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Old 13.02.2005, 18:40   #1
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Default Description of St. Petersburg (From We the Living by Ayn Rand)

It was St. Petersburg; the war made it Petrograd; the revolution made it Leningrad.

It is a city of stone, and those living in it think not of stone brought upon a green earth and piled block on block to raise a city, but of one huge rock carved into streets, bridges, houses, and earth brought in handfuls, scattered, ground into the stone to remind them of that which lies beyond the city.

Its trees are rare strangers, sickly foreigners in a climate of granite, forlorn and superfluous. Its parks are reluctant concessions. In spring, a rare dandelion sticks a bright yellow head through the stones of its embankments, and men smile at it incredulously and condescendingly as at an impudent child. Its spring does not rise from the soil; its first violets, and very red tulips, and very blue hyacinths come in the hands of men, on street corners.

Petrograd was not born; it was created. The will of a man raised it where men did not choose to settle. An implacable emperor commanded into being the city and the ground under the city. Men brought earth to fill a swamp where no living thing existed but mosquitoes. And like mosquitoes, men died and fell into the grunting mire. No willing hands came to build the new capital. It rose by the labor of soldiers, thousands of soldiers, regiments who took orders and could not refuse to face a deadly foe, a gun or a swamp. They fell, and the earth they brought and their bones made the ground for the city. “Petrograd,” its residents say, “stands on skeletons.”

Petrograd is not in a hurry; it is not lazy; it is gracious and leisurely, as befits the freedom of its vast streets. It is a city that threw itself down amid the marshes and pine forests, luxuriously, both arms outflung. Its squares are paved fields; its streets are as broad as tributaries to the Neva, the widest river to cross a great city...

... Petrograd’s residents wonder, sometimes, at the strange bonds that hold them. After the long winter, they curse the mud and the stone, and cry for pine forests; they flee from the city as from a hated stepmother; they flee to green grass and sand and to the sparkling capitals of Europe. And, as to an unconquerable mistress, they return in the fall, hungry for the wide streets, the shrieking tramways and the cobblestones, serene and relieved, as if life were beginning again. “Petrograd,” they say, “is the only City.”

Cities grow like forests, like weeds. Petrograd did not grow. It was born finished and comnplete. Petrograd is not acquainted with nature. It was the work of man.

Nature makes mistakes and takes chances; it mixes its colors and knows little of straight lines. But Petrograd is the work of man who knows what he wants.

Petrograd’s grandeur is unmarred, its squalor unrelieved. Its facets are cut clearly, sharply; they are deliberate, perfect with the straight-forward perfection of man’s work.

Cities grow with a people, and fight for the place at the head of cities, and rise slowly up the steps of years. Petrograd did not rise. It came to be at the height. It was commanded to command. It was a capital before its first stone was laid. It was a monument to the spirit of man.

Peoples know nothing of the spirit of man, for peoples are only nature, and man is a word that has no plural. Petrograd is not of the people. It has no legend, no folklore; it is not glorified in nameless songs down nameless roads. It is a stranger, aloof, incomprehensible, forbidding. No pilgrims ever traveled to its granite gates. The gates had never been opened in warm compassion to the meek, the hurt and the maimed, like the doors of the kindly Moscow. Petrograd does not need a soul; it has a mind.

And perhaps it is only a coincidence that in the language of the Russians, Moscow is “she,” while Petrograd has ever been “he.”

And perhaps it is only a coincidence that those who seized the power in the name of the people, transferred their capital to the meek Moscow from the haughty aristocrat of cities.
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