Monday, July 26, 2010

It's Been...

One week since I've posted last, I apologize once again. I got a lot to write so I might as well get down to it. When I left you last I was still haunted with thoughts of putting small children in jars. I am proud to say that since then I have not encountered any canned mutants, and I am rather content know that if I so choose, I never have to set foot in Kunstkamera again. My past week has been real busy, as evidenced by the fact that I didn't post anything. I spent Tuesday afternoon with Lyuda, trying first to find, and then go to St. Petersburg's "water museum". I was rather fascinated by the idea, what exactly does a water museum display, collections of rare water samples? The history of water? As it turns out, the water museum is a history of all of Peter's many different water ways and water works. I would like to say that the museum was fascinating, however, I never got to saw it. As per usual, the museum was inexplicably closed. We ended up spending the evening walking around the area, one of St. Petersburg's more scenic neighborhoods. Wednesday was spent as the mass grave for the victims of the Leningrad Siege. The area, where over 490,000 unidentified civilians and soldiers lie buried, is truly sobering, and oddly beautiful at the same time. To think that one could almost bury every American who died in the War in that same area is mind blowing. Not only that, but you could bury all the dead and NOT know who they were. The park, not typical of most things Soviet, is rather unpretentious in its design. Simple dirt mounds with stones marking the year of the grave, flank a central walkway leading up to a statue of "the Motherland" behind which stands a wall marking the spot as the place where the heroes of the city are buried. For being basically a piece of propaganda of the Soviet government, the words written there and the park as a whole were surprisingly touching and moving. I would have taken pictures, but of course that was the day my camera decided to malfunction and stop taking pictures. The rest of the week was spent in obscurity without a camera. The highlight being Friday, where a group of friends and I went to St. Mixail's Castle, otherwise know as the Engineer's Castle. I think I explained the history of the palace in an earlier post, so I'll forgo giving you all another long winded history lesson, however much I might enjoy them. The castle ended up being rather disappointing. The castle is filled with secret passages, trap doors, and tunnels built by the paranoid Tsar Paul, but the museum made no mention of them. Instead, it displayed some rather unimpressive Russian art from the 18th and 19th Centuries, which mostly consisted of Russian artists trying to rather poorly knock off the art of their decidedly more talented Western European compatriots. To top it all off, there was a temporary exhibition of contemporary and modern art. As some of you may know, I rather despise modern art, and let's just say this exhibit did nothing to change that feeling...
The weekend I spent doing things with my friend Evan. Everyone else went on a trip to the medieval city of Pskov, and only Evan and I were left to keep poor Peter company. Saturday we hoped to go to Pavlovsk, home of the Tsars after Catherine up until the end of the Monarchy in 1917. Due to some rather unexpected and rather heavy rain, we delayed our trip, and instead spent the afternoon at the Russian ethnographic museum. The museum, still heavily reminiscent of a Soviet propaganda effort, has seemingly endless displays of the endless number of ethnic groups in the former USSR's borders. The museum was thoroughly enjoyable, though the museum never explained how the shore dwelling reindeer herders (the rough translation of some ethnic group's name) managed to make not only clothing, but roofs and boats out of fish skin. I really wanted to know! I had no clue you could skin a fish, let alone use that skin to make a house!
Sunday we made our much anticipated trip to Pavlovsk, which is about 20 kilometers south of the city. The palace is surrounded by seemingly endless parks studded with, as my guidebook puts it, "hidden temples and the like", while we didn't find the Temple of Doom or anything like that, we did find some rather nice statues of Greek gods and perhaps my favorite structure круглый зал, or roughly translated, circley hall. The place itself was quite beautiful, but like all the Tsars' palaces, it was painfully ornate, often to the point of being garish. Sandwiched between tours in Russian, German, French, and English, we managed to learn quite a bit about the museum. The most interesting, ridiculous, and tragic part of the palace's history the Second World War. Occupied by the Germans in 1941, the palace, beyond being looted, as most all landmarks were by the Nazis, the palace largely survived four years of warfare intact. After the museum's liberation in 1945 something tragic occurred, the Red Army accidentally blew up the palace... Now, at this point, like me, you may be wondering, "How does one accidentally blow up one's palace?" I'll tell you, smoke a cigarette in a room full of landmines like one genius Red Army soldier, and you can kiss your cultural heritage goodbye. In the ensuing inferno the palace was largely reduced to rubble, understandable, since most of the palace's 100+ rooms had been booby-trapped with explosives. Due to a painstaking restoration effort however, the palace has been largely restored to its former grandeur.
Today was our second to last day of class, and probably my MVP performance of the summer. In addition to supplying a nearly ready written script for my classes final presentation (thanks to second year Russian we will be performing a comic rendition of Pushkin's "Queen of Spades" with me once again taking on the role of the beautiful young Liza) I spent over an hour today giving a presentation of Soviet Policy during the first months of WWII. Needless to say I was feeling pretty good about myself academically. To top it all off, I passed my first random document check by the Russian police. My ramshackle photocopy passport, coupled with my rather vehement assertions that all my documents were in order I'm pretty sure made the poor cop wish he had picked on someone else to try and extort for money.
That about does it from here, I'm currently lying on my bed recovering from a delicious dinner of sausage, sauerkraut, soup, and 11.5% alcohol by volume beer. And with that I leave you with a video of Russian tanks dancing ballet, oh Russia how I love thee. Hope all is well with you guys!

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