Technically, not something I did, although, well, also kind of. Long story short…
It was 1896. Grandmother of all European royalty queen Victoria made a present to her Russian godson, Velikiy Knyaz Boris Vladimirovitch (who was the Tzar Nikolai II’s cousin) for his 20th birthday. She sent an estate. I’m sure if you or me would have been royalty, we’d also spoil our numerous regal relatives like that. A whole mansion was sent complete with stables and a park, all in half-timber English style and built by an English firm on the outskirts of Tsarskoye Selo (now Pushkin), a nice bicycle ride away from Catherine’s palace. The dude used the place as his Dacha as long as he could, in other words until the commies kicked him out while very nearly having him executed. (He managed to move to Italy in 1919).
Nikolai Vavilov a great and tragic figure himself moved his research of genetics into this estate during the soviet times. Honestly, look him up – great scientist, broken and murdered by mediocrity. Starved to death in a gulag, courtesy of our old friends, the commies. Interestingly, him and Boris Vladimirovitch Romanov died during the same 1943.
The genetics is the true deal, though, and the research institute survived. My mother who is a student of Vavilov’s students, worked there through almost all of her career, made her doctor degree there and retired from there. As a teenager I spent (I now realized) some significant chunk of time there. They had a photo lab with superb equipment in it which I could use when noone else did, my mom was there and a ton of other interesting stuff was there, which nice scientific ladies loved to talk about. Honestly, the nicest people ever.
The place was adored by the Soviet filmmakers because, well, English mansions were scarce in the Soviet Russia. Like, half of the Soviet Sherlock Holmes was filmed there as well as some other classics.
So, yeah, I love the place. I took my now wife on our first date there, ummm.. 20+ years ago. I haven’t visited my home town of St.Pete in almost 20 years, and now, well, this house managed to give me the biggest deja vu yet. When I pulled on the door handle, I knew exactly what the door would feel like, what sound it would make and what smell would hit my nose. It was utterly unbelievable.
But there is also this. You know, decay doesn’t only concern aging software developers, but also neglected property. And I can’t say “neglected” with enough regret in this case. Neglect, disrepair. Once booming scientific campus with adjacent fields for the experimental crops now looks deserted and post-apocalyptic in its rusted ruin.
Look at these once magnificent stables now boarded off with roof partially missing. They put a fence around because it’s falling apart and could kill you. The main house looks slightly better, interior rather intact, but it looks like it’s being vacated. Who knows what its future is, I hope at least it’s not to be just left to rot.
What is even sadder is that the state of the modern Russian science is often times just like this house there, you know? It has definitely seen much better times than today. This is important stuff, guys. No later effort will make it good again, it needs to be maintained and nourished, otherwise, well, look at the pictures again.