Imperial wealth in the eyes of a child.
Today, we watched Dan Cruickshank’s Adventures in Architecture. This episode concerned, among other structures, The Catherine Palace, the Rococo summer palace of the Russian Tsars.
Tiarnan, five, watched as the astonishing interiors of this unbelievably ornate palace paraded across the TV screen. Gold and amber, and every possible variation on the word “opulent”, assailed our eyes. Not that alone, but the sheer vastness of the place, was astonishing, with one corridor being 325 metres long, before the Empress could be reached. Throughout it all, Tiarnan watched in silence. Finally, however, he spoke up.
”It is no good to live there.”, he began, quietly, with an authority out of proportion to his size.
All eyes turned to him for explanation.
“It is not a good place to play.”, he elaborated, his eyes flicking to the screen where the story of splendour continued to unfold. “Too much glass.” He looked utterly unimpressed with the wealth on display. Indeed, he seemed to think it silly: after all, who would build a house that couldn’t be played in?
“Should Daddy rent that house, to live in?”
He looked across at me, his eyes growing all very serious and shook his head, slowly, from side to side.
He had no words, but his expression was enough.
Even when given the option to live in such a palace, Tiarnan would choose not to.
At that point, Fintan piped up: “Choose somewhere else, Daddy. Not there.”
So it was not just Tiarnan who thought The Catherine Palace an inappropriate place to live – even Fintan thought so too.
This moves me to reflect: I wonder what little Tsars thought of growing up in such surroundings? Did they find them impractical, too? Or were they too busy being alone, in a very fundamental way, to care about where they lived?
It is lucky my kids don’t feel the need to live in a several hundred metre long palace. In fact, they tell me they rather like condominiums...a much more affordable accommodation.
It is funny to see my kids’ response to Imperial wealth. It left them rather unimpressed. This would have surprised the Empress Elizabeth – for her palace was expressly designed to awe and impress with her divine status. Well, in the case of my children, at least, she failed. It left them wondering at the silly impracticalities of it all.
Do my kids see more truly what matters, than some adults do? I would think most adults would be awed by The Catherine Palace and by the very thought that it was once someone’s home. Yet, if my children are any guide, kids see it very differently. They see it as a place barren of any fun...a place that cannot be played in. In a way, I think my kids see something adults miss. All that majestic wealth might impress some...but does it bring personal joy? Fintan and Tiarnan certainly thought not. What do you think?
Posted by Valentine Cawley
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