Summer Number One
Lickety split: here I am again.
First Summer took place in St. Petersburg. A bizarre and disruptive paradox occurred, namely a heat wave that curdled every single person in the city, turning all of us into bleary, irritable dysfunctionates (which, yes, is not a word, but is most certainly a state of being). A strange phenomenon: that far north, the sun pretty much doesn't set for a month or so, which means that neither the earth nor the buildings have a chance to cool down after hours of unnaturally intense heat. An almost total lack of air-conditioned spaces aggravated the situation; my worry was mainly for the books in the libraries and the priceless works of art being exposed to a range of harmful elements. For instance:
On the banks of the Neva, windows wide open, wet sunlight everywhere; trauma for woodwork.
The improbable weather was inescapable and pervasive; to be honest, it coated everything I did during my time at GMT+3. I'll not mention it anymore, so just remember - it was there.
St. Petersburg is not much at all like Moscow. I spent a quick couple of nights in Petersburg in 2006, but this is the first time that I was actually able to get to know the city a little. I won't toss about the debits and credits of coolness in one city or another; they're just different. People have a tendency to take sides on the issue, and when it comes down to it, I don't feel qualified to judge. I have no empirical evidence that one is better and another worse, and my opinion is neither based on scientific method nor relevant. It's like comparing New York City to Portland; they're entirely different animals, philosophically and aesthetically.
OK, this type of crazy one-off design is common to both cities. Petersburg seemed to have an unusually high ratio of them, however; it began to get a little exhausting after a while, as if I simply couldn't take any more luxurious facades or opulent interiors. In fact, I originally thought that I would visit the Hermitage twice, maybe three times during my two months there, and I suffered from museum burnout and only ended up going once. I don't regret it; the crowds and the direct sunlight on, say, Caravaggio made it somewhat less savory than I'd hoped. A relief from that brand of amazing:
Pushkinskaya 10 is an art collective that occupies several flights of a staircase and a small number of flats; they seem to like the Beatles and they put on an incredible exhibition. Petersburg, in general, has a very laid-back type vibe, dismissively friendly and busy without being in an irritable hurry. I imagine my impression would have been very different had I been there in winter; maybe someday.
I was only there for two months, so with both temporal and financial restraints, I remained in the city pretty much the whole time. I took a couple excursions, sure, but nothing too monumental; I opted not, for instance, to take the overnight train to Moscow for the weekend, which, yes, I would have thoroughly enjoyed, but which did not and does not seem entirely necessarily. I did, however, go to Repino, to the homestead called Penaty, which belonged to the artist Ilya Repin. After the heat and grime of a canal-bound city, the proverbial fresh country air was unbelievable, as was Repin's house (which is not totally apparent in the picture; use your most fantastic imagination).
I went, also, to Pushkin, or Tsarskoe Selo, depending on who you ask. It was rather strange, actually. Catherine had a palace there, now aptly named the Catherine Palace, and Nicholas II had a palace there, called, of course, the Aleksandr Palace. The Palaces' interiors I skipped - I couldn't help it - but the Gardens were lovely. A question, though:
What's up with that? There was a distinctly faux-Asian motif going on in the Aleksandr Gardens, complete with some porcelain figures at the gate that are doomed to have tourists stand next to or below them, doing lighthearted yet racially suspicious gestures, throughout the foreseeable future.
I have to say: it seems like all of this is a world away, like I am only just skimming the surface. The experience of getting on a plane, crossing many time zones, and ending up somewhere that in all other cases is absolutely inaccessible, often seems to take on a dreamlike quality after any length of time has passed, like a figment of the imagination, a memory possibly completely made up. The combination of that with the fact that I have been up to the neck of a much taller person in work means that I have a disconnect with Summer Number One, which hopefully will pass as my brain processes the backlog of information and can simply relax again. I relish the expectation of that hypothetical day. And when it gets here, I'll let you know.