Friday, July 15, 2011

White Nights in the City Where Everyone Goes Crazy

My Russian hosts in Saint Petersburg told me that their city is famous for being one which drives people to insanity. The home of Dostoevsky* is here, an 18th century Orthodox saint from the region was called "crazy Xenia" by all who knew her, and when I googled "crazy people from Saint Petersburg" I found a song by a sad looking woman called Elizabeth White which has lyrics that definitely prove this theory. They say it is because of the gray and rainy weather, which I got a healthy dose of during my time there. As far as I know I managed to avoid losing my mind in the four days that I spent in Russia's most loved city.

Because of extreme northern position of Piti** on "the globe," during January and June there are extreme shortages and/or surpluses of sunlight, with corresponding pinnacles of the longest night and day of the year opposite each other on the calendar. For the winter months, this means dismal days where the sun rises at 10:30am, barely struggles over the horizon, and dips below the North Sea again by 3pm. There is nothing to do but drink vodka, mope, and write melancholic music. During the summer, the sun rises at 4am and one can enjoy a noon-like sun exposure until about midnight, when the sun starts its slow descent to skim the earth before shooting boldly into the air again. This means little sleep, long, leisurely outdoor adventures, and an overwhelming sense of optimism***.

Even with all of my technical sidekicks I still had a devil of a time finding the home of Sasha and Mischa, a fraternal duo mastering the Russian music scene by publicizing new bands, Djing, and producing their own original music. Lucking, once I did, I was highly impressed by their gorgeous flat in a monumental centuries-old building overlooking the canal in Nevsky Prospekt. I was warmly welcomed and immediately given a tour of the tiny vintage haunts around town, as well as through a historic and infamous arts collective called Pushkinskaya 10, complete with art galleries and studios, a dive bar, a record store, a school, and a secret tiny cafe in the top of a tower.

(of course, the only pictures I took were of adorable signs like this one)

(and this one)

(and also this one)

We then procured a bicycle for me, and began an epic cycling tour of the entire city, which took us through the long streets lined with marble Italianate mansions, Roman amphitheatres, hundreds of opera houses and theatres, over tiny islands, by onion-domed cathedrals, through manicured parks and dark forests, and even past a blue marble mosque. At one point we stopped briefly at an outrageously overpriced, still-under-construction nightclub in a forest, where our bicycle gang rode angrily away when we found out that a drink at the half-built bar would be more expensive than any drink I had ever purchased. We ended on the coast, looking toward, I assume, the North Pole, and drinking the only beer I apparently will try, Kozel Cerny.

It was 2am, and twilight was finally setting in.


*And his most famous protagonist, Raskolnikov, also called the city home. However, there are heated disputes as to which homes each figure actually or hypothetically dwelled in. The place where he died has been made into a museum that is essentially a dark and depressing Dostoevskyland.

**As it shall henceforth be known.

***Luckily, vodka consumption levels remain constant at this time.

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