The first night after I arrived in Russia, I slept like a baby through the night.  Unfortunately, ever since then, bedtime has been a different story.  Last night I forced myself to stay awake until 11:00 pm, and drifted to sleep, which I enjoyed until the ripe ol’ hour of 3:00 am.  Hooray for jet lag.  Actually, as annoying as it is, being awake for hours on end does have it’s advantages. 

For example, this morning, after lying in bed with my eyes permanently fixed open, I decided to be productive and wash the multitude of dishes that have slowly accumulated in our bathroom sink.  More loud noises, at least I can close the door.  During this time, I also manage to imagine an entire photography project, and I continue to cast person after person from our show as models.  All right, enough loud creativity, time for breakfast.  Can’t forget my plastic baggie!  Another stow away lunch for me!  Although I’m pretty sure the man who stands outside the front doors to the breakfast room and counts the customers is on to me.  Especially after the morning I left with a sandwich sized baby under my shirt. 

Today I sit with Rogelio and we start up a conversation about dreams.  I tell him all about my frightening “Exorcist”esque dreams I had while in high school, and he tells me that he has written some of his best songs while dreaming.  He said if he doesn’t force himself to wake up after he’s come up with a melody and lyrics, and just allows himself to drift away from creativity, he won’t remember all of the song when he wakes up. 

After I not-so-discreetly pack up my lunch for the day in my jacket pocket, I search the dining room for Hayley, who has agreed to travel out with me today to the State Hermitage Museum.  Three million pieces of art in one afternoon…start your engines!  Adrian and Steven come along for the adventure. 

I really wish I remembered to pack my student ID because students get in free to the Hermitage.  A normal ticket costs 250 ding dongs (a little over 8 U.S. dollars), so nothing that’s going to break the bank, but I did pay 200 more ding dongs to take photos. 

Since Adrian and Hayley want to finish by the early afternoon to enjoy the fast fading daylight, our game plan is to hit the Greek and Roman artwork, which Hayley studied in college, then the Italian Renaissance collection my sister enviously told me I had to see when she learned I’d be going to St. Petersburg, and then anything else our freshly cultured minds can handle after that.    Ready….break.


We listen to Hayley effortlessly ramble off Roman tragedy after Greek myth, until curiosity draws our attention to a grave marker topped with a hermaphrodite statue.  After a certain amount of information absorption, you can’t help but be somewhat immature. 


We walk a bit faster through the Italian Renaissance, as none of us know much about it.  Although I linger when I spot a name I recognize, Andrea Del Sarto.  This is my sister’s favorite artist and the fact that his painting of the holy family and John the Baptist hangs on these walls is the main reason I promised my sister I’d come to the Hermitage.  


Once we part ways with Adrian and Hayley, Steven and I decide we’ve had our fill of foreign art, and after receiving some jumbled directions for the bored looking volunteer in the corner, we head towards the Russian art.  We walk through high-ceilinged rooms coated in golden décor and ornate detail.  One room’s walls look like the inside pages of a royal yearbook, covered head to toe in portraits of the imperial family.  When we pass through the threshold into the throne room, our mouths drop simultaneously in awe.  We roam towards the center of the room, our necks craned back as our eyes enjoy the beautifully painted ceiling.


“Steven, will you fulfill my fantasy of waltzing in a palace ballroom?”

He bows, takes my hand, and spins me around the marbled floor for a few minutes.  All right, I can check that off my bucket list.


The next room will stumble into holds a visiting British exhibition.  The first painting is a Andy Warhol”esque” image of Cher in a Commi beret.  The sign says not photos, but I just have to sneak a picture.  The exhibit also includes an installation piece called “Swarm” by Tessa Farmer in which dozens of strategically posed insects hang from invisible strings.  From far away, the piece seems somewhat lacking in creativity, but on closer inspection, one sees that the insects are in continuous battle with miniscule demon fairies.  These little creatures controlling ride moths, kick bumble bees, and wrestle silk worms.  But, be warned, although you’ll be tempted to get in real close to inspect this microscopic battle, the volunteer watching over the exhibit will shout at you each time you get anywhere near the hanging beasts. 


From hermaphrodites in antiquity to insects warring demons in present day, as humans our fascination with the bizarre never seems to fade with time.  All right, I feel I’ve reached my culture limit for the day, on to more St. Petersburgy fun!