By Don Harder
There’s a guy outside wearing a fishing vest. Kids are playing and mom needs a rest. The Dentist is smoking on the stairs. A Kyrgyz is driving one of those machines that sweeps. Grandma knows some gossip but she ain’t saying peep. But if you want you can hang around.
Our house, in the middle of Saint Pete looks over a bridge on busy Dunaiskii street. When we first moved in the neighbor lady next door told us we were crazy to buy a flat with such a view, and of course, theirs looks out over the old rusty, corrugated steel storage units situated next to the railroad tracks, which is somehow superior.
There’s somehow beauty in the industrialized metal and cement structure beneath the giant power line towers that make up our front yard in the same way one might find beauty in the concrete jungle Harlem stoop where neighbors congregate and life centers around.
Ours is a grand building. It’s magnificent. It stands 14 stories and covers nearly half a kilometer as it spans one of St. Petersburg’s oversize city blocks. It’s post Soviet, but it is the most Soviet-looking complex in the region. It stands proud and regal and is tall in the center with a head and shoulders-style pattern in the spirit of the United State’s capitol building. Instead of a dome it comes to a point and is capped with a sharp spire in the only way a truly Russian building could; must.
Apartments in St. Petersburg are living organisms. People don’t just live in them. They LIVE in them. Ours has two dentist offices, a flower shop, at least 4 beauty salons, two pharmacies, a liquor and wine store, a cosmetics retailer, Chinese restaurant, appliance stores, specialty hardware stores, government offices and multiple convenience stores.
An odd sense of community emerges in environments such as this. I can walk into the pet shop and without saying a word the clerk will pull down a bag of Royal Canin, Sterilized +7 and ask cash or card? The groundskeeper and I are on a first name basis as I piqued his, and several neighbor’s curiosity last year when I, the American guy, took it upon himself to feed the family of stray cats that were hanging around in the basement entrances out back. When I mistakenly locked my keys, wallet and telephone in my car, the Chinese restaurant workers let me sit and drink tea while they called me a locksmith. No doubt I’m something of an oddity around these parts where they simply aren’t used to westerners.
Outside in the courtyard downstairs, children play in the playground and grandmas plant flowers in the small gardens found near every door. And there are a lot of doors, because like I said; big building. Our house. It truly is our castle and our keep.