Posts Tagged ‘St.Petersburg’

A southerly is a coming.

January 5, 2019

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Moscow University.

With the unrelenting heat finally ending with a solid promise by BOM ( Bureau of Meteorology) that the temperature is set to drop by  ten degrees over the next hour or so. It is early yet, but a southerly change is coming! We have been mainly inside during the last few hot days, spend reading or on the internet. I discovered a book picked blind-folded out of our book shelves. It is ‘Fathers and Sons’ by Ivan Turgenev. отцы и сыновья иван тургенев

It is large brown coloured hard cover bound and published by Foreign Languages Publishing House Moscow, and even has coloured plates of the different characters pasted in between the pages. A beautiful book to look at even without reading the words. But talking about Moscow. Moscow’s university is so big, that even if one spent just one day in each room, your life would not be long enough to have lived in each room. The statistics are staggering.

Many years ago I visited Moscow and St Petersburg. I wrote about it in ‘Frank Story’. Here is ‘n extract from the visit to the Hermitage Museum.

“It was the next day, when we were all ready to be bundled into the bus, with Natasha our guide, and remarkably, also the two Queensland girls who came to Russia to ‘shop and drop with two enormous bags’, to do the visit of all visits, namely, ‘The Winter Palace and The Hermitage’. It seems inconceivable enough to have gone through life without having experienced those two icons, but to have visited Russia and not to have done so, an unconscionable offence. The so affable and unrelenting larrikin of our Aussie Moscow librarian took yet another turn and this time serious. He became seriously ill, out of breath and appeared to have a heart attack. Within a few minutes an ambulance arrived and he was taken to hospital. He, sadly, would miss out on his Hermitage experience, which he had told me, he had never visited during his stint at the Moscow library. We, after this short delay were whisked away and soon arrived at the Hermitage Museum. Much to our surprise we were led past a queue at least a kilometre long and invited through the gates within a couple of minutes of our arrival. Was communism with its heart supposedly embedded in the welfare of its proletariat already slipping that fast, to now give preference to rich foreign cashed-up capitalist tourists?

The Hermitage Museum with The Winter Palace defies anything that I had seen so far, even the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Not just the buildings but the space in front of it. The sense of what space can add to buildings is nowhere as clear as that of the Red Square in Moscow and the huge square in front of The Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg. So, by the time you reach the front of the buildings you are already in awe of whatever there might be inside. I suppose, this is also when you approach Sydney’s Opera House when viewed from the expanse of the Harbour.  The Hermitage Museum houses over 3.000.000 pieces dating from the Stone Age to the 20th century and presents the development of the world of culture and art throughout that period. You cannot possibly do justice in spending a few tourists’ hours but, alas, that is all we had time for.”

But let me finish with a beautiful poem;

Those Shadows.
Here’s a Song;

When I am dead, my dearest,
Sing no sad songs for me;
Plant thou no roses at my head,
Nor shady cypress tree;
Be the green grass above
with showers and dewdrops wet;
And if thou wilt, remember,
And if thou wilt forget.

I shall not see the shadows,
I shall not feel the rain;
I shall not hear the nightingale
Sing on, as if in pain;
And dreaming through the twilight
That doth not rise nor set,
Haply I may remember,
And haply may forget.

( Christina Rossetti 1830-1894 )

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Of Sardines between St Petersburg and UK’s Whitby

April 8, 2015
The Hermitage

The Hermitage

The week in St Petersburg was somewhat marred by a bout of intestinal hurry I suffered within minutes of entering The Hermitage Museum.  The origin  of this was perplexing as the night before we had enjoyed a terrific meal of genuine Russian fare. The borscht was part of it together with potato dumplings drowned in a rich sauce of red wine with lots of bay leaves, sage and pepper. As a side dish we had piroshkies.

Our dinner was very interesting in that, apart from the delicious food, it included a large Russian wedding party which intermittently  in between eating and imbibing copious Vodka would repeatedly shout gorko, gorko which actually means ‘bitter, bitter’ but bitter would only cease if the groom and bride would get up an make bitter sweet in a long-time kiss and more kiss. This would happen every ten minutes or so. The noise was terrific and soon the bitter vodka was made sweet. The bride looked lovely and very happy.

But back to this annoying intestinal hurry the day after and inside The Hermitage.. After asking for toilet directions they kept pointing towards the distance. Anyone who has been inside the Hermitage would know it takes about a week to walk from beginning to end. I did not have that much time so I started running through gilded room through gilded room. I lost care and interest. Monets, Manets, Gauguins were rushed past. Things were percolating madly to unbearable levels. I was in great panic. I remember the sad look on  Rembrandt’s The return of The Prodigal Son, the father’s eyes following me as I ran past. The moments of such great importance now  in total avoidance and ignorance of the world’s greatest art. Can you believe it?

Whitby? Captain Cook's cottage

Whitby? Captain Cook’s cottage

Final, triumph…the toilet is in sight. It was as huge as the rest of this museum.  The reader would know that Russian communism at that time was in flux but had as yet not changed with holding on to having full employment. A large seated lady overseeing the comings and goings in this huge toilet was part of this full employment. Ladies seated on chairs were everywhere in Russian society. The toilet I was in did not have a door or perhaps not a functioning door. I don’t know or remember if all the toilet cubicles were like that but mine was not door inclusive. I could not care less, I was so happy. Afterwards I calmly sauntered back and took some time to atone to The Prodigal Son  for my strange hurried behaviour, all was forgiven. The Monet’s looked so peaceful now too.

All good things come to past as so did my Russian trip. The time for departure to London had come. We all said goodbye and I made my way to the airport to fly back to Moscow and from there connect with a flight to London. Alas, the flight was delayed. Aeroflot was apologetic but made good with a ravishing lunch dish of freshly grilled sardines and salad. Butterflied sardines deeply grilled are my favourite. Soon after the sardines we took off and within an hour or so landed at Moscow. The connecting flight to London again was not forthcoming. I suppose with Russia in political flux or even without flux, patience gets rewarded. Soon a lunch was provided for the traveller. I was somewhat surprised to again be given the grilled sardines. They weren’t the last ones!

When we were finally put on board to London and dinner arrived soon. I had already enjoyed a couple of very fine Georgian white wines. As the food trolley slowly made its way towards my seat a familiar waft came towards me. You guess right, sardines again. I could only surmise a rich Russian oligarch  had gone long on the sardine option market and was forced to take the stock of a hundreds of tonnes of sardines at a loss. This loss was now shared by putting the whole of Russia on sardines including passengers on Aeroflot.

I arrived at Heathrow’s airport and was met by an Australian friend who took me to a house of a Lord and book-publisher at Shepherd Bush. Life can be very strange, even stranger than fiction. Who could imagine I would sleep in an English Lord’s house being full of sardines?

Robyn Hood Bay.

Robyn Hood Bay.

Moscow and overnight train to St Petersburg.( valley of Lily)

April 6, 2015
The red square with queue from l/r to see Lenin in his mausoleum.

The red square with queue from l/r to see Lenin in his mausoleum.

( About 1985) After a week or so in Moscow with the obligatory viewing of Red Square with the mile long queue at the Lenin Mausoleum,  the Stalin built but magnificent underground railway  with marbled statues and chandeliers,  an evening at the theatre watching ‘An American in Paris’ by American composer of Russian parentage, George Gershwin, we all took a late evening overnight train to St Petersburg. It was in July, very hot and days were interspersed with short but violent lightning storms. I was surprised that the giant  down pipes of those large buildings jettisoned the pelting rain straight onto the footpath whereby pedestrians had to perform large leaps into the air not get washed into the kerbs. I was astonished how high the Russians could leap but it did give me a better perspective on The Bolshoi Ballet phenomenon.

The overnight trip to St Petersburg has been covered earlier but is now buried at the bottom of this pile and in any case, my memory might well have shifted to even greater heights.  Here another retell. After getting on-board we were given the seats as shown on the pre-booked tickets. My compartment had a couple and a woman of typical generous Russian proportion and spirit. The two compartments behind me were taken up by an American group of singers who had performed in Moscow and now on their way to St Petersburg.

The Winter Palace (Hermitage)

The Winter Palace (Hermitage)

We soon settled and when I took a walk around my wagon I noticed the Americans who after introduction told me they were part of a choir. As I told them I was Australian they were keen for me to give an impromptu performance of  a Paul Hogan ‘Crocodile Dundee’ and several versions of   ‘Goodyaj, howszego’en maitey?’. I obliged but quickly escaped back to my cabin.  I can only perform on my own without an audience or mirror.The woman and couple introduced themselves and so did I. The Russian woman’s name was Lily and she could speak some German.

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One has to understand we were all going to sleep together so a kind of bonhomie and familiarity might ensure a reasonable and peaceful slumber later on. Russian trains do not segregate and at least in USSR sleeper trains, sleeping is not fraught with fear of an opportunistic sex maniac creeping in. That seems to be more the domain of those cultures that believe men and women are  so entirely different they ought to be separated from birth whenever possible.  For some, to attack remains the only option to get together.

Lily became instantly the epitome of what their race is known for. A socially, inclusive and talkative person. Friendly and keen to exchange talk on almost anything and everything. It was easy for me when we could also talk in German, but I am sure that even without a common language she would have seen that as a minor obstacle, easily overcome by gesture and body language, facial expressions. It was a hot and somewhat brooding thunderstorm threatening train journey. We were all sweating profusely and while talking Lily would pat and dab in between her generously forthcoming bosom with a crocheted hanky. ( I remember it well) that she kept sprinkling with  Eau de Cologne number 4711.

The Hermitage.

The Hermitage.

We exchanged small talk the best we could of which I have forgotten most but not all. What I did not forget is what ensued after she asked me what I did. “Ich bin ein Kunstler (..) und Lehrer. I answered”. I am an artist and teacher. Well, it was instant pandemonium.  You would know that teachers in Eastern Europe and especially Finland and former USSR countries are regarded and revered like lawyers and doctors, if not a new Dostoevsky or a burgeoning Tolstoy as well.   To be an artist and teacher is like being 2 doctors in one. She took out a small bottle of a greenish colour and poured some of the liquid in a metal beaker. The cabin immediately smelt strongly of aniseed.  She also had a packet of sugar cubes which she had opened earlier and given me some.

She went around the wagon telling all that here was, an Australian artist on board, while sharing the aniseed dipped sugar cubes all round. They all came and wanted to inspect this Australian ‘teacher – artist’. It was my moment of fame. When things calmed down we retired back to our cabin while she kept up the talk while  dabbing and giving  absinthe laced sugar. Around midnight we had enough and  as the aniseed euphoria and drowsiness was starting to wear off, all decided to go to sleep. The couple and Lily promptly pulled the beds of the wall.  We all took turns going to the corridor allowing ablutions and getting ready for bed. I took the top bunk and Lily the bottom one.

We were woken up early by the train lady conductor and given tea and sweet bread which famously gets served in a large very ornate silver  teapot with drinking glasses held in equally ornate silver holders with swan-necked ears.

We had arrived at St Petersburg.

St Petersburg Fortress which had held some very famous people including Trotsky.

St Petersburg Fortress which had held some very famous people including Trotsky.

The New York steak makes US all good.

September 7, 2014

imagesNewYork steak

There is nothing more unreliable than the memories of writers. Remind them of what they wrote last year and they will vehemently deny it. Such is their hold on facts. No sooner have they put down their feeble thoughts and their mind’s shredder takes over and it all ends up into oblivion. Forgetfulness is their raison d’être for writing things down. Forget about vivid evocative pictures as absolute truth.

That’s why my posting the link to Dutch Professor’s Cees Hamelink’s ‘Apology to Putin’ ought to be taken in the same obscure vein. He might well fall in the category of being a nutcase. His writings as short-lived as a fly spinning around on the floor in a last frenzy. It is my own default position; Why not those of others?

Even so, I don’t think America was all that pleased with Mr Fidel Castro either, perched on their side of the world. I have some sympathy for Putin being chagrined about sharing a border with a Pro-West leaning country. Can you imagine the Golden arched Big M in front of the St Petersburg’s Winter Palace?

I am sure the US was miffed with the leftists governments in South America. I have seen enough Oliver Stone movies to consider that the victims of Pinochet, the uprisings of Nicaragua by the Sandinistas, many of the Latin Countries, opposed by the CIA and their induced bloody adventures, would far outweigh anything that has happened so far in the Ukraine. Don’t get me going on Colombia and their past pro US dictators. Garcia Marquez wrote all about that.

It is after all Father’s day.

As early as yesterday I was treated and feted as a good father. I chose New York Steak with peppery sauce. It was fabulous and America is the best country in the world. I haven’t had such a lovely meal for a long time. Sorry vegetarians, I admit to liking a meaty dinner but as a concession and feeble purgatory aim, I have also doubled my vegie and fish intake.

Before plunging in the details of New York Steak, I believe it is known as Porterhouse in England and in Australia. It is the short loin section at the back of the cow. I suppose ‘New York’ steak adds weight and ..above all prestige…Some of my best friends are American and I have always revered New York ,even considered visiting it many times.

An impression once caught sometimes lingers forever while others end into oblivion. I am sure that my New York steak with peppery sauce has now made me benevolent, even more determined to visit that lovely country. We might even go far South to partake in a piece of grilled, honey glazed honest Kansas Steak.
How about that?
It’s delight will last forever.

The End is Nigh

September 6, 2013

Hermitage_from_insideThe End is Nigh,

It is all so quickly over. It seemed like yesterday watching mum soaking the split peas over the (single) granite sink back in the forties. Yet, thinking of the timespan between dinosaur and IPad, a couple of mere Nano- seconds later in our universe’s evolution, it is almost over. Well, give another ten years, or more, or less.

I was hardly over my Vitrectomy getting used to endless eye drops when I reached a new stage in my own evolution. I fell over. This is a new stage I seem to have arrived at.

One of the things in growing more mature is that sleep will become more evasive. I used the word ‘more mature’ for others and not in my case. I have reversed in most of my tepid evolutionary efforts and am surprised I can still walk the talk.

We have an unwritten conjugal agreement that whoever can’t sleep moves elsewhere. Those that do sleep ought to be given preference over the restless tossing and turning insomniac. This not unreasonable. A disclaimer to this rule is when the snoring of the sleeper is so loud and disruptive that the non-sleeper is prevented from even closing one’s eyes. The air vibrates and white knuckled neighbours are knocking on walls or even ceilings, a paddy wagon is waiting outside the front door with baton drawn policeman waiting.

It was one of those nights that my lovely H padded me firmly in the ribs (followed by a kick in the groin 😉 ). “You are snoring”, she said with her lovely sonorous voice, not wishing to be unloving or unkind. “Go upstairs”, followed by, “put on the electric blanket, it will soon be less icy.” Those that know and understand the quality of a deep sleep finally arrived at after many nights of somnambulistic adventures would understand the sacrifice and heroic efforts in relinquishing and renouncing this supreme and rare state of bliss and being.

I grabbed my still warm and favourite pillow and stumbled to the upstairs bedroom. It was dark and very cold when I walked into the frigidly empty and lonely bedroom. I normally take the side nearest the window and with an outside light giving some direction I managed to get within a meter or so of my bed when it all happened. I was so needy for a soft mattress and so close.
One of the most disconcerting experiences surely would have to be stopped in one’s forward motion tract totally involuntary.

That’s what happened. As I, what I thought, would be my last final step to the mattress, my right footed plans to go forward were thwarted by getting caught into my left footed leg of my pyjama. It was the most startling surprise of my life almost overtaking that of entering the St. Petersburg Hermitage Museum back in1989.

I fell heavily forward and found myself between window and bed on the floor. I could hardly believe it. Such a strange event and in the middle of the night. I made the most of the situation by calmly surveying any possible damage. I could just about move all my parts and when I got over the shock raised myself up and went back to the door to put the light on. I steadied myself against the doorframe rubbing my forehead pensively, reflecting on that odd fall. It was then when H appeared at the bottom of the stairs. “What happened, what was that loud bang”, she asked looking up at me, still leaning.

”I fell heavily”, I answered John Wayne like in need of sympathy or at least the offer of a Band-Aid. “How”, she asked? I then explained about the pyjama leg catching my leg in forward motion to my bed and showed her the actual spot of impact. No blood, no nothing, no Band-Aid.

Go to bed now, she said. (Don’t fall)