Sunday, August 26, 2007

St. Petersburg is among the most unique, if not the most unique, of cities. It is a new city, founded by Peter the Great in May 1703. It was to be the capital city of the new generation of Rus, Peter turning his back on the traditions of the ancient Rus, creating a fresh start with unparallelled ambition and vision. It's a dark city, with a tragic history but reminds you of Paris, because of the river, Amsterdam because of the canals, Venice because of the bridges, London because of the parks and New York because it's a city of immigrants. Peter invited the foremost thinkers of the day to come and form a new ideal, and they came scientists, academicians, artists, architects alike. The result was and is a stunning city, with spectacular vistas and panoramas, built by Europeans using classical European models, but squarely under the influence of Russian art and architecture. Some say it's a masterpiece in urban planning. It is extraordinary and a solid testament to the will of survival.

Having said this, St. Petersburg remains a difficult city. I would not go there without a Russian/English speaking guide. Moscow is the only place in Russia that has enjoyed capital investment since perestroika and so life remains quite difficult for some because jobs are not plentiful. I am a no-fear warrior and high challenge to boot. I get around most places in the world with relative ease; I feel safe just about always. Not in St. Petersburg. It is beautiful and fearsome all at once and no match for this white girl from Coeur d'Alene.

Because jobs are scarce, the guides available are highly educated and experienced, making your excursions with them a pleasure, worth every dime you pay and tip. They are classically educated, so not only do they speak three or four languages, but they have a specific area of educational or functional expertise as well. They are historicans, artists, economists, well versed in clasical literature, theatre and music. They are fiercely proud of being Russian and the resulting package is a delicious and rare opportunity. We used two guides, both having grown up in Communist Russia. They told personal stories of their and their families' lives under Communism, many of which brought me to tears. These people starved to death, froze to death, had the shit kicked out of them by the secret police. This was Communism. They survived. The Russians are resolute, sturdy and humorous. They are damned fine people. Here's how they look:


toadman said...

I've always wanted to visit St. Petersburg. So cold, such massive architecture, such sweeping history, so very Russian. I can't GET any greener!

Again.. awesome pictures.

treespotter said...

wowowowow... i was in St. Peter some while ago, one of my fave place in the whole wide world. you're sooo lucky!!

been traveling a lot, are you?

Inland Empire Girl said...

I love the photos of the faces. It helps me see the emotions you revealed in your writing. I don't think I really understood much about Russia before. Thanks for the new learning.

The Fool said...

A very unique perspective you offer us, Cheech. The conflation of's cold, fearsome side of the inhabitants...and the brilliant snapshot of the cabbie intelligentsia make for an interesting backdrop for the photos you share here. Nicely done, Cheech. Your travelogues rock.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, what The Fool said.