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22 September 2018

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The Last Months of Peace

Author: Anna Mazanik
Translation: Nina Shevchuk-Murray

July/Aug 2014
Page 29   ( 6 pages)

Summary: A century ago this summer, the War to End All Wars began. What were Russians concerned about in 1914? Not war.



On January 1, 1914, a St. Petersburg newspaper, congratulating its readers on the New Year, wrote:

Let boredom vanish, let storms and anxieties pass –

The best will rise, the miracle will be born;

Let all joy, bliss and wonder rule to your utter delight

The even-numbered new year, welcome by all!

Seasonal greetings never really come true, but the author of that poem was right in one point at least – the year 1914 would not give Russians much chance to be bored, although nobody suspected it in the first days of January, which were filled with great hopes and expectation, of skiing and figure skating, of glittering lights, of sweets and golden nuts from the Christmas tree...

To begin the chronicle of that year (1914) from the beginning, we must start in Levashovo, where our family decamped for the fourth year in a row to celebrate Christmas and New Year’s at the well-appointed dacha and the spacious gardens of our in-laws, the Altukhovs. There, time was spent mostly sledding or taking long walks; the groundskeeper also took us on sleigh rides to the nearby snow-covered forests – mostly pine and decidedly Finnish-looking.[1]

We returned to the city after the Feast of the Baptism [January 7, old style]; everyone naturally took up their usual occupations. Grandmother and mother worked at the gymnasium; father did his work in his study, and taught at the University and at the Bestuzhev Courses. Volodya, who was about to turn 11, was enrolled at the recently founded Shidlovskaya’s Gymnasium; my little sister Marusia and I went to the sixth floor of our building, where she attended kindergarten and I was in the middle prep-grade for school.

As the old custom commanded, Sundays and holidays were spent as a family: we went to the Summer Garden, which was quite far from us and whose irresistible attraction to kids was the Krylov Monument surrounded by whimsical statuary of the animals that populated his tales. We took trips out of town as well – to the same Levashovo sometimes, or to Tsarkoye Selo...

The adults of our family were devoted to theater, and especially favored the Mariinsky, where grandma held season tickets to the 19th loge in the first tier. Friends of the family often made use of the pass as well, up to the point where we’d have seven people packed into the box and father scouting for extra chairs in the parterre boxes. He favored Wagner’s operas that ruled the Mariinsky – as well as many other European stages – in the pre-war years...

At the Hermitage Museum, the outstanding attraction of early 1914 was the just-acquired Madonna and Child with Flowers, by da Vinci, which was displayed with a typewritten interpretive note. When we went to see the painting, a lady who came with us spent a significant amount of time bemoaning the ignorance of the museum administration, who dared attribute this “village girl” to the great master’s brush…

Boris Lossky, Our Family in the Stormy Years

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