October 19 (cont'd)

In St. Petersburg

The Cathedral of the Resurrection

We passed by the Cathedral of the Resurrection (known as the "Church on Blood" because a tsar was assassinated there) a few times. It was closed for restoration. Olga said the "restoration" had been going on for as long as she could remember, and expressed her doubts that it'd ever actually be open to the public. The outside was quite spectacular, though. (A view of the church from Nevsky Prospect is at the top of this page.)

Kazansky Cathedral
Carved door panel from Kazansky Cathedral
Field Marshal Kutuzov
Selling ice cream

Also on Nevsky, I should mention, was Kazansky Cathedral, a huge, imposing building with gargantuan columns and iron doors with intricate carvings of historical and religious scenes. Between it and Nevsky are a couple of statues of military heroes erected to commemorate the victory over Napoleon. Street vendors were nearby selling ice cream, even in this windy, near-freezing weather. Russia must be the only country in the world where people eat ice cream to warm up.

A couple of the larger canals
Cars and canals don't mix!

Of course, while we were taking this tour, we couldn't help but cross over several canals, big and small. St. Petersburg is nothing if not well-irrigated. There seem to be hundreds of bridges crossing them; you can't get from point A to point B in the city without going over a few bridges along the way. (In fact, I was looking for one bridge in particular, but more on that later.)

I tried to get a handle on what it is that makes me obviously a foreigner. People can tell instantly, even when I don't have a camera, am not talking, and am just standing or sitting around. Posture is a key, I think. Russians seem to carry themselves with a strange sort of self-assured resignation. They are rarely relaxed in their stances; their positioning and posture seem deliberate, not haphazard and lazy like Americans'. An American -- specifically a Californian, but others too -- will drop himself onto a seat, squirm for a split second to get comfortable, then relax and focus attention elsewhere. A Russian will sit slowly and remain seated in that position until movement is required for some purpose. Russians' eyes seem to drift naturally to the floor, thought their faces remain pointed straight ahead. You often feel that Russians have glanced up from something to look at you, even if their faces are above yours. I've made a sort of game of trying to mimic as many of these things as I can observe. I imagine it looks pretty funny, especially considering I'm probably totally off-base about some of this.

A pathway in the Summer Garden
The god Saturn, in the Summer Garden
The Peter and Paul Fortress in the sunlight

While walking along the Neva, we stopped at a place called the House of Scientists, where we had lunch at a small cafe. Then we visited the Summer Garden and looked at the statues, saw a duck pond with a huge vase and a memorial to people killed during Stalin's rule (lots of memorials in this country) and went to the Peter and Paul Fortress, where all the tsars from Peter the Great on (except Nicholas II, of course) are entombed.

Then we went back to Nevsky; it was an hour to showtime by now, and Olga wanted to buy food before the stores closed. First we went to a bread and candy store. I stood in the glacial cashier's line while Olga figured out what she wanted. Then she moved me to a shorter cashier's line in the candy part of the store and joined me a moment later. The store is laid out in an L shape, with the door at the corner and the two cashiers to the right as you enter. The bread section, where both lines ended, is in the long part of the L, and the candy is to the right. The bread section was packed full of people in line, people packing bread into their plastic bags on tables jutting out into the flow of traffic on the left, people selecting and collecting bread from the shelves and counters on the right, and a few old women seemingly pushing their way randomly through the pool of bodies. On the right side of the L, past the registers, there were only a few people standing at the counters or collecting their candy, and lots of empty floor space.

Olga paid for the food and went to the candy counter, where she took a beaten plastic bag from a wad in her purse and handed it to an idle clerk along with the cashier's receipt. The clerk looked at the receipt and Olga told her what she'd bought. The goods (not all candy; some small breadsticks and hard O-shaped cookies) were slowly measured into the bad, dropped on the floor, measured again more quickly, and handed over. Then we pushed our way to the bread counter, where the single harried clerk took the receipt and gave Olga a half-loaf of French bread.

Shopping for sausage

That was part of dinner, but we wanted something to put on the bread. We went to the next food store on the street. A bouncer turned us away because there was no room for more people in the store. The third store was the charm; relatively uncrowded with a variety of items. Olga stood in line the requisite three times and we were on our way, sausage in hand. Food shopping here is an exhausting, time-consuming job. I find it interesting that food seems to be purchased in relatively small quantities; if it took me that long to get to the head of the line(s), I'd be inclined to buy several weeks' worth of food.

We entered the theater 15 minutes before showtime. The theater was a tiny one with worn-out old seats. Olga looked at the ticket and told me to find row 8, seats 5 and 6. It hadn't even occurred to me to _wonder_ if we might have been assigned seat numbers. We found our seats and I took a look around. No side or rear speakers (unsurprising) and an old video projector on a wooden platform nailed to the floor a couple rows from the front of the theater. Most of the wall lights were burned out. We sat back and waited as the theater slowly filled. As in America, "Jurassic Park" packed the house here.

And it's a wonder, because as the curtains parted, I found to my annoyance that we were being treated to a shoddy video copy of the film, obviously made by bringing a camcorder into a theater and aiming it at the screen. Very obviously, since occasionally a head would appear in the corner of the picture, at which point the picture would shift around a bit as the camcorder was moved to another seat. The sound was as poor as the picture, and the entire film was dubbed in one man's bored monotone, with no differentiation between the various characters.

We got mixed up coming out of the metro station near the apartment and mostly by luck ended up catching a private bus which dropped us off in the right place.

Go back or go to the index

Maintained by Steven Grimm <koreth@hyperion.com>.
Send mail if you have comments or suggestions.