Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Castle of Ice

I got this from Psalm at Journey's End, a fascinating book about the musicians on the Titanic. Well, this particular story has nothing to do with that but I like it anyways.
The book is fiction but this story really happened.

It is possible to possess people, Gavrik. And it is possible for people to let themselves be possessed. I am now thinking primarily about the serfdom which is a tradition in our country (Russia).
I am thinking of serfdom of the will.
It is said of the Czarina Anna Ivonovna that in the winter of 1739 she had an ice palace built on the frozen Neva. She built it for her own amusement, for the previous year had been hard, the beginnings of disburbances and riots resulting in executions and the razing of whole villages.
The winter of that year was the hardest in the memory of man. The rivers of Europe were frozen for months--the Seine, the Rhine, the Danube, and the Thames. It was said to be so cold in Versailles that bottles of spirits exploded, wine froze in glasses at mealtimes, and in Ukraine birds fell dead from the sky as they tried to fly south.
Czarina Anna Ivanovna was a woman with a distinctive sense of humor. She liked to be entertained by dwarfs, cripples, and imbeciles. Four of her court jesters were members of old noble families with whom she amused herself by humiliating them. One of those jesters, Count Mikhail Golitsyn, became a convert to the Catholic Church, which disturbed the absolute ruler, and as a punishment she made him sit on a basket of eggs in front of everyone and cackle until the chickens hatched.
That iron winter, the Czarina had an ice palace erected on the frozen river--and it was an ice palace such as has never been seen before or since, constructed by the great architect Eropkin, who was condemned to death for treason in 1740. Blocks of ice were cut out of the clearest parts that could be found on the Neva and then welded together with water, which in that sever cold bound the elements together more strongly than any mortar could. The palace rose somewhere between the Admiralty and the Winter Palace. It had balustrades, statuettes, pillars, and furniture all made of ice. It was built by the best artists and craftsmen in the realm, surrounded by nine ice trees with ice birds perched in the ice trees, both trees and birds painted in natural colors. The palace itself was left transparent, apart from the pillars, doors, and window frames, which were painted green to make them look like marble. The windowpanes were made of paper-thin ice. The master craftsmen and their journeymen, the sculptors and building workers all surpassed themselves out on the frozen river, slaving away from the morning to night to satisfy the whims of the Czarina.
Two fabulous beasts and two cannons made of ice flanked the entrance to this magnificent palace, and a full-size ice elephant served as a fountain--water spouting out of its trunk--and the ice cannons were frozen so iron-hard that they could actually fire cannonballs.
The only construction not of frozen water was a wooden fence erected around the palace area to keep the populace at a distance.
The people were delighted with Anna Ivanovna's notion. Crowds also made their way out to the palace at night, when it was illuminated from the inside--it must have been a thrilling, unreal sight, with great octagonal paper lanterns with obscene motifs mounted on two spires at the ends of balustrade, slowly rotating so that all the crowd could enjoy all the pictures.
It was a palace after Anna Ivonovna's own heart, and to complete her notion, she had a bridal couple spend their wedding night inside it.
Who else but Count Mikhail Golitsyn (the one hatching the eggs) was made to marry? The Czarina teasingly ordered him to marry a Kalmuck woman of singular ugliness, one of her lowliest servants. She gave the bride the name of Busyenina, because the Kalmuck woman reminded her of that dish--spiced pork in onion sauce.
The nobleman and Busyenina were duly married, to the resounding hilarity of the Czarina. Then they were clad in furs, took their places in an iron cage on the back of an elephant, and set off at the head of the wedding procession, which otherwise consisted of more married couples--fetched from Anna Ivanovna's realm of subjects, Lapps, Finns, Kirghizes, Bashkirs, and so on, all of them in national costume and swaying on horseback and camels, or in sleighs drawn by reindeer or wolves and boars.
The procession arrived at the ice palace to the great jubilation of thousands of spectators.
In the bedroom was a magnificent four-poster bed--made of ice. The mattress was of ice, the bedclothes of ice, the two pillows of ice, and on each pillow was a nightcap, exquisitely carved of ice.
On the table were the most superb dishes, naturally painted and made of ice. Bottles, forks, plates, mirrors, powder bowls--wherever the couple turned, everything was of ice, even the stove and the firewood inside it.
The newlyweds undressed and went to bed; guards were posted to ensure that everything went as it should. The couple survived, and over the years, Busyenina bore the count two sons.
I think this story provides a beautiful picture of how far one can go if one possesses other people. The story is true, and I have never forgotten it.
But what about those who allow themselves to be possessed?

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