Definition. Personal experience. This category shares some retrospective, intimate stories and reflects on how inhabitants claim their space within the community.

Every now and again we loved to put on a videotape and turn up the volume (our favourite was a fairy tale about the “Three Little Pigs”). We opened the windows and observed the reactions of people.


Football at 10 years old every day for 10 hours. Of course, teams were divided by nationalities and God forbid we started discussing the rules.


Running down the top floor and looking out the stairwell windows – feeling like an arrow.


We had just moved into our two-bedroom flat in the recently built house. It was very early spring. Many kids wandered in the yard. Lots of kids started to gather around a large pit, filled with muddy brown water. One boy had brought out his hamster to show another boy (hamsters were very rare at those times). There was squabbling about whether or not the hamster could swim. Until the owner of the hamster decided to test the theory of his hamster’s swimming skills. The hamster drowned. The owner dressed down to his panties and jumped in the brown muddy water to search for the hamster. One mum ran in horror and with loud yelling stopped this hullabaloo. I remember so well how the skinny boy covered with muddy water, his ribs sticking out – shivering from cold as well as he tried, but couldn’t put on his sock on his wet foot. The mum was shouting in horror and ordered to immediately go home. Others stood in silence. Only one girl was brave to speak up: “But his hamster drowned.” Others looked at her in gratitude. The sentence and tone told everything adults don’t understand anymore.


Well, once in my blockhouse many of my peers lived, practically on every floor there was a friend with whom you could play.


Visiting my neighbour on the sixth floor (I lived on the first) was like going to the “center.” Everything was an adventure. I presume it’s because of my size back then. I lived in the Pļavnieki district until I was ten years old. Later the flat was cleaned up, and we left. But this fabulous moment of my childhood is pressed into my memory.


We climbed with my friend on the roof and found a lot of pigeon skeletons in the attic. It was nice until we got to climb down. It turns out it is not that īzī (easy) to climb down the metal stairs while seeing all the way to the first floor.


In childhood, everything was an adventure. Yard was the center of life. Many friends. At least one friend in each stairwell. I remember how my friend/neighbour, who lived upstairs, and I figured out several ways of communication. Although it was sooner to call on the phone, we still had two more ways of communicating. Moneybox in a rope, where we put in messages and delivered through balcony; and communication via pipes. If I remember correctly, three bangs meant “let’s go out?” one meant “yes,” and two bangs “no.” And if you couldn’t understand, there was always a possibility to yell. You could hear especially well in the bathroom.


I don’t know why, but we pulled logos from cars. I really don’t get why.


The front house was not finished so cranes and building materials were standing there for a long time. After some time the house caved in. We spent part of our childhood roaming this unfinished house, we played as if they are our flats, and knocked down unstable walls.


Sometimes we had to run from babes who wanted to beat us.


We wore our mum’s heels while playing. I remember the most how we prepared the LipSync pop concert for our parents by dressing up etc. When a show for one’s parents ended, we went one floor down to the other’s parents to repeat it.


Lots of razborki*.

*razborki – fights


While playing the ball, I accidentally broke the stairwell’s door, and glass smashed into my face. I need stitches because the pieces of glass go through my chin.


To level up to “boss” – get into the attic.


I grew up in a block house. We moved in when I was a couple of months old and moved out when I was like 17. Once I threw my porridge outside the window and it landed on my first-floor neighbour, who was weeding out her flower bed at that time. She was angry. I was afraid of going out for some time. And then we almost burnt the neighbours’ flat downstairs. We were making a fire with my friend on the balcony and the wind blew a burning paper sheet into theirs. I don’t remember how, but it ended well. I spent a lot of time in the courtyard. We were doing Chinese rope, playing hide and seek (through the whole district), blind chicken, buried “secrets” in the ground ­– a glass covering colorful candy paper and other bright stuff. We spent winters on the hill in the sports field of the nearby school. Or on the skating ring, which was made every year when the frost came. In childhood, I climbed trees a lot, did some tricks, and played in the playground, and I regularly got some injuries. They already knew me by name in the emergency room.


A blockhouse means home and family – with everything emotionally dear and lovely.


I met my other half there when I was ten years old. And now we are 35 years old.


My classmate put his head through the railings but couldn’t pull it out.


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by Ilva Skulte

Paradoxical joy

vvvvDuring the 80s, there was a popular song in Latvia with the lyrics by the famous poet at the time, Leons Briedis: “through seven gates it shall come / the joy of people can come in / who knows, maybe a time will come / when your joy is your enemy.”
vvvvIt was a time when I couldn’t fall asleep – I struggled with fear of the unknown, who was flashing the light in the dark windows of the opposite school; I couldn’t open my ears when I heard the terrible howling of the hound of the Baskervilles from my neighbours’ TV (everyone was watching the soviet adaptation of Sherlock Holmes series) and I was frightened of nuclear war as every other kid born in the 80s – my fears were almost morbid, they pursued me also during the day like the Erinyes resulting from the social and technological progress. Therefore, the awareness practice of the direct, sensitively separate bodily influences was, in a sense – the source of joy. My premises 50m2, 2.5 m. My 3+9+9+9+9 steps. My metal door handles and room doors with glass windows. Finnish architect Juhani Pallasmaa talks about how the power of architecture enhances the actual experience and simultaneously signifies the meaning of environmental, social, family-oriented, interpersonal, and individual aspects in the memories of atmosphere, which then shapes our irrational, emotional, indescribable attitude towards spaces and places that we inevitably fill with variations of behaviour and feelings, stories, and doings1. In combination with hidden fear and the superficial asceticism of the soviet block of flats… Somewhat was a collective joy. Unlike expected, this feeling is not false, but real and pure.
vvvvThe environment where I grew up was quite beneficial and generally enabling – my home. This environment could be changed, although only in the parameters of the standard – it means that most flats where I lived or had visited were a standard type, it
was something impersonal and, in some way, unsteady, ephemeral. The easiness that you have with electricity, cars and washing machine… And the emotional spectrum, which is present during every growing-up and identity-forming phase, in my case, was toned-down expectations – maybe anxiety, maybe joy. The joy that is necessary for survival and, in some paradoxical way, is also the opposite and external part of fear, my enemy. It is a joy of modernism – the counterpart of the unknown world full of rational logic.
vvvvMaybe the first habitants of this house brought joy in the 60s of the 20th Century. Then modernism came massively into everyday life – refrigerators, TVs, cars, and filming cameras. For most newcomers, they were substantial improvements in life – water supply, central heating, sewerage in houses, a shop nearby the home, a playground, and a playing field… It was a huge breakthrough for a post-war generation who went to school for several kilometers every day with paper briefcases and handmade shoes with rubber soles from old tires. This generation's joy (of survival) was this mysterious symbol kept in photos – the crumbled environment of the new districts then. Yes, it was in a way a social joy, which was rooted in the collective spirit that was evidently supported by the soviet ideology of the time. But it was also an energy one could use to make his life’s world, to maintain together (or not maintain together) the stairwell, plant trees near the building, and raise the future – the yard children. And focusing on the future this joy functioned as a reason not to pay attention to cultural prejudices and stereotypes that lived in these narrow walls of everyday life of the community. And maybe now, when this motivation of joy has lost its direct influence in the consciousness of the residents, after changing generations and the sociocultural background, the paradox has emerged in the foreground.

Ilva has a degree in philology, she has worked in cultural journalism, and she’s a communication and media researcher at various Latvian universities. Associate Professor at the Riga Stradiņš University. Ilva also organizes workshops for contemporary cultural events.

1Pallasmaa, J. (2014). Space, place and atmosphere. Emotion and peripherical perception in architectural experience.
Lebenswelt. Aesthetics and philosophy of experience. (4).
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