Spent the early morning writing blog posts in my bed. It was a luxurious moment, relaxing in a square of sunlight, sipping my tea, resizing photos. I have to remind myself there’s no hurry to get anywhere, I am already here. No rushing in Russia.
Planned to do an audio guide walking tour of the Peter and Paul Fortress. Reading about it in the Eyewitness guide over my breakfast porridge, I started worrying about all the many variables. It’s a vast walled-island fortress. I don’t know which gate to enter. My mind started telling me I needed a day off. I should rest. I had a sudden urge to get back in bed, but the truth was I just felt anxious. Fortunately for me, I’ve learned that feelings aren’t facts, so I acknowledged my emotions, and got ready to go.
I switched my venue to the Kunstkamera, Peter the Great’s personal collection of artifacts acquired in the spirit of scientific inquiry. It sounded smaller, more contained. Smithsonian lite. I Ubered over in no traffic to speak of, with Dale Earnhardt Sr. behind the wheel. JK! It’s probably Mario Andretti. No crowds, no lines, no waiting. I opened the museum entry door and did my windmill, flailing thing. The threshold the door closes against abruptly dropped six inches **
I did the ticket booth and coat check waltz. It was rubles (cash) on the barrel here. Good thing I brought plenty. The building was sturdy, but showing signs of hard use and lack of upkeep. Two upper floors were closed. It began with tableaus of Inuit life – tools and clothing, hunting gear and toys. There were posed figures; a family unit, and a shaman tricked out in his rig. I liked this child’s toy model of a kayak.And this ritual basket , something my talented artist friend, Gin Petty, would appreciate.
This ritual mask reminded me of another ritual, in Golding’s Lord of the Flies
Before I go further, let me say that I’d read up on this museum and knew there were some creepy exhibits. My notes read – Peter The Great’s Anthropology and Ethnography Museum. Utter weirdness and cool shit. I thought I was prepared.
WARNING NOTE: Read no further if you are squeamish. Just don’t. Resist your curiosity. Skip down to the next sentence in bold.
The large well-lit room held glass jars of deformed infants and animals that Peter the Great collected. Scores of jars packed with the pitiful, pathetic and horrific. And not one two-headed baby in a jar, oh no. Shelf after shelf of them, from the utterly broken (hematomaed flippered open-spined cyclops) to the barely dented (a harelip). I thanked God I didn’t see this when I was of childbearing age. The fetuses weren’t even the worst part. To my modern CG-informed eyes they didn’t look real, they looked like Blood Salvage horror movie props. No, what got me was the shelf with a row of baby arms in glass decanters. Tiny, tender little infant arms. I thought of the story from Apocalypse Now; the guerrilla army that lopped off all the vaccinated arms of children. The horror, the horror. That’s when I wished I could run the tape backward, erase the memory.
Recall that Peter did this in the spirit of enlightened scientific inquiry. These deformed fetuses weren’t the work of Satan, he decreed. Unfortunately, he went on to add, “They were the result of disease, or the mother’s thoughts and feelings during pregnancy.” (my emphasis added) Thanks for nothing, .
That’s pretty much the only thing that could have made this worse – being handed the blame for all this human misery. Here’s the least gruesome photo in the spirit of that room.
By now I was queasy and emotionally off-balance and the vignettes of village or nomad life looked nasty, brutish and short. People in harsh conditions, scrabbling to exist.
Moving right along, I had a great encounter with a woman selling souvenirs. I liked a teeshirt that depicted the first two dogs to be rocketed into space and come back safely. I wanted a red version but my size only came in black. “Black is better,” she insisted. “It’s outer space. It’s supposed to be black.” Ha! So true. Yes, reader. I bought one. I walked instead of Ubered over to another location of my favorite restaurant, Fruktovaya Lavka. It was a half hour walk and helped to clear my head. I was in the thick of St. Petersburg daily life and happened across some delightful things, like this monument to a trolley conductor and his faithful steeds.
And these efforts to entice coffee drinkers.
Best of all, this real life Love, Actually moment.
Sadly, this outpost had fruit and veg, but no café. Ended up at Bush, a bakery and coffee place I’d starred on my Google map because, pastry! I gobbled a tomato and cheese on croissant and half of a hazel nut caramel and chocolate tart, and headed back to the sanctuary of my hotel.
**there are no lawyers in St Petersburg or there are no liability personal jury laws.