I guess I was expecting more of the same. Meaning, that since Moscow has turned new, modern, hip, cool, I expected Peterburg to be the same. Wrong! Peter is old, as I described, built on bogs, marshland, and otherwise almost uninhabitable land by Peter the Great.
Yes, it has a European appearance, meaning old, classic architecture, but with wide boulevards connecting canals and rivers. Investment in Peter is coming in various forms. My guess is that people here would rather keep it like it is. Somehow, a bunch of high-rise condos and offices just does not fit the architecture or vibe of this city.
The most obvious newcomer is the new Mariinsky Theater, built behind the old one. The new one comes in black marble, wrapped in a vast and irregular golden glass dome. It as now become known as the “golden envelope”. But the snack bar offers champagne with caviar or smoked salmon!!!
The Mariinsky, formerly Kirov Ballet, is the reason people come. Not being a ballet or opera fan, I can only hope for some other type of performance this weekend. But the secret is to buy tickets at the box office itself, not at various outlets around the city, including hotels.
I was over by the famous Shostakovich Philharmonic last night for a weird music concert. The performance I saw was in the small theater, not the grand theater. But for a small venue, the Glinka, it was quite ornate, with decent sound. In fact, the sound was too good, based on the squeaky oboe, and resonating vibes. And did I tell you it was free?
The Mussorgsky Theater is known for their famous opera. They are known for great international performances, whether in Italian or Russian. Why would they ruin a perfectly good opera by singing it in Russian? Only Boris Godunov knows. And speaking of, where is Natasha? (just kidding, Bullwinkle fans)
But I am just across the street from the haunting Kazan Cathedral, very non-traditional Orthodox architecture. The entrance is on the east side, to satisfy Orthodox church canon. But what really makes this place interesting is its past. Completed in 1811, it was named after Our Lady of Kazan. For more than 60 years, it housed the State Museum of Atheism and Religion!! And in the 1960s, it managed to be both a functioning church and a museum to godlessness!!!
Just who is this Nevsky character? Prince Alexander Nevsky was a medieval Russian warrior. But I did finally see many young Russians drinking cheap Russian champagne last night.
But just about everywhere you turn in this city, there is a museum, cathedral or monument. There is even a Buddhist Temple, Budisky Khram. It is a blend of Tibetan Buddhist with Russian art nouveau, built in 1909.
Perhaps more uplifting will be the Museum of Musical Instruments. To balance the joy of music, the city that was home to Fyodor Dostoyevsky has preserved his home as a museum. And though Pushkin is more admired, Dostoyevsky represents more of the political and intellectual issues of 19th century Peterburg.
The Russian Museum, though quite extensive, is about as depressing a place as I have ever been, as far as an art museum. Kandinsky and Chagall were about as uplifting as I could find. Russian artists truly reflect the deep, darkness that seems to characterize this country’s history and culture.
So there you have it, my list of activities for today. I am getting more culture here than yogurt itself!
PS: I am getting a little homesick, and ready to go home! Take me home, country roads, to the place, I belong, California, mountain mama, take me home, country roads! I hear her voice in the morning hour she calls me, the radio reminds me of my home far away. Take me home to the place I belong!!!!