MIR 24 correspondent Vladimir Shkolnikov spoke with Elena Kalnitskaya, director of the Peterhof State Museum-Reserve, within the framework of the Eurasia program.
The Peterhof fountain system turns 300 this year. Actually, these days, you can't really surprise anyone with a fountain. But in those years, was it really an innovation?
Kalnitskaya: Here's the thing. Peter the First, when he went on his first European journey, he saw fountains everywhere, only he did not see them in Versailles, he saw them in Versailles almost 20 years later. He understood a lot then. He realized that the fountain has two paths. The first way is this pump, which lifts the water up. He saw the famous Marley car in France. It was a pumping machine that lifted water upward. And the best option, and Peter understood this, is a natural situation. And he dreamed of finding her here. And in 1720 he found her. Legend says that he himself rode a horse and found it. In fact, they showed it to him. We found a territory where springs were gushing out of the water, and immediately understood: all that remained was to make a channel, it remained only to lay a water conduit, and immediately decided to do it. And these four palaces, which were built in all areas of the park, they all united by a common idea. And, of course, the large palace on the mountain began to play the role of the main Peterhof palace, as I wrote in my article: “observation deck of the empire.” And the canal that led to the palace was the main road along which they traveled, on the contrary, from the bay to the palace. It is believed that the famous expression “from the ship to the ball” comes from here.
It is said that Peter personally opened the valve 300 years ago. Is this true or is it also a legend?
Kalnitskaya: It's true. This is written in the camera courier magazine. Not a valve, he knocked out with a spade what the pipe was closed with. And there is even a version that he found out that the water will go here at six o'clock, and he fled in order to be in time by that time. But this is just a legend. And about the spade is written in the documents, yes.
And what is the state of the fountain system now? Renovated?
Kalnitskaya: She is in a difficult state. It did not undergo restoration, but only in fragments. Its main problem is that it does not have a single owner. It passes through the territory of two subjects of the federation – the Petrodvorets district of the city of St. Petersburg and the Leningrad region. But we hope that
Is this all a complicated bureaucratic story?
Kalnitskaya: Yes, difficult and long. The city has expressed a desire to take over the system. If all this happens, it will be right.
Then some kind of global restoration can begin?
Kalnitskaya: Then a lot of good things will begin. Firstly, it will be possible to make a completely unique tourist route. It will be possible to walk with a backpack on your shoulders from where the keys are beating, and come to the “Russian Versailles”, posing as Peter the Great. What is the name of the children's book? “Be like Peter.”
Have you ever counted how many coins are thrown into your fountains?
Kalnitskaya: We do not count, we throw them away as trash. But I want to say that this is just a tragedy, because we have a new fountain “Sun”, which has already been showered with coins so that they broke the gilding of the newly opened figures. And we never welcome that.
So coins can ruin fountains?
Kalnitskaya: They cannot spoil, they spoil. There were no serious breakdowns, but in general we this year sadly, bitterly noticed that the respect for our park, for the fountains, has become less. But if I had my will – there are fences around many fountains – I would remove them. Once I “waved my saber” like that – they removed the fence, and three days later they broke off Venus's three fingers.
Which fountain is the most coin-bombed, Samson?
Kalnitskaya: Most of all they throw at Petra. Because he has jackboots and you have to hit the jackboot with a coin. Moreover, this is a recently emerged tradition. When I came, they didn’t throw me, and for the last five years they started throwing me.
This year a big event happened for Peterhof: the Catherine's building was opened after almost three years of restoration. Tell us what has been done?
Kalnitskaya: Yes, it was a very serious event for us. Why was Peter so proud of Peterhof? Because he built palaces on the sea here. This is a difficult story for the 18th century. All these palaces were washed away, there is a special soil, groundwater, and all of them, in general, are poorly preserved. Therefore, it was necessary, firstly, to solve this part of the issue – I mean the restoration of the foundation, the basement floor. Well, then over the years all these halls lost their color, so the clearing was very active, they were looking for historical colors. And in the end it all worked out, took place. We believe that we opened it in full splendor, plus we added such serious innovations as … a museum, where a system for people with limited mobility is completely made. This is very difficult in buildings of monuments, because we have very strict laws on the preservation of cultural heritage. There is much we cannot do. I really like that there is Braille here in everyday life. I remember well when I was just a girl, my grandmother was blind. And so that my grandmother could learn, they taught me to read Braille. And I, the seer, helped her master it. Now we are seen by the visually impaired and hearing impaired. These are all innovations in museums today, they are not everywhere even in Europe, and in Russia they have appeared quite recently, but have appeared.
Elena Yakovlevna, you are an engineer by your first education. How much does this affect your work, given the numerous restorations and reconstructions that you undergo?
Kalnitskaya: Well, I am a specific engineer, I am an engineer specializing in “automation and telemechanics”. I graduated from the Institute of Engineering and Railway Transport. It helps me in two ways. First of all, a person with a technical education has a structured mindset. And secondly, it sets the task very clearly. Because I try, I never entrust someone with something that I myself cannot do. It shouldn't be like that. When you want to get something from people, you must firmly know how to do it. And then, well, listen, so many drawings and projects pass me by. Of course, engineering education helps. But still not specifics, but I would say that it is with such a voluminous approach. And I wrote my diploma at one time on the topic: Harvesting automatic centralization on semiconductor modules. This science is of little help to me.
During the self-isolation caused by the pandemic, you also tried yourself in the guise of a blogger …
Kalnitskaya: I would not say that, I do not like this word, I am not any blogger. I just like various experiments, including on myself. And so I tried at home, in an empty apartment on the phone, to write down some short stories, there are 12 of them in my opinion. They are called “About Peterhof subjectively.” This is my personal opinion, I stated this, and, in general, I would say that this is not quite an official job. I do not say anywhere there that I am the director of Peterhof. I am, after all, an art critic with vast experience, why not reflect on Peterhof? Maybe tomorrow I will want to think about the dacha, I was there at least for a short time, but I worked. In any case, it turned out to be interesting, it was interesting to me. There are such funny stories, for example, I told about hunting, and suddenly my lapdog came and began to bark. In some place, where about the lapdog of Catherine II, I just showed her, well, it was amusing. It was such a kind of entertainment.
Do you think to continue?
Kalnitskaya: No, not yet. Because I don't have time for this.
Over the past year and a half, the museum-reserve has a lot of online projects. Do you think this format has taken root or is it still for a pandemic time?
Kalnitskaya: I thought about it a lot. He, of course, took root. But it seems to me that this format needs to be taken very seriously. Because, maybe, here we are making multimedia museums, they are in great demand. Maybe life will show that this story is instantaneous, but this one (shows around) , one might say imperishable, this is history forever. Therefore, life will show.
In general, the pandemic has changed the life of museums not only because online projects have appeared, but the pandemic has seriously hit the museum environment in general. How has the economy of Peterhof changed?
Kalnitskaya: Our life has changed radically. Because we were a safe museum, we earned 80% of our budget. Previously, 40% of tourism gave us 80% of our income, a lot of money came from tourists. Today there are no tourists, so today we have a very difficult situation, we need support. Because the money we earned just to pay people will be enough until the new year. Nothing else shines for us, we are waiting.
Did you have to postpone any restorations?
Kalnitskaya: You ask me how our employees are: What are we restoring if our salary has decreased? Because the restoration money is earmarked, we cannot use it for salaries.
Has the salary decreased?
Kalnitskaya: Of course. But it is basic and our surcharges. But it is very difficult for us.
Did you manage to keep the team?
Kalnitskaya: Of course. We did not fire a single person. Not a single person left. Well, naturally, life is life – people were sick. And now, I will not hide, a very big problem is that not everyone wants to be vaccinated. I will not hide it and will tell you, because this is the most serious task for me. I need 80% of the population to be vaccinated by mid-October.
Otherwise you won't be able to work?
Kalnitskaya: Well, it's not that we won't be able to work, but the latter's resolution says that tourist and excursion activities may be suspended.
Unfortunately, the pandemic is not letting go today. It has already been announced that the October Fountain Festival will not take place. What was planned and what will you still be able to see?
Kalnitskaya: As always, our autumn holiday is a multimedia holiday on the Grand Cascade, well, I confess that we knew for sure that any options were possible, we prepared such a medley of 10 performances that took place in recent years. We took the best pieces, wrote a new script, and it was all ready. But, firstly, we understood that we would have a very small budget, but it was such a beautiful, such a bright sight. But alas. Now we are waiting for 2022. The entire year 2022 will be dedicated to Peter. We have come up with interesting projects about him. This is a tribute to respect and love. After all, we are the most “Peter's” place, conceived, created and suffered by him. Therefore, in 2022, the season will begin with the Peter's Assembly, and will end with a large multimedia holiday, which will reflect the entire tsarist life.