Вот я в России! “Vot ya v’Rossii!” Here I am in Russia.
Hamburgers, Soviet Museums, the Tsars' Art Collections and Borscht. My travels in Russia.
Here I am eating hamburgers (Gam-boorgerz) with my friend (droog) Lucas. Many of you know that the Main Street Museum has a Russian art and culture show—and feast—each summer. Many of you have seen our painting, hung proudly each summer on the front of our building. This banner is created each year by St. Petersburg artist Petr Shvetsov. Petr and his wife Susan Katz are the parents of Lucas—my official translator for today.
We had burgers, avoiding the “Shrek-burger” (Шрек-гамбургер)
—a concoction featuring a green bun, “green cheese sauce” and a medley of Russians’ all time favorite food, the pickle. But I did opt for the Russian black bread, sesame-seed bun for my burger cooked with a whiskey cheese sauce. It was delicious.
"Gamboorgie" in Russia, with a black bread bun.
Understatement follows. Russia has seen a lot of changes over the past 20 years. The last time I was here was four years ago, and I notice quite a few changes just in only that length of time. I’d like to tell you about the scene in St. Petersburg over the next few weeks, in blog posts about the food, museums, steam-baths (banyas) I’ve been to, the living artists I’ve talked to, and the dead artists—whose historic studios I have visited.
Borscht, kasha (buckwheat) and pelmeni. The placemat is disconcertingly, lenticular 3-D.
Russian food. If this picture does not make all of you want to visit Russia, I don’t know what will. These are pelmen (dumplings, singular: pelmeni). With sides of borsht, more black bread, buckwheat, and sour cream. This is about as traditional Russian food as you can find, but let's remember that dumplings, like that other Russian staple tea, came from China originally, and the newer foods to be found here—the Shwarma, Lamb Shashlik (shish-kabob) and Meze platters, which are now a regular feature of the Russian food environment, will someday feel about as Russia as boiled potatoes with dill, or a vodka toast. Indeed, I think that they already are.
Shwarma ("Shaverma") take-out joints abound in Russia.
It's a huge, astounding country here. Full of contradictions. Indeed, Russians are known for celebrating the contradictions in their society. From technology, to music, to the visual arts, to literature and architecture, there’s much about Russian that many of you are already familiar with. For example: Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture; Fyodor Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment; Cold War spying; Peter and the Wolf; Marc Chagall's paintings; or perhaps your grandmother had an old tea samovar in her kitchen. But what is it like now on the streets of St Petersburg—the former Imperial Capital, on the 100th anniversary of a Soviet Revolution? And what do people, artists and academics, and cab drivers, talk about and do, day to day? That is what I’ll write about.
Palace Square, with the Hermitage Museum on the right. The October Revolution happened here at the Winter Palace one hundred years ago, this year.
For more description of my travels both in Russia and in England—stay tuned!