Sunday, July 22, 2012

July 20, 2012 St. Petersburg

July 20, 2012             St. Petersburg.

This morning we toured the Hermitage Museum.

 It is one of the largest (if not the largest) museums in the world.  Our guide explained that if you spent just a few minutes at each work of art, it would take decades to get through the entire collection.

With just a few hours, we, in true Russian aerobic fashion, whisked through the best known collections, highlighted by a DaVinci, a Michelangelo, as well as a few other Italian Renaissance masters. 

On the third floor, we saw the impressionists as well as other 19th and 20th century artists, including Monet, Picasso, etc. etc. etc.

Ever since a visitor threw sulfuric acid, hidden in a water bottle, on a masterpiece, the museum forbids water bottles inside.  That, with a change in the weather (warmer) and no a/c (humid inside), we were actually done once the tour ended.  Most of the group stayed on for a few extra hours.

At one point, the guide said we had entered a room to view an collection called “Hidden Treasures.”  She said the art was “from Germany.”  Hum?  Upon further elucidation, she explained that the Soviet army stole the art from Germany at the end of WWII. (She proceeded, in that direct style we’ve become accustomed, to explain that all but two pieces of art in the Hermitage was stolen (or nationalized, which she calls stolen).  “Why should the government pay for art when it can just take it?,” she queried.  Well, while that should have been no surprise, it did get us all thinking.

I was channeling my inner Ed Luby, my colleague at SF State, where he directs the graduate program in Museum Studies.  Ed is an expert on ownership issues of Holocaust-era art.

Yep, in our collective group mind, this was not really “German stolen art,” it was Jewish stolen art.  I asked our guide if anyone had ever contested ownership.  The response: an emphatic:  “NO.”  “No one complains because they know it's the Russian government and they know they’ll never get it back.”’  But, I replied, has anyone ever filed a claim?  Ok. Ok.  She ran off four families that are contesting ownership.  “They’ll never get any of it.”  Conversation finished.

We headed back to the hotel for our daily, and much needed afternoon nap! 

But first...The Chocolate Museum..

Why cream..

Since tonight begins Shabbat, we arranged to go back to the synagogue for services.  We took taxis over, participated in a very nice service (with many familiar melodies, since this synagogue is affiliated with the Reform movement’s international association), and said our goodbyes to Rabbi Helena Rubinstein  (yes, I learned, her first name actually is Helena).  She is one special rabbi and woman.  Members of the congregation of thinking already about ways to get her to Marin for a visit.

We ventured to a restaurant/theater for dinner.  Unfortunately, no show tonight.  More unfortunately, it took 3 ½ hours to get the main course finished (I guess they’re on Uganda time (see 

Quiz:  If you saw “languages of lamb” listed on the menu, what would you be ordering?

Answer to yesterday’s quiz:  The hand holding the round marble is the women’s bathroom.  The hand holding the square is the men’s…  I got it right.. Not everyone did J

It is the land of the midnight sun since the sun was still shining when we got to girls to bed….

This is one of St. Petersburg's main streets about 10:30 pm.  Quite a difference, in light and people, from Belarus' main street at 8 pm. 

Tomorrow, more palaces...

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