Tuesday, September 04, 2007

By now, much of it seems like a dream and the edges of the startling contrasts of beauty and ugly are softened by my memory. I would go back to Russia next week. It was that poignant, that exquisite, that haunting. St. Petersburg opened the curtain on the adventure of a lifetime.

We arrived in St. Petersburg expecting nothing; but still the poverty and the desolation of the streets blinded sided us and kept us off balance because the other parts of St. Petersburg were so damn gorgeous. What a town! The Rolling Stones had played there the evening before we arrived, nuts!, and the town was still a little buzzy after what I am sure was a supernaturally heady experience for the locals. Mick! Keith! They played here

which is the palace square of the Winter Palace of the Tsars, now a piece of the extraordinary Hermitage Museum. My dreams came true when we visited the Hermitage, initiated by Catherine the Great with a purchase of 289 paintings. These days the collection numbers 3,000,000 pieces acquired over 3 centuries. The Louvre, the Vatican, the Met pale by comparison. It was not only the art of the Hermitage, the Monets, the Delacroix, the Renoirs, the Pissarros, the Degas, the Cezannes, the Van Goghs, the Gauguins, the Picassos, the Matisses, the Rodins, the Kadinskys, the Rembrandts, the Da Vincis, but it was the house itself, the trappings of Tsarist Russia and their culture and faith, oh those Icons, that made it all that it was and more. So much more. And again, shocking details at every juncture. This art is hung similarly to how I would hang it in my living room, with wire and nail, and you can walk right up to it and get in the face of Van Gogh in his artistic fury. That's right. There are no ropes. There is no plexiglass. There is no security except for glaring Russsian women with thin, red lipsticked lips who squint and murmur, nyet, nyet, nyet. They sit in every room and examine each visitor with eyes of steel. Nothing gets past these women.

Russians, by and large, act like ladies and gentlemen; their culture not being graced with the beneficence of freedom of speech and other liberties assured them by their founding fathers. Their airports are like the American airports of our youth, when we used to breeze in 10 minutes before the flight. The Russians, of course, don't have terrorists hunting them down so they don't need to enact extraordinary measures of security. People wouldn't think of acting hostilely in museums because of the secret police. It's not what would happen to you if you defaced and damaged a piece of the collection of the Hermitage, it's what would happen to you and your family. So built in to the Russian culture are "safeguards" which allow them to live in remarkable freedom. Of a sort. We have different freedoms in this country, yet their life seems simpler on a number of levels.

We went to Catherine's Summer Palace outside of St. Petersburg and the singularly remarkable Peterhof, Peter the Great's summer residence. You decide for your self:

nice, eh? Those nouveau riche schmucks on Lake Coeur d'Alene don't know their front doors from their septic tanks when it comes to summering in style.

The 'Kan EWa


BX_boy said...


it's absolutely beautiful. it almost looks like disney land, but so much better.

JBelle said...

It's all so perfect, it IS Disneyland like. I have been reading about Nicholas II and his tragic life; he had a beautiful young family who was exiled in Siberia, then led into a mine shaft and shot with him and Alexandria. At least they died together.

Inland Empire Girl said...

Your last line about the CdA folks was a perfect ending of this post. Again, I have enjoyed your photo image trip through Russia so much.

The Fool said...

To wander the halls of the Hermitage Museum! Your writing is full of wonderful details...right down to the "glaring Russsian women with thin, red lipsticked lips who squint and murmur, nyet, nyet, nyet." You brought me there.

And "summer palaces"? Is that something like going to the "cottage"? My goodness. I'll take a slice of such decadence.

Terrific post, Cheechako!

MarmiteToasty said...

Beautiful writings as usual, you transported me to Russia..... now share the bleedin vodka will ya.... ice and a smidgen of fresh orange please......


JBelle said...

Mrs. Roosevelt, I wish you could see these summer houses; they are more sumptuous than Versailles and better designed than Versailles. What is wholly unique about them is their colors: bright, clear hues inside and out. Clearly, it's a Russian thing: I'll post next about the reconstruction of a native Russian village.

oh my Lord, oh these dachas, as they are called. Even the houses where the officials of the communist party lived were wonderful. One thing the contemporary people do with their summer houses that I love is letting the lawn grown to about shin height. They all look a little meadowy and not Rhode Islandy. Love it.

Mel, you can't have any orange in your Vokda in Mother Russia. You take it frozen cold, a proper bottle is kept in the freezer, in a frozen shot glass. You shoot it and settle in to savor the warm. As it's light out until about 11 pm, we would sit out on the end of boat after dinner. It was completely deserted at that time. We'd bring our bottles that we bought in town and drink vodka for hours and talk. We talked about everything!

toadman said...

I'd like to echo marmy's comment.


JBelle said...


You need some vodka!
icy vodka!

PDX Pup said...

ALL the pictures are absolutely stunning. What a trip. What an experience. What a memory. I'm really glad you went!

Carla said...

Magnificent!!! I've always wanted to visit St Petersburg. You've just moved it to the top of my list.