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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6 thoughts on “On Foreign Soil

  1. Wei believe they have most all of the works of Rockwell Kent there in the basements somewhere. Because of his communist inclination he was sort of blacklisted and I can’t recall how all his works went to Russia? Enjoy your visit.

  2. I spent a whole day in The Hermitage, while the other members of the tour went to view other palaces. I spent much time in two rooms devoted to the art masterpieces stolen from their Jewish owners by the Nazi criminals. I hope by now those precious art works have been restored to the rightful heirs. Or are those “liberated” paintings still in The Hermitage?!

  3. Terry – I went on a Scandinavian and Russia tour in 1983 – St. Petersburg was amazing. Spent three days in Moscow, then train to Leningrad … the tour agent had told us that the hotels might be primitive and we should take sink stoppers for our washbasins … other things, but the sink stopper stands out in my mind. We got to our hotel – beautiful, opulent, bathroom huge and radiant floor heating, exquisite lighting and phones in bathtub area. Bed was king-sized, huge T.V. – the travel agent had it all wrong. It was the trip of a lifetime for me.

  4. well without the ability to communicate I can’t say Mike – although one young tour guide (with a Masters in Linguistics ) indicated that moment that he was eager to visit other countries and spend time in some of the world’s great cities. I can tell you that a pervasive sense of curiosity was expressed about our current president, as in “What’s the deal with TRUMP?!)

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