Friday, March 8, 2013
Returning to Russia hit me like a slap in the face. I arrived in St. Petersburg a few days before the group, and the weather was cold and wet – the rain was relentless! I met a taxi driver who declared it a sheer miracle that before we arrived in town, it hadn’t rained for three whole days! I thought, “How do people live here? How do they get up and go to work every day in this gray, bone-chilling dampness? How do people keep their clothes and boots clean?” I began to get flashbacks of my time living in Moscow, which I would describe as an unforgiving place. You must walk everywhere, carry everything, fight the cars, crowd onto the metro, and try to avoid the dirt and the grime.
And yet, amidst the harshness of the elements, I visited the opulent Eleseevski store on Nevsky Prospect, where I ordered four delectable macarons – lemon, pistachio-raspberry, chocolate, and lemon.
I had so many excellent meals in the short span of two days. If you are willing to pay for it, there is a decadent lifestyle to be had in Russia. Moscow and St. Petersburg are littered with the gastronomic curiosities of the Ginza Project.
Then there are Artemy Lebedev’s cafés like the one on Zhukovskovo, a wholly different approach to café culture, where the walls were decorated with corkboards pinned with rubles and actual debit cards.
Another thing I noticed was the huge increase in French-style bakeries with fresh, elegant pastries. These did not exist just a few years ago.
Witnessing and experiencing this disparity—the harsh environment alongside the luxuriousness—causes cognitive dissonance, at least for me. Is this what Peter the Great had in mind for his imperial city? St. Petersburg surely reflects his insistence and the extent of his power, even today.