TRAMVAI

stop 4 - Troitsky Bridge

"I remember, one evening in Leningrad, in the first years after the revolution, the tram stopped on Troitsky Bridge..."


"On Streetcar Folklore"

In this sketch of 1933, Viktor Shklovsky recalls an evening aboard a tram that had broken down on Troitsky Bridge, suspended in the darkness in this liminal space, and unfolds his anecdote of this particular happening, but not before outlining the general contours of "Streetcar Folklore".

Shklovsky draws a miniature, affectionately parodic, anthropological-ethnographical sketch of tram travel: an activity of everyday life that possesses its own rituals, communicative conventions and classifiable subjects.

He types the passengers - already dehumanized by the cramped conditions - according to biological species and subspecies, i.e. according to their preferred means of riding the vehicle:

"The flattened streetcar people may be classified by zoological order.
For example, there is the group of people who climb onto the front platform.
There’s the group of people who ride on the rear buffer, holding on to the bracket with their right hand. [...]
And there’s the subgroup who hang on to the platform handle."

Those riding on the rear buffer (known as kolbasa (sausage)) travelled for free; "ezdit' na kolbase" was a common means of fare-dodging.

Shklovsky collects and classifies the verbal idiom of tram travel: the practice spawns language which is wholly particular to the experience. Much of this situational language is related to the overcrowding of the carriages:

"In streetcar language there are about fifty words, divided between a small number of phrases: 'The tramcar's not made of rubber, you know'; ‘You'll be needing a taxi.'"

Such disgruntled wit was the usual limit of exchange between passengers, but the shared knowledge of its vernacular and customs - which bespeak both familiarity with and resignation to this most mundane practice of everyday life - has a socially cohesive function:

"Aside from the desire to get home or get to work, the tram-people are united by their folklore."

Usually there is no openly acknowledged sign of this bond on board the tram. When a tram comes to halt on Troitsky Bridge, however, the unusual circumstances and the common lot of the few remaining passengers, thwarted in their journey across the Neva, conspire to forge an odd bond of collectivity: an old lady begins to sing ballads until the tram eventually moves off again. This situation is the epitome of the anecdotal—the discovery of the tellable in the course of the most mundane, routine practices.