‘Magical land, delightful land of inspirations’, Pushkin recited in his poems and the national Russian poet par excellence couldn’t be wrong.
It’s always a pleasure to say that I am Italian in Saint Petersburg, I can feel a kind of appreciation and curiosity for my culture, which ranges from our cuisine, which is seen as a non plus ultra, to our cultural heritage. I was surprised to see so many Italian restaurants and by how, walking through the streets, I noticed a familiar architectural style. When you stand in the reality of this city, the concepts you have studied in some books, take second place; the export of Italian style in 1800s comes to life, I was fascinated by the sumptuous and refined style of the Winter Palace, by the impressive architectural structure of squares and streets along the banks of the Neva, which reach the Nevsky Prospect. If you can appreciate the beauty, it’s impossible not falling in love with it!
We Italians are universally known as joyful people, who always appreciate happiness and parties, but I found out that we are not the ones: the Russians love celebrating every special occasion, it is a good excuse to toast and spend time together. In the offices of the environmental protection organization where I’m having the internship in Russia, I could notice a pretty calendar in which every single employee’s birthday is marked in order to celebrate it all together. They brilliantly know that first duty, then pleasure; it’s incredible the seriousness and the professionalism I saw in their working meetings, where at the time the objective was achieved, turned into opportunities to meet with a festive buffet.
You can immediately recognize a Russian buffet: there is no shortage of cucumbers and vodka. ‘Lara, please, help us cut the cucumbers!’- and the party can start.
One week ago I was walking down the street and my attention was captured by this vegetable- taste Sprite advertising. They truly love it, perhaps due to its versatile taste or just because it is always fresh.
I will always keep in my mind the meaningful words of a Russian man I met: ‘If we do one thing, we do it until the end. If we love, we fully do it. If we fight, we totally do it. Maybe apparently we don’t smile as much as you do, it’s just because in our laugh there is more honesty and less courtesy’. Since that day I started to notice the reality of those sentences; we belong to two different cultural codes, they give greater weight to what they do. First, they need to know you, then they give you their heart if you deserve it.
Is it maybe a kind of caution based on historical reasons? Ever since I noticed this loyalty, the Russian soul more and more fascinated me. Averagely, they are more sensitive and insightful people; they live the relations with less superficiality and they particularly concern the philosophical side of life.
A curious thing which pleasantly emerged to me, is how easy you can see in public places someone who is carefully reading a book; it is as if that person shut himself off from reality and the pervasiveness of literature is clearly visible in the numerous Anti-Cafes and theatres anywhere in the city,
‘This habit of you gesturing, everyone understands you are Italian’- my friends told me. It turned out to be true: how many times during my stay in Russia, this distinctiveness has been brought to my attention. We are so different in this aspect.
However, we are a lot alike: Russians are backward Italians, they show outside what we are inside, preserving the sun. They appreciate the Italian hot temper and we are attracted to their mystery, in a relationship of mutual sympathy and interest.
Before coming here, I could not imagine we are so close also musically speaking; I had just caught a cab, when I noticed with some surprise that the driver was listening to ‘Azzurro’, a song of Adriano Celentano. I could not believe my ears! He told me about his love for Albano, Cutugno and Pupo and how there is always a great anticipation when they have concerts here.
And, most of all, I was deeply impressed by the patriotism that pervades the Russian soul and which celebrates its own superiority and diversity; this has always been a strong and united country, it has never needed anyone else. During the Victory Day the huge citywide demonstrations clearly showed their emotional attachment to their motherland; this feeling was so strong, that even a foreigner perceives it. I was profoundly affected by this national mood, it was something new, uncommon.
We share a long story of intensive cultural exchanges: we are bound by a cultural pride and it is not surprising that our two nations have a mutually genuine affection, which is becoming greater every year.
Author: Lara Marelli, Italy