I can’t say that I have any personal connection to Narvskaya Zastava. In my personal perception from childhood onward, this neighborhood seems very far away. And this is what makes this neighborhood so strange. Because if you look at it rationally, it’s actually quite close to the center. You don’t actually have to travel very far; you only have to cross the Obvodny Canal and drive down Petergof Prospect or Gaza , as it was been called for all of my life, for as long as I can remember. On the one hand, it’s very close, but on the other, this neighborhood is very far away, as far as psychology is concerned.
So let’s say you’ve reached Repin Square . On the one side, there’s the Admiralty. On the other side of Repin Square , the Fontanka River ends. You already have the feeling that you’ve reached the end: gate, bridge; the end of the city. If you drive on, you’ll have reached Narvskaya Zastava, and you’ll already have the feeling that everything is different.
What’s actually so strange about this neighborhood is that you could say that life is really very different here. And until today, I have the feeling that it really differs from the rest of the city. Actually, the first paradoxical strangeness consists in the fact that this neighborhood came about as a proletarian area and that it’s still that way today, all the more since the area could have had (and already has) a completely different conditions. But in any case, it hasn’t really changed at all. Today, no one is concerned with developing it; there’s little to no construction; the developers haven’t come here yet and chances are they won’t in the future. It has such a clearly defined image that it will probably stay this way for years to come.
So that’s one part of the story. The other part is my personal relationship to what I feel is an extremely interesting area in terms of architecture. And it seems to me that this neighborhood could become incredibly amazing, if people would start to relate to it a little differently. Of course, this would make a lot of sense, because the neighborhood around Stachek Square , that is, the architecture of the entire area from the Narva Gate up to the Kirov City Council and down Stachek Prospect is completely brilliant. I always feel that in any really cultured city, this neighborhood would immediately become one of the main tourist attractions, because it contains an excellent parade of constructivism. To be honest, there are hardly any example of good constructivism in this entire city, but here, there are all these great buildings: the City Council building with its genius tower by the architect Trotsky, Nikolsky’s school, Traktornaya Street, and the Gorky House of Culture, the Communal Kitchen, and of course, the Institute of Professional-Technical Education, another brilliant building, which is unfortunately in a sorry state of disrepair. In combination with such wide spaces and streets, which are really typical of Petersburg , all of this is utterly fascinating. In fact, I feel that that the entire section from the Narva Gate all the way to the Kirov City Council are our Champs d’Elysee. The golden glitter of those letters on the triumphal arch next to that constructivist grey it’s just so elegant. And if you go on from the Park of January 9th, from the wall to the garden of the Winter Palace , there’s another great parade of Stalinist architecture. These building are literally like shrines with amazing interiors: take, for an example, the Avtovo metro-station, one of the absolute masterpieces of Stalinist architecture. It’s always seemed to me that we’ll live to see the day when the opera Aida is performed in the Avtovo metro-station, which would be the cultural highlight of any year. But until now, this is no more than a dream.
…Whenever we talk about what’s beyond the Narva Gate, we always think of the revolution and the revolutionary past. But today, we love Narskaya Zastava as a cult of the past. A cult of ruins. We go for walks there and remember our childhood and our youth. We remember the pleasure of Soviet life, the simplicity with which we lived back then, when a cone of ice-cream cost no more than 7 kopeks. On Nevsky Prospect, it’s hard to remember any of this, but in Narvskaya Zastava, on Stachek Prospect, on Traktornaya Street , at the Baltic Station, in all of those alleys with their worn, beaten-up benches, you remember the way things used to be. How you went to school, the Bulgarian cigarettes that you smoked what amazing cigarettes! you wouldn’t even be able to put them in your mouth today. But back then, it was completely natural; it was so normal, so good…So suddenly, you really want to go to the park to buy a bottle and drink it right there, even if you won’t be able to buy “777”, but once you’re in the store, you’ll finding yourself wanting to. On the other hand, it’s amazingly fun to drink whatever you can there, whatever it is. You can even sit in the park and drink a good bottle of wine. You know, it’s really just a ruin and all you do is remember and think and think and remember.