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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Russia... A Country of Endless Fascination

A 1906 painting by Russia artist
Boris Kustodiev, now in the State
Russian Museum of St. Petersburg.
I'm no expert on Russian history, but I've always had an affinity for my own idea of the former Soviet Union.  Interestingly, I've noticed a huge uptick in visits to the blog from Russia.  Why?  I have no idea, but I am delighted by it.  Apparently, I have a lot of new Russian friends who are interested in the Dapper and Dreamy life!

Unfortunately, most of my images of Mother Russia are likely stereotypes, not to mention horribly out of date.  I am always open to being educated, so feel free to correct my many misconceptions.  To me, there are two overriding images that come to mind.  The first is, of course, snow...  lots and lots of snow.  The second is of lilacs.  I must have read about Russia and lilacs somewhere and the image stuck.

Most of what I've learned about Russia and the Russians has come from my interest in the Houses of Windsor and Romanov.  If you look at the family tree of Queen Victoria, you will see that there are many, many marriages that brought Romanovs into the English Royal Family, as well as several marriages that sent the British to Russia.  Queen Victoria's granddaughters were an effective tool when it came to making stronger diplomatic connections between these superpowers of the late 19th century.  Of course, the Romanovs are no more representative of the average Russian than the Queen is of your workaday Englishman.  But, the sites and sounds of St. Petersburg and Moscow are often well-represented in books on these royal subjects.

John Steinbeck also gave me a look at Russia, or more correctly the Soviet Union, after the second world war.  In some ways, it's not a pretty picture, at least not when the government or the cities are involved.  But the moment he stepped away from the metropolises and into the countryside, an entirely different world appeared.  While universally welcoming, it was in the country that he was treated to the long dinners filled with endless toasts and a seemingly steady stream of food presented proudly by his hosts.  That's one of the images of Russia and the Russians that's always stayed with me...  Welcoming, friendly, kind, fun-loving and maybe even a little bit sentimental.

My uncle has had a long-held interest in Russia and her language.  I remember well that, in the summer, my aunt would talk about how her home was like a little Russia dacha.  That image, too, has stayed with me.  When I imagine their house, filled with books, casual and generous entertainment of family, and friends who were welcomed as family, and even my uncle's foray into playing his balalaika, I imagine a very Russian scene.  Add reading Anna Karenina in their back garden one hot summer many years ago, and the music of Rachmaninoff, and you have a sort of total immersion in my idea of Russia.

Finally, there are a few books, again terribly out of date, that have given me a feeling for Russia, or at least my idea of it.  I've already mentioned Steinbeck's Russian Journal, but there was also a book about the Soviet Union published by National Geographic in the 1980's.  And yet another of those Time-Life Cookbooks - The Food of Russia - that took me into the cozy and welcoming homes of real Russians, of course they were circa 1970.

The cover of Time-Life's The Cooking of Russia
cookbook...  look at those amazing Easter eggs!

I'd love to know more about Russia and her people.  I'd be fascinated to learn what's Dapper and Dreamy in that endlessly fascinating and enormous country.  If you happen to be one of my newly acquired Russian readers, drop me a line and tell me about yourself.

Although I've probably exposed my total ignorance of a real place and a real people, I've meant it in the best possible way.  For me, countries are more about the people than their governments.  It's through their friendship and food, their arts and culture and their music and faith that we can learn the most.

One of the astonishingly beautiful palaces in St. Petersburg.

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