On Foreign Soil

I’ve always thought I’d like to go to Russia, to visit the famous Hermitage, and walk where czars walked, and contemplate the mysteries of an entirely unfamiliar alphabet….

And now here I am in St. Petersburg which seems a lot like Venice in that it consists of so many islands. I should say that WE, meaning my mate and I and two good friends are in St. Petersburg where, just at present, the thermometer stands at 39 degrees Fahrenheit. Where snow sifted down from the sky when the ballet got out last night.

That fact alone felt unfamiliar: that and the fact the sun could still be shining this brightly at half-past nine at night. See?


It almost feels mythical, this St. Petersburg, where first snow and then a stinging sideways hail could be seen collecting on the shoulders of my ill-chosen wardrobe.

A man I assumed to be a veteran stood, one leg of his trousers pinned up to reveal his missing limb, outside the amazing Catherine Palace. He was hoping to sell us a picture of the lady of the house herself, Catherine the First, who, in the official 1810 portraiture, bears a strong resemblance to Danny DeVito in the Taxi years.

I saw a lot on our first day here, not just the on-legged vet but also apartment buildings of a decided bleakness, like this fully tenanted one, half fixed up and half not.


Later that morning I saw stunning old statuary, like these two guys with their impressive six-packs outside the world-famous Hermitage Museum.


Art celebrates nature and that much is for sure – both Youthful Nature, like this woman supporting this guy lounging around with his hand on his hip…


…and also Nature in Decay, like the mummy I stood by for a long time, free at last of all his Ace bandages and naked as an unwrapped present. He looked like a slice of overcooked bacon grinning with his 3,000-year-old teeth.

I have much to learn on this trip and already I know one thing is truer than true: Art outlasts nature, as this stunning bit of clockwork shows.



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