Saturday 6 April 2013

From Russia with Love

I used to travel a lot. My last truly "me" trip was one to St.Petersburg in Russia. When my husband announced that he was off to the former Soviet Union, I quickly jumped on the bandwagon and uttered the words "if you think you're going there without me then think again". He saw sense and I tagged along with him and his work colleagues.

You see, when part of your genetic make-up comes from somewhere, it has a sort of inbuilt homing device which creates this desire to return. Technically the part of Russia my family is from was part of Poland when my father was born but it now lies just across the border in Belarus, the Russians having reclaimed it. Still, I needed to see what, if any, characteristics I had retained from my Slavic ancestry.

As a destination for an art lover/culture vulture, St.Petersburg is delightful. It is not surprising that the Russian royalty chose to live here. 

Two must sees on the art trail are without doubt The Hermitage and The Russian Museum. The sheer scale of the former is breathtaking. Opulent. Extravagant.

But, I fell in love with the charm of what lay within the latter; especially the folk art. That I connected with. That was my heritage.

From the beauty of simple woodblock print textiles in colours of the earth and woods.

To the painted wooden panels in rich shades of reds and ochres.

I came across a door. Painted so honestly. I wondered if my grandmother had had such a painted door leading into her farmhouse.

I have no photographs of my grandmother, just a vague imagined image in my head and a knowledge that she was incredibly brave. She was shot during the war for hiding Jewish children; having already had her family (my father) taken from her and sent to Siberia. But there in the museum in front of the painterly images of peasant girls in their dress, I got a feel for her, her life and what it was to be a country peasant girl.

Art reminds us, informs us and captures a way of looking at things. It encompasses everyday beauty and is a record, for those of us who have no knowledge, of what life was like for people who are part of our heritage and make-up. 

The only thing I have from my grandmother is a piece of embroidery. The textiles thing again. My father revisited Belarus, only once, and his Aunt gave him an embroidered tablecloth with a crocheted edge that had been my grandmothers. She probably would have made it for her bottom drawer.

Looking around The Russian Museum, I felt closer to her. And this was the magic of Russia for me. A glimpse into life as she had known it, in simpler, happier times.