1703: The first flood in St.Petersburg. St.Petersburg was founded on May 27 (May 16 Old Style) 1703. Three months later, on August 30, the first flood has happened. Three years later, in 1706, the flood was larger and Peter I wrote in his letter to Menshikov that in his palace the water was 21 inch deep. Since 1703 till 2003, 323 floods happened. Three of them were catastrophic (more than 3 meters): in 1777 (321 cm), in 1824 (421 cm) and in 1924 (380 cm). 77 were considered "especially dangerous" (210-299 cm) and 243 — dangerous (161-210 cm). The worst ever flood of 1824 inspired Alexander Pushkin to write The Bronze Horseman (full text in English is here, in Russian — here):
That dreadful day!--For Neva, leaping
Seaward all night against the blast
Was beaten in the strife at last,
Against the frantic tempest sweeping;
And on her banks at break of day
The people swarmed and crowded, curious,
And reveled in the towering spray
That spattered where the waves were furious.
But the wind driving from the bay
Dammed Neva back, and she receding
Came up, in wrath and riot speeding;
And soon the islands flooded lay.
Madder the weather grew, and ever
Higher upswelled the roaring river
And bubbled like a kettle, and whirled
And like a maddened beast was hurled
Swift on the city. All things routed
Fled from its path, and all about it
A sudden space was cleared; the flow
Dashed in the cellars down below;
Canals up to their gratings spouted.
Behold Petropol floating lie
Like Triton in the deep, waist-high!
1903: Marriage of Alexander Blok and Lyubov (Lyuba) Mendeleyeva (Aug 17 Old Style). Lyubov Dmitrievna Mendeleyeva, born in 1882, was a daughter of Dmitri Mendeleyev, chemist, the discoverer of the periodic table of elements. She was not pretty, but she has, probably, inspired more verses in the period of the Silver Age than anyone else. They lived in a village Boblovo. Nearby, in Shakhmatovo, lived the family of Mendeleyev's old friend, professor of botany, Andrey Beketov. Beketovs loved literature and were friends of many writers: Gogol, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Schedrin. In 1879, Beketov's daughter, Alexandra, married a young lawyer Alexander Blok. The family was not happy, Blok humiliated and beat his wife, and when in 1880 they visited Alexandra's parents, the Beketovs insisted that she should stay with them. In November 1880, a child was born, Alexander Blok.
In 1898, he makes an acquaintance with Anna Mendeleyeva, Lyuba's mother, who invited him to visit them in Boblovo. When he met Lyuba, he almost immediately fell in love. She, on the contrary, didn't like him and called him a poseur. When the family staged excerpts from Shakespeare, he played Hamlet and she was Ophelia. A short romance followed. Then they parted and recalled the affair with displeasure. Lyuba entered the historical faculty of the Higher Womens' Courses and Blok became interested in various mystic teachings. Once, almost in a trance, he saw Lyuba and wrote a small poem. Then they met in a theatre and he was already sure that she was his destiny. He idealized the girl and wrote a cycle of verses, titled later The Verses on the Beautiful Lady. Unlike Dante or Petrarca or Novalis, he managed to make his dreams come true and in November 1902, after a ball, offered her to become his wife.
They were not happy together, though. Blok's silly ideas about incompatibility of spiritual love and sexual life naturally led to tensions. He has many women, even sleeps with cheap prostitutes, but avoids his wife. Soon they make acquaintance with Andrey Bely, who falls in love (or so he thinks) with her. He and Blok ascribe mystical meaning to every her word and gesture, discuss her hair style from the philosophical positions and so on. She finds it amusing, but soon gets tired. This love triangle becomes a burden for all of them. Blok publishes a play titled "Little Farce" where he ridicules all three of them. Angry Bely asks her to leave Blok and become his wife, but she wavers. Chaos begins in the family. At last, her love towards Bely dies and they stop meeting. In 1907 Blok fell in love with an actress, Natalia Volokhova. He considers divorce, but when Lyubov comes to Volokhova and offers to take Blok forever, Volokhova refuses.
Lyuba then decides to become a tragical actress. In the theatre, she adopts the same frivolous, full of love affairs, life style, typical for the artistic circles in those years (well, and later, too). She had no special talents, but worked hard. In 1907, after the death of Dmitri Mendeleyev, she enters the theatre of Meyerhold and leaves to Caucasus. She meets an actor Dagobert and soon gets pregnant. She thinks of an abortion, but Blok forbids it and says the baby will be theirs. Unfortunately, the boy lived only eight days.
Many love affairs later, Blok understands at last that in his life "there will be only two women: Lyuba and all others." By this time, he is heavily ill and the doctors don't know what's wrong with him and what to do. They offered him to go abroad, but he refused. At last, he agreed, but on the day when his passport was ready, on August 7, 1921, he died. Lyuba died in 1939.
And why did I write this sentimental story? No idea. I like some of Blok's verses, but generally they are too pompous for me. Like this one, dedicated to Lyuba Mendeleyeva:
I enter darkened temples,
I perform a humble rite.
There I await the Beautiful Lady
In the glimmering icon light. In the shadow of a pillar base
I shiver at the creak of the doors.
And only a brightly lit image, a dream,
Of Her stares me in the face. O, I am familiar with these rizas
Of the majestic Eternal Wife!
High up along the cornices run
Smiles, fairy-tales and dreams. O, Holy Lady, how the candles are gentle,
How Your features comfort me!
I hear neither sighing nor speaking,
But I believe: the Beloved is Thee.
Transl. by Lynn Harvey