It is good to be back in St Petersburg. Here there is little of the bling and those camel-vulva lip augmentations which are so common in Moscow. People are more open and friendly and the traffic less chaotic. We have set ourselves up at our old favourite, the Geology Institute hotel. A quiet and clean Stalinist edifice whose museum boasts a huge, bejewelled mosaic map of Russia’s mineral assets, the Institute is above all a haven from the dark winter chill.
Larisa found us tickets to Ballo in Masquera at the Michaelskiy Theatre – excellent singing and roaring 20’s stage design, with sadly stolid acting. The orchestra and chorus however, were superb. There followed late night ales at a nearby pub, leading to earnest political discussions with a couple of local philosophers. Putin and Trump suporters both, they were typically keen to know what an Australian thought of Russia and the looming political chaos. Later, our cosy, noisy pub became the scene of a drunken, many-sided fist fight which horrified me. Maxine assures me that such events are quite normal, an essential element of Russian social gatherings, and all will be forgotten in the morning.
Later we dined with Larisa’s mother, who recited Pushkin and Mayakovskiy with passion and white wine.
Apart from Maxine herself this blog has little apparent connection with Tainui or the sea. But there is here one maritime thing which fixes that – the Museum of Polar Exploration. It is a captivating collection, one of the best in the world. A huge collection of ship models, maps, dioramas, ancient instruments and installations detailing exploration and wildlife at both poles. No sailor visiting SPB should miss it.
Tomorrow we return to Moscow to prepare for our Volga lecture at the Chekhov Institute.