by Dina Lyuber
My husband Roman and I were both born in the former Soviet Union. I moved to Canada when I was still in diapers; he spent his childhood in Leningrad before moving to the States. Neither of us had been back since, but after we’d met and married, we decided to go back to the USSR (as the song goes) – though the Soviet Union no longer existed, and neither did Leningrad. We were returning to St. Petersburg in Russia, and name changes aside, that meant a return to our roots, our long-ago home.
My in-laws still had contacts in the country, and we were offered free accommodation in a private medical clinic just off of the Fontanka Canal, across from the Summer Garden and minutes away from the bustling Nevsky Prospect. The clinic was housed in a Baroque-style building decorated with reliefs and statues of winged angels. Inside, the corridor was dim and narrow, permeated by a medicinal smell. A large kindly woman showed us to the spare room in the basement. There was a modest bathroom in the hallway. The water running from the taps had a brownish tint. There was a fold-out couch to sleep on and a good-sized kitchen. It wasn’t a bad space, but it was cold. It was August, and I was freezing.
We spent the first days of our two-week trip rambling through the city. We never took taxis or buses, but padded down the wet sidewalks and absorbed the fresh-air smell wafting from the Neva river.