From St. Petersburg
10:06 am
Mon April 21, 2014

Memories and New Visions

Credit Helen Ward

Wow! A lot has changed since my last visit to St P in 1977 when I came with my High School teacher Dr Egan and 10 other classmates from our Russian History Class. Back then the monochromatic palate of the identical black Volga cars everyone drove,  the consistent shades of grey and black coats and hats, the low grey January clouds and pallor of everyone's skin made the polychrome onion domes and pastel palaces of the Romanov's shocking in their brilliance. Today the billboards, variety and magnitude of cars and fashion in every shape and size present a very different image. Russia as a whole may be suffering under a slowing economy and economic sanctions relative to recent perceived political transgressions, but it sure isn't apparent on the streets of St P. 

It is Saturday night before Easter morning in a year when the Christian and Orthodox calendars are aligned. We understand the queues to get into Church at midnight tonight will be hours long. As we fall into bed we halfheartedly resolve to nap and get up to  attend a mass around midnight. As I drift off I wonder if these lines are forming outside the Church on the Spilled Blood  which glows outside our window. It seems an appropriately named place to celebrate Easter. If my memory serves me, however, this jewel was erected for more secular purposes, commemorating the death of Tsar Alexander by a radical citizens group. My hunch is the queues for today's masses will not be there, but at one of the many flourishing Orthodox Churches where despite the purges of clergy and religious followers beginning with Lenin's declaration that "religion is a sort of spiritual booze, in which the slaves of capital drown their human image" and the outright persecution under Khrushchev and Brezhnev in the 50's and 60's religious followers persevered until the official re opening and return of church property under Gorbachev in 1988. The tenacity of that spirit is to be celebrated today.

Oops, it's now 3am midnight Mass long over and unfortunately I am wide awake. I decide to use my yoga practice to help quiet my racing thoughts and return to sleep. I'll meditate by visualizing numbers and counting and push away the swirling chitta vritti .  205 - "shoot I wish I had practiced more meditation I'm not very good at clearing these thoughts". 525 --- "I wonder where that impossibly gorgeous Russian woman on our plane got those cool wedge sneakers with the Christian Louboutin appliqué on the sides?" 649 ---"our guide Marina with her big smile and bright green scarf and yellow sweater is sure a far cry from the grey dour Natasha who marched us through our tours in '77".  879 ----"ok If I get to 1000 and this isn't working I'm quitting".  Aaaahhhh released from the tyranny of sleep I can get dressed, watch the barely setting sun get stronger and look forward to our first day in this fascinating city !!!!

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Helen Ward Obermeyer

“The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.” – Saint Augustine

“To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries.” – Aldous Huxley

Credit Helen Ward

I share a love of travel with my husband Wally and daughters Kyra and Catherine. I believe It is only through meeting people and sharing common interests that we can break down barriers and prevent fascism. I grew up in New York in the country and the city,  have lived in London and currently embrace Colorado as home. There is nothing more important than learning both through formal education and experiences. When I can't be on the road I travel through books and journalism which is why I am such a big supporter of public radio. Through its unbiased reporting and global reach it reminds us everyday to look beyond our small self interests and be aware of all the world has to offer.