<< Previous page
shivered in their replica; instead, Empress Anna herself was frozen to her chair. “’Twas transient in its nature, as in show / ‘Twas durable,” William Cowper wrote of the 1740 palace, which he saw as a kind of Renaissance Vanitas. Anna, like all rulers, came and went. Indeed, what was the Cold War, if not a House of Ice? It seemed durable, but it thawed.
Ten thousand tickets were sold to the House of Ice. Mikheyeva and Gromov declined to disclose their profit, stating only that the palace had “paid for itself.” They plan to repeat the exercise next year, and are already recruiting “bridal pairs” for an ethnographic pageant: the Danish and Estonian consulates have agreed to send representatives.
Visiting the palace one weekday afternoon, I found it full of Petersburgers. Two were amateur photographers. One, Valery Dunaev, was a blokadnik; another, Tamara Malinovskaya, clad in the largest fur coat I had ever seen, was coming for the second time. “I can’t tear myself away,” she said. A third local, Larisa Gorbacheva, said, “We used to walk around the city and there was nothing to look at. Now we look around with pleasure.”
The House of Ice closed on a Friday in mid-March, but the weather was still wintry, and there were rumors that the palace would stay up through the weekend. Sunday morning, I headed to Palace Square one last time, intending to take some photographs. But, when I turned the corner on Nevsky Prospekt, all that remained was a pile of glacial rubble.
“Zrya! Zrya!” people were saying— “What a waste!”
A small bearded man in a long overcoat and a fur hat stood next to me, shaking his head.
“When did they tear it down?” I asked him.
“Who knows? Late last night. What a waste. What a shame.”
I mentioned the palace’s historical origins.
“Of course,” the bearded man said. It’s all historical. It’s all made from plans, from original documents. There was an empress, you see. I’m not an expert—I forget her name. Alexandra Fyodorovna, something like that. She built the palace.”
“Well, for a joke! For fun! Tsars had to enjoy themselves, too. And what a beauty it was,” he sighed. “There were thousands of people here, such a line, you couldn’t get close. They had cannons that shot real cannonballs, and it was all made out of ice. I saw it on television. It’s just shameful what they’ve done. A shame.”
“They deceived us,” a woman nearby said. She had Asian features and was wearing a snow-white ski suit. “They promised that they would leave the palace standing until tonight. I bring my daughter to Palace Square for her art class every Sunday morning—we came an hour early, just to see it one last time. It’s hurtful, even.” Her daughter, about seven years old and missing several teeth, had joined some children who were clambering on the ice boulders, resembling, in their padded snowsuits, tiny astronauts.
I thought of Krafft’s “Description,” where he contemplates the transience of ice, and invites the reader to consider the planet Saturn, where, if water existed, “it would be known only as a sort of hard stone, like marble,” and might be used as a building material. “Truly,” Krafft wrote, “the House of Ice was, for its rareness and beauty, well worthy of being transported to Saturn and of taking its place among the stars.”
The next day, I met Gromov and Mikheyeva in the lobby of the Grand Hotel Europe. They strode through the metal detector with the dynamism of a figure-skating duo. I asked them why they had not left the palace standing through the weekend. They exchanged glances.
“It’s complicated,” Gromov said.
“We tried to reach you,” Mikheyeva said. “We didn’t know until the last minute.”
When I told her about the disappointed citizens I had seen, Mikheyeva averted her eyes. “We didn’t go there the entire day. We knew everyone would be angry at us, so we went to Vyborg.”
“Why didn’t you just leave it up?” I asked.
“Well, you know, an ice palace is so beautiful at first. Then the sun shines, and it melts, slowly, slowly—ifs depressing. We wanted to leave on a positive note.”
When I left the hotel, I stopped by Palace Square to visit the heap of ice, but it had already vanished.
Next page >>