A Day of Culture, or, How Mother Nearly Got Sent to the Gulag

This will be the day we remember as the day mother nearly got arrested at the museum….and not just any museum, the State Museum of the Political History of Russia. I know what you’re thinking…wow….now that sounds like fun…. Let’s just say we were the only non-Russians there…I know, shocking. This is not one of your “must see” museums in the guidebook…

It was rather more interesting than it sounds…no, really. The Administrator (the one who hands out the audio guides but isn’t the one you give your money to to rent the audio guides, but is the one who takes your passport as a guarantee you’ll give it back at the end), was thrilled that we seemed to like the museum.In truth, I did learn quite a lot about Russia’s endlessly oppressive history of being subject the whims of one terrible regime after another. These people have suffered for generations. This explains their rather grim countenance.

Back to the arresting part… We were at the Gulag display. Mother leaned in too closely to admire some dusty object and apparently crossed an invisible barrier, as if she were attempting to steal said dusty object…there was an air raid siren…a man came running…if there had been a crowd to melt into I would have done it. But of course, there wasn’t. So I did the next best thing. Stepped back and pretended I didn’t know this woman.

Apparently the guard understood the phrase, Oh dear. I’m very sorry. Very sorry. It won’t happen again (yeah, you’re right, lady, we got cameras everywhere…) She got a pass. This time.

High tea at the Hotel Grand Europe, the most expensive hotel in St. Petersburg, is an experience. Liveried door men. Hushed tones. $10 pots of tea….$6 teeny bottles of Evian. We had a light meal. But boy was it elegant.

High tea
High tea

Then we went off to the ballet. Magical. Definitely a high point. We saw a performance of Le Corsair at the Mikailovsky Theatre, a grand theatre space designed in classical style. Le Corsair isn’t a ballet I know, and I have to admit, I lost the plot about 2/3 in, but then I just focussed on the male dancers. When I think about ballet, I think about beautiful, lithe women in tutus en pointe, and this ballet didn’t disappoint. But I don’t normally consider the male roles. In this ballet they featured prominently…and for the most part danced shirtless. This may be my new favourite ballet.

The ballet experience itself was marvellous. We had box seats in the second circle, quite close to the stage. In view of the surroundings, it seemed suitable to have champagne at the interval…so I did.


Box seats
Box seats

I was quite amazed by the audience make up. At home, arts patrons tend to skew on the more “mature” side. Here, there were people of absolutely all ages…from the little girl in her tutu to the golden oldies, and everyone in between. I had a teenage boy to my right. And he was actually quite engaged in the performance, not acting like his parents were punishing him…of course, he had a pair of binoculars, and I think he may have been checking out the girls in the audience…he certainly paid good attention to the prima ballerina.

Tomorrow we take courage in hand and catch a minibus from beside a statue of Lenin in a square adjacent to a metro stop we’ve not yet been at (love the Russian guide book directions) to travel outside of St. Petersburg to Catherine the Great’s Summer Palace in the town of Pushkin, about 25 km away.

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