An astonishment a day- 
drives your depression away...

Petersburg Parties.

I'll begin with a quote:
"At seven in the evening on the 20th of April 1791, Katherine came to Potiomkin's house; the host welcomed her in red silk pants, tail coat with pure gold buttons - each containing a large diamond - as well as a coat finished with black lace. Neoclassical Taurida palace, a present from the Tsarina, was lit up by twenty thousand candles, and its garden were full of 140 000 lanterns, the wax for which needed to be brought specially from Moscow. When Katherine entered the hall, the choir began to sing the piece that was composed for her on this occasion and was accompanied by the thirty person orchestra. The Tsarina was lead to her place in the huge ballroom, measuring close to eighty meters surrounded by a double row of Ionic columns." 
(V. Cronin (2000); Katarzyna, Imperatorowa Wszechrosji; Da Capo, Warszawa.)

Over 2000 guests were invited, and the cost of the celebration was estimated at over half a million ruble. This included the costs of sourcing the food, presents, the theatre, the ballet, choir and musicians. It was a huge sum at the time - for a tenth of this amount one could built a decent palace. But Potiomkin loved to stage incredible parties and amazing feasts. At one time, all of Petersburg was gossiping about a sterlet  soup, costing 3 000 ruble that was presented in a silver tub (a sterlet can measure over 1.5 m and weigh over 16 kg). It was a general trend to offer meals that came from afar. 

A huge feast was started with oysters especially brought from Denmark. All sorts of different types of fish were available in different rivers and seas in Russia, for example the favorite sterlet caught in the Volga river and sturgeons came from the Caspian or the Black Sea. Meat was brought from afar, veal from Arkhangelsk, lamb from Astrakhan, beef from Ukraine, pheasants from Hungary and Czechoslovakia, etc. The costs of transportation were huge. For example melons from the Caspian region cost forty times in  the capital. Sometimes for amusement, attractive fruits were grown in the palace glasshouses - which was not an easy tasks during a Russian winter. Tsarina Elizabeth once amazed her guests in March with an entire cherry tree laden with beautiful fruits. But it was decided that the aroma was not the same as the cherries from the south of Russia. 

Daily, though, Tsarina Katherine ate modestly. She loved cabbage, rye bread, plain biscuits, and plenty of strong coffee. Potiomkin, on the other hand was always hungry, he also loved cabbage, but always had to have something in his mouth - he would chew radishes, turnip, apples, and if there was nothing at hand, he would chew his nails..

I wonder what high society parties are like 300 years later...

Potiomkin and Tsarina Katherine the Great. 




(C) (selected from publications of 
 R. Antoszewski

Titirangi, Auckland, 
New Zeland

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February  2003