Moscow to Leningrad
We stayed in Moscow for three days then set out for Leningrad via Kalinin and Novgorod Novgorod has a glorious medieval Kremlin.
I had the biggest and most pleasant surprise of my artistic life at the entrance to the St. Sophia cathedral, inside the Kremlin. It had the most amazingly beautiful (for me) bronze doors. I had never heard of them. If only I had had time to draw I would have been in my element.
The bronze doors of St. Sophia Cathedral.
It is unusual to come across such a treasure, normally I have seen pictures in books of all the great works of art before I see the real thing. I’ve never forgotten how thrilling it was to see them. A short way across the meadows surrounding the Kremlin was a very wide languid river with a small monastery on the banks. it was like a sad remnant of old Russia. (WHO WOULD HAVE THOUGHT THEN THAT THERE WOULD BE A RESURGENCE OF RELIGION)
The camp site in Leningrad was about 30 kilometres outside the town in a pleasant pine wood by the sea.
Leningrad camp site, all tents with wooden floors, camp beds and electricity .
From a colour slide. The girls cleaning the mini bus. Whilst we were there a couple of Australian guys repaired the faulty start motor.
Up to that point we still had no idea whether we were going to be welcome at our link school but when we got to the site there was a telephone message waiting for us inviting us to go to the school the next day. The next day was the first day of their new term and on the way we noticed children carrying flowers, it is customary to give them to the teachers on the first day of term.
They made us feel very welcome but they kept asking who is your leader. We didn’t think in that way at all. They are much more formal than we are and think in terms of official groups and an organised hierarchy. They asked us what we would like to do during our stay. As a specialist language school all their lessons are taught in English from the very beginning. They planned a programme for the whole of our time there and took us wherever we wanted to go releasing some of their students to go with us.
Firstly we spent a day in the school. The school was very drab both inside and outside. There were no pictures on the walls except for the inevitable photos and busts of Lenin. The school rules were inscribed in the entrance hall. The whole place was painted in cream and dark brown. There were 800 children aged from 7 to 18, I have no idea how they chose them. Although the school was so old fashioned in feeling there was a great respect for learning and all the children were well mannered and easy to get along with. All the girls and boys uniforms were more or less the same throughout Russia. Our girls were horrified by the uniform, it was a white pinafore with ruffles on the shoulders and underneath a black high necked blouse with white lace at the throat and at the bottom of the sleeves. It is actually a very sexy provocative uniform. A lot of them wore a huge bow in their hair. The boys wear black suits.
If they were Pioneers, official young communists, they could wear their red neckerchief. The lessons put us to shame, we went to English lessons where they were discussing Shakespeare and reading poetry. Their main problem was getting the accent and intonation right, because of course they had no opportunity to talk with native speakers of the language. I always find it amusing when idioms come up…’let the cat out of the bag’ ‘raining cats and dogs’. We are so used to using them in our everyday speech that we never think how strange they must sound to outsiders. They have to be learnt whilst we grow up with them from childhood.
Leningrad is quite the most beautiful city that I have ever seen, built on a great number of islands so the waterways were rather like Amsterdam. There were more great palaces to the acre that you can ever imagine, no wonder that there was a revolution. The Russians really look after their old buildings and take great care to keep them in excellent repair and well painted (with the exception of some churches). It’s remarkable when you think that the siege of Leningrad was just over twenty years ago (written in 1967) The damage from the war was totally dreadful. We went to the Hermitage, the building is breathtaking in it’s magnificence, as are the fabulous collection of icons. The Winter Palace and Hermitage collection.
I went to the art gallery on my own it was was full of the Social Realists as I had expected but tucked away on the very top floor I found what I had come to see the Matisse ‘Dancers’.
I was surprised by how many other good quality Post Impressionist paintings they had. I was the only one on the top floor and there weren’t that number of people in the main galleries. (FLASH FORWARD TO SEVEN YEARS AGO WHEN I WENT BACK TO ST.PETERSBURG. THE MATISSE AND THE IMPRESSIONISTS AND POST IMPRESSIONISTS ARE NOW ON THE MAIN FLOORS AND IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO SEE THEM AS THERE ARE SO MANY PEOPLE!)
The next day we went with our school children guides to see the Peterhof Palace with the splendid gardens going down to the River Neva. The whole landscape is set off by the imaginative fountains (including some joke ones that suddenly come on as an unsuspecting visitor is passing). It was interesting to see ordinary Russian families, sailors and country people all enjoying their day out in the well kept gardens. Lots of just married couples come here to have their photographs taken. The palace at the top of the slope was gilded so brightly that it shone in the sunshine. On the way back we all went to a fair before we took our guides back to their school.
Peterhof from a colour slide. Peterhof fountains.