Sunday, May 16, 2010

A Day in the Old, Newly Cast

I went to St. Petersburg!

And I watched how the sun rose over the river.

It was an amazing day. Starik said it was the first of such warm, sunny days they'd had this year. It was awesome, and according to the Russian version of google maps I ended up logging some 18 miles of wandering the city streets, but I was always bothered by this feeling that summer-Piter is so radically different than the Piter I once knew.

I had breakfast in a cafe Briullov recommended, and it was most disconcerting - this cafe was located on the same street as my university and gym, and I remember passing it almost every day, and even thinking, so often, that I should step in, and yet I never did. It was precisely my taste, a little basement haven, tastefully and comfortably done, for little wannabe-hipster kids and mel'kie biznismeny [small-business owners/middle-management].

Still, I interpreted signs that told me I was meant to come take a day of relaxation in the Northern Capital.

And God smiling down upon from above Smolny Institute. The city was familiar but I couldn't call it "mine." Aslan's not a tame lion.

But maybe that's a good lesson to learn, before I leave Russia. The city lives and the city breathes and grows. I had a moment where I thought I was lost, looking for one of the major prospekts. I thought, "I have to be headed in the right direction - if I go too far one way I'll hit the river, too far the other way and I'll hit Nevsky Prospekt - the only street I can come across is Liteiny, but where is it?" I was in a section of the city whose streets I'd often pounded, and to see it in that new light, in that disconcerting light of almost-zabluzhdenie was like Yoda shouting at me from his perch upon my back. [zabluzhdenie technically means "delusion" but it's the noun formed from the verb "to be lost" so I mean it, here, to signify "almost-lost-itude." It's not just English I'm systematically destroying.]

The irrational artist side of me rejects the ideas of loss and (de)evolution that typically retain hegemony over discussions of the built environment. The world is cyclical in its reformations, and even if the god must break the egg from which he's born, yet another egg will take its place. There's no point in riddling whether the chicken or the egg came first.

In normal terms: even the most familiar objects, like the Hermitage, above, can be recast in a new light; but when I took that picture I was consciously copying a Soviet photographer I know, just so I could write this statement:
Ceci n'est pas un photographe d'Ignatovich.

Because even the most familiar objects, even in the most cyclical or canonical representations, can offer enlightenment to the subject, even if they, the objects, haven't changed. Starik is kind of like Barbie, and rather anti-stereotypical-Russian, in that I've never seen him wear the exact same outfit twice. Various accouterments and implements emerge like so many sonic screwdrivers and dei ex machina from the pokcets of a Time Lord. (He had to take a call when we were hanging out and got mad. "Мария Ивановна, вы не ругайтесь на Таню..." [Maria Ivanovna, don't you bitch out (in loose translation) Tanya...]

It's a question of engaging in contemplation of the places that scare you.

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