Autumn, by Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin
October has arrived - the woods have tossed
their final leaves from naked branches;
A breath of autumn chill - the road begins to freeze,
The stream still murmurs as it passes by the mill,
The pond, however's frozen; and my neighbor hastens
to his far-flung fields with all the members of his hunt.
The winter wheat will suffer from this wild fun,
and baying hounds awake the slumbering groves.
There is nothing more compelling than learning about a place through the stories of locals; the eyes of an outsider are never able to capture the genuine spirit, the chants and whispers, the joys and struggles experienced by a town. I was incredibly fortunate to explore Tsarskoye Selo, Pushkin, in the company of a local. On a cadent autumn afternoon, we wandered through the vast Ekaterininsky Park, spreading like a forest, guarded silently by majestic marble statues, presided by the baroque imperial palace and decorated with precious pavilions, bridges and fountains, that Catherine the Great commissioned to prominent 18th century European architects.
Tsarskoye Selo provided summer solace to the Russian royalty and hosted an active intellectual life; the Russian empress was especially fond on the arts and was committed during her reign to expanding public educational opportunities in the country. While indulged by the splendid architecture of the Russian цари’ summer residence, the calmness of the gardens and the stunning colors of the fall, I was mostly seduced by the tales I was told. There was a timid sense of pride in Olga’s hometown narratives, particularly when sharing childhood memories. The magnificence of Ekaterininsky Park was her playground; the labyrinth of the French garden her puzzle, the Turkish Bath pavilion her old-time favorite refuge; frequent visits to the palace and the concert hall with her parents instilled on her a deep appreciation for art, literature and music, and certainly shaped the sophisticated young woman she is today.
Tsarskoye Selo is daringly beautiful; architectonical glories embedded in a stunning natural environment, a clear statement of imperial power, a historical testimony. But history is written in books, often filtered by dominant discourses; I am more interested in the real stories told by real people. We walked for hours through the park and I listened to the rhythms of Olga’s voice, I listened to the trees, and while transported in time, I felt incredibly present -I experienced a true sense of wholeness.
“Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.” ~Hermann Hesse, Wandering