A Russian sociologist could do research about where the St. Petersburg proletariat lives now. They have moved to the outer districts ringing St. Petersburg, past Vyborg, Kirovsky and Petrograd which were so important in 1917. As such, they are more dispersed geographically, and this means something in any city from the political angle. There are still large factories visible from the train, as well as complexes of apartment housing as you come into the city, and some still within it. One apartment complex was massive and modern, but kilometers from the old town. The port is still huge down the Neva west towards the Baltic and Kronstadt. Factory chimneys and power plants can be seen ringing the older parts of the city. In spite of the conspicuous layer of upscale shoppers and car owners, the city still feels proletarian. One woman driving her Mercedes with a cross dangling from the rear-view mirror, busy on her cell phone, almost ran into a group of pedestrians. But here, pedestrians still have power given their numbers. Or as Jim Morrison said, they have the guns and the money, but 'we have the numbers.'
|Actors and Reality...St. Petersburg|
Being in St. Petersburg is much like being in any other European city - millenials with their cell phones and nice clothes, trendy coffee shops and bars, shopping etc. People in this city, like nearly everywhere else, dote on coffee, tea, sweets and food while sitting in endless cafes, and I'm beginning to wonder if coffee is not the opium of the people now. The prices for U.S. citizens are actually low, especially at this time of year when the skys are grey, the days short and it seems it wants to rain but never does. Food can be had cheaply, especially if you understand what you are looking at. Although Cyrillic lettering is everywhere, streets signs are also in Greek letters... our letters. Stores play western pop and some have English names. A good number of young people know bits of English. Some menus have English translations, as English is unfortunately the language of world tourism. You can walk the central city easily if you know how to read a map or invested in a Euro-card for a cell phone and GPS. I found cheap internet and museums to be very inexpensive - except the Hermitage.
The worst part is the traffic noise, the exhaust fumes and the tobacco smoke on the sidewalks. People cannot smoke inside anymore. The other negative is that museums are closed on Wednesday mornings, sometimes all Tuesdays, and the entrances are sometimes not marked. If I had not had a map with it marked, I would have missed the Russian Literary Museum unless I decided to push through a mysterious door. I pushed through some unknown heavy doors several times and discovered quite remarkable things by mistake. Once it was the Steiglitz art school, where young girls with Parisian accents study painting surrounded by massive bas reliefs from ancient Rome and Greece. Their easels, stools and still lifes were set up in a massive courtyard again covered by glass, surrounded by this statuary. Inspirational?
Police were shaking down young men on the Nevsky, asking for papers. There are guards everywhere in buildings, but they seem to be bored to tears and don't give a damn. There is a sense that you are to be intimidated, but then you realize that they are human and know you are not a Chechen terrorist or a thief. Strict instructions are ignored in practice. I got a few hard stares, as I wore a hat with a worn red star on it, but no one seems to care. They liked the beret better, as France has a rep in Russia. Russian pastries are exotic, much like French petit-fours and the Russian beer is good. The food is nothing to write home about, especially for vegetarians, though I did have some potatoes and mushrooms wrapped in pastry, which was great. Sort of like the Iron Range pasty. If you are vegan, very difficult, as cheese is the default. But then my Russian dictionary's type was so small and list of words limited that I could not decipher what food was what very well anyway, so you can blame 'user error.'
I went into a few women's toilets by accident and got away with it. Leave it to the 'Amerikanski' to bring uni-sex bathrooms to Russia through misreading the letters on doors.
|Goodbye Lenin. Not really frozen in time...|
I took a last picture of Lenin at the Finland Station as I left, frozen in time, but actually not... There is a reason why the Russian government spends so much time undermining the Revolution, Lenin, Trotsky and affirming Kerensky. As do most other governments for that matter, including our own, where anti-Marxism is a staple across the U.S. political spectrum. But as Karl mentioned long ago, 'a spectre' still haunts the world. As long as capitalism exists and the proletariat exists, it will not be going away.
November 10, 2017 Helsinki