Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Tuesday in St. Petersburg, Part I

If you're away from home, one good way to immerse yourself into your new world is to shop. Buying foods is an obvious: to stand in line for bread (or a bread substitute) is a great way to be part of something important, repeated daily perhaps by the people in the store with you.

I don't need bread and I don't really want to shop in my travels anymore (except for Snowdrop stuff, but this isn't the place for that: selections are... limited). But I decide to make an exception. Just as in Turkey I'll look at carpets (even though I personally do not need a carpet), so, too, in Russia, I'll look at folk art that can be incorporated into daily use back home, by my daughters if not by me.

And so right after breakfast (back to oatmeal!)...

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... my friends and I part ways again. I'll be poking around stores this morning and though we're both heading out to the great Hermitage Museum this afternoon, there's no reason to trail each other there. We'll meet up again for dinner.

Off I go. As always, my eyes are not only on window displays -- they're also on the people around me. I can't always tell who is a visitor and who is from St. Petersburg. I photograph only Russian speaking people, but there are a lot of Russian tourists here now. But I can make guesses! A grandmother and granddaughter combo -- almost assuredly local.

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(Braids on girls, grandmas caring for kids -- ubiquitous!)

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Father (grandfather?) - daughter? More likely than not -- local.

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After that, it breaks down. These girls are probably from around here, because this isn't the neighborhood for tourists.

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But these guys surely are visitors. Or are they about to set out on a family adventure? (By the way, there is actually very little graffiti here. This photo is in that way rather exceptional. Not exceptional is the fact that fathers carry young offspring. Indeed, we commented that there are a lot of fathers tending to young kids.)

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Coffee booths or stands are also ubiquitous.

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My general destination is Nevsky Prospect. Already in place at the time of Peter the Great (and renamed by the Soviets as the Prospect of the 25th of October to honor the Revolution), this street is everything to everyone: it's the main commercial artery, but it also has a number of historically significant buildings. It's wide and long and therefore used for city celebrations. Here, take a look:

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Of course, in many places it's quite crowded. In a good way, I think.

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Let's switch for a minute from people to edifices. In that grand photo of Nevsky Prospect above (with the red trolley bus), do you see that darker toned building? It's the Singer Building. Here, let's get a little closer to it:

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It was built in 1904 to house the headquarters of the Singer sewing machine company here (which had opened a factory in St. Petersburg that year). The Soviets called it Dom Knigi (house of books) and turned the lower levels into a bookstore. It still has a grand scale, multilevel bookstore (and offices upstairs, including those of vk.com -- the Russian equivalent to Facebook). I go inside.

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There's serious stuff here, but of course, commercialism has invaded, at least the ground level. I think it's a great place to buy post cards or greeting cards...

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(I could do another theme here of "children with lollipops")

And though in general, there aren't foods here, on your way out, you can pick up a can of nutella or a pack of Oreo cookies.

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The Singer building has competition for period ornateness: in the same year that Singer put up its building, Grigory Eliseevs put his own on the map -- equally ornate, only his was home to a food emporium. It remains today St. Petersburg's most elegant food store -- you can pick up delicate and colorful pastries...

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... and marzipan, some of it in the shape of pickles!

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Too, you'll find the expensive vodkas, the caviar, the prosciutto, the chocolates and wines. Russian visitors come in to admire it all. Not with wistfulness, but it seems to me with a great deal of pride. Cameras come out and unlike in other grand food halls I've been in (London and Paris come to mind), photos are not prohibited.

Looking around me, taking it all in -- the goods, the people who come in to take that photo -- makes me just a little sad. So many of my own countrymen and women (and remember, I am a citizen of two countries: I speak for both) do not look this way with respect or admiration. This must surely weigh heavy on a national psyche! There is, after all, so much to be proud of. Even as the discussion elsewhere quickly becomes political. But not here. Ocean searches for the things to admire. And there's plenty of that in St. Petersburg!

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There is a cafe, but it must be expensive, because it's the only place thus far that I hear a total concentration of languages other than Russian.

Oh! It's about to turn midnight Madison time. Let me publish this part and continue in a couple of hours.