Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Russia Day Three

Subtitled: The Big Day at the Hermitage that Almost Wasn’t

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock or ignoring me altogether, you’re fully aware that the BIG day on this trip was today, the day I spent from open to close at the Hermitage Museum, the mother ship of all museums. (Technically it is second to the Louvre, but it has a few collections I’m interested in that even the Louvre can’t beat).

Katya (I confirmed her name is Katerina and now we’re on short-name terms, so it is Katya) was meant to pick me up at 10:00 a.m. We’d walk to the Hermitage in time to get there for the open at 10:30. Well riddle me this, I woke at 4:00, could not get back to sleep for the life of me. Kept checking the clock, 4:30, 5:00, 5:30. I expected the alarm to go off at 8:30, giving me a bit of a lie in this morning. Well, I woke and noticed it was abnormally bright in the room, rolled over and looked and it’s 9:26. Good glory and a whole bunch of expletives later (can’t blame the cat for not waking me or for not setting the alarm, he’s 4000+ miles away!), I took the world’s fastest shower, dried my hair and dressed all in about 17 minutes. I still had time for a bowl of cereal and a yogurt and ate a Poptart while waiting for Katya, who herself slept late and got here a little after 10:00. It would figure though, the one day I’d most been looking forward to and I was dumb enough not to set the alarm for it. I have already checked and double-checked while I type this and note that it is set for 7:30 tomorrow.

The Hermitage….good god, what is there to say. It far, far, far exceeded my expectations. I saw more than I thought I would, I liked more than I thought I would, the museum was better organized, had signs in English both to point visitors to the toilets and to explain each work of art. Katya gave a wonderful tour, but so many times I wanted to slow down or deviate. I started keeping a list of things I wanted to go back to and see again or see in slow motion. She covered just about everything, soup to nuts.

I don’t even know where to begin. The Titians were gorgeous, especially his Danae and Christ Carrying the Cross. There were two younger Raphaels, one Katya said was done on wood and transferred to canvas later. There were two Leonardos too, I mean damn, how many times do you get to see two at once? Then the Michelangelo, oh good lord, hurt me now, just sublime with the back and leg muscles just perfect. And just when you start to get the feeling that life can’t get any better than four Velazquez, three El Grecos and a exquisite Goya (and I don’t even like Goya!) you round the corner into “the Rembrandt room"...

And really, I should have had Katya warn me. I’d been anxious to see Rembrandt’s Danae ever since I saw the Sundance special Hermitageniks, one episode of which covered the tragic terrorism caused by a psycho who threw acid as this painting to get attention. Thanks to quick thinking conservators and the heavy hand of Rembrandt himself (he painted in such thick layers that his paintings are excessively heavy), they were able to repair most of the damage. This painting is just absolutely breathtaking, and it was sitting there the minute we rounded the corner into the room. I didn’t cry even though I thought I would but it was really just a moment of joy to see it. But to see 23 others? I was truly blessed. I think the others that really made an impression me were Flora and the Young Woman with Earrings. Rembrandt painted these using his wife and later lover as his models, and the care and warmth that he painted in them is palpable. His Holy Family, as simple and straightforward as it is (set in a traditional Dutch home-setting rather than a manger) is also something I will never forget. It was just amazing.

So at that point I felt like if it ended here, I’d be fine and happy. Then I stumbled on to a room of Canova sculptures and nearly lost my mind. There was The Kiss of Cupid and Psyche like in the Louvre but also Three Graces and an absolutely stellar Mary Magdalene. Seriously, with about 7 others, this was just heaven. I could not believe my luck.

Where this museum does fall a bit short is the Impressionist work. I felt the six Monets and four Van Goghs that are there were not necessarily the best. None of the Monets had his classical blurred view, they were much earlier before he got deep into waterlillies and painting things at different times of day. There were two Degas that I could fine, both ballet pastels. One was just gorgeous in orange, yellow and pinks. There was a fairly good assortment of Renoirs, the best of which was the Portrait of Jean Samary, and I told Katya the story of how Renoir was in love with her and tolerated her lack of commitment to the painting of the Boating Party.

Sharing a room with the Van Goghs were four Rodins. I’m certain at this point that I’d seen them all before: Age of Bronze, Eternal Spring, Poet and Muse (maybe not this one) and Cupid and Psyche. But how nice to see them with all the rest of this bounty!

There is more than just painting and sculpture to the museum. Katya took me through the State Rooms, stopping in the Malachite Room and the Throne Room, where later on I saw a bride and groom dancing for their wedding photos.

Also there was an exhibition of art looted by the Nazis. Well, they called it “Art from Private Collections” but Katya says now that the art is out, the Hermitage doesn’t want to give it back. Nice. But in this exhibit there were a fair number of Renoirs, Monets and VVGs there, but again, nothing that is terribly earth shattering. I think the best of the Impressionists is definitely either in Paris in the case of Monet and Renoir or Holland for Vincent.

So for food today…the speed demon breakfast for the alarm clock impaired. Lunch was at the museum and was just a ham and cheese on a roll with a cream puff tart with little berries on it. The cream was out of this world! I also had a strawberry flan somewhere around 4:30 to keep me going. This museum thing is hard work!

After dropping my shopping off back at the hotel, I went back out for dinner to a place called Fasol, down behind Kazan Cathedral. There I had potato pancakes with sour cream (basically they were like hash browns only not so greasy), beef stroganoff (the best so far, slightly spicy) and for dessert blini filled with cheese and topped with warm strawberries. I also had a sangria made with Russian red wine, which was good. All in, this cost 1080 rubles, with tip it would be 1200 so about $40. Very very reasonable, imho.

I stood around outside waiting for it get dark enough for the Church of Savior on Spilled Blood to be illuminated. Was it ever worth the wait. Just gorgeous!!!

Ok, really have to get to sleep now so I don’t oversleep yet again!

No comments: