It's Sunday. One hundred and eighty kilometers and four hours after leaving Novgorod, we re-enter St. Petersburg.
Around 9 am, the city reveals itself to be much quieter than we had known it before. We left our luggage in a pre-rented room and walked out like the undead to the subway and the majestic banks of great Peter.
When we got up from Admiralteyskaya station, we finally noticed that the day was clear, with a clear sky and a heat that, despite being humid, also seemed torrid to us.
We walk through Aleksandrowski Gardens to Senatskaya Square. There, we are faced with a separate reality.
Navy Day, Boat-filled St. Petersburg Canals
Dozens of afloat boats and submarines appeared between the Blagoveshchenski, Dvortsovi and Troitsky bridges, in the middle of the Neva or against the walls that delimit it. A colorful crowd filled the high banks also distributed in endless rows stretched along the boats.
At the same time, the opening ceremony of the anniversary began, right in front of the haughty statue of the Bronze Knight that pays homage to Peter the Great, the founder of the city and the Russian navy.
Peter Alekseyvich Romanov – the original name of the great tsar – is credited with the maxim that "A Regent who has only one army has one hand, but he who has a navy has two."
Centuries after his death, none of the officers present at the ceremony or the sailors in training on the submarine “St. Petersburg” emerged in the middle of the Neva would dare to disagree.
We approached the stop but could barely see through the early morning attendance.
Thus, even without an invitation to the event or previous candidacy, we provided ourselves with professional cards, we put around our necks the cameras with the largest lenses we were carrying and we insinuated ourselves into the internal space reserved for influential politicians, orthodox priests, high ranks and journalists.
The assistant who works with us finds the cards written only in Roman alphabet strange, instead of the almost totalist Cyrillic one, but after identifying “Press” in red, ends up giving us passage.
VIP Access to the Political Ceremony that Makes the Day Official
It is already from the private interior of Senatskaya that we follow the imposing parades, the speeches, the slogans for TV. Neither Putin nor Medvedev are present.
Instead, other dignitaries lower in the hierarchy lead the protocol. Later, the advisor approached us again in Russian. Not exactly through the words, we realize that it calls us to an admiral's interview to the media.
We limited ourselves to photographing the siege established by our colleagues in the house.
Judicious Ascents aboard the Most Imposing Boats
After the ceremony, the crowd disbands. A Mexican three-masted barge named “Cuauhtemo” attracts endless people. There is Latin music on board. Both the crew and an extra of the Aztec king of Tenochtitlan display a seductive exoticism and welcome.
We crossed the Blagoveshchenski Bridge to the bank there. There, too, lines formed alongside other boats, blessed by the haughty presence of the Andrejewski Cathedral.
We climbed aboard the war cruiser "Dimitrograd".
On deck, we follow the tropes of dozens of children in ecstasy with the cannon batteries, but also of aspiring Russian models who make incessant little mouths and throw their heads back determined as the cameras in the hands of their friends capture their sensuality.
We are over 60º North. The summer's day shows no sign of having an end. We return to the Admiralteyski gardens hoping to see another unofficial attraction of the celebration.
Socializing with the Drunken Sailors of the Admiralteyski of St. Petersburg
Arrived in front of the huge naval college, we rested on a bench that was still vacant, next to others occupied by groups of young sailors, semi-uniformed in striped tank tops. In full drunken conviviality around a guitar.
Once or twice we approached cameras at the ready and immediately got their attention, poses and funny faces. We don't insist too much so that we don't bother them at the first contact. We sat down again. We notice that more photographers are watching them from other positions.
Meanwhile, we are joined by a group of television reporters who seem uneasy to us. “Where are you from? Has anything happened? We think nothing will happen.
The worst has already happened back there in Palace Square, you know? An activist unfurled a gay flag among the military. He was beaten by these animals. Be careful with them, they are very, very dangerous.”
We have heard confessions of this kind before. Alexey Kravchenko, our friend and city host, assured us that for many Russians, military days like this and August 2nd (dedicated to the Airborne Forces) were like family days. And to avoid going out into the street as much as possible.
“You know…when I was 14 I was kicked pretty seriously by one of them. Normally, they cause gratuitous and racist violence all over the country. For me, the ideal is to stay at home.”
Even intimidated, we don't give up. By this time, some sailors are drunk. The police who had controlled them during the early afternoon had already left. The sailors enjoy the benefit. Make up to the fountain in front. First one, stumbling and staggering, but delighted by the anesthetization of alcohol and by leading the effort.
The pioneer claims a Russian flag. When they pass it, it goes under the fountains. Shake it from side to side with unexpected vigor. So, more sailors join the comrade. Grouped and embraced in an ethylic exhibitionism they shout the slogan "slobasloba, sloba!” (Glory, Glory, Glory).
The photographers present register the moment. Simple people arrive at the fountain's edge, determined to photograph themselves as part of this already emblematic scene of the city.
When they come out of the water, some sailors overcome their shyness and start talking to us with understandable breaths of brandy and vodka. One is a photography fan. Another had been in Lisbon. I admired the city a lot.
Another is a Zenit fanatic. He makes a point of mentioning the various Portuguese players or those coming from Portugal who lined up for the team. Almost everyone drags the scant English words that they intersperse with involuntary bits in Russian.
Contrary to what we were warned, they are affable. Even syrupy. One of them, in whom alcohol had aroused some aggressiveness, disturbs the cordial relationship we had maintained until then. "Where are you from? I hope they're not USAs! Are they English?”
We estimated that by telling the truth, we would be free from any hassles and, as such, we responded with care in pronouncing the name of our homeland in Russian version: “Partugalia, Partugalia” we replied to calm him down.
Even so, the naval ruffian doesn't give up. "BORN? Are you part of NATO? We don't want NATOs around here!” And thou? you are skinhead?” Finally, the friendliest colleagues call him to reason and save us from questions that could prove more perilous.
Sasha, a photographer of Russian origin but based in New York, watched what had happened. He ends up confessing to us: “ah... you are Portuguese. I was already predicting that they would be Latino. It's amazing how I, even with a bad accent, I speak Russian, I can't have, from them, the trust that you've already earned. On top of that, you don't speak Russian and they speak little or nothing in English. I think it's your Latin approach. You talk to them always smiling… neither I nor most of us, with Slavic blood, are very good at relating like that. Russians are not used to being treated well.”