From 1990 to 1997 I travelled to Leningrad/St Petersburg

to talk about ecovillages. Most of these pictures are scans of

slides I took in February and March, 1992. I have now scanned the images at 240% and 1200 dpi,

and then made these small 72 dpi jpeg files to display on this site.

One of the things I noticed was how few cars there were in the streets. What I saw was a lot of military vehicles

or military surplus vehicles and heavy 5- and 10-ton trucks. Mostly people walked or took mass transit.

I eventually found all the cars. They were parked in queues backed up for kilometers at gas stations,

hoping for gas. Every few days a gas tanker would arrive and fill up the station and the line would

move until the station ran out again.

Apparently cars were still being produced, because it seemed like the car plant was running,

but the only cars I saw were older ones, mostly Ladas. By 1997 this had changed and there were

many imported Mercedes, Jaguars and luxury limos and sports cars.

This was the Rotary Club in St. Petersburg right after the name was changed. This is the upper crust of the

St. Petersburg neo-capitalists, including the man who got the name changed. Many of these people, who controlled the

media, the communications systems, or the largest industries, would soon be millionaire oligarchs.

At the other end of the spectrum, a new system of commerce was going on in the streets. This involved selling anything you have

or can acquire, including by stealing, and selling or trading it. Since the ruble was losing value quickly, barter became common.

People sold their inherited antiques, their military uniforms, or anything they didn't immediately need.

Food arrived from Farms outside the city, but it was seldom transported all the way down to the stores at the city center.

The drivers stopped at the first rows of apartment houses and sold retail out of the back of the truck. They would usually sell out

very quickly, and get a better price then they would have from the large grocery stores.

If you had the money you could buy a good bicycle. People favored sturdy models with spare parts and Kryptonite locks

As we overtook this line of bicyclists outside town, you could see a small Pepsi billboard in the distance. By 1997, Pepsi was advertising in a much

bigger way, and Coke was playing catch-up.

Pepsi was a luxury. Food was a necessity. This was a line at a bakery. It was quite hard to buy food,

even when there was food to be bought. People spent most of their days waiting in lines. There was a line to

get in the door. Then there was a line to get to the counter and pick out a loaf, getting a coupon. Then there was a line

at the register where you presented the coupon and paid. They gave you a receipt and then you stood in line again

to collect your loaf of bread. In some stores there was a fourth line at the door going out, to check your receipts.

This is where some of the food came from -- state run greenhouses, which used the waste heat from central power

or heating plants.

This is our hostess, Olga. Olga is a cardiac care physician at the hospital, doing open heart surgery. When we were there in 1992 she was being paid

the equivalent of about $60 US dollars per month. To support her husband, an electrical engineer, and her daughter,

she rented us rooms for 5 dollars per night, including meals.

Like many people, Olga saved her matches, which were hard to come by. Since the utilities were

provided for free, or at negligible cost, she kept the stove burning all the time so she could reuse the matches.

People used their skills to make money in many ways. Street artists were very good, and very cheap.

This woman made dolls.

It amazed me that as soon as you left the edge of the city, with high-rise apartments, there was no sprawl.

The countryside came right up to the edge of the city. Mostly this land was state farms, and people were

not permitted to have garden plots there, but had to travel farther. In some cases to get affordable garden plots you

might take a train for hundreds of kilometers, but trains were cheap and frequent.

The farmer who lived in the house at the back rented his land for dachas. This provided some

security for the city-dwellers who went out to the country on weekends.

This woman was a teacher of English and was eager to host us so she could practice and listen to our speech.

She really spared no expense to put on a fine meal, which we knew she could not afford.

Elsewhere we had five-course meals of nuts, berries, mushrooms, borscht and lots of vodka. We also attended

many festive dinners where everyone brought a little food to contribute.

This is just one typical high rise apartment of the variety that continued to be built even after the Soviet era.

Only in the 90s, the concrete kept getting worse.

Even though it is March and temperatures hover around zero C, notice that nearly every apartment has a window cracked open.

They have no control over the central heat, pay no utility bill and the heat is kept cranked up from October to April.

The central rooms have balconies, presumedly attached to the apartments on either side.

But the balconies have been appropriated by the tenants for more important duties than leisurely sitting out and sunning.

On the top floor both sides have become greenhouse -- food.

On three of the floors below are window planters -- food -- and the remaining floor has been

enclosed for two more apartment rooms -- possibly as sublets for income.

There seemed to be a lot of Western influences in the media, such as this kiosk with a

poster for a Jean Claude VanDamm movie. Arnold Swarzenegger was also popular.

Occasionally you could find some traces of socalist art still around, such as this stained glass window in a

department store stairwell. The store may have been a university science building at one time.

-- Albert Bates

All images © 2008 Albert Bates Omnimedia Inc.