which was completely empty) and we didn’t even get a Metro station at the beginning – that came years later. We moved to Krylatskoye when I was 10. We moved from Perovo, a rayon on the East side of the city, to the West side. Moving East to West – seems to be a story of my life. Perovo to Krylatskoye, Moscow to Chicago, North Shore to Western suburbs…
My building
The building we lived in was 17 stories tall. We lived on the 14th floor. The building was divided into five sections: podyezd (loosely translated into “carport”), each with its own entrance foyer and a locked double doors. So your address would first list a building number, then podyezd number, then your flat number. Flats were numbered 1 thru … what ever would the last one be for the podyezd. There was no indication of what floor a flat was based on the number. We were number 63. Also a pattern for me, every place I lived in has a 6 in the number.

The building was shaped like a U. There was a twin right across it, the two Us made a square with a large courtyard in the middle. It had grass and trees and playgrounds, two ugly short square utility buildings, and an area with a couple of lines to hang your laundry out to dry. I don’t remember anyone hanging laundry on them, I remember the lines being used to hang the rugs on when they were cleaned in the winter. They were thick wool Oriental rugs, and in winter, they would be dragged out into the courtyard to be cleaned in the fresh snow. It was called “beating the rug”. You unroll your rug on top of the snow, cover it with fresh snow, then brush it off with a small broom before hanging it up on the line and vigorously beating the life out of it with a special tool that looked like a tennis racket and was made out of reed. The bitter cold of Russian winter would freeze to death what ever unwanted decided to live in the rug and it would all fall right out along with dust during the intense beating. My 14th floor windows provided a great vantage point to watch such a normal household ritual. We never partook in it, my parents installed wall-to-wall wool carpets in our flat, completely covering the parquet floors (according to my dad the parquet was of an inferior quality and too cold). I still remember the sound of the racket hitting the carpet, it was a dull slap that echoed across the entire courtyard. Slap, slap, slap… Slap, slap, slap…

In winter the courtyard was covered in several feet of snow. When they plowed the street around it, they piled the snow on the edges into little mountains which would eventually freeze solid enough for me to safely walk on them without falling in. It was my favorite winter pastime: walking on hard snow. My mom would drag me outside every evening for some fresh air before bedtime and I loved walking on the snow mountains, stomping around to see if I could break it. I would eventually succeed once a year and end up with a boot full of sharp and frozen unpleasantness.

The entire rayon was these U-shaped buildings facing each other. Most of them were clad in white and blue tile. They were built out of prefab sections concrete sections with windows already installed and slid into a building frame of steel and poured concrete. New construction is new construction anywhere in the world: thinner, lighter, faster, cheaper. In Perovo the buildings were old and much shorter, they were made out of bricks by hand. Their hallways were dark, damp and musty; ours were white and bright with just a hint of garbage smell from the garbage disposal that ran the entire height of the building.  Perovo's flats were tiny but warm and solid. Our large new Krylastkoye flat drafted like a sieve, I would put on a sweater and hose while still in bed under the covers before getting up every morning…

The flats were acquired raw: parquet floors (totally standard and nothing special in Russia), white tiled bathroom, kitchen with just a sink, stove (electric, since they didn’t pull gas lines into the new rayon), and a fridge. Everyone added kitchen cabinets of their liking and wallpapered all the rooms. We had a kitchen from Estonia, red cherry. And when I say red, I really do mean red. Along with a red table and chairs. The walls were covered with orange and yellow gingham wallpaper and my mom had orange pots with white polkadots and dishes to match. We brought the pots with us. I still have one of them, I think it’s older than me and it’s still the best pot to cook pasta in. I had a nightly ritual in that kitchen – I would make myself tiny sandwiches of black bread and cheese, and sit at our red table and eat a plateful with a cup of tea while devouring yet another book by either Victor Hugo or Tolstoy. I miss that table…

The flat had three rooms. By American standard it would qualify as a two bedroom. But all the rooms had doors. The kitchen, my room, and my parents’ bedroom faced the front of the building. The largest room, which other families used as a living room, was dedicated as my dad’s design studio. It had a balcony which we never used and faced the other side of the building. There was a large dark square space in the middle of the flat, no one knew what to really do with it, we used it as a TV room. I wasn’t allowed to watch TV unless it was a weekend (but then I was too busy playing piano or painting to even watch TV on weekends) so my mom would close my door if she wanted to watch something. I used to stand by the door and listen. Eventually my dad gave me my own little portable TV so I could watch a teen program (it was like Russian version of MTV but for teens) at the of which they aired Star Wars in 10 minute incraments, which of course was pirated. Eventually Hollywood caught on and ordered cease & desist and I had to wait a long time to finally see it all.

The toilet was in a separate room from the rest of the bathroom and all the plumbing pipes where enclosed in a cabinet behind the toilet. The cabinet had a door, if you stuck your head in there, you could hear the upstairs neighbors. Who, being well connected, installed a Japanese toilet that used hot water, which promptly exploded one night in the winter and flooded everything, us including, with water. The flat owners weren’t home when that happened, and when my dad and a neighbor went upstairs to see what was going on and ended up breaking down the door, their flat was so full of water by that point that it gushed out the door, down the fire escape staircase, all the way to the first floor. Their parquet floors floated out as well, they didn’t have wall-to-wall carpets to absorb it all. Thank God they were nice people that felt really bad about what happened and paid for all the damages. I wonder what happened to their plumber…

My dad’s room was the best place in the flat. It had dark green carpet and white furniture. One entire wall was floor to ceiling art and design books. Every single one made the trip across the pond, some of them are now in my house. I was allowed to hang out in there, but interrupt. I learned design by osmosis, so to speak. When he was away for a meeting, I would carefully look through his stuff on his desk, making sure that nothing was moved, to see what he was working on. He also had photo-printing equipment because there was no Macs or Adobes in those days and everything was done entirely by hand, and his studio would become the dark room at night. He developed film in our bathroom, we all learned to take showers without wetting the large format film that was hanging out to dry. At some point, my mom finally acquiesced to my begging and let me stay up at night to watch my dad develop and print. Lit by red light – the only color safe for film and paper – we would listen to Pink Floyd, print, and barely talk. There was no need for a conversation, great design speaks volumes.


My school was very close to our building. My mom could watch me walk there from our kitchen window. Across the street from school was a large park/forest area. We called it Gorki, hills big enough to ski off in the winter (in fact they now host free-boarding competitions there). The hills surrounded a vast sports complex, still in operation. The hills were covered with enormous lilac bushes of all colors and varieties. Every spring everyone would go to Gorki and bring back heaps of lilacs for their kitchen table. I now have lilacs growing in my back yard, I planted them when we moved in. And I’m thinking of getting some more, perhaps hoping to recreate the same affect…



I remember when we finally got a Metro station. Just like our buildings, it was modern in design: floor to ceiling granite, without the over the top mosaics depicting communist life. Every Metro was designed as a bomb shelter, the huge 10 feet thick steel doors where hidden on either side of the of vast platform area right below the very long escalators. I was told that there were even moving platforms that would cover the tracks so people didn’t have to stand on rails in case of a bomb threat. Nuclear bomb that it. I liked our station, it was the end of the line and not that crowded. I always found a seat and would disappear into a novel before the train pulled away…

There was an ice cream kiosk that sold the best ice cream in the world and green fizzy Georgian soda. Since I didn’t spend my summers in Moscow, I only got to eat the ice cream once a year. The kiosk was only open in the summer…

Then one night in September, we left at midnight to drive a long way to the Sheremetyevo International Airport to board our flight for New York and the future unknown. I waved a tearful goodbye to my high-rise living in Krylatskoye and fearfully looked ahead. Once again, I was moving from East to West. That was 22 years ago today. 

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