St. Petersburg: museums and culture so far

Hard to believe it’s already three days in. But then again, oh, what I’ve seen!

After taking it relatively easy on Thursday, our first day, dad and I went to the Hermitage on Friday and Saturday. We had bought a two-day, all-access pass over the internet. And even after two full days, angry legs and feet, and hours and hours of gawking, two days didn’t even come close to being enough.

The main Hermitage museum is really a complex of three interconnected buildings: The Large Hermitage, the Small Hermitage, and the ridiculously ornate, mint-colored Winter Palace. It’s definitely bigger than both the British Museum and the Met. I’ve never been inside the Louvre, but I’m told it compares, quantity- and quality-wise. The thing is, the State Hermitage Museum *also* includes a few other buildings: The Menshikov Palace (home of the first governor of St. Pete), Peter I’s Winter Palace (now a theater), and the gargantuan General Staff Building. Oh yeah – and then there’s the storage facility, and a porcelain museum somewhere.

Anyway, we went to the main Hermitage the first day and the Menchikov and Peter’s Winter Palace the second day. (I also went back to the main Hermitage the second day to see…well…I’m not kidding when I say there is one  enormous room each of Picasso, Cezanne, Gaugin, and Matisse. And at least half a room each for Van Gogh and Monet. And of course the first day was the Rembrandt *wing*. Over the top.) I don’t normally go insane and take tons of photos in museums, but I lost it at the Hermitage. I guess by the end I didn’t really believe it was *true*, so I had to take pictures.

Let’s see: I’m trying to figure out how to explain this. You know how in most museums there are throw-away rooms? The ones you walk through rather quickly, and throw a half-assed glance at the walls? Well, there are no such rooms that I saw here. (OK, maybe one or two. Our of hundreds. I mean, who needs to see another goddamned ancient Greek vase?)

So that’s the main Hermitage. In comparison, the Menshikov Palace and Peter’s Winter Palace lacked the scale and grandeur, and therefore were kind of a disappointment.

These lesser two, however, are interesting to compare. Peter was the tsar, the guy who founded the city. Menshikov was his good friend, a victorious general in the Great Northern War (during which the Russians won the land for St. Pete from the Swedes). To thank him for his service, Peter named Menchikov the first governor of St. Petersburg. In other words, Peter was the head dude and Menchikov was his ass-kisser.

While Peter wanted his city to reflect the grandeur and culture of major European cities, personally he seems to have preferred (relatively) more simple things. His palace consisted of simple, small rooms full of lathes and other mechnisms that he liked to tinker with. He didn’t (seem to) care much for gold and other material trappings of royalty. He did, however, *love* his tsarist power. I guess he was an early hacker.

Menshikov, meanwhile, grew up on the streets of Moscow, selling pies to earn money for his family. He used political prowess to rise quickly through the ranks of the army, acquitted himself quite well during the Great Northern War, and used his connections to become a powerful man. His palace, I think, reflects a nouveau-riche obsession with showing off power and wealth. The palace is by far more opulent than Peter’s, and the walls are hung with dozens of paintings depicting decisive battles in the war, and portraits of himself (and his cascading wigs), his family, and (most telling) of Peter and *his* family.

Egads I’m running out of power (my computer’s and my own) so I’m gunna run. More on St. Petersburg the city – mullets, miniskirts and all! – l8r.

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