I am an old Muscovite. The spirit and way of life of old Moscow have been my spirit and way of life.
When I look at an old building I see a long lost friend. He tells me about his past, his happiness and his pain and sometimes even about degradation and injustice. He complains, weeps and tears at my heart. I understand him, sympathise with him, and grieve with him. A building is like a person. It reflects the lives and the characters of the people who have live there, their ideals of beauty and practicality. A building reflects its epoch.
Everything is young once and everything ages. Nowadays, we hear the hurtful expression “woodheap”. Who needs a house like that – with no hot water, no bathroom? It is useless and ought to be demolished as soon as possible.
But, there was a time when that “woodheap” was a beautiful new house. There were congratulations for its owners and when they took up residence there, there were public prayers and grand banquets. Many were the guests who came. Many were the speeches and toasts. The house was a source of universal delight. It became a prized part of a dowry, of an inheritance…
Naturally, the conveniences of modern dwellings cannot bear the slightest comparison with the discomforts of old Moscow. Old Moscow was only warmed up by friendship. It was desperately cold indoor during the freezing winters. Central heating was rare: the usual means of heating was the so-called Dutch stove (built of brick and adapted for baking bread and general cooking). Lighting was by means of kerosene; electricity was only just beginning to appear. Running water was also a rarity. Water was delivered in barrels by horse-drawn water carts.
At the city wells (or water pumps or fountains) a bucket of water cost a kopeck. Only the rich could afford to bath in a tub, everyone else used the public steam baths.
But Moscow lived life strenuously and to the full, conscious of its importance and its power. Beneath those roofs, which are, (alas!) seldom painted, behind those windows and walls, with their now vanished but once artistically fashioned pilasters and capitals, lived Russian People, Muscovites, our forebears. They sacrificed themselves in the heroic defence of our homeland and created and pursued their culture. They raised new generations and bequeathed to them all those thing that they themselves did not have time to complete.
How many exceptional people lived in these houses! What powerful and noble ideas were born and developed here! The soul of the capital from time immemorial has been something apart, something unrepeatable, good-nature and beneficent. And even now there are families living in Moscow whose roots go back through the depths of the centuries into antiquity.
When, in the hustle and bustle of our time, we walk, run, or ride along the streets of Moscow past the old houses, few of us stop to think about what it is we are passing by. The shadows of the past do not clamour for attention…
Moscow, I owe you a debt I can never repay.
Sergei A. Kolyada – Moscow – 1985