Other Museum Treasures

St. Petersburg, an architectural preserve of the 19th century, is a living museum where you can find styles ranging from the late Baroque to the flaming Modernist. Petersburg is also awash in museums, and not only those with the Hermitage stamp.

Recently two Americans produced a shower gel with the slogan, “For a sleep filled with sweet dreams (and without waking up in a panic at 3 am).” The product is supported by the founders of the Sigmund Freud Museum of Dreams. The founder of psychoanalysis never set foot in this city, but the museum was opened on the 100th anniversary of the publication of Freud’s book,  The Interpretation of Dreams. In addition to a display devoted to Freud’s life and work, the museum holds exhibitions, readings, lectures and concerts. The museum’s general goal is the “discovery of the self.”

Meanwhile, to plumb the depths of the mysterious Russian soul, one can explore the city’s museums, armed with the old Russian saying, “Vodka, a boat, a young lass.”

This takes us to the Vodka Museum. Here, the display starts with Russia’s baptism in the 10th century. At that time, Russian alcohol was just 12 proof (6%). It was not yet the vodka we know today (which is normally 40 proof) and was referred to as “wine.” The Genoese shared with Russians the secret of preparing distilled alcohol, which they called the “water of life” – aqua vita. Under Tsar Vasily II, alcohol was regarded as a medicine, while under Peter the Great’s daughter, Elizabeth, there were vodkas with names that began with every letter of the Cyrillic alphabet – from Анис [“Anise”] to Яблоко [“Apple”] … at this stage, the tour guide’s speech may cease being intelligible – the clarity of mind dimmed by the frequent vodka-tasting which is included in the ticket price.

Unsteadily, we stagger out toward the Neva, where there is a fresh sea breeze and ships. Some 53 people once served on the submarine Narodovolets. They slept on beds 165 centimeters long, took meals in the same room in which they slept and launched torpedoes... This all took place 50 years ago; today, the retired Narodovolets is home to the Submarine Museum.

Of course, modern submarines are much more comfortable, our guide explains. “They are longer than the old ones by 100 meters. There are almost all the comforts of civilization... only there aren’t any women.” Officially, the first visitor to this submarine museum, was Vladimir Putin, at the time the city’s deputy mayor.

So it is that museum life is interwoven with reality. But the real apotheosis is always personal. It is definitely more exciting to visit an exhibition when your portrait is hanging there. Oh, the sweet feeling of vanity! At the opening of an exhibition of the work of German photographer Daniel Biskup in the Russian Museum, I suddenly saw my own photo.

The recipe for those who crave a moment of glory is simple: spice your life up with some creativity. And, for this, there is no better spot than St. Petersburg.

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