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Friday, July 15, 2016

Christie Leonard in Russia (part 2)

We also visited Novodevichy convent and cemetery. Peter the Great imprisoned his sister in the convent after a failed coup that he suspected her of organizing. The Cemetery is famous for its graves – each person (famous people only, unless you’re very, very wealthy) has a uniquely designed grave that reflects his or her personality or achievements. Here are Chekov’s and Gogol’s graves. I was expecting something a little more eccentric on Gogol’s (like a Nose?).

Saint Petersburg – Venice of the North or City of Death and Disease? The genre (coined after the fact) of the Saint Petersburg text is characterized by themes of unnaturalness, the macabre, death, bad weather, more death, and more bad weather. During its construction, thousands and thousands of serfs perished in the swamps. Wolves (which no long lurk near the city) killed workers; many more were taken by diseases and parasites in the water (which still lurk in the water today). Fortunately, my experience of this eclectic city included no death.

The Bronze Horseman was commissioned by Catherine the Great to Peter the First. (The monument contains both Russian and Latin: Petro Primo Catharina Secunda.) Pushkin’s famous poem “The Bronze Horseman” features this statue. Some of its themes are death and bad weather.

Saint Isaac’s Cathedral is breathtaking. The columns are made of tiny pieces of lapis lazuli and malachite, fit together to look like a seamless, fluted column. This is one of several iterations of the cathedral. The first was a small wooden church, constructed quickly so Peter the Great could marry his barmaid love (who later became Catherine I, Empress of Russia). The subsequent churches all sank into the swamp, but this version didn’t! We climbed to the top for an incredible view of the city.

During the Soviet era, this cathedral was a Museum of Atheism and thus a popular fieldtrip destination for Soviet schools. Our tour guide had gone to school then and referred to it as “brain-washing school.”

This sign for a speed bump at the entrance to the Peter and Paul Fortress reminded me of the Little Prince’s drawing of the snake that ate the elephant.