Scenes from Russia

Matryoshka  (Stacking) Dolls

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White Nights

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Peter the Great’s Bridge and Smolny Cathedral  (during white nights)

Beginning in May and lasting into July it never gets completely dark in St. Petersburg due to its geographical location as the Northern most city in the world. This period of time is referred to as “White Nights.” It was an eerie feeling and messed with my circadian rhythm. This was not the biggest deterrent to sleep, however. Never have I see such big and persistent mosquitos. They buzzed loudly and got in my face belligerently each evening in the hotel. They seemed partial to the face and hands for their nightly feast. I counted 20 bites on one hand and 10 on the other as well as enough on my face to look like I had chicken pox! 

Goodwill Games

The Goodwill Games were started in Moscow in 1986 by Ted Turner as a response to political difficulties surrounding the Olympic Games at the time. While I was in St. Petersburg the country was hosting the games for the second time. It was exciting to see the enthusiasm the games inspired and I knew the city was presenting its best face for the onslaught of tourists.
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Hotel

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The hotel I stayed in was the Rusky as I recall. It had a lot of marble, but not the beautiful expensive type that I was used to seeing working in the magnificent Humana headquarters in Louisville, KY. This marble was lifeless and the rooms were little more than one would expect in a hostel or at camp. Although clean the beds were cots, the bathroom’s plumbing was exposed and the mosquitos had free access to guests. 

This view outside the back of the hotel is more representative of what the city was like in 1994.fullsizeoutput_1695

Cemetery

Cemeteries are one of my favorite sites to visit. Those in Russia were certainly not a disappointment. By tradition, they are divided into three sections. There is a section reserved for Communists, usually signified by the hammer and sickle. fullsizeoutput_169d

There is a section for those involved in the Arts and another for regular people. 

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Tombstone of a “regular” person

Things We Take for Granted 

This I saved for last. One thing that we take for granted here in the US and in much of the world, I suppose, is toilet paper. We load our grocery carts with no thought to what life would be without this commodity. In Russia in 1994 that was not the case. Many public restrooms had no T.P. at all. Others had attendants who presented you with a couple of squares as an allotment as you enter. Some places had a sheet torn from books (see the example from “church” below.) Here is the collection that I preserved:fullsizeoutput_16b0

Part 6 of 6

Note: Thank you to Lula Reynolds for giving us a break from St. Petersburg and sharing her visit to Moscow (2012) in the last post. 

 

Theme graphic in title by Pixabay

 

Death – to Bury or Not

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To Bury, Cremate, Donate, Plant – Disposal of Human Remains

Another decision that must be made concerns disposal of bodily remains. For many years burial in a family or church cemetery was the norm, however that is changing for both environmental and economic reasons. In 2015 cremation rate in the US was 48.6% and expected to rise each year into the future. Rates vary across the country with over 60% in the West and as low as 25% in southern states.  There are other options, of course which actually increase the cost, such as cryogenics, ashes blasted into space or adding ashes to an artificial reef in an ocean. 

Cemeteries 

Interment in a cemetery has fallen into disfavor due to cost, but also because of what many see as misdirected use of land. While I personally prefer cremation and scattering of ashes (also called cremains) back into nature, I must admit that I have always found cemeteries interesting to visit. In old cemeteries I would go further and say that reading tombstones can be fascinating. I know that I am not alone, because many books have been written on the subject including:  9781586853211_p0_v1_s192x300 “Stories in Stone: A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism and Iconography” by Douglas Keister  and  “Gone to the Grave: Burial Customs of the Arkansas Ozarks 1850-1950” by Abby Burnett which was reviewed in The Courier Journal  in November 2015. Some of my favorite epitaphs from this book are these: “Killed by a live wire” (1905), “Revenge is my motto” (1869) and “This can’t be death. I feel too good” (1906).

 

When I was in Russia a couple of years after the fall of the Soviet Union, I toured a large old cemetery that was, according to custom there, divided into sections by profession or status. There were sections for the arts with subsections containing poets, musicians and actors. fullsizeoutput_a21.jpeg There were others for military, government officials, Communist Party members, working class (the proletariat) and even the Mafia.

 

I noticed many tombstones that bore the skull and cross bones symbol and inquired of the interpreter what that meant. Her response? “They’re dead”.     IMG_4036.JPG

The skull and cross bones, while perhaps peculiar to Russia, are part of the monument period of Terror which represented symbols of fear of the afterlife. This was followed by the Romantic fullsizeoutput_a13.jpeg and then Personalization Periods.  The Contemporary period in which we now live, leads to what are often attempts at humor. A word of warning about being too creative however, as what is funny today may be confusing or fall flat when it has become outdated. A couple of examples come to mind: A monument depicting a rotary and corded telephone simply said, “Jesus Called”. I’ve seen photos of others that show a calculator, an expired parking meter and even a brownie recipe. 

One of my favorite tombstones is from Clay County, TN which explains that the deceased was “killed by bushwhackers” in 1862 in neighboring Fentress County. Unfortunately the photos taken and provided for this post by Steve Baugh have been lost due to my error.

I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it” Mark Twain. 

 


Note 1/1/18:  Another Option for Disposal    https://crookedcreek.live/2017/11/06/infinity-suit/