As you may have heard, UK’s Times newspaper has opened free access to its complete archive — all papers since 1785! I’ve searched articles on Sochi, and found a few that mentioned the city — confrontation of Reds and Whites in the beginning of the century, bombings by Nazis in 40x, travel ads in 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s — but found only one article all about Sochi. It is “Contrasts on Black Sea Riviera” published on November 28, 1961.
Even though I wasn’t around in 1961, I was growing up in Sochi during 80’s, and have to say it was mostly the same as described in this article. The article is rather long, so I’ll post only the copy of the article itself here for now, and my comments on it will come later in a separate post, along with some old postcards scans, so you can get a feel of what Sochi was like three-four decades back.
So, follwing is the “Contrasts on Black Sea Riviera” Times article about Sochi from 1961:
Contrasts on Black Sea Riviera
THE OTHER RUSSIA-I / By Monitor / Nov 28, 1961
Our Correspondent has just returned from a two-month visit to the Soviet Union. “Do you know why the Black Sea is called black?” the young Russian asked me suddenly. We were sitting on the wall above the central beach at Sochi, watching the gaudy crowd of Soviet sun-worshippers begin to peel itself from the pebbly beach and unravel-like a leisurely centipede – up the white marble steps to the hotels and cafes of this Russian Blackpool. It was hot and rather humid and the temperature of the sea was close to that of the air. The white-faced clock suspended on the lamp post above us registered 3.30 p.m. – just about lunchtime on the Soviet riviera. As I strained to answer his question, recalling Herodotus’s history and the story of Jason crossing this sea to Colchis in search of the Golden Fleece, he came to my rescue: “The Russians “, he said, ” call the Black Sea black because so many savages bathe in it.”
I must have looked even more perplexed at the subtlety of this Russian riddle, so he explained to me that the word dikar – or savage – means, in the “modern” usage of the other Russia, one of the thousands of individual holidaymakers, like himnself, who travel towards the sun on their own initiative and without the prized putiovka, or official warrant, which gives admittance to those magnificent white sanatoria whose wedding cake decorations pile, Grecian urn upon fluted pillar, high above the palms and sub-tropical vegetation of their gardens.
While these splendid institutions, with their saltwater swimming pools a mile above the sea, their private cinemas and staffs of doctors and attendants who all but outnumber their inmates, can accommodate less than 20,000 visitors at a time, at the peak of the season well over half a million visitors a month pour into the Mecca of Soviet resorts. These are the “savages”, six million of whom every season swell to breaking-point the limited eating and lodging facilities of the Black Sea coast.
Inmates of the hotels-like the famous Primorsky on the main promenade are few in number, foreigners like me, groups from the “peoples’ democracies” and some rather fortunate Soviet citizens, often theatre and cinema people like my friend Valentin and his girl friend Tamara.
The “savages” are catered for by the thriving private industry of room letting – or even corner letting – which ran wild a few years ago, but is now effec- tively controlled by the authorities who have fixed the price at one rouble a head a day and maintain a strict watch to prevent overcrowding above five square metres of floor space a person.
The puttovkas, which are intended primarily for workers in need of a rest and treatment, are distributed by the trade unions and are paid for 70 per cent by the, union and 30 per cent by the individual. There are also ways and means of purchasing them on the open market at a cost of about 200 roubles for a month. Their disadvantage is that they are intended for single individuals and mean separation from family and friends and submission to a strict diet and discipline, including treatment with the evil smelling local spa water called Matsesta. My rather spoilt friend from the film world had bought a putiovka to a sanatorium near by for his aging mother.
The contrast between the way of life of these two main categories of Soviet holidaymaker cannot be more striking. Filing up from the beach past the old women selling seashell necklaces, the “savages” face queues at the outdoor cafés for hot snacks at lOs., queues at the restaurants for elaborate feasts and music at upwards from 30s., queues at an impressive number of cinemas, queues for bumpy speedboat rides and queues to buy the “central” newspapers. This inevitable manoeuvre, however, is regarded as an integral part of the holiday and the regular lining up operation is used rather as a cocktail party to strike up new acquaintances or as an opportunity for one more combat on a pocket chess set. The putiovka man, on the other hand, travels up from the beach by private funicular railway which deposits him among the mosacs and freszoes of his luxurious residence to consume a four-course dietetic luncheon.
The difference between the “savage” who pays a rouble a night for a bed in an overcrowded room and the putiovka man in his sanatorium is not, however, based on any difference in social position. All are workers. Although there are specialized sanatoria belonging to the Government, professional associations, and Ministries such as Defence (with one of the largest sanatoria in Sochi) and Foreign Affairs, the majority of them belong to the trade unions. Thus the Ordzhonikidze sana- torium I visited was originally built for coalminers and, although now administered by the All Union Central Council of Trade Unions, is still quite obviously filled with workers.
The most sumptuous sanatoria were built during the early thirties, in the hardest years of industrialization, as a kind of symbolic compensation to the few for the hardships of the many and as a taste, rather like the Moscow metro, of the good life to come. With more money and freedom of movement the splendid isolation of these luxurious oases has ended and people have begun to flock to the Black Sea on their own accord from the farthest corners of the U.S.S.R. Until recently the building programme was hampered by the stress on expensive and over-elaborate palaces while shoddy private housing estates mushroomed up in the suburbs. At a recent party meeting in Sochi complaints were made about water supplies and sanitation facilities at Adler, a satellite resort just south of Sochi. Now the matter has been taken in hand – “seriously” as the edtor of the local newspaper told me. Since a recent visit to the resort by Mr. Kosygin, a member of the Praesidium, a really effective acceleration in building is planned, primarily through the use of light materials and a rejection of the urns and pillars.
In spite of the striking disparities between the organized and the individual vacationers, they have in common the same serious and disciplined attitude to their leave. In dress there is a great conformism – and woe betide anyone, like your Correspondent, who ventured out of the hotel to traverse the hundred yards to the beach in a bathing suit. “Young man”, I was hailed by the hotel commissionaire, who looked every bit like the doddering Firs in Chekhov’s Cherry Orchard, “U nas tak ne priniato – that is not customary here” with a gesture towards my highly respectable Swiss trunks. Precisely the same words were addressed to me in a totally different environment. In the great nineteenth-century cathedral at Rostov-on-Don, at 10 on a weekday morning, I was standing discreetly by a pillar observing the service. A tap on my shoulder and the same disapproving gesture towards mv hands folded behind mv back. “U nzas tak tie priniato” – in church one stands to attention and not at ease.
On the beach there is none of the southern prudery which would have accompanied the rules about bathing suits in the street. The briefest of bikinis jostle alongside grandmother’s frilly black sack and someone else’s under-clothes. I did not see a single one of the proverbial pyjamas which, before the war, every self-respecting Russian was supposed to don so as to relax by the sea. The men, baggy trousered, mostly in grey, with even floppier printed shirts uniformly outside their belts, are often crowned with the dernier cri-white plastic hats, a mass of perforations and reminiscent of those baskets for shaking water from lettuce. The women, often plump and always, it seems, burdened with the family’s or the man’s plastic bag of food and bathing kit, wear pretty printed frocks, but never slacks.
— the end —
Undated photo from Sochi. My guess — 80’s, but I’ll try to find this postcard in my collection to check the date.