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Thursday, November 22, 2018

Alexander Pushkin’s home in St. Petersburg, Russia.

The famous poet of heroism lived in a house that was actually a palace. Of the Russian aristocracy, Pushkin was also descended from an African King, General Abraham Petrovitch Gannibal, of a tribal kingdom near present-day Cameroun. Pushkin was proud of his heritage, and often refered to himself as "afrikanitz" (African).

The day I visited "Pushkin House," was in late June, still in the season of "White Nights" where the sun touches the horizon, just to eerily glow light again on the other horizon. It rained almost every day, and in the photograph on the walkway to the house, I am carrying a borrowed umbrella. It was before 9-11, the ruble had just crashed, and you could see signs of economic suffering everywhere.  Elderly people on pensions were reduced to begging, retired professors were selling their books for cash, and there was talk of violence and the Russian mafia. In fact, I saw a man groaning under the bridge across the Neva River near my dormitory at the Herzen University, where I was studying for a few weeks.

I was delighted to have the chance to visit Pushkin's house, whose poetry I admired. It was not necessarily easy to visit.  First, I felt a bit uncomfortable because there was a great deal of resentment toward foreigners or outsiders, who were viewed to have contributed to the collapse of the economy. To my surprise, however, I was constantly mistaken for a Russian. I was learning Russian and could understand at times up to 50 or 60 percent of what was being said (but sometimes that dropped to around 10 percent).

We took a car to the palace, paid our fee, and entered. To visit the museum, you had to take off your shoes and put on slippers in order to not destroy the wood floors or the exquisite carpets. Everything was built in the style of Louis XIV through Louis XVI – lots of bright white walls, gilt frames, gold leaf, mythological figures, dolphins, etc. Many paintings in the style of Poussin. 

I could better imagine Pushkin’s values and sense of heroic loss and the desire to write epics and thereby construct history when I saw his house. I could imagine Pushkin drafting “The Bronze Horseman” in his home library, which had so many shelves it resembled the library of a university or monastery. 

The wood parquet floor was roughly the same color as his mahogany escritoire, which had intricately worked bronze pulls and terminations. 

In addition to writing poems, Pushkin also wrote short prose. His short story, "The Shot," also addresses issues of heroism, sacrifice, and firm adherence to a higher sense of duty. In it, the prince Ypsilanti, attempts to institute reforms for the improvement of life for his people.

Pushkin lived the philosophy of political resistance, personal honor, heroism, and valor that he expressed in his poems. He died at age 38 in a duel. 

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