Crucible at Kronshtadt

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Barbara Haas

Crucible at Kronshtadt



The Gulf of Finland is one of those places on earth where the sky and sea coalesce so perfectly you disbelieve that you’re still actually on earth and feel transported instead to an aqueous, cloud-draped, drizzly planet whose primary elements are those that create water in all its phases: frozen, liquid, vapor. The color palette in the Gulf partakes of the gray-to-silver spectrum. Veils of white often shroud the band where sea and sky meet. If it is a Tuesday morning and you are skiffing across the whitecaps in a Soviet-era aquabus, as I was last June, droplets stream in thin rivulets down the windows of the closed cabin, and everything beyond the glass washes together in a sea-splash miasma that has more to do with a submarine ride to Kronshtadt than a plodding but routine commuter transport out of Saint Petersburg.
  The Gulf of Finland makes you doubt sunshine. The shore you’ve sailed from quickly evaporates behind you. Never mind that it is a celebrated shore in a storied city full of priceless Russian and European art, time-tested monuments, grand cathedrals, famous battle sites and the prison where Dostoevsky languished. The morning I made the trip, we chugged out of Neva Bay in full summer sun, but the Gulf of Finland, reliably swathed in mist, quickly swallowed us up. No matter what might be happening back in Saint Petersburg—revolution, bombardment, public executions, siege warfare, Shostakovich composing the Leningrad Symphony, Rasputin drowning in a canal—this was happening thirty nautical miles west of there: fog, rain, wind. Our creaky old aquabus had been making the passage to Kronshtadt long enough to practically groove a furrow through the moody Baltic chop. The horizon was not something I . . .
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