I gave a series of lectures on Russian music on a cruise from St Petersburg to Moscow. Actually I did the first leg as well (Moscow to St P), but blogging both ways would have been a bit boring. Initially, I thought that technology (wi-fi on the Volga isn’t great) would force me to forego illustrations (there are a few pix – musical, cinematic or general - that are worth posting), but that I’d rectify it when I got home. Actually, the connection’s so slow that I’m writing the whole thing as a Word document and so am posting it all retrospectively (and possibly in a slightly random order)
So: St Petersburg, starting with initial impressions.
The first thing that surprised me since I was here last, was the explosion in traffic. Not only are Peter’s weekday streets jam-packed, but in the suburbs every third business seems to be 0А0 втосервис (which implies that not all the Ladas have been replaced with BMW
s and Mercs). Parking is virtually non-existent and, of course, for a city built on a swamp, underground parking presents certain problems.
Another third of businesses are строительные материалы – building materials. Clearly lots of people are updating their dachas: saunas and bath-houses are on the up, while the trip out to Peterhof is spattered with new-build would-be Romanov micro-palaces.
The women, too, seem changed.
Many young women wear belt-sized skirts and crucifyingly high heels: we even saw traffic wardens in heels, which made me wonder how they’d cope if someone did a runner – till we saw a couple of beheeled women tottering along very efficiently.
Also, some of them endlessly get their friends or boyfriends to photograph them, in extremis, in pseudo-model poses: chest out, shoulders back head thrown back, tossing their long hair
and smiling dazzlingly in homage to fashion magazines. (Thanks to Melissa for the pic!)
Clearly, despite the popularity of Putin’s Slavophilia, the Westernisers have been making hay. Hoardings advertising Биг Макс and Heinz кетчуп are old hat, but you're increasingly likely to see shops that cause a double take, like Рив Гош. Even weirder, more and more signs are bilingual – even hopping between Russian and English in mid-sentence.