Yesterday I spent most of my time in the Hermitage, Russian’s primo art museum. This could easily be one of the world’s greatest museums, the collection is spectacular. The stairways, hallways and ceilings remind me of Versailles. The ambience is unbelievable, but there are two major flaws, the lighting is horrible and most of the paintings are under glass. The lighting, by far, is the lesser problem. There is a terrible glare on most of the paintings because of aged fluorescent lighting that hangs exposed in a circle around the perimeter of each room. I suppose this old lighting is just due a lack of funds, but I can’t understand why. The museum is packed. I wish they’d raise the ticket prices and correct this problem. Or perhaps sell off one Rubins to pay for everything! The second problem much worse. There is glass over most of the paintings! This is nothing less than desecration of art. And yes, I am sure they are doing this with all good intentions for security and for conservation, but why bother traveling across the world to see paintings under glass that can be seen on the Internet or in a book just as well. The reason you travel to museums like the Hermitage is to see real art. Looking at paintings through glass is sterile and almost pointless. From my photographer’s perspective I have nothing but praise for this museum because they issue photography permits, a fantastic idea and one that I wish all museums would institute, yet when they glass over the art all the advantage is lost. This glassing business was extremely frustrating and made my feelings known at the director’s office. If they would fix this problem the Hermitage would be a fantastic museum, one well worth returning to many times. As it stands I would not return, better to go to the British Museum or the Louvre.
Earlier in the day, before I went to the museum, I took a walk a few blocks away from my hotel to a department store and mall area called Stockman’s. Ordinarily when I walk here I have a bright red feather coat and everyone immediately spots me as a tourist and foreigner. Russians, even the women, wear dark colors. So I look like a California tomato walking down the street. On this day I wore my black raincoat and immediately blended in. Russians are suspicious of foreigners including tourists. This is a big problem because tourism is a huge business that Russians are missing out on. Without my tomato coat I had people coming up to me, girls no less, asking me for directions, but the second they discovered I was not Russia they shied away. In one store at Stockman’s I needed toothpaste, mouthwash and deodorant. And, of course, no one speaks a word of English and I have no idea of the Russian words for these items, so I approached a number of sales ladies using the appropriate gestures for toothbrush, mouthwash, and underarm deodorant. I tried to do it in a jocular way to ease the tension, but in all cases as soon as they realized I knew no Russian they immediately turned their head down and ignored me out right. It was amazing. I have been all over the world and never been treated in this way. Yet I was not offended, I understand the history and culture well enough not to take offense. But it is a fact, most Russians distrust and fear outsiders, I saw it the moment I entered this country in the way the passport officer and customs agent acted. This is something that holds this country back and with this attitude it will forever remain on the fringes of the developed world.