Monday, June 7, 2010

The Nyet Ladies

St. Petersburg, Russia

Lining the Neva River are imposing buildings that show off the historic oscillating powers of the Romanovs, Soviets and Industrialists. But even at that, one building stands alone. The Hermitage Museum is a must see stop to anyone visiting St Petersburg for the first (or fifth) time. In spite of its misplaced art deco colour, Rastrelli’s masterful design has been the iconic structure on the south shore ever since Catherine the Great started hording works of art in 1764.

There is no way anyone could ever see, not to mention appreciate, the three million or so works contained in this treasured collection. So most visitors satiate their cultural duty and follow the crowds for momentary glimpses of works by daVinci, Michelangelo, Picasso and Van Gogh. Even at that, the experience is overwhelming, not only because of the volume of art to take in, but the volume of bodies pouring in and out of the small individual rooms where each collection is housed. Add to this urban Russia’s chilly hospitality and the Hermitage experience could be downright negative. That is, if not for one inadvertent ray of sunshine- the ‘nyet’ ladies.

Now make no mistake, the women assigned to ensure the security and well being of every single room in the Hermitage take their task seriously-and then some! Brush against a wall, lean over the velvet rope, linger past your allotted time or photograph the non-photographable, and you will elicit a firm and unequivocal “NYET!”

Their over-the-top fanaticism is at first off-putting, but so persistent are the ‘nyets’ that in time one becomes acclimatized and then even addicted to hearing them. This hardly creates the cultured environment most would prefer to immerse in while admiring the works of our greatest masters. But this is nonetheless Russia and therefore a perfectly fitting environment to enjoy the art of the Hermitage.

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