St. Petersburg is a city of my birth and a cradle of many wonderful childhood memories. I grew up inhaling its damp air along with its legends. Many of the St. Petersburg myths are connected with the origins of the city, its founding by Peter the Great, and the lives of Russian czars and rulers who continued to build this northern architectural gem. Other tales are tied to the city’s image as the artists’ and poet’s muse.
Living in St. Petersburg is well reflected in Russian literature, art, and music. Pushkin, Gogol and Dostoevsky drew inspiration from it, turning the city’s mythology into a phenomenon of the Petersburger’s consciousness. St. Pete natives grew up with the city myths embedded in their hearts and believe that it is a supernatural place filled with mystery second only to Venice or Rome.
Petersburgers are innately elegant and are usually afraid of looking bourgeois. When asked to compare them to another breed of people, I like to say they they are more like New Yorkers – they dress in dark colors, wear exquisite but understated clothes with minimalist lines, are always on the go, talk fast, walk fast, and do not stop to smile.
To become a true Petersburger, you need to be born to one of them in the third generation. You must have been raised on Pushkin’s fairy tales, the poetry of Lermontov, Akhmatova, Esenin, Brodsky, the novels of Dostoevsky, Tolstoy and Griboyedov, the stories of Gogol, Nekrasov, Turgenev, Blok, Nabokov, to name but a few. You must appreciate the contrast of compact streets and wide avenues, which inspired settings for such great works of literature as the “Bronze Horseman,” “The Queen of Spades” and “Crime and Punishment”. You must know and love the music of Victor Tsoi, DDT, Boris Grebenshikov, and Nautilus Pampilius. And finally, you must always wear a dreamy expression (on a very fair face) and a hairstyle that can withstand damp fog and rain. I am proud to be a Petersburger, and I will always remain one, despite having transplanted myself to Houston.
I have not been back in St. Pete for almost twenty years. My return trip this summer was both enjoyable and moving. The restored city met me with with splendor of architectural and historical attractions. From the unlimited span of the Neva River, to endless palace ensembles that stretch for miles along the embankments, almost everything in St. Pete seemed to symbolize the Romanov legacy.
Taking in the renovated grandeur of cathedrals with infinite polished gold interiors, I was again filled with pride for the thoughtful placement of every building and lovingly crafted details of every structure that set this city apart from its many contemporaries. No other city in Russia compares to St. Pete in wealth of historical monuments, art museums, and architectural glory, yet its charm often lies in the old buildings with dilapidated exterior and treacherous rooftops where the fearless city inhabitants go to dream up new legends.
Walking through the much loved and remembered streets and now renovated parks and gardens filled my soul with enough joy and inspiration to last for another 20 years. The city became even more beautiful since my last visit in 1997. But the people did not change. My childhood friends greeted me unwavering affection, making me feel as though the last 20 years never divided us.