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May 27, 2006

A Short List of Things about St. Petersburg

1. You take your life into your hands when you cross the street. Really. New York doesn't compare. Drivers don't stop if they see you. I've been nearly hit more than once.

2. Keep your valuables close at hand. Even with the guide on a walking tour the guide himself was accosted three times by a pair of men, with one usually drunk, trying to create a diversion. For what it's worth, when I've been alone, I've had no problems. I don't feel unsafe, I do watch my wallet. It feels about like NYC at its worst 20 years ago.

3. The city is so full of architectural pearls that buildings other cities would be fighting to preserve are falling apart. Also, the facades are the responsibility of the city, so while they may be peeling and crumbling, the interiors are another matter.

4. Pollution is a problem. The air has a distinct odor.

5. You can't get to the Mariinsky from here. It's 15 minutes walk from the nearest metro stop. I tried using a bus last night, but it wasn't going to Nevsky Prospect because of a huge parade - I ended up walking again - a 40 minute walk in a light rain. If the Mariinsky is your prime object, the hotels around St. Isaac's Cathedral are expensive (The Astoria, Angleterre and the Renaissance) but best situated. There are also a few mini-hotels close by. If you're on Nevsky Prospect I think the best route is to go up Nevsky to either Kazanskaya Ulitsa or the Moika Canal and walk across, but with each route you'll need to take one or two more turns. Like Amsterdam, the city is a radiating crescent - if you need to go to a point on the other side of the crescent, it's quicker to do that closer in rather than via one of the circumferal routes further from the center such as the Fontanka.

6. You have not lived until you have dealt with the press office at the Mariinsky. They beat everyone for pure frustration hands down. In comparison, other press people seem like cruise ship directors focused only on my comfort. On Friday my seat was an extra chair at the back of a box where I could see either by alternately standing (and having my view blocked by a chandelier) or kneeling on my chair. Last night I did have a full view seat but my program and cast list were for the wrong ballet (this was set right ten minutes into the ballet by someone slipping in and handing me the correct one.)

7. Despite this, the traces of communism in the city are barely visible in the city center. The culture is consumer-oriented and conspicuous consumption is everywhere. Food is available from all supply channels as is clothing and cars.

8. My gaydar done broke on me. Years ago, on my first trip to London, my gaydar busted the other way; I looked at English men with their streaked and dyed hair five years before any straight man in the US tried it and thought, "They're ALL gay." Here, all the boys with their black leather suit jackets look like something out of The Sopranos and I can't pick out the nancy boys. That's the problem with gaydar, it's country specific, not universal.

More blogging and photos tonight.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at May 27, 2006 11:09 PM

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Enjoy Swan Lake tonight! Is this the same company coming to Chicago in October? :)

Posted by: David at May 28, 2006 8:04 PM

Your "gaydar" broke down! LOL It took me a few moments to figure out what you were talking about!

Posted by: petipafan at May 29, 2006 6:24 PM

Are people there talking wildly about the governments attempts to remove the exemption of ballet dancers and their required millitary service?

Posted by: Edward McPherson at May 30, 2006 10:14 AM

I'm so jealous you're in Russia--I've always wanted to go. Enjoy your time!

I just got Pointe magazine today--I saw your review! Great writing.

Posted by: Ariel at May 30, 2006 7:43 PM

David - it is indeed.


Ed - wrote to you privately, but I haven't heard anyone speaking about current events - that's more my lack of opportunity though.

Thanks for the kind words, Ariel!

Posted by: Leigh Witchel at May 30, 2006 10:50 PM

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