Comparing Venice and Petrograd

Maurice Paléologue (1859-1944) was a French diplomat, historian and essayist. He served as French Ambassador to Russia prior to the First World War. Here is a striking passage from his memoirs that speaks for itself.

At this time of the year when the northern night is not even two hours long and the atmosphere is as it were saturated with light, Petrograd constantly makes me think of Venice.
With its river, islands, canals, curving bridges, and houses with pink façades, the salty spice of the evening breeze from the Gulf of Finland, the odour of tar, mud, and damp to be perceived on some of the quays, the glorious brightness of the sky and the depth of the aerial perspectives, the transparence and fluidity of the shadows, the magic of the sunsets and the dawns – with all this the spectacle before my eyes makes me think every minute that I am on the Riva degli Schiavoni or the Giudecca.
When I want the illusion to be even more complete I go for an evening walk in the woods at the end of Krestrovsky Island where the estuary of the Neva suddenly widens. This spot is most moving in its solitude. Under a sky dappled with pink and violet clouds the lagoon is a sheet of iridescent waters stretching away to the Gulf of Finland. Not far away the little Volny Island emerges from a grey-green mist in which ruins and a few miserable trees can be distinguished. As the sun drops to the horizon an odour of fever and death rises from the sluggish waters. Not a single human sound. At times the landscape is deathly in its desolation. I might be at Torcello.

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