Daughter of the Bear (Blog Ten) by Dan Watt, author of Brackish, and Queen of Caelum, References at bottom of page.
“A Great wind is blowing, and that gives you either imagination or a headache” Catherine the Great
After he gets off the bus he immediately limps towards the left archway to the double doors of the State Hermitage Museum purposely leaning on his cane. As he enters the magnitude of the second largest museum in the world it overwhelms him for the second time. When they were younger his mother and Sofia brought him and Marina here. Staring at the artwork again reminded him of the English author J.R.R. Tolkien’s song in the Russian translated version of The Fellowship of the Ring: All that glitters is not gold. He cares little for gold so his glitter is the real knowledge hidden within the artwork itself. He goes to the ticket kiosk and spends 700 rubles on a ticket.
Next he goes to the gift shop and buys a sim card with 100 hours. He had hoped to buy a new cellphone but that won’t be possible right now. Sitting on one of the benches in the massive hallway with its arched ceiling covered in paintings he exchanges the new sim card with the card inside.
When their mothers brought them here the first time Marina would run up to the rope in front of a painting or artifact. He remembers seeing her stare at a piece of artwork for a moment, than glancing at the plaque with its description, and moving on. He on the other hand would stare at the piece before him, studying the designs or memorizing the amulets, rings, and crests worn by the painted figures. By the time he was on the third piece of artwork she would be pulling his arm to keep going. Frustrated he pointed at a painting far down one of the hallways and asked, “What is the history of that painting?” And she would tell him. When he checked she was right. That’s when he realized she had a photographic memory or close to it. She could also read all or most of a description on a plaque in one or two glances. He hated when their mothers took them to a museum after that.
There was one painting Marina stopped at and studied. In Room 300 of the Winter Palace hangs a picture of Catherine II known to history as Catherine the Great. While Marina’s stared fixated on the 1782 painting by Richard Brompton he heard say in awed voice, ‘She revolutionized our homeland.’
‘She certainly slept with most of the country,’ he had replied with a chuckle.
She had punched him in the arm. ‘Peter the Great gave girls the right to education but Catherine opened the doors for female writers and artisans.’
‘Don’t forget she was born in Prussia,’ he said with pride.
‘I can forgive her for that shortcoming.’
He had gently pushed her for that comment and they both laughed.
When they first started dating he took Anna to the German Architecture Museum in Frankfurt. His father had taken him there often to see the miniature models of buildings through the ages. That’s where his father explained the advances in buildings from construction inside of hills to give the walls stability, later using buttresses, and finally wood and steel girders. His father had explained that wind direction changed throughout the day so buildings had to be supported from the top and all the sides. Now buildings, if built properly can withstand an earthquake. Anna had smiled politely as he enthusiastically repeated to her all the construction details his father had taught him. But he could tell she wasn’t interested. So he took her to The Green Vault Museum in Dresden.
At the Green Vault Museum he saw her eyes light up. He had whispered in her ear that this museum has the largest treasure accumulation in all of Europe. That’s when he realized the way to her heart was art history. She would love it at the State Hermitage Museum. That was their goal. To semi-retire when they were still young and visit the museums of the world. He closed his eyes as an old man might and felt a chill of loneliness.
He punches in a number.
“Yes,” a familiar woman’s voice answers in Russian.
“I have arrived,” he says. “And I wish you were here.”
“Me too. I haven’t long to talk. Has any porridge been eaten?”
“No,” he replies with a sigh. If he had found Marina he would have answered yes.
“Handsome and Gorgeous are nearby.” He laughs at Anna’s description. “Should I let them know?”
“Yes,” he replies. “Where?”
“Tsar’. What sign?”
“Three taps of a cane.”
“I will tell them. Keep safe my love.”
“You as well my heart.” He waits for her to hang up first.