Friday, August 19, 2016

The last days in St. Petersburg

6/13/10 (continued)

After viewing the Yusupov Palace, Marilee, another person in the group, and I took a taxi to the Dostoyevsky Museum. She had talked about wanting to do it, and I told her I would go with her if she could arrange it. Her trip leader, Evgeni, made the taxi arrangements for us.
Placard on the outside of the very simple
row-house where Dostoyevsky lived

That, too, was very interesting. It was a suite of rooms that Dostoyevsky had lived in after he had already become famous, and in which he wrote Brothers Karamazov. The rooms were quite a contrast to the Yusupov Palace, as well as go the other palaces and churches we have seen. It offered a striking example of the great economic difference between a well-known, successful, middle-class writer and the nobility—or the clergy, for that matter, although we didn’t see any of their homes on this trip. I believe that many of the clergy were younger sons of noble families, and no doubt familiar with the opulent lifestyle.
Family room, Dostoyevsky's home in St. Petersburg

There was also a set of two rooms that offered a museum-style overview of his life and times. I learned many things about Dostoyevsky that I didn’t know before. He was the son of a physician in a hospital for the indigent. He was married twice, and his second wife was enormously helpful to him in his writing. He gained national attention after a stirring eulogy to Pushkin. And he traveled a great deal, to all the major countries and many of the major cities of Europe.
Dostoyevsky's writing desk

That evening, many of us went to a ballet in the Hermitage, in a small, exquisite theater that had been commissioned by Catherine II, that retained its pillars and most of the original woodwork. The ballet was Swan Lake, music by Tchaikovsky, and the choreography followed that of the original presentation. Apparently the ending was changed to appease Russian sentiment. It was quite lovely. I believe that was the first time I had seen Swan Lake from beginning to end, although I’ve seen parts of it on several occasions. The conductor of the orchestra (a lot of instruments crammed into a small pit below the front of the stage) reminded me of Arnold—his body shape, his face shape, the glasses. Arnold always wanted to conduct the music we played on the phonograph.
The palace at Tsarskoe Selo, seen through gilded gates

The final day in St. Petersburg, we visited Tsarskoe Selo (the tsar’s village) in the town of Pushkin, in which the main attraction is a huge palace begun by Elisabeth I and modified and finished by Catherine II (“The Great”). It was absolutely over-the-top opulent, with room after room covered with mirrors and gold leaf, and hung with elaborate chandeliers, and fitted with wood-inlay flooring: reception halls, and dancing halls, and music rooms, and on and on. Elisabeth began the palace in baroque style; Catherine modified it in neoclassical style.
Mannequin of Catherine the Great in a gilded room

On the grounds of Tsarskoe Selo

Monday, August 8, 2016

Hermitage and the Yusupov Palace

Tuesday, June 8 (continued)

Most of those from the boat went back after the guided tour of the Hermitage, but some of us elected to stay in the museum for independent browsing. One of the things I wanted to see was a special exhibit on Korean art. Brenda Kim, another single female traveler in the group, also wanted to see the Korean exhibit, so we both went there first.

Korean print on exhibit at the Hermitage

It was an interesting experience, seeing Korean artifacts again after nearly a decade. I did visit the Korean section of the British Museum while I was there earlier during this odyssey, but that held mostly furniture and pottery. The exhibit in the Hermitage was an eclectic collection of jewelry, clay statuettes, screen painting, stone Buddhas, and pottery. One vase—white with blue figures like Ming Pottery—had a magpie on it. The Russian word for that is copok (sorok), which, in Russian also means forty, but that may also be the Korean word for magpie.[1] I have been trying to remember the word for several years now. I think it is the national bird of Korea. All in all, I was glad to have visited the exhibit. It brought back memories of Korea, including both positive and negative feelings I had in the country. There was also a rubbing of the symbol of the Emilie bell—a girl surrounded by a flowing scarf—on exhibit in a glass case. I had seen the original in Korea, ten years previously. A photo of the bell is in the book, Korea, Are You at Peace.

The second day in St. Petersburg, I went with part of the group on an optional tour of the Yusupov Palace. We stopped at a synagogue on the way that had been operational for about a century. Someone in the group said that it was structured like a Sephardic—rather than Ashkenazy—synagogue. The wonder is that it survived the Stalinist era. But perhaps Stalin did not have as much antipathy toward Jews (Marx was a Jew) as he did toward Christians.

Gilded room in the Yusupov Palace

The Yusupov Palace was intriguing in many ways. First, it was opulent, in the fin-du-siecle opulence of the wealthy of many nations, including the U.S.—artifacts from around the world; hand-wrought furnishings; highly decorative wall finishing; light fixtures for the gas lamps that had become the vogue; and family portraits by notable artists.

Basement room, Yusupov Palace where Rasputin was murdered

Of historic interest was the fact that it was in that home that Rasputin was murdered, a murder largely engineered by the family’s eldest son, Felix, who managed to escape the dragnet set out by the tsar for the conspirators. The murder was dramatized by wax figures of the conspirators and the victim in the underground quarters of the young count, as well as by the guide’s narrative.

Zinaida, mother of Felix Yusupov, in Asiatic dress

Of additional interest was the fact that the Yusupovs had originally been Tatar Muslims who had been rewarded for service to some earlier tsar. The family had managed their money well and had become one of the wealthiest families in Russia—wealthy enough for the young Count Felix to marry a princess, Irina, niece of the ill-fated Nicholas II.

[1] My conjecture was wrong. The Korean word is kkachi.