Family Jewel

Zlata Zavorskaya Issue: Section:

St. Petersburg: the former Leningrad of the former Petrograd of the former Soviet Union of the former Tsarist Russia of the former Peter I.
St. Petersburg is like an old jewelry box inherited through the generations. It holds heirlooms, priceless pieces of history, costume jewelry fashionable today, sentimental pieces lost or found over time. The city is so shiny and beautiful and so enmeshed in status and social class and culture and literary and religious icons, it is hard to resist trying on its contents.
It is the land of Dostoyevsky and Pushkin and Ekaterina I and Peter the Great. It is the city on the Neva River, the city on the canals, the city of white nights and home to the largest museum in the world, the Hermitage.
I visited St. Petersburg in the spring of 2003 to reconnect with my mom’s side of the family and get in some overdue Russian relative bonding time. I was elated to find that the city was turning 300 years old and everything had been re-gilded, remolded, repaired, and repainted for its anniversary.
The Hermitage, the Mariinsky Theatre, the Nevsky Bridge, the Kazan Cathedral, the Church of the Savior on Blood, countless statues on either side of the canals, the shops along the Neva, even the Peterhof, Peter’s summer palace outside the city, were refurbished and shining for the whole world to see. We arrived in June, just in time for the “White Nights,” where daylight lasted all night long. Therefore, we had absolutely no excuse to cease exploring the city even for a moment.
The city is, in a word, breathtaking. It has an energy that is paradoxically forward moving and modern, yet very much aristocratic and rooted in its past – like a rebellious progeny that can’t help but be the shining poster child of health, wealth and vitality in an otherwise struggling working class country still trying to put itself back together after the fall of the Soviet Union (or, let’s face it, maybe its creation in the first place).
My uncle, a businessman who lives in the center of downtown St. Petersburg, says that it is a difficult time. I can only imagine the global economic climate hit this golden city like a father in a blind rage may hit even his favorite child. But something tells me that a city that has survived revolutions, invasions and famines won’t stay downtrodden for too long. Think of the best parts of Venice, Florence, Paris, and New
York combined -- and you might begin to understand the unique mystery that St. Petersburg holds at its golden fingertips. Visit this city once
and I promise, you will too. Just make sure you take a guide. The jewelry box is a complicated one: you’ll need help deciphering the real jewels from the fake.

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