From Peter the Great and Catherine the Great to Alexander I and Nicholas II, the Romanovs held onto power with the help of a system of patronage that featured elaborate gifts for military leaders, courtiers, and heads of state.
Though she preferred posterity to be her judge, Catherine II acquired the moniker 'Great' during her remarkable 34-year run as empress. Under her watch, Russia became a global superpower and St. Petersburg a sophisticated cultural capital.
I shudder to think how my parents would have survived in today's anything-goes, nothing-is-sacred, sexually charged society. Their values were black and white, wrong and right, good and bad, with little wiggle room for compromise.
What if you were grotesquely deformed and you wanted no one to see you? Yet you had a need for contact and so began to communicate online employing another avatar. This isn't even the stuff of science fiction. It probably takes place.
In 1764, Russia's art-loving Catherine the Great founded the Hermitage Museum with the first of many paintings acquisitions. This year, to celebrate its 250th anniversary, the Hermitage has organized a visual feast: "At the Russian Imperial Court: Costumes of the 18th - early-20th Centuries."
With deep pockets, Catherine the Great lured some of Europe's most talented architects and artists to St. Petersburg to produce everything from elegant palaces and interiors to a monumental tribute to Peter the Great.
Russians are obsessed with size. If something is big, it's good. If it's oversized, it's better. Buildings in St. Petersburg and Moscow are huge and tend to the baroque. Visually impressive, albeit much the same. One finds oneself longing for something small and private.
Usually I steer clear of politics. Normally I follow Mr. Ed's wise dictum "don't speak unless you've got something to say." But in the case of my old buddy Carl Paladino, I can remain muzzled no longer.