Thursday, May 18, 2006

Thinking. Mandelstam.

It started so innocently. A brief epigraph in Burgess' Honey for Bears. But I have been thinking of those two lines from Mandelstam's poem all day. We shall meet again in Petersburg/As though there we had buried the sun. I have been haunted by those words since I read them. It has been seven years since I last saw Petersburg. It was June, at the height of the White Nights, when the sun never goes down, never buries itself below the horizon, when night never falls like a black curtain. At midnight light still lingered in the sky, bright enough to read without turning on a lamp. I look back at the month I spent there and I wonder if it was all a dream. The endless day gave the city an even more surreal quality, with its candy-colored palaces like elaborate wedding-cakes fringed with white frosting, endless boulevards, avenues of trees, interlocking canals criss-crossed with bridges, the scent of lilacs and lilies-of-the-valley wafting down the escalators into the subterranean metro stations. It felt unreal, a stage set against which modern Russia simulateously merges and clashes with the past. Long-legged girls in short skirts getting in and out of a never-ending stream of Mercedes-Benzes idling at the curb. Apartment buildings like blocks of concrete raised above the silt of the city. (St. Petersburg isn't a city, it's a swamp). It was born as St. Petersburg, then became Leningrad, and now it is St. Petersburg again. The endless length of Nevsky Prospekt like the spine of the city. They say of Nevsky Prospekt (as they do of any major street of any city, I suppose) that if you stand there long enough, you will meet everyone you know. Who might I meet again in Petersburg, after a lifetime of a few years has passed? The myself I found there in 1999 was not the one I was six years before. Who knows how I might find myself there now?

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