November 29, 2013 at 11:52 am (Uncategorized) (, , )

I just couldn’t imagine Dostoyevsky sunburnt.

When I pictured him coming home – and I did, because my life is not firmly rooted in the present, let me tell you – I’d always see him bent low with arms full of, I don’t know, onions and rat poison, collar up against the Russian snow as he trudged down Stolyarny towards Kokushkin Brigdge.

But when I turned the corner and saw his street for the first time, Led Zeppelin blared from a nearby window as I peered through leopard print sunglasses.

Not quite the same, really.


Managing to get sunburnt my first day in St Petersburg was not what I had expected, but then again, nothing in this exotic, intoxicating city was. Wedding cake pastel palaces sent chunks of stone and plaster crashing to the footpaths below, where women with six inch stilettos and a scowl stepped right over them and kept walking. The Church on Spilled Blood was staggering, the vodka strong, and the Russian people not without a sullen kind of charm. I was, in short, utterly bewitched, and I strode along the Nevsky Prospect with my hand on my purse and a wary eye on the crumbling facades.

And this, my last day in St Petersburg, had me tracking down Raskolnikov, the murderous character in Dostoyevsky’s ‘Crime and Punishment.’ I stood outside the apartment where Dostoyevsky himself had lived, and where he placed his main character. It was not a pleasant part of town, even in his time; if the broken windows and stench of urine didn’t put me off, the groups of men drinking on the street corners certainly did. But part of heading to Russia was the literary indulgence it allowed me, from Pushkin to Nabokov and Gogol, and I was going to feel the spectre of Dostoyevsky if it was the last thing I did.

Plaque to Dostoyevsky

Plaque to Dostoyevsky

And it just might be. I was beginning to get noticed, and it wasn’t entirely enjoyable. I hadn’t seen that many Russian women with flame red hair and tattoos: I wasn’t likely to blend in. So I bent to pocket a small chunk of rubble that had tumbled from Raskolnikov’s roof, and slowly walked across Kaznachelsky.

Steps led down to a cellar bar, and I was instantly transported. This was, surely, where Dostoyevsky had come to drink! Perhaps when he wrote a certain amount of pages, he allowed himself a break? I chose a stool and gazed around as I delved deeper into my fantasy. I’d tell the tale that I sat on HIS stool as I raised a vodka in his honour. Yep, that’s the story I’d choose. But when I lifted the glass, I frowned at the strangely familiar music that tinkled out of a cracked speaker.

When I tell the story, I leave out the part that my toast was accompanied by a cheesy Russian version of Wham’s ‘Wake me up before you go-go.’ No-one has to know, after all.


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