The Nevsky Wall

Reference  -  Words, Phrases, and Names

Some background on terms and names used in this book:

agitki – A traveling picture show produced by the Committee for the Arts. The shows brought newsreels and instructional films to the countryside in the late 20’s and 30’s.

blat – An informal network of patrons and clients; an economy of favors. Not exactly a black market, but more a barter system between acquaintances. The common wisdom was, “It’s better to have ten friends than ten roubles.”

bluecap – An NKVD (secret police) officer.

burzhuika – A small stove, generally made of cast iron, with a curved chimney exiting through a nearby window. Often the only source of heat for a family, and an inefficient source at that, it burned coal or wood.   (photo)

Chkalov, Valery – Aircraft test pilot and Hero of the Soviet Union. Known for his long trans-polar flights, he crashed and died testing a fighter prototype in 1938.   (photo)

domovoi – A “house spirit”, who is said to live under the stove or near the hearth of a Russian home. If treated well, the domovoi guards the house from evil intent or bad luck, but if treated poorly, it can turn destructive and bring misfortune. Usually depicted as an old hairy man, the domovoi has the ability to change into a cat or dog.

dvor – A closed courtyard or park behind or between a row of houses; originally a farmyard. A small sanctuary, zealously guarded, where children can play and city dwellers can be out of doors.

former people – Those who had lost their position in society, either because they were of a suspect class (kulaks, priests, royalists, businessmen, the intelligentsia) or were related to a suspect person.

Ivan Kupala (Day of) – Holiday, probably pagan in origin, celebrated to coincide with the summer solstice. Ivan Kupala is the Slavic name for John the Baptist, and observances often center around water, purification, and the jumping of bonfires. The night before is a time of mischief and includes the hunt for a mythical fern flower.

Krylov, Ivan – The most beloved writer of fables in the Russian language (1769-1844). Often compared to Aesop, because of his use of archetypal, moralistic themes, usually involving animals. A monument to him stands in Petersburg’s Summer Garden.   (photo)

Leningrad Conservatory – Located in Theater Square, the Conservatory was the premiere school for Russian composers and performers, including Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, and Rimsky-Korsakov, for whom it is now named.   (photo)

NKVD – The People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs, which included both the public and secret police forces. The NKVD was responsible for civil order and enforcement of political arrests and detention. Special courts, known as ‘troikas’ were conducted by the NKVD, resulting in the conviction, deportation – and often execution – of millions of Soviet citizens.

raven – The black van used by the NKVD to transport prisoners.   (photo)

rusk – A dry, twice-baked biscuit with along shelf life. Zweibach.

samogon – Homemade Russian moonshine, distilled from grain, grapes, fruit, beets, or honey. The finest quality is known as pervach, and was preferred by many over the more widely available vodka.

Smolny – The headquarters of Leningrad’s City Party Committee. Originally the site of a convent, and then an institute for women, it served as Lenin’s headquarters during the October Revolution. Sergei Kirov was assassinated there in 1934, an act that precipitated the Great Terror.

yellow house – Slang term for an insane asylum.

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