Russian Museum, Martyinov, Hermitage and Chaikovsky

Chetverg (Thursday) and Pyatniza (Friday) 25-26 November 2004

Note

See Introductory Note on first page above.

Copyright: David Morris, Kimberley, South Africa, 1 May 2005

Visitors: 1994

 


My plan for the day was to visit the Russian Museum; and later I would meet up with Stanislav and Vladimir [Vjera had flown back to Vienna already] and join them for a performance at the Mussorgsky Opera and Ballet Theatre.

 

Internet

 

But my first priority was to establish contact with Kimberley. The next best thing to a telephone was to find an internet cafe, or rather a cafe with internet (which latter, according to the Rough Guide, was not uncommon).

 

Venturing outside, I found it was actually now snowing. This presented certain technical difficulties since I had planned also to do a lot more photography, while light permitted. I was soon also to discover that as the camera itself cooled to ambient temperature, so the light metre faltered and eventually failed (the following day one whole spool was lost because of the camera shutter not closing). However, a few quite successful shots were to be had.

 

Along Bolshoya Morskaya ulitsa I spotted a restaurant that seemed a likely spot for an internet facility, and so I entered and, giving it my best, I asked for electronnaya posta = email. An attractive young lady smiled and directed me down a corridor, at the end of which I found... a toilet!! My Russian was clearly not equal to the task! I later scanned the Rough Guide again, and realised I might have had better luck by simply enquiring after:  [Cyrillic]  - which is a straight transliteration of “Internet”. (Many Russians, incidentally, are concerned at the huge influx of English words into Russian).

 

Presently in Bolshaya Konyushennaya ulitsa, having wandered down to the Dvortsovaya ploshchad and taken more pictures of the Winter Palace, I located a 24 hour coffee shop where, from outside, I had spotted computer terminals. With a cup of coffee at my side I logged on and within minutes had not only received a batch of emails from Noeleen but had also exchanged messages with her - she happened at that moment to be on-line in Kimberley!! I then also typed a message to the family at large, which I sent to Noeleen and Peggy and Shirley and Michael for forwarding as they saw fit. All was well in Kimberley, although obviously Noeleen and the boys were missing me. It was very good to be in touch again!

 

St Catherine’s: 210th anniversary of the birth of Sophia Sarah Giornovichi

 

From here I popped around into Nevskiy prospekt and to St Catherine’s again to pick up an extra copy of their booklet. I lit another votive candle, bringing to mind Jarnovic’s “Petite Sofie”, our ancestor Sophy Hull, who was born on this day, 25 November, exactly 210 years previously, in the year1794, in London.

 

Square of Arts

 

Around the corner from St Catherine’s is the Mikhailovskaya ulitsa, which leads to Ploshchad Iskusstv, which means Square of Arts. In the middle of the square is a post-war Mikhail Anikushin statue of Pushkin, posed as if reading his poetry. On two sides are, respectively, the St Petersburg Philharmonia (where, inter alia, Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis was premiered), and the Mussorgsky Opera and Ballet Theatre (formerly the Maliy Theatre, which is where Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk was premiered in 1934 to great critical acclaim, only to be denounced in Pravda as “Chaos instead of music”. His greatest public success was with his Seventh “Leningrad” Symphony, broadcast from here in August 1942. In the post-war cultural purge, the Zhdanovshchina, Shostakovich was accused of “formalist perversions and anti-democratic tendencies”). Straight ahead is the Mikhailovskiy dvorets (Palace), which houses the Russkiy muzey (Russian Museum). This was my principal destination for the day.

 

Russian Museum

 

The Russian Museum collection was begun by Alexander III, and was opened to the public in this building by his son Nicholas II (the last Tsar) in 1898. Today it contains some 400 000 works, swelled after the revolution when many private collections were confiscated: works by Russian artists came here; the rest went to the Hermitage.

 

The entrance leads down into a basement area where there are security offices, ticket offices, restrooms and of course ample cloakrooms where one hands in coats, hats, bags. From here, a flight of stairs takes one up to the galleries, at the entrance to which one has one’s ticket cancelled, by the first of many hundreds of security women, middle-aged or beyond, who sit in each of the exhibition halls. Other women come forward offering guided tours. One has some sense of what one wishes to see, and so one declines the offer (saving Rubles). But there is only so much time, and many thousands of metres of art work: one is resigned to the prospect of seeing but a fraction and being content with that.

 

The building itself is of course hugely impressive - the very floors are, in most halls, decorated with inlaid designs, with marble and moulded features up the walls, and richly painted and decorated ceilings. Period furniture is displayed where appropriate to complete an eighteenth or a nineteenth century setting.

 

Since Russian art mirrors Russian history, art and architecture being a “site of struggle” all the way through, whether at the time of the Patriarch Nikon, of Peter the Great, or of Stalin, I was interested to follow the roughly chronological arrangement of galleries. Strangely enough, this meant starting at the upper floor. Here one is transported back 900 years into the mists of old Russia, when Christianity was new on the Steppe, and from which time, for centuries, Russian art was nearly exclusively religious. Mediaeval monks fasted and prayed as they painted icons on wooden panels - the act of painting was itself a spiritual devotion. When Nikon reformed the liturgy in the seventeenth century he poked out the eyes of icons that offended him, while the leader of the Old Believers, Avvakum, condemned new images of Immanuel the Saviour resembling pot-bellied Germans. Worse was to come when Peter the Great transferred the state icon workshop from the Kremlin to St Petersburg (snipping off beards and westernising dress-codes as he did so!), and then concentrated his efforts in promoting secular art instead. He sent young artists to be trained in western Europe and began a collection of imports from there, drawing in west European artists as well. This dramatic break in Russian art-making is quite palpably felt as one moves, after the first four halls of icons, into a space that is clearly a shadow of another tradition entirely. In time this new tradition would come into its own, also moving beyond the portraiture and military epics that flattered the court and the aristocracy, to tackle social issues through Russian eyes. In the 1860s the “Peredvizhniki” or “Wanderers” evaded censorship by showing their paintings at “wandering” exhibitions in the provinces: they frequently drew upon biblical themes and historical subjects, with strong social commentary and, often, with more than a tinge of Slavic mysticism and nationalist pride. The poor appear as central figures, as they had been doing in literature, for example in the works of Dostoevsky. Ivan Kramskoy, Nicholas Ge and Ilya Repin are some of the principal artists of the movement. Vasily Polenov’s Christ and the Adulteress is powerful.

 

Examples of more recent paintings are rotated and often sent abroad (as a means of raising much needed funds), and I did not get to see Kandinsky and a whole host of other modern Russian painters. But one of the striking ‘modern’ works I was fortunate to see was Natalya Goncharova’s Velosipedist (which of course translates as Cyclist). She was a co-founder of a pre-1914 breakaway movement called the Donkey’s Tail. All art was dead or decadent, she asserted, except in Russia: Picasso was a fraud, and Cubism was old hat. Her co-founder, Mikhail Larionov later launched a style called Rayonism, which declared that the genius of the age consisted of: “trousers, jackets, shoes, tramways, buses, aeroplanes, railways, magnificent ships...”

 

There is a website, not as fabulous as the Hermitage Museum website - but worth a browse: http://www.rusmuseum.ru/eng

 

Time runs out rapidly - it was already dark when I set off again from the Russian Museum, walking down Nevskiy prospect, to the Dom kompozitorov to prepare for the evening’s events.

 

Mussorgsky Opera and Ballet Theatre

 

Vladimir arrived to fetch us just in time and, with Stanislav, we hastened out through the snow, along the Moyka and across to the Ploshchad Iskusstv, weaving along crowded pavements, to the Mussorgsky Opera and Ballet Theatre. We got there virtually as the ushers, rather stern-looking women, were shutting the doors to the auditorium. Vladimir had seats for us right up front and we were barely seated as the overture commenced.

 

At this point I hadn’t the vaguest idea what we were seeing, but it was clearly very cotemporary, with dancers lunging out onto the stage with metal props and ropes and going through anguished gyrations to harsh thrashings from the orchestra. I found it physically unsettling, right up close, not having had a moment to compose myself nor obtain any inkling as to what the performance was all about. There were, occasionally, harsh electronic sound effects over the orchestra (some members in the pit - to judge by their expressions - disapproved!). This only added to the mounting perturbation, and by the interval I was feeling somewhat frayed!

 

As at the Mariinskiy, there are a number of cafe-like spaces and reception halls off the auditorium and some of these have exhibits relating to the history of the theatre. I was also able to purchase a programme - not that it helped enormously, being entirely in Russian. (I would discover that English programmes could be obtained at about three times the price). From this and with some help from Stanislav, I learned that the work was a new ballet, in two acts, by the contemporary St Petersburg composer, Nikolay Martyinov, and it was called The Petersburg's Dreams (it had been premiered a few weeks previously).

 

Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment was the inspiration behind it, it seems, and it was now possible to picture the setting, the Haymarket Square or Sennaya ploshchad (I had seen a nineteenth century painting of it at the Russian Museum earlier in the day). In Dostoevsky’s day it was an embodiment of squalor, vice and degradation, and in the story it is where the protagonist Raskolnikov ultimately kneels in atonement for his murder of the moneylender. Martyinov’s Raskolnikov danced feverishly with his Katerina Ivanovna and Sonya Marmeladova and other characters from the drama.

 

(Incidentally, following the revolution of 1917, Fyodor Dostoevsky's texts were "corrected" for political reasons. Significant changes in spelling often altered the spiritual significance of his works).

 

It was a very dramatic performance. Once again, one was amazed at the crowded auditorium, the support in this city even for the very new and avant-garde.

 

Walking back to the Dom, quite late into the night, we came upon two women on horseback on the pavement, amidst thronging pedestrians along Nevskiy prospekt, whom Vladimir tipped. I have no idea who they might have been - so incongruously on horses, this late - but it occurred to me, the next day, that possibly these were folk who own carriages outside the Winter Palace and take tourists to see the local sights.

 

Supper, kommunalka-style

 

In a street behind the Dom we popped in at a cafe or small shop to buy some bread and cheese and pickled Herrings, and a bottle of red wine (alcohol available 24/7), for a kommunalka-style supper in our shared kitchen/sit-down space along our ground floor corridor. Some of our discussion revolved on the strengths and weaknesses of socialism, and on recent history in the former Yugoslavia. 

 

Pyatniza

Friday

 

For the last time, Stanislav and I climbed the stairs to the breakfast room, our treat this morning being the sausage (see description of breakfasts, Tuesday morning). [ ] Downstairs afterwards we said our farewells, and shortly afterwards I set out intending, first, to see if there was a concert worth going to in the evening, and then to spend the greater part of the day at the Hermitage (Winter Palace).

 

Ticket to the opera

 

Somehow I took a wrong turn and found myself in rather unfamiliar streets, then, turning left (knowing that sooner or later I should come up against the Neva), I realised I had ventured south and not north (as intended) of Nevskiy prospect. Landmarks from there guided me to Ploshchad Iskusstv. And off this square, I popped in at the Mussorgsky Opera and Ballet Theatre, buying a ticket for the evening’s performance of another Russian great, Pyotr Ilyich Chaikovsky’s opera Evgeniy Onegin - based of course on that most influential and widely popular of Russian poems, by Pushkin. It was by pure chance that it was these works that I was seeing over these three days - and in this instance that it was this theatre I had stopped at (well, simply because I knew where it was!). The musical and literary combinations of Mussorgsky, Martyinov, Dostoevskiy, Chaikovsky and Pushkin drew together major strands of Russian culture (and history), which now, afterwards, lead one into further reading, and appreciating the experience much more.

 

Keeping Moscow time and other noises

 

From here my destination was the Hermitage, but I note that I had been jotting comments about street sounds in my pocket notebook, in the course of my walk, initially provoked by the bang and shudder of the noon gun. (This immediately brought to mind Cape Town, where there is also a gun that goes off, on Signal Hill, at noon each day). In response a bell, in a clock tower in Nevskiy prospect, was chiming the hour. Two canon at the Peter and Paul Fortress, across the Neva, mark Moscow time.

 

In Tsarist times, the northern end of the Bolshaya Morskaya ulitsa, approaching the General Staff building with its arch-way, ran along the Pulcovo Meridian - the then capital’s equivalent of the meridian at Greenwich - to which, presumably, Russian time once ran. Incidentally, when Peter the Great dragged Old Russia kicking a screaming into the eighteenth century, he converted the old Orthodox liturgical calendar to that used in the Protestant West, the Julian. Rome had gone Gregorian in 1582, but when northern Europe followed suit - England, for instance, in 1752 - Russia stuck to its newly acquired Julian calendar. It was only in February 1918, under new Soviet rule, that the accumulated error (13 days) was dropped and the Gregorian system adopted (but not by the Church Slavonic). Hence the October Revolution being commemorated in November. Odd to have synchronised dates with an outside world they would otherwise so thoroughly eschew...

 

A thumping counterpoint to the boom of the gun and the chimes of Nevskiy prospect is provided by commercial Western pop, and doubtless its home-grown forms, with rap, hip hop, Russian reggae, etc etc, that emanates, sometimes loudly, from shops along these streets. For evening entertainment, there are apparently many pop, dance and rock clubs and live venues; also jazz and blues (an indigenous jazz tradition dating back to the 1930s).

 

Then there is the traffic noise. Traffic police vehicles emit, not a modulating siren sound, but a loud rather unpleasant electronic bvraaaaaaaaa. There is a wide variety of cars, from spluttering soviet age Zaporozhets, to upmarket Volgas, to the latest in expensive German makes, and anything one is likely to encounter in the West. In the iced up streets, and in the evening, it was not unusual to walk past parked cars with engines idling, some seemingly driverless: clearly, warming up and/or combating the freeze requires such measures. Minibus taxis, trolley buses and trams are forms of public transport - and then there is the Metro (see Saturday).

 

Voices - throngs of pedestrians. The melody that is Russian. And then a bunch of students uttering “Ja Ja Ja..” - Germans! “The girls’ faces brighter than roses” - Pushkin’s phrase - is a good description for the many chatting, smiling and serious faces framed in dark furs and scarves and coats of every type. The Russian fur hat is frequently to be seen, but by no means universal.

 

[Some population statistics: 4.7 million people live in St Petersburg (some 3% of the Russian population), about 55% women, 45% men, and including mainly Russians, Ukrainians, Belorussians, Moldavians, Tatars, Jews, Karelians, Azerbaidzhanians and Gypsies. A range of faiths include, predominantly Russian Orthodox, as well as Roman Catholic, Baptist, Islamic, Buddhist, and Jewish].

 

Walking to the Hermitage

 

From Ploshchad Iskusstv I walked down beside the Church of the Saviour on the Blood, where I took a number of photographs, none of which, alas, have come out; and then down past the building where Jarnovic had lived, to the Neva embankment, and westwards towards the Hermitage. On the Neva, a tug-cum-ice-breaker was bashing a path between chunks of ice for a freighter, which was probably one of the last vessels through here for a while, for by the following day the river was fairly solidly frozen-over. A bitterly cold wind whistled in from the west. Clouds had dispersed to some extent, the sun turning the grey snow quite exquisitely white. What should have been marvellous shots across the Dvortsovaya ploshchad also were on the spool of film that was lost. For part of the way I walked along the direct route between the Jarnovic apartment and the Palace, which presumably was as close as one might get to walking in the footsteps of our ancestor - for in the 1780s it was in the employ of this court at this palace that he earned his daily bread.

 

Hermitage Museum

 

One enters the Zimniy dvorets - the Winter Palace - through a regal, colonnaded archway into the vast inner courtyard, at the north side of which is the main entrance to the palace itself. A vast marbled reception lobby has basement cloakrooms, restrooms etc. Ticket in hand, one proceeds via two security checkpoints, beyond which friendly guides offer their services. In the course of my wandering about in the Hermitage I was aware of many such guides conversing in nearly every tongue from English to Japanese, and one who was rapidly signing and gesticulating with a visitor who was deaf. (Particular language-specific tours are organised at specified times). As at the Russian Museum, each exhibition hall has its attendant lady, seated at an entrance. Museum staff were sealing up windows in one part of the museum, gradually upgrading collection management/environment control (a major thrust of Hermitage activities since the end of Soviet rule). November being the most “off” part of the off season (variable weather, says the tourist literature), the palace was not crowded, but it was far from empty. Perhaps a thousand people or more roamed about this huge museum while I was there. (In summer the queue at the entrance typically stretches out as far as the Alexander Column in the middle of the square, and tourists [3 million per annum] are advised to arrive an hour before opening time and hope the wait is not too long!). Groups of students thronged through, possibly from the provinces, or from the university - there were many people of student or high school age. One bunch of youngsters was a smart platoon of naval cadets. There were tour groups aplenty, several of them from the Far East. By far the majority of visitors seemed to be Russian-speaking.

 

Even more so than at the Russian Museum, there is no hope of seeing anything above a small fraction of the museum in a single visit. Indeed the total collection at the Hermitage - billed as the largest art museum in the world - consists of over 2.8 million items: just to glance at each one, it has been said, would take nine years! Not everything is on display, of course, but then to visit all of the exhibition halls would entail 10 km of walking! The sheer scale of the place is simply incredible! The history of the collection dates back to Peter the Great, who purchased maritime scenes during his visit to Holland at the end of the seventeenth century, initiating an activity that would become an obsession with the later Romanovs. The Hermitage Collection as such was begun by Catherine II (the Great), one of the greatest art collectors of all time. (It was of course under her patronage that Jarnovic was employed at the Imperial Court in the 1780s). She bought more than 1500 Old Masters; 1200 architectural drawings; 250 Roman busts and bas-reliefs. She commissioned portraits, furniture, Wedgwood and Sevres dinner services, and 32 000 copies of antique cut gems. The Maliy Ermitazh (Small Hermitage) was built as an annex to the Palace, as her retreat and for housing the burgeoning collection. Later was added the Bolshoy Ermitazh (Large Hermitage), St Petersburg’s first purpose-built art gallery. Today almost the entire Winter Palace is taken up by the Hermitage Museum, as well as other venues such as the General Staff building across the Dvortsovaya ploshchad. Alexander I acquired 98 pictures from Napoleon’s wife (many stolen from other collections!), making it then probably the finest art collection in Europe. After the revolution in 1917 the Hermitage assemblage was swelled three-fold with the addition of confiscated private collections; while priceless further items were “acquired” by the Red Army as it swept through eastern Germany in 1945.

 

My plan was to proceed fairly rapidly via the State Rooms to the twentieth century exhibition halls - having missed much of the twentieth century art at the Russian Museum - and then to take in whatever else fell along my path on a gradual descent. One of the highlights was the exhibition of wall painting fragments depicting monks from the Monastery, ‘The Caves of a Thousand Buddhas' (4th to early 13th century) at Dunhuang, Western China. The Oriental halls are regionally comprehensive, the art works from India (some of which were acquired via eastern Germany in 1945!) being especially impressive.

 

From the entrance lobby, one ascends via the stupendous Jordan Staircase, with its brilliant red carpets, marble, statues, and gilt, its surrounding walls dripping with ornamentation. From here, the State Rooms... the Throne Rooms, the Armorial Hall, the 1812 Gallery - each in its way a riot of decoration, chandeliers, drapes, statues, and, of course, paintings and priceless objets d’art. At the end of the 1812 Gallery, the Gros portrait of Napoleon on the Bridge at Arcole. From here, a stairway to the halls above, covering modern European art. Alas, several of these were closed preparatory to a move across the square to the General Staff building. Thus I did not see the important Picasso and Matisse works from the Shchukin and Morozov collections (about 50 paintings altogether), purchased by these philanthropists in the years prior to the First World War. But I did savour several works by Renoir (inter alia, Girl with a fan), Gauguin (several Tahitian studies), van Gogh, Cezanne (including Self Portrait), Monet (the wonderful fog-bound Waterloo Bridge). Two works by Kandinsky. A number of Rodin marbles. A powerful Bourdelle Beethoven. A floor lower, French and English paintings, many of them contemporary with Catherine II, some actually commissioned by her (such as Sextet - the Spanish Concert, by Vanloo - illustrating her passion for music). It was thrilling, standing before these late eighteenth century paintings, in this building, to wonder to what extent the rich tones of Jarnovic’s playing once echoed off any of these very canvasses: it is entirely possible that they did.

 

The Tsars’ Gallery is lined with vast portraits of the emperors and empresses of Russia from Peter I onwards, with a few of their significant siblings. Alongside is the Concert Hall, in which is the enormous St Alexander Nevsky Sarcophagus, made from 1.5 tonnes of silver! Beyond it, the Malachite Drawing Room, with its breathtaking view over the Neva, where the pilasters, fireplace, tables and knickknacks are all crafted from that lustrous green stone from the Urals which gives the room its name. It was here that Kerensky’s Provisional Government met rather grandly from July 1917; and it was in the adjoining White Dining Room that they were arrested during the October Revolution and the Storming of the Winter Palace.

 

There is an excellent website, with masses of digitised material from the collections - well worth looking at:


http://www.hermitagemuseum.org/html_En/

 

I purchased a book and video on the Hermitage, and a number of postcards featuring paintings; and then enjoyed a coffee and jam tart in the tearoom. Here there were internet terminals and I used the opportunity to send a message home.

 

When I emerged, trudging through the snow, it was already getting dark. Horses and two carriages outside in the Palace Square, shivering surely, hung around waiting for tourists - they probably do a roaring trade in summer, and must obviously get enough custom in winter to warrant such a frosty vigil.

 

Chaikovsky’s house, Gogol, and return to Dom kompozitorov

 

In view of the evening’s programme, I had planned to walk along Malaya Morskaya ulitsa, passing beneath the windows of the home of Chaikovsky, with other historical sites in the same block or two including Gogol’s house. Gogol developed a gloomy perspective on the city, declaring in The Government Inspector that here “everything breathes falsehood”. Feeling misunderstood and victimised, he left town. Gogol, who was an epileptic, was mistakenly buried alive in St Petersburg in 1852: when his grave was opened some years later, claw marks were found under the lid...).

 

Vladimir visited in the evening and was delighted that I had secured a ticket for the opera, and mentioned that he had laid on a programme of activities for the morning, and had arranged for a taxi to take us to the airport in the afternoon.

 

Chaikovsky

 

I made sure of my route this time before disappearing in the wrong direction (as I had done in the morning), and arrived at the Mussorgsky Opera and Ballet Theatre in good time. At the cloak room I was advised to loan a pair of opera glasses, which cost an extra few tens of Rubles (I didn’t use them once!); obtained a programme (Cyrillic at r30 - an English programme, I discovered, would have cost me r100!); and found my way upstairs to the entrance to the upper-most, low-price gallery. This theatre (capacity 1239 seats), with its blend of orange velvet and silver-decorated balconies, is not as well appointed as the Mariinskiy - on the ceiling there were signs of shabby maintenance. Seated next to me was a fellow who was very seriously writing notes in the tiniest hand-writing in a small notebook not unlike the one I was clutching. In front of us there were three older-generation women out to enjoy a cheap ticket night at the opera. For the rest, we were in a sea of school kids, perhaps 14-15 year-olds, probably on a school tour from the provinces. Probably, the opera was the last place they wanted to be at. It was very much hoped that once the performance got underway they would settle down. Alas, throughout the first act there was one particular individual, a decidedly unpleasant lad, and his cronies, who jabbered on and on, sending SMSs to friends on the other side of the auditorium, drinking from cans they had smuggled in - no doubt that it was alcoholic - not making the least effort to be quiet.

 

It was fascinating, subsequently, to read Johan Ragnevad’s remarks in his “St Petersburg Letters” (http://www.opera-l.org/files/st-petersburg.mv), that: “something that disturbed me a great deal in Russia was the inability of the audience to be really quiet, especially during orchestral interludes. Segments featuring instrumental music are universally regarded as time for conversation with the neighbours. When I asked the lady sitting next to me the reason for this behaviour, she didn't even understand the question.” So.

 

The interval came up not a moment too soon. I had essentially missed the entire first Act, so distracted was I, and I drowned my regret in a glass of champagne. One of the lady ushers promised to do something about it, letting me have a different seat that afforded me a superb appreciation of both the orchestra and the action-filled second and third Acts.

 

The story of Evgeniy Onigen is rather loosely based on the Pushkin poem, the libretto prepared by Chaikovsky himself with the help of Konstantin Shilovsky, a minor poet of the time. It opens in the setting of a country estate, where Olga and her sister Tatyana are visited by Lensky, a poet, with a companion who has come along somewhat against his wishes. Lensky’s interest is in wooing Olga, while Tatyana falls for his arrogant friend, Onegin. Tatyana declares her feelings in a letter but is rebuffed by Onegin who finds these country people and their provincial sensibilities boring. Sumptuous balls with magnificent dancing - Chaikovsky waltzes as marvellous as they come - frame the drama in the second and third Acts. The height of the action follows a ball given in Tatyana’s honour, at which Onegin incenses Lensky by dancing with his Olga. He is challenged to a duel, and, as fate would have it, Lensky is mortally wounded in their dawn meeting. Years later Onegin encounters Tatyana again, at a magnificent ball in a palace in St Petersburg, where she is now the wife of a prince. She rejects his impassioned pleas: any opportunity for love has irretrievably passed.

 

The poignancy of Pushkin’s poem derives in part from its anticipating the poet’s own end, in a duel not long after this poem was composed.

 

As a small token of my gratitude to the lady usher who had been so kind, I wrote, on the reverse side of one of my museum business cards, the word Spasibo meaning “thank you”. She strained to read it at first - hand-written Cyrillic being different from the printed form that I had attempted - but after a moment she responded, in her best English: “Please! Please!” - from the Russian “pozhaluysta” (meaning “please” and, presumably, “my pleasure”). I could not adequately express how grateful I was.

 

It was with a warm glow that I stepped out into the muffled street, with snow, wafting in off the Baltic, settling gently where it would in small white salty specks. From a side entrance came a chatter of assorted musicians, in scarves and furs, clutching their various instruments, and dispersing up and across the street. Presently, in a cold dark alley a few blocks away, coming from a quite different venue, I passed a man scuttling along with his ’cello case. Another night of St Petersburg music-making was winding down. (But what Paganini caprices or other delights might not as yet be filling the late night hours...somewhere in this great cultured city?)

 

Along the Moyka Embankment, just prior to the Politseyskiy most (Police Bridge - an old St Petersburg name predating “People’s Bridge”, as it was called under Soviet rule), I came upon a sign referring to the “European Walkway” - evidently one of many such signs marking historic sites reflecting the city’s European heritage. Probably part of the city’s tercentenary celebrations in 2003. This particular sign commemorated Anton Manuilovich Devier, alias Antonio Manuel de Viera from Portugal, who, in the days of Peter the Great, managed a regulated market in the city until noon, and a free market in the afternoon!

 

It was extremely cold out and I was glad to be tucked under the duvet soon after getting back to the Dom kompozitorov.