I was eleven when I went to Saint Petersburg, Russia, and I vaguely remember walking through the rooms of the Hermitage with my parents and a private guide; however, there are moments that stand out in my mind, like the way in which we entered the museum. We walked through the palace backwards. Not physically, with our heads turned as not to walk into anyone, but from the exit to the entrance; leaving with the grand staircase as our final descent out of the palace.
The Hermitage is so large that, after a few hours, your eyes start to glaze over and you grow tired; however, you’ve only seen a fraction of what is hung throughout the palace. There are three million pieces in the museum; however, underneath the rooms in which the public wander lies another museum with the artwork kept in boxes and protected from the elements. Very few see this part of the museum; only people like my father have been invited.
I remember tapestries and artwork hung throughout, but, above all, I remember the rooms. As a child, I was fascinated with rooms; where the decor had been staged to reflect an era of a ruler, like Catherine the Great of Imperial Russia. As we walked through this section of the palace, I looked above me at the high ceilings and around me at the decadence, which was overwhelming: large windows; rooms filled with beautifully handcrafted furniture; and precious pieces of artwork placed upon the walls.
We walked through wide doors that nearly reached the ceiling and down hallways that took your breathe away. I imagined Catherine the Great – perhaps my favorite along with Peter the Great – magnificently sweeping across the floor in her gown; gracefully marching through the rooms with dozens of people hanging on her every word. In a way, I want to walk with the determination of the Tzarina. Wasn’t she a timid Prussian when she came to Russia to marry Peter III? And didn’t she wage a coup d’etat to take the power away from him?
And I am forcefully making this life for myself. What are we really, but uncomfortably thrust into our futures? We are never given promotions (or positions) without feeling like we are in over our heads. In a way, I stepped through the door when I boarded the plane to Paris. I realize that I just haven’t shut the door behind me. I can see it across the hall from where I stand in this gilded room. And the last room is not as beautiful; or warm; or inviting. I say to myself, as I gracefully march to the door, “Shut and lock it! Close it and carry on your new life!”
And the door is closed and locked. I turn the key and it disappears in my hand. It is gone. I then turn and, like Catherine, gracefully march down this path; a path that has been revealing itself to me since I arrived in Paris. It generously illuminates the way; beckoning me. I do not question my place in Paris for I belong here. I just have to remember: when one door locks, another brightens with promise.