Learn how to crawl: the New York City Yarn Crawl is on through Sunday, September 25.

St. Petersburg: Land of Many Monumental Contrasts

Dear Kay,
Among the Things They Think You Want To See is the large category known as monuments.
I don’t mind a monument. But the density of monuments in Russia is really, really something. In the basement of the Estonian Museum of the Occupations, they have a bunch of leftover Lenins gleefully removed from every street corner in 1991 when Estonia became independent. In St. Petersburg, our poor guide could barely finish describing Catherine the Great’s statue before we ran into another monument made from the leftover columns of some memorial cathedral. Monuments made of monuments!
The Siege Memorial
This was the one that stays with me. In this middle of a busy highway roundabout, there’s a brutal-looking ’70s-era memorial to the siege of Leningrad during World War II. You descend underground, past rows of lights, 900 of them to mark each day of the siege. The Nazis surrounded the city for two and a half years, but the Russians never gave up despite total starvation and the death of over a million civilians.If you read about the siege, you will be absolutely horrified.
You enter a vast chamber filled with heavy, solemn plaques and flags. The thing that got me was a short, silent film that ran in an alcove, on a loop, accompanied by Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 7, which he completed in St. Petersburg during the early days of the siege. It was documentary footage shot during the siege, blurred and grainy and nightmarish. I will never forget the flickering image of two bundled women sitting in the middle of the frozen Neva River, lowering a small cup into a hole in the ice. So slow, their movements. Such a struggle to pull the thin rope out of the hole.
Our guide told us that her family members who survived it never talk about the details of the siege. Some things really are unspeakable, she said.
Meanwhile . . .
In a lighter place, I was amused to see this one, to the great Russian poet Pushkin, whose use of everyday language in his poetry made him beloved by the people:
He looks like he used to be standing heroically but frankly just needed to take a break.
The Official Shoe of BalticCrawl ’09
I told you I was going to endorse a product, and here you go:
Shortly before we left on this trip, my sister Buffy and I went shoe shopping, and she VEHEMENTLY opposed my purchase of the Tsubo Koti, even at half price. I think she was reacting to the immense size of a size 10 shoe, being a measly size 7 herself. But I also think she thought they were “really bad.” Or “not good.” Or “godawful.” I bought them anyway, wore them all over the place, and I never ever wever had a moment’s grief. Way to go, Tsubo! Don’t send me any of your kookie high-wedge platforms, but feel free to send me some more of these things, because I love those bubbly soles!
And at Day’s End
David had become addicted to Risk at camp–when he wasn’t licking doorknobs and contracting the flu. So we set up a game on the tiny table in the boys’ cabin and started invading each other. I had a hard time being cheerful when David “Call Me Stalin” marched his way through my territories. Singing didn’t help; appeasement was worse. With every roll of the dice, my beleaguered armies evaporated. I left the game in charge of Hubbo for a while; when I returned, to my HORROR, I was down to Argentina and Brazil. Merciless! I hear there’s a monument in Cabin 925 now, marking the spot where the Army of Ann capitulated and went to get a cookie.




  1. When the risk love wanes, I suggest Settlers of Catan as a great board game. Shorter games with trading…..

  2. I has Tsubo Kirs! (Okay, only when they get here from Zappo’s.)

  3. Having grown up working in retail (aka on my feet all day) I can say that there is nothing quite like a really comfortable shoe–though I still love the “less comfortable but really cute” ones for occaisions when I’m not walking as much.

  4. Pray tell, where were the shoes on sale?

  5. When done with Risk, there is always Axis & Allies, Stratego and on another front my fav Acquisitions. 🙂

  6. lol! I’d love a shoe with a bubbly sole besides crocs!

  7. Thanks for sharing your trip with us, I am quite enjoying your take on it!
    It is good that you survived your own “siege” and were able to retreat for cookies after 🙂

  8. When once I played at Risk, there was a saying…’who rules Madagascar, rules the world’. I am not so sure…and I hardly ever won.

  9. Ah, Risk. I am always capitulating and leaving to get a cookie! My family is so competitive. I just want a desert isle and an umbrella drink.

  10. I had never heard of Tsubo but now I must try them. I too have a sister with smallish feet named Buffy; they just don’t get it.

  11. I can second Axis and Allies. I love the MIT rules variant, though I normally just play the basic rules (and I’m always Japan).

  12. I see you too are experiencing the thing known as “Sons who will soon be as tall as Mommy.” I might start wearing shoes with heels, just to keep a tiny advantage.
    I love the crazy way Pushkin spells his name!

  13. To build on your memories of St. Petersburg, read “The Madonnas of Leningrad” by Debra Dean. Takes place mainly in the Hermitage Museum, fascinating story.

  14. Love the shoes and thanks for the link.

  15. My teenage daughter has been hiding my shoes – all in the Koti genus – and telling me the “Ugly Shoe Troll” who lives under my bed has eaten them.

  16. Love your trip.
    Love the shoes also.

  17. memories are made of this

  18. RISK! Didn’t know people still played that! That was THE game for all the guys – and a few girls with appropriate permission – to play during our years in high school (boarding school). Vicious, those guys were!
    I watch RT (Russia Today) from satellite and they’ve been doing a series of reports on events surrounding the war. Enlightening, told from their point of view … they haven’t gotten to the Siege yet and maybe they won’t – simply for the reason given by your guide.

  19. The secret to playing Risk: You don’t care! So, you go after everyone!
    My husband rec’d Risk for Christmas the year I went to meet his family (pre-wedding). DH & his brother insisted “you have to have 3 to play”. I went on the offensive and before you know it, I’d wiped the board with his brother and DH was down to 6 armies when he surrendered. (It was better than being wiped out completely by a “girl”.)
    Best of all: I was never again asked to play Risk! 🙂
    Enjoy your trip! It’s a joy to share it with you.

  20. As a fellow size 10 shoe I am too familiar with the smaller shoes look cuter phenomenon. Alas!
    But I like those shoes big or small and will get some.

  21. Haunting story, that of the seige of Leningrad…
    Russia has such a rich history; I’m really enjoying the pics, especally those with you/the fambly. Thanks so much.

  22. Hang on to Brazil. And start working on your Portuguese.

  23. The small footed sisters just don’t get it. They’ve had a lifetime of choosing between several options. Those of us with a firmer grip on the world know you gotta celebrate when you find something that fits and is on sale.
    (The last pair of shoes my sister said I was stupid to buy are still going strong several years later)

  24. If your family likes games, I also suggest “Settlers of Catan”. You can get it at your local game/hobby store or Amazon. It is really fun and a good combination of skill and luck. The best part is that it comes in pieces that you put together, so it is a little different each time. It is confusing at first, but stick with it, or invite someone over that knows how to play. I set it up on a large round x-mas tree tray that fits the game perfectly. That way when it runs longer, we can move it out of the way until the next night. This has been the summer of Uno at our house. My eight year old loves it.

  25. Dang, those are some cute shoes.

  26. The siege memorial is one of the things about St. Petersburg that stands out in my mind, too (our hotel was just across the street). Your travelogue brings back all sorts of memories. Thanks!

  27. As a small footed person, I need to insist that it seems great to have tiny feet until you realize that most adult shoes are not made small enough for you. At least you can buy Tsubos, while I may be forced into kid’s tennis shoes (bright pink sneakers with velcro are just not acceptable past a certain age).
    I yearn for bigger feet — I wouldn’t mind having to knit bigger socks in exchange.

  28. I’m enjoying reading about your travels and also agree The Modonnas of Leningrad is worthwhile reading. Add to that City of Thieves…..

  29. You should check out Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History podcast. He just did a three part series on the Ostfront and talks a lot about the siege and the battle and all that stuff. Which is normally not that interesting to me, but he really makes it worth your while!

  30. Risk is great fun.

  31. I clicked the link for the Tsubos (thanks for facilitating the satisfaction of my curiosity), and I think they’re super cute. (comfort is the most beautiful shoe characteristic in my book). But “grapemilk” as a color? That’s just strange.


A bit of news from us, every now and again.

(Your email is safe with us.)