What did I enjoy about St. Petersburg? Well it was 1992, so things were just opening up. The main boulevard in the city was lit by what seemed like 50 watt bulbs strung across the street. In the early evening it cast a feeble glow over the street that was comical and gentle.
And there were pebbles sticking a finger joint’s length up out of the tarmac on the pavements because it was so long since the tarmac had been laid and it was worn away.
There were big trucks belching black smoke. I mean big as in the kind of truck you would only see in a quarry or a construction site in the UK. And there they were, big and unbreakable, thick metal plate, no finesse and built to never fail, belching smoke on the streets right in the city centre.
In a cafe where I ate, I recall a conveyor system for taking away the dirty plates. It was right there in the eating area and it led off to the kitchens behind – except it was very old and it creaked and rattled like a Heath Robinson contraption. The energy needed to keep that creaky old machine going must have far outweighed the benefit. I read into it a kind of sublimated desire on the part of the people to prove that they had technology and that it worked.
And among all this the people were really bright and quick on the uptake – a big change in the way they interacted socially from the people in Finland where I had spent the previous three months.
The women – a lot of them – seemed very sensual – aware of their sexuality – and it made me wonder how the Russian revolution ever took hold.
There were a lot of bookshops and they were full – people seemed genuinely interested in culture and in learning – about everything.
And I recall see men speaking in tight groups, inches from each other’s faces – either because of the cold (it was December) or because they didn’t want to be overheard. I got the idea it was a hangover from the previous regime. I wonder whether people still do that?
And the ice in the Neva had been broken up (by icebreakers, I guess) and was about a metre thick – in huge chunks against the river banks.
And the buildings – the decrepit and the refurbished – were lovely with lots of pastel colours.
And the best memory is the swing doors to the department stores, and people coming from the stores onto the streets like a ballet – a ballet of normality – of going in and out of the stores with the soundtrack of the doors swinging.