Monday, January 17, 2011

Russian memories

Ten years ago I got the chance to go to St Petersburg for three days then take a sleeper train to Moscow. It was one of the most exciting and at moments frightening trip I've ever been on.

One of the main feelings I had was one of surprise as the churches with their ornate mosaic and gold icons were there for all the tourists to enjoy. Somehow I had expected the communists to have pulled down and destroyed everything but a lot was still standing. There seemed to be an odd relationship between pride in the past and a feeling of deep unease in the wealth that had been held by a privileged elite. This was the feeling that struck me as I walked around the Hermitage.

Magnificent works of art hanged on the walls but outside there were people shuffling around in rags trying to sell their belongings to make ends meet. The gold of the throne room seemed at such odds with the world outside.

The other main feeling was one of fear. At the station in St Petersburg in the dim light I was pushed by other people and shouted at by a solider for reasons I never quite understood. There were moments when I felt that I could have been gunned down and it would have been a footnote in the Moscow Times and not much more.

But for someone who has loved Russian history for most of their adult life the chance to see Lenin, walk around the Kremlin and get an insight into a world described by numerous history books it was magical.

Russian literature seems to convey that mix of tragedy, brutality but also great wealth so well that even if Russia is beyond your grasp, as it is now for me with children eating me out of house and home, you can dip into that country and its past through the pages of its literature.

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