Janus, God of Time

Janus, in Roman mythology is the god of transitions, beginnings, endings and time.  His two faces look to the future and to the past.

I recalled Janus recently when passing a building in Tula’s center.  A regular residential stalinka, e. g. typical of Stalinist architecture and probably built in late 40s or early 50s, this house is no different than a dozen of other such buildings that adorn this quiet street.  The building’s ground floor houses an office of a law firm and a recently opened cosmetics shop.

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I have to add that remodeling first (ground) floor apartments of residential buildings into offices and shops became one of features of architectural design in Russia in the last decade or so.  So this building is no different.  It faces now a row of newly developed townhouses made of brick (or imitation brick) …

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and plastic siding.

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The back yard, though nice and quiet, has a different feeling altogether.  It overlooks an old but still stout town house, a more frail-looking five-story khrushchevka (an apartment building typical of Khrushchev’s era city planning) …

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… along with a usual set of dilapidated wooden storage huts (sarai) …

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… and metal boxes of private garages.

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Each of these constructions represents an epoch in itself.  I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the old white house survives from the beginning of 20th century when the street had a different name and was not in the center of the city as it is now but on the outskirts…

I can imagine how happy people were to get new apartments in that khrushchevka…  At that time, in the 60s or probably 70s this was already a great city area – near the park, in the center.  In fact, a family friend, herself in her sixties now, still lives there with her mother, a general’s widow, whose husband was given one of the apartments here when he retired…

I can still enumerate hurdles one had to go through in 1980s in order to get a permission to build or install private garages…

And those sarai, storage huts, where people kept everything from boxes of New Year tree ornaments and empty jars in the summer to potatoes – in basements – and rows of self-made preserves in the winter!  Sometimes, at least in provincial towns, people kept pigs or rabbits there, too.  But this was the time of deficit.

If sarai and garages are noticeable right away, then a small sign on the back wall of this apartment house is not.

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The sign is rusty and covered by different paper flyers advertising moving companies or plastic ceilings.  But one can still read “Shelter No. 3” on it.

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Another era.  That of the pre-WWII or the beginning of cold war when bomb shelters were built in basements of newly built residential buildings.  Buildings typical of Stalinist architecture were constructed from 1930s until the end of 1950s.  Looking at this house now I wonder when exactly it was built.  My main question is, of course, whether this inner yard with its fancy SUVs parked here now, saw black NKVD’s, secret police’s cars, rolling in the night and quietly stopping to pick up some or other resident of this prestigious house and unleash yet another personal tragedy?

History often hides behind modern facades.  Universally true this fact is even more obvious in Russia.  Walking in Tula I am constantly aware of these overlapping layers of time, of beginnings and endings, and of transitions.  Looking into the future I hope that bomb shelters and storage huts will remain in “inner yards” of our collective memory but in our present we'll be accompanied by more peaceful, though mundane, cosmetic shops and town houses instead.

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Wooden Houses: Fall

I already wrote that I like Tula’s old streets for their mellow beauty, half-erased by time, but still present.  Walking here you get a feeling of harmony, which stems from the area’s architectural uniformity.

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Balance of history and architecture is clearly perceivable in this area despite the fact that many of these old houses are dilapidated.

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In the spring old gardens and orchards in bloom offset marks left on these streets by merciless years.  On the contrary, signs of time become more obvious against old snow in late winter or dust in the middle of summer.  But Fall, with its greys and browns, suits the weathered wood and stone of these houses better, I think.  In the Fall these streets blend with the dark sky, leafless trees and the rain.  Imperfections dissolve and what remains is a watercolor painted with just a few but deep earthy colors.  

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Sometimes, though, modernity clashes here with history.  Like the orange and the green of a hardware shop on the following picture.

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Or graffiti on the wall with a church in the background.

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Or even an old tractor, probably a survivor left from the Soviet times, charmingly draped in a similarly old and similarly representative of those times rug.

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You stumble on these inconsistencies with the area's general mood.  But then, of course, you can always zoom in.

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Tula’s Central Maternity Hospital: Messages of Happiness and Joy

The area near Tula’s Kremlin, in the very center of the city, changed dramatically over the years.  However, here you can still find structures dating from the 19th century.  One of such buildings years ago belonged to a merchant, Ivan Lomov.  Before the Revolution of 1917 the house, at some point Lomov’s family estate, was given by Lomov’s daughter to a charity and turned into an orphanage.  At that time the house had only two stories.  The house got its third story in 1930.  Now Tula’s Central Maternity Hospital, officially called Tula’s Maternity Hospital No. 1 is located here.

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A sign describing the house and giving the reference to Tulagid (Tula Guide), a mobile cultural navigator, is on the wall near the central entrance:

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We can see that thematically relevant bas-reliefs grace the hospital’s beautiful classical facade. (Picture from http://myslo.ru/city/reviews/places/lepota)

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The hospital itself has a rich history.  It opened in 1926 and since then its walls witnessed many miraculous and paramount moments, I’m sure.  Walking by the hospital in this strictly pedestrian part of an old street you always see banners that happy fathers hang on fences opposite the hospital’s windows and messages that they write on the asphalt below.

These particular banners read: "Lilechik, thank you for the daughter! I love you very much!" and "Aniuta, thank you for the son!!!"

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I think that fathers and relatives use the canvas of the street because they’re not allowed to bring any such banner into the hospital itself.  I assume that visiting hours may be limited, too.

I have in my mind an image from my Soviet childhood when fathers or relatives were not allowed into maternity wards or hospitals at all and would meet their families only at time of discharge.  They would stand outside and shout to their wives (oh, the time without cell phones!) who would then try to show babies through closed windows.  They would write messages on small pieces of paper torn from school notebooks and try to give it to hospital personnel to pass to their wives.  At that time the maternity hospital was like a fortress and no matter how the birth went you had to spend there at least a week.

Now the rules changed, although they vary between hospitals and even between hospital’s divisions.  Now you can choose a maternity hospital, if you want, you can have your partner present at birth, you can have your baby staying with you or not  etc.

The times changed but a happy father and messages to new mothers remain.  Some of the messages that you see when passing Central Maternity Hospital make you smile, some are more serious, some are hand-made and others are products of a print shop but they all transfer a sense of celebration and extreme joy that is usually associated with any maternity ward.  I always smile when I see these.  I try to imagine these people and their babies.  And every time I feel privy to some miracle, unexpected, and because of that even more precious.