Tuesday, October 19, 2010

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:

Hermitage 3

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.


Chesme Church

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:

P10 2

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).

Repino 7

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:

TS 5

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.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Working Backwards

From now until before:

The semester has begun; stress abounds. Let's begin on a more positive note, though, shall we?

The past month has been extremely productive; also: overwhelming, exhausting, trial by fire. I am, as they say, holding up. I am careful to focus on the big picture; if I don't, I will surely become confused by the unfinished projects floating in the foreground. Sorry; that was only slightly more positive.

With an almost total lack of free time, I decided to go camping in New Hampshire. The White Mountain National Forest, to be exact. On Russell Pond:

Russell Pond

And then later:

Russell Pond

I wanted a night away from asphalt and light pollution, and the White Mountains did not let me down. Superhot campfire whose scent caught a ride from me for several days; brave little chipmunks; a hike that took me by surprise and that I would love to repeat with more accurate expectations: overall, great success.

Just before the weekend in New Hampshire, I spent ten or so days in Washington: State, not District. It was a surprise trip. Not a "surprise!" trip, but a trip that I had hoped would not be necessary for quite some time. Suffice it to say, I'll not go into it. I will say that it redefined for me the hardest work that we as humans have to do. There was, however, this:

Sunflower 98531

That sunflower (and several other things, such as kale, peppers, carrots) will be let to run wild.

Prior to the trip back west, a month passed in which I got to visit me at 29, at 27, at 22; friends came a-callin', and it was awesome. Sure, it was bookended by a little nervous exhaustion and a telephone call like a punch in the face, but otherwise it was splendid. Folks from all over darkened my doorway; maybe you'll be next.

It was a whole summer packed into a month and a half, and it followed another summer, somewhere else. The first summer I'll describe at another time; it deserves its own narrative. The second can be described like so:

Purgatory Chasm

Don't be fooled: I don't mean that Second Summer was the limbo stage before reaching our ultimate destination (though who are we kidding, really?), I only mean to show that I trolled up and down Rhode Island with visitors, seeing some things that I hadn't seen yet and finally feeling marginally at home at this coordinate. First Summer precluded any deeper exploration of my current environs, since it occurred approximately 4500 miles away. That's for next time, but here's a hint:

Everything you know is a lie
("Everything you know is a lie")

Done for now, but soon will continue. This is not the end of history.