Ooh, tapeworms! (In which I visit a lot of museums)

About two weeks ago, I realized that after I got back from our group trip to Moscow on May 4, I would have only one month left in Russia. I’m not quite sure how that happened, but I began coping with this realization by freaking out and frantically trying to cram in all the things that I still have on my “To Do/See” list in St. Petersburg. Accordingly, in about a week and a half I  visited the Ethnographic Museum (again,) the Arctic and Antarctic Museum, the Zoological Museum, Chizhik-Pyzhik (Petersburg’s smallest monument,) the Anna Akhmatova house museum, and the Hygiene Museum– all this before going to Moscow and spending another three days sight-seeing.

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I don’t know why it took me so long to visit the Botanic Gardens here, since I was so starved for the sight of green things for the first few months. They had the largest greenhouses I have ever seen, although I contented myself to peeking in through the windows, since it was so pleasant outside that I didn’t want to spend a single moment indoors. The tulips and daffodils were just coming into bloom in the more tended parts of the gardens, and I had to resist the urge to roll around in an unattended field on the outskirts of the garden that was covered in tiny purple and yellow flowers. Shockingly, I even got slightly sunburned, which my host mom continues to insist is impossible in St. Petersburg.

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Things took a turn for the weird at the Zoological Museum and the museum of Hygiene. Now, if you know anything about my from reading this blog, you’ve probably guessed that I can’t just pass up an opportunity to see pickled and otherwise taxidermied things. I was quite entertained by the variety of animals on display at the Zoological museum. They had everything from Peter the Great’s questionably taxidermied horse…

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…to a baby wooly mammoth…

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… an albino penguin…

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… and, of course, chickens, cats, dogs, and other household pets, which were strangely disconcerting:

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And, of course, tapeworms, and a whole second level full of insects!

I was not able to take photos at the Museum of Hygiene, but rest assured that there were even more tapeworms in jars, as well as various preserved diseased and healthy organs, and a distressingly exhaustive catalog of old-fashioned medical devices. On the bright side of things, I got the museum guide in Russian, and so my “organs and various diseases” vocabulary is coming along nicely!

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The Museum of Zoology and the Arctic and Antarctic Museum shared the common feature of the, in my opinion, excessive number of taxidermied baby penguins. I understand the desire to portray animal life in the Antarctic, but do you really need to kill DOZENS of baby penguins in order to do so? I’m surprised that there are any left in the wild at all at the rate these museums must have been appropriating them.

A highlight of the Arctic and Antarctic museum was in the exhibit on Antarctic expeditions on the top floor. In a display case near the center of the room was a set of surgical equipment with a photograph of a Russian man on an Antarctic expedition in the early 20th century performing surgery on his own stomach. While the caption assured that he was using some sort of regional anesthesia, there was no information as to why he was digging around in his own intestines in the first place. I also learned from a photograph of an international Antarctic research expedition that sled dogs are not given a specific nationality, but are considered “citizens of the world,” which I thought was lovely.

I should note that the ticket and bag-check women at the smaller museums like the Hygiene and Arctic museums were some of the nicest museum workers I have met in Russia. I got the impression that there are not a lot of foreign tourists coming to these places (most of the signs on/ literature about the exhibits is exclusively in Russian) and they seemed genuinely happy that I wanted to  I don’t know what exactly I learned about Petersburg or Russia from all of these museum visits, but I have checked a few more things off of my list going into my last month here.

I’ll try to post about our trip to Moscow later this week. До скорого!


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