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The English-language newspaper of St. Petersburg, Russia.
Published since May 1993 by Independent Media, with editions every Tuesday and Friday.

The St.Petersburg Times - the English-language newspaper of St. Petersburg, Russia.

#911, Friday, October 17, 2003



City Has Enough Records To Fill A New Book

By Irina Titova
Photo by Alexander Belenky / SPT

When, in 1964, a Leningrad district court sentenced the future Nobel Prize laureate and unemployed poet Joseph Brodsky to five years of forced labor for "parasitism," the judge could not know that 40 years later that his decision would add half a page to the St. Petersburg Book of Records.

It was the country's first and only criminal court trial of a future Nobel Prize winner, according to the recently published book.

In 1964 the country's famed poet failed to prove that "writing poetry is work." Under a Soviet law on "sponging," Brodsky was taken to a village, where he worked as a photographer's assistant and a freelancer for a local newspaper.

The thick and colorful St. Petersburg Book of Records, launched by the Operativnoye Prikrytiye publishing house on Oct. 16, was published in 2003 to shower its readers with hundreds of the most interesting and unique facts about the city in its 300 years of existence.

It took the book's authors, who included journalists and representatives of other spheres, nine months to look through countless archival documents, history books and newspaper publications, and fill the book with the miraculous and curious.

Although some of the so-called facts may seem a bit subjective, when for instance, St. Petersburg six-times-Olympic champion and Hero of Russia Lyubov Yegorova is called "the most famous skier in the world," the authors have nevertheless succeeded in attracting attention because their book is so hard to put down.

According to the book, St. Petersburg can take pride in being home to the world's biggest boxer - Nikolai Valuyev (150 kilos, 210 centimeters); the largest collection of seeds - at the Vavilov Plant Growing Institute; the fastest sail-powered frigate "Mir; and the man who smoked at the highest altitude.

Ironic as it may be, the feat of St. Petersburg alpinist Georgy Kotov, who climbed Everest and smoked a cigarette on top in 1995, is recorded in the Guinness Book of World Records.

Kotov's name is next to that of another St. Petersburg legendary alpinist Mikhail Bobrov, who was the oldest person to ski to the North Pole at the age of 75; and city hairdresser Anna Mikhailova, who in 2001 created 315 hairdos in 12 hours, a world record.

The city is the origin of the biggest diaspora of Russian Jews who emigrated to Israel, and is also home to the world's oldest practising surgeon, Fyodor Uglov, now 99 years old, who entered the Guinness Book in 1994. St. Petersburg also boasts Europe's largest prison, located on the banks of the Neva.

It's no surprise that many of the records have to do with St. Petersburg's architectural pearls and the peculiarities of its location.

The book declares St. Petersburg one of the world's wettest cities, with 10 percent of its territory covered in water, and the city with the most lions - since the number of lion sculptures and bar reliefs on the buildings is incalculable.

The Bronze Horseman, completed in 1782 to mark 100 years since the coronation of city founder Peter the Great and unofficially the city's talisman, was Russia's first monument, according to the book.

St. Petersburg's noisiest road - made of roofing iron - was built in the city in 1911 on the right side of Nevsky Prospekt in front of the Kazan Cathedral. The din was so intolerable, and horses fell over on it so often, that the city residents branded it that "damn road," and it was dismantled several weeks later.

The architecture of the country's Soviet period enriched the city with the only school built in a shape of a hammer and sickle. The school is located at Prospekt Stachek.

The statue stolen most often is the 5 kilogram, 11-centimeter high modern sculpture to a bird Chizhik-Pyzhik on the Fontanka Canal. In 10 years, the statue has disappeared five times.

Meanwhile, the Summer Garden - the city's first garden founded in 1704 - was in the 19th century considered the place to find the greatest number of potential brides.

In May, girls from rich families showed up at the garden surrounded by their nannies and maids to impress local young men.

St. Petersburg's architectural peculiarities are linked with several local traditions, the happiest of which, of course, have to do with marriage.

Thus, the most famous wedding traditions of St. Petersburg include obligatory kissing by newlyweds on the bridges, which they pass on their ride after the wedding service. The custom demands that a wedding couple starts kissing at the entrance to the bridge and finishes at the bridge's end.

Sometimes, drivers cross the bridges slowly to make the kiss last longer.

Another tradition says newlyweds must go to Palace Square and touch a toe of one of the city's famous Atlantes, that decorate the Hermitage. After that, the couple goes to the Alexander Column, where the new husband should pick up his young wife and carry her around the column - each circuit stands for one child they will have.

From an almost unlimited choice of musical compositions, in a city that was home to quite a few world-famous composers such as Pyotr Tchaikovsky and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, the book singles out Dmitry Shostakovich's Seventh Symphony.

Shostakovich wrote the first two parts of the symphony during the Siege of Leningrad in 1941. It was played in Leningrad on Aug. 9, 1942, the date that Hitler had set for the capture of the city. The Soviet authoriteis took unprecedented measures so that not a single bomb or shell hit the city during the performance, and they were successful.

Meanwhile, among the city's contemporary musicians, the book names Sergei Shnurov, head of the infamous group Leningrad. He is billed as the most famous contemporary poet known for using foul language in his poetry.

Recently Shnurov was shunned by Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, who refused to let Leningrad perform in Moscow, even though the group is one of the country's most popular and young people treat Shnurov as a hero.

Shnurov was not the only St. Petersburger whose vocabulary attracted the authors' attention.

The city interpreter Vitaly Krichevsky hit the Guiness Book of Records with his drinking dictionary, titled "Vodka From A to Z." Krichevsky collected 3,828 words and expression of rich Russian language, connected to the process of drinking and the product itself.

St. Petersburg has a long association with wordsmiths, including the country's best writers of literature, such as Alexander Pushkin, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and Vladimir Nabokov.

The funniest Russian Empress to live in St. Petersburg was Peter the Great's daughter Yelizaveta, the book says. The empress liked dressing up and going to balls so much that by the end of her life her wardrobe held 15,000 dresses and 4,000 pairs of shoes.

Alexander III, father of Russia's last czar Nicholas II, is rated the best family man of all the Russian czars. After marrying the Danish princess Dagmar, later renamed Maria Fyodorovna, he never had lovers. But as fate would have it, the most amorous royal couple were buried apart - in Russia and Denmark.

St. Petersburg's most scandalous society was secretly founded in early 19th century. The society called The Brotherhood of Pigs, had many foreign members and practised group sex.

St. Petersburg was the scene of the assassination of Grigory Rasputin in early 20th century. The murder of Russian State Duma deputy Galina Starovoitova in St. Petersburg in 1998 was the first political killing of a woman.

According to the book, the silliest project ever offered in the city was the plan of making the port ice-free. In 1928, an engineer suggested a kind of local Gulfstream could be created, using water from the city sewers and factories.

"Huge amounts of kilocalories of precious warmth, developed as a result of the city's vital activities, are wasted. If we concentrate the warm waters it won't let the sea freeze," the enthusiast said.

The reaction of a port worker, who said he had no wish "to choke in the sea of dung" was barbed, but the project was anyway regected as unfeasible.

Apart from that funny episode, before the Second World War II, Leningrad was known as the country's only city, where they made clothes out of fish skin. The Soviet "aristocracy" considered purses, shoes, or gloves made of fish skin very stylish, while a skin of one lancet fish was big enough to sew a whole jacket or even a coat.

Until recently, St. Petersburg was also the world's city with the highest tram volume. The length of tram rails in the city totaled 591 kilometers.

Ice-cream and koryushka, or smelt, the city's most popular fish, are among the favorite foods of St. Petersburg residents.

The book's authors point out that compared to the famed Guinness Book of Records the St. Petersburg edition not only enumerates facts and statistics, but links them to lively stories.

The publication was sponsored by St. Petersburg energy giant Lenenergo, that holds the record of the country's first energy system.

Lenenergo head, Andrei Likhachyov, who wrote the foreword, said he hoped the outstanding features of the city will increase.


The St.Petersburg Times - the English-language newspaper of St. Petersburg, Russia.
The English-language newspaper of St. Petersburg, Russia.
Published since May 1993 by Independent Media, with editions every Tuesday and Friday.


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