Moscow is a masculine city. It is an exploding powerhouse of opportunity held together by threads of personal energy and ambition. It is a cocoon of lives stacked seven stories high, living all the happiness and sins of people anywhere – only at the extremes Russians are so capable of. Moscow hardly sleeps. It has a muscular aggressiveness unique in Europe and traffic jams that make Los Angeles look easy. The one word that describes Moscow is power.
St. Petersburg is a feminine city. Her historic personality is as an elegant and noble woman sitting draped with the jewels of her youth waiting for her prince to return. This “Venice of the North” with its symmetry, architecture, statuary, art museums, performing art, palaces, gardens and languid summers with endless days make it a city never to be forgotten. St. Petersburg is not Russia; it is the historical myth of Imperial Russia.
Moscow is a city of dogs. There are two classes. One can be seen in vagabond packs or stalking alone, scheming to survive, begging, much like the city’s underclass inhabitants. The other is the canine elite, who walk their masters, regardless of rank, in the parks each morning and evening. The disenfranchised class lurks around the apartment blocks sniffing the garbage for anything to swallow.
St. Petersburg is a city of cats. From the streets at night, you can see their shining eyes, peering through the arches from the inner decay of “Dostoevsky‘s St. Petersburg,” the faceless blocks of communal flats. The cats hang comfortably in the dead trees, dine elegantly in the overflowing garbage, sit regally on the broken steps. For some reason, the cats always look healthy and fat.
But Moscow is not just a city of power, politics, and one of the world’s best Metro lines. It also is a city of great art. In addition to the Bolshoi, there are new orchestras, ballet troupes, playhouses, and opera houses giving the cultured Muscovites an endless choice. There are concerts by the big orchestras and the excitement of smaller ones, like the Chamber Orchestra Kremlin, on whose board I have the honor and fun to serve.
Petersburg is a proud city which keeps itself as different from Moscow as possible. On one hand it disdains the crass commercialism, the naked power of Moscow and on the other is jealous for some of it. The palaces are more flamboyant than Versailles and more numerous than anywhere in the world. The heart of the city is the theater. The Mariinsky Theater with its ballet, opera, and orchestra is the standard by which all others are judged. Once you see such perfection, nothing else will do. The St. Petersburg Symphony in the famed Shostakovich Grand Hall on Art Square, guarded by its statue of Pushkin, cannot be matched, especially in it powerful performances of Russian classics. I have the honor of serving on the Los Angeles/St. Petersburg Sister City Committee.
For more on these cities and Russia read “Walking on Ice, An American Businessman in Russia”