“When I was 19, I went to the university and started to live here. I’m from Ukraine. I’m so interested about this area, because before my nineteen years, my parents used to live here. I used to leave here for a long time. My daughter is the fifth generation who was born in that house. Our house was captured by the local mafia. It was in 2003, right before the 300th birthday of the St Petersburg University.
I would like to tell you my story; I met the mafia the second time, they wanted me to sell my apartment. They told me that if I would stay, if I wouldn’t sell the apartment, there will be dangerous consequences. Well, I said I will stay and live here. They told me that in that case, I was going to pay. There were renovations to make everywhere, I had money for the renovation, but I wasn’t able to pay the mafia. At this moment, I was alone with my daughter. My mother is dead, my husband is dead, and we were only two in this three rooms apartment.
If you write about our generation, to say why we wanted to stay in this house: My husband’s father was journalist, he used to photograph the war, that’s why I’m so fond of literature. We used to have a gorgeous library in the apartment. His father had collected many books for this library.
When we started to get pushed out of the apartment by the mafia on the first time, they used special methods. Something terrible happened; on the roof, there was a pipe with hot water, and it exploded. My mother was basically boiled up by this hot water. She survived only twenty days after that. She wasn’t able to walk, she broke her legs, and she wasn’t able to do anything. When my husband came into the room, the floor was all covered by hot water, and all the books were destroyed, and everything we had was destroyed as well. From this point, we started to live from nothing. My mother died, and after some time my husband was really sick, and he died as well. But after all those things, I stayed alone with my daughter.
The mafia had an opportunity, we were defenceless, and nothing could protect us. And now this house, number 23. We had to move out and leave this house. The mafia wanted to build a hotel instead, but finally they didn’t build anything. The house is still here, because inside this mafia group, there were conflicts, and they weren’t able to go to the end.
I’m so connected to this area, we’ve chosen this apartment, and started to live here. The library is number 17, and my house is 23. I have two houses now, the library and my home. I don’t go to the theatre, because it’s too expensive for me. I rarely go listen to music somewhere, but I can go for free in the church. The rest of the time, I’m listening to the radio, or watch TV, most of the time culture programs.
During USSR time, we had a secret movement, we were working against the government, and our meetings took place in a square. There was this house too, a friend used to live there, we used to meet up there each week, and thus, I met a lot of people. My first fiancé, George, was studying in the foreign language institute, but his mother decided that I wasn’t good enough for him, so she found a bride for her son. He was also studying at the French department. He was young, he was teaching me French, and how to pronounce French. It’s my entire world you know, when it’s about French. It was always my dream. And my first dream blew away when I broke up with George.
Now he lives in Moscow, and I gave a mission to my daughter: to search for him in Moscow. And she found him. He’s still living at the same address, and I wonder… I have only one question for him, but it is probably too late to ask. But I’m still curious about it, I want to ask, ‘How could you do that to me? Accept what your mother did. We had such a good relationship, even if it was compromised. And was it your point of view about your mother’s decision?’ She pushed him to break up with me because of her money; you know so he won’t marry me, she said, ‘If you marry her now, you won’t get material support from me anymore.’ I never heard anything from him after that.
His mother called me, and told me the usual mother’s speech, that we weren’t ready to get married. You bet we were! We had all the papers, and a home address, and the rings, and everything was going straight to the wedding, planned for the 26th of April. It’s the darkest day for me. We were going to get married, but his mother called me on the phone to tell me he won’t come. I decided not to call him, because he’s the one who supposed to call me, but he never did, he never asked me how I was feeling after that.
When I came to Moscow, on the 28th of April, so I could look at him in the eyes, I was destroyed, and it was the first catastrophe of my life. But my love for France and for the French language never disappeared. We broke up, but I started learning French, of course, and every time, when something was connected to France (music, cinema, art, etc.), everything was precious for me. There can’t be another way, OK, he was a dream, but France is still a certain part of my dream.
Everything is interesting and everything went away, but I’m happy to still be able to remember and tell things, because a person dies when the memory die. Now life goes on, and I’m still able to meet beautiful young people who take the time to listen to me, and for some reasons, are interested about my story, the story of a crazy old women. Thank you, really.”