Hermitage or not? That is the question.

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March 17th 2012
Published: March 17th 2012EDIT THIS ENTRY

A wonder of the world? Certainly one of the most awe-inspiring places I have ever seen. The sheer mind-boggling accumulation of so many works of art in one place in a built for purpose building which is equally fantastic.

The Oxford dictionary had to be checked. My understanding of a hermitage bore no relation to this. 'The dwelling of a hermit, especially when small and remote.' What was Catherine the Great thinking of? Named, apparantly, with reference to the retreat in which she displayed the collection to her friends. Some retreat, I say! And no evidence of any hermits living here!

I look back for notes I have written. I haven't. I think the experience left me numb. The gilt, the gold, the white and the coloured walls. Walking around the most elaborate wedding cake you could ever imagine. The intricate piping, garlanded and bowed. Look down onto the cake stand. Exquisite marquetry or mosaic floors. You shake your head in wonder and think of the money and labour invested in the plaster and wood. Thoughts of another revolution, starving masses and the reputed 'Let them eat cake,' come to mind. Here they could have said, 'Let them view art!'

More than 3,000,000 pieces of art are housed in the Winter Palace, the Small Hermitage, the Old Hermitage, the Hermitage Theater, and the New Hermitage.

We do, however, have to thank many rich Russian industrialists who bought up many pieces of Impressionist art whilst the Frency Academy was digging its heels in and pooh-poohing this brave new way of painting. These were added to the already impressive collection. But of course the Impressionists were not the only style represented.

One corridor is a faithfully reproduced replica of a 16th century corridor from the Vatican. Artists were sent to Rome to study and copy every detail. What a great first job after finishing art school this would have been!

We walked from one room to the next. A veritable who's who of anyone who has ever been anything in the art world. And we were allowed to view in peace. No crowds here, a few tour groups, mostly Chinese, wandered the galleries. Well actually wandering is not the right word. Have you ever watched a tour group? The leader, with flag waving, stops in front of one painting. They hustle and jostle to view the painting. The guide spouts the spiel. Maybe a question is asked and then they move on to the obligatory stop in the next salon.

We wandered. We sat down when we wanted. We chatted and Graeme instructed. It is good to have someone with a bit more knowledge than 'that looks nice' and 'I recognise that artist!' Graeme's instructee for the day was our lovely German friend we had been following/meeting up with since we were in Beijing. She was on a cultural tour having been to the Marinsky theatre twice to see ballet and opera and now soaking in the whole history of Western art as we know it.

I think it was all too much for her. She was on the homeward straight, thinking of her family and how much she wanted to see them after her year away. Hopefully she will remember some of the wonderful art we were priviliged to see and remember some of the techniques and history thereof. It's good to think you might have contributed to the education of even one young person in these days of instant texts and picture messages. A photo taken without a Facebook-picture face!

Enough digression. The Hermitage and, really, all that we saw of St Petersburg made us want to return. This was Russian culture in the round, the atmosphere and magnificence that we expected and needed to see.

On a tram ride to the end of the line we had passed buildings of the same proportion and immensity as The Hermitage. No decoration, no colour, no joy or glory these. Concrete blocks built to house the population after the war, they appear as soulless monoliths good for nothing but social unease and unrest. At least there will be no plebeian jealousy and rush to get rid of these inhabitants.

The acute contrast constantly in mind we became sated, stuffed, overloaded and satiated. But that was only our brains. We needed food after this opulence. We chose the Soviet Cafe on Nevsky Prospekt, a place we had spied the day before. Who could resist food cooked from the Union of Soviet Socialists Republicks Big Cookery Book Recommended for Citizen's Mealing?

We gorged ourselves on Pelmini, Vereniki and Syrniki not to mention the starters of Solyanka and Borsch!

Before you go delving into dictionaries, searching wikipedia or googling I will put you out of your misery. The first two are traditional styled dumplings, Russian and Ukranian. Meat-filled and freshly cooked they were delicious I was told. The Syrniki were fried quark cheese pancakes served with a compote of berries. Absolutely delicious and you might like to try them yourself!

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18th March 2012

Your elegant writing and beautiful photography made this blog a most enjoyable read.
16th April 2012

It is not only the beautiful weather which gave me a spring in my step this morning. Thanks for the nomination and the Blogger of the Week accolade!

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