Most accurately translated as 'soul', the concept of an innate Russian identity originated in Gogol's publication of 'Dead Souls', a reference to landlords' accounting term for 'serfs' as 'souls' - which seems exaggeratedly cold. It's remarkable then, that this variety of Russian nationalism was equally influenced by German Romanticism and serfdom.
|Portrait of A.S. Pushkin by the Romantic artist and former serf, Vasilii Alexandrovich Tropinin|
After such progressive leaders as Peter the Great, Alexander I and the famous Francophile Catherine II, who made French the aristocratic language, a revival of Russian nationalism was needed beyond the 'Official Nationality' of Emperor Nicholas I.
|Ekaterina II, with various male officials under her feet|
The very infrastructure of the city is undeniably European (while sadly Russian in its lack of maintenance). You could be forgiven for forgetting that you're not in Paris or Prague among the ornate, pastel-coloured terraced buildings and occasional accordion player.
Due to the many canals, Peter originally intended the main form of transport to be by boat, as in Amsterdam and Venice. This is not the case - Russian marshrutki, tramvai and trolleybusi are the main transports aside from the ornate metro (very deep underground to avoid the layers of swamp - nice one Peter).
|Mikhail Yureevich Lermontov|
|Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky|
|Mayor Kovalev's nose - a character from Gogol's famous short story, 'Nose'|
|Alexander Sergeevich Pushkin, head of the Russian dusha (and he knows it)|
Additionally; ballet, opera, classical music performances are all frequented not just by the highly educated elite but beloved by a significant proportion of Russians (in an already large population). Unlike Westerners, Russians are well-versed in the creative fruits of their country, particularly literature, by the time they leave school.
It is hardly a secret that under the Soviet Union, which emphasised a delineated Russian identity, there was an absolute rejection of the 'bourgeois' adoption of European customs/languages - and obviously travel was almost impossible. The city's saintly namesake, who held the key to (European) heaven makes the political changes even more pertinent.
|Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood: so no one can walk on the assassination site. Look familiar?|
Although us English have no problem adopting foreign terms as our own, I think this is linked to a)the many different invaders who have colonised us and bastardised our language and b)the lingering imperial sense of linguistic superiority - ie, "I will say 'café' on a regular basis, but refuse to learn French."
|Mikhailovsky gardens. Russian: 'Urgent request - don't walk on the grass!'|
|I definitely thought these were real|
|Pretty proud kitty|
|People throw kopecks at their sitting for good luck|
|Cannot remember who this is - but rubbed his nose and sat down for luck|
Although St Petersburg is known for being not exactly welcoming to minorities, it is certainly an international city. This lovely artist above was chatting to some tourists who were admiring his work in a mix of Chinese and English, telling them that it was cloudy when he started painting the church so his rendition was slightly different from the reality.
Nowadays rather than providing a window onto European 'heaven', St Petersburg seems to me to be a gentle introduction to the previously alien and totally mysterious expanse that is Russia.
Attempt to provide a more thematic post turns me into a pretentious dryballs. Pity the fool who has to read my essays...