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rarely used borzois or falcons for hunting, and was relatively uninterested in the strategy and the tactics of the chase. But she was an expert markswoman, and in two months at Peterhof, her summer estate, she shot sixty-eight wild ducks from her window. Often, an army of beaters would drive the animals from the nearby forest into a clearing, and Anna would pull up in a special carriage and shoot them all. Anisimov mentions that she might have had an “Amazon complex.”
Anna’s favorite form of entertainment, however, was to arrange and rearrange marriages, and it was this penchant that gave rise to the House of Ice. The winter of 1740 was the coldest in decades: barometers shattered, brandy froze indoors, birds fell from the sky like stones. That winter, one of Anna’s servants, a middle-aged, hunchbacked Kalmyk woman known as Buzheninova, after the dish buzbenina (cold roast pork), confided to Anna, “Without a husband, my life is like a hard frost.” The Empress was struck by the notion of marrying Buzheninova to one of her six jesters, Prince Mikhail Golitsyn, who had been convicted of apostasy for marrying an Italian commoner and converting from Russian Orthodoxy to Catholicism. Anna had commuted his sentence and dubbed him Prince Kvasnik, the imperial cupbearer of kvas (a beerlike beverage made from rye or barley). Kvasnik’s other official duties included sitting on a nest of eggs in a reception room while clucking like a chicken.
Anna’s chamberlain was the one to suggest that the wedding festivities take place in a palace made of ice. Then Biron’s archrival, a charismatic cabin et minister named Artemy Volynsky—the protagonist of Ivan Lazhechn ikov’s novel—organized a mass holiday in honor of Anna’s birthday and name day, the anniversary of her accession to the throne, Shrovetide week, and the ratification of the Treaty of Belgrade, between Russia and the Ottoman Empire. The wedding of a Kalmyk and a Catholic convert was to represent Russia’s “total victory over all infidels.” The whole celebration would culminate at the House of Ice.
The couple made their entrance in an iron cage on the back of a real elephant, followed by a three-hundred-person “ethnographic parade” of “bridal couples.” Lazhechnikov describes the parade— which he claims that his grandmother witnessed—in “The House of Ice”: Ostyaks riding on deer were “followed by Novgorodians on a pair of goats, Ukrainians on bulls, Petersburg Finns on donkeys, a Tatar with his Tataress, mounted on well-fed pigs, to demonstrate the conquering of both nature and custom. Then there were red-haired Finns on miniature horses, Kamchadals riding dogs, Kalmyks on camels,” as well as Belorussians and Jaroslavians.
Kvasnik and Buzheninova were transferred from their cage to the House of Ice, where armed sentries forced them to remain until the next morning. They spent several hours running around, dancing, and, in Lazhechnikov’s rendering, turning somersaults, beating each other, banging on the walls, and breaking all that could be broken. Fin ally, they collapsed on the ice bed, where they were found the next morning, close to death.
After the festival, Volynsky remained in the Empress’s good graces for a short time—until his valet turned over some compromising papers to Biron, and he was convicted of treason. In June, Volynsky’s tongue and hand were cut off, and he was beheaded, as was the architect Eropkin. In October, at the age of forty- seven, Anna died, of kidney failure. In November, the Biron family was banished to Siberia. As for the House of Ice, it had melted in March—all except some large pieces of the walls, which were used for refrigeration in the imperial palace.
With the arrival of spring in 1740, the short-lived tradition of ice architecture more or less disappeared from Russia. In the nineteenth century, ice castles were built in Siberia, but the really spectacular work was being done elsewhere: North America, Finland, Japan, China. It wasn’t until Boris Yeltsin, originally a construction foreman in the Ural city of Sverdlovsk, came to Moscow, in the nineteen-eighties, that the Russian ice renaissance began. The first all Russian ice festival took place on Yeltsin’s initiative, in Moscow in 1986.
The directors of the Ice Studio, Valery Gromov, a former Navy officer, and Svetlana Mikheyeva, a former doctor, first became interested in ice sculpture in 1999, when they travelled to Japan as part of the Russian Presidential Management Training Initiative, and got stuck in an elevator in Tokyo with one of Yeltsin’s appointees—the chairman of the Association of Russian Snow, Ice, and Sand Sculptors. In 2002, they co-directed Petersburg’s first International Ice Sculpture Contest. (The Ukrainian team won, with a Trojan horse.) The next year, they founded the Ice Studio. In the summer, the Ice Studio builds sand sculptures; last June, two of the House of Ice sculptors collaborated on a twenty-foot sand Gulliver in Komarovo.
Gromov and Mikheyeva had long dreamed of reconstructing Anna Ioannovna’s palace. They planned to hold weddings in their House of Ice: for the equivalent of around four hundred dollars, couples could many there; for around four thousand they could spend their wedding night in the ice bed. City officials approved the proposal last November. In January, workers cut five hundred tons of ice from several nearby lakes and transported it to Palace Square, between the Admiralty Fortress and the Winter Palace. Twenty sculptors from Petersburg, Archangelsk, and Vologda spent three weeks cutting blocks of ice with chain saws, fusing them with water, spinning balustrades on electric lathes, smoothing the walls with clothes irons, and hand- carving the sculptures. They replicated all of the components in Krafft’s description, including the bathhouse, but they replaced the fire-spewing elephant with an elephant-shaped slide.
The House of Ice opened in early February, not without controversy. Mik heyeva had wanted to hold weddings there on Valentine’s Day, which commemorates a Catholic saint. The editor of the newspaper Orthodox St. Petersburg said that the Ice Studio was “trying to ridicule the Holy Mystery of matrimony, not in a church of God but in a transitory jester’s palace”; he characterized the en tire tradition of “jesters’ weddings” as a “conscious mockery of
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