We drove out on a beautiful sunny day to see the summer palace, located in the town of Tsarskoye Selo, or Tsar’s Village (now part of the town of Pushkin), 30 km south of St. Petersburg. Words cannot describe the grandeur or extravagance of the place, which was begun in 1717 at the time of Catherine I (1684-1727), second wife of Peter the Great.
Apparently a woman of great charm and sexuality, Catherine, who was illiterate and originated in a peasant family from Lithuania, won over Peter’s affections and became his mistress after he glimpsed her at the home of a close advisor.
Back to present day, where, I should note, people are dressed pretty much the same way as in modern cities all over the world, same clothes, shoes, handbags, iPhones. It was in the faces that I saw differences, generations of oppression written into closed, unsmiling expressions.
Crazily, I do not have photos of the exterior of this magnificent, totally reconstructed church. It was built to honor Tsar Alexander II who was assassinated on the spot when a bomb was thrown into his carriage in 1881. Interesting to note that it was Alexander I who emancipated the serfs in 1861, five years before the emancipation of slaves in the U.S. Today it is used as a museum of mosaics rather than as an active church.
I include the above painting and the detail of the little boy because, while times have changed, one still catches glimpses of those pale, haunted faces.