Book 5. Who are we? (2001)
City on the Neva
‘And have such changes been taking place in St. Petersburg too, as well as in Moscow?” I asked Anastasia.
“Events happened somewhat differently in the city on the Neva,” she replied. “There it was the children who, even before the adults, felt the need of doing something themselves about creating a different kind of future. The children took it upon themselves to start changing the city, without waiting for a decree from the authorities.”
“Wow! Children again! And how did it all start?”
At the corner where the Nevsky Prospekt2 crosses the Fon- tanka embankment some workers had dug a trench. An eleven-year-old boy accidentally fell into it and injured his
leg. While he was recuperating, he spent a long time sitting at the window of his flat at No 25, Fontanka Embankment. But his apartment windows looked out not onto the river, but onto an interior courtyard. The view included a shabby brick wall and the rusty spots covering the roof of the house it was attached to.
One day the boy asked his father:
“Papa, isn’t our city supposed to be the best in the country?”
“Of course,” the father replied, “it’s one of the best in the world!”
“And why is it the best?”
“What d’you mean, why? It’s got a lot of different kinds of monuments and museums, and the architecture in the city centre is world-famous.”
“But we live in the city centre too, and all we can see from our windows is a shabby wall and the rusty roof of the building next door.”
‘A wall... Well, yes, we didn’t do so well with the view.”
‘Are we the only ones?”
“Maybe a few others, but anyway...” 3
The boy took a snapshot of the view from his apartment windows and when he was able to go to school again, he showed the photo to his chums.
Then all the children in his class took snapshots from their windows and compared the photos. The overall picture was not very pretty. The boy and his chums went to see the editors of one of the local papers and asked the same question he had earlier asked his father:
“Why is our city supposed to be more beautiful than others?”
They tried explaining to him about Alexander’s Column4 and the Hermitage;5 they talked about the Kazan Cathedral6 and the legendary Nevsky Prospekt...
“What makes the Nevsky so hot?” the boy enquired. “I think it looks like a stone trench with flaking edges.”
They tried explaining to him about the architectural merits of the thoroughfare, about the sculptural mouldings on the building facades. About how the city at the moment didn’t have enough funds to restore all the houses at once, but soon there would be money available, and then everybody would see how beautiful the Nevsky really was.
“But what’s so beautiful about a stone trench, even if the facades are spruced up? Besides, it’ll only get shabby again before long and they’ll only have to refill the holes and fix up the parts that have fallen down.”
The boy and his chums went around to various editorial offices, showing them their now considerable collection of photos and asking the same question over and over again. At first the journalists were irritated at his persistence. On one occasion a reporter with a youth newspaper told him:
“Oh, it’s you again?! And now you’re dragging your henchmen along with you — you’ve got more and more of them, it seems, all the time. You may not like the city, the view from the windows, but can’t you do at least something about it yourselves? There’s enough criticising going on without you kids adding your two cents’ worth. Go back to your homes and stop interfering with our work!”
This admonition was overheard by a veteran journalist, who after seeing the group of children make their way out of the newspaper offices, spoke thoughtfully to the young reporter: “You know, their audacity reminds me of a particular fairy tale.”
‘A fairy tale? Which one?” the reporter enquired.
“The Emperor has no clothes! Remember those words in the story?”
After that the boys stopped bothering the editors with questions and showing the huge collection of pictures they
carried around in a backpack. The school year ended, and come September another began. And it didn’t take long for the news to spread through the newspaper offices: the boy and his chums are back again. The veteran journalist exclaimed to his colleagues at the journalists’ club for the umpteenth time:
“He’s back... Yes, indeed... And just think, he finally managed to get a hearing. And he wasn’t alone. They all sat quietly waiting together in the reception room for about three hours. I agreed to see them. I warned them to talk quickly, as I had set aside only two minutes to hear what they had to say They came in and spread out a huge sheet of drafting paper across my desk. I looked at their masterpiece and was dumbfounded. I kept looking, not being able to take my eyes away, or even to say a word. Two minutes must have gone by, for I heard the boy say to everyone:
“Tt’s time for us to leave. We’ve outstayed our welcome.’' “‘What’s that?’ I called after them, just as they were on their way out the door. He turned around, and I felt the look of another age descend upon me. Yes, indeed... There’s a lot we still have to think through, make sense of... Yes, indeed!” “Well, did he say anything?” asked a colleague.
Others, too, became restless and asked:
“Don’t keep us in suspense — did he say he was coming back?”
Whereupon the veteran editor replied:
“He turned around and answered my question like this: “‘That’s our Nevsky you’ve got in front of you. For now it’s only on paper. But eventually the whole city will be that way’ And then the door closed.”
For the umpteenth time the journalists bent over to examine the design, and marvelled at its amazing beauty.
The design showed the houses along Nevsky Prospekt no longer one right smack up against the other, forming a continuous stone wall. Some of the old buildings were still there, but every other building had been taken down. In place of the razed houses there were now marvellous green and fragrant oases. Birds were shown nesting in the many birches, pines and cedars, and it seemed as though one could hear their song just from looking at the drawing. The people sitting on benches beneath shady trees were surrounded by beautiful flower-beds as well as raspberry and currant bushes. These green oases jutted out a little into the street, and the Nevsky no longer looked like a stone trench, but a splendid living green allee.
The building facades had a multitude of mirrors built into them. The thousands of splashes of sunlight reflected in the mirrors played with the passers-by, caressed the petals of the flowers and played in the streams of the little fountains set up in each green oasis. People were shown drinking water along with the splashes of sunlight and smiling...
‘Anastasia,” I asked, “did the boy ever show up again?”
“You know, the one who kept pestering the editors with his question.”
“The ‘boy’ was gone for good. He became a great architect. Together with his like-minded chums he created splendid cities of the future. Cities and villages, in which happy people began to live. But his first marvellous creation was the city he designed on the Neva.”
‘Anastasia, in what year will Russia’s marvellous future appear?”
“You can determine the year for yourself, Vladimir.”
“What d’you mean, for myself? Is time subject to Man’s will?” “What Man does in his time is definitely subject to his will. Everything created by a dream already exists in space. The dreams of many human souls — your readers — will turn the Divine dream into material reality What you have seen may come about in three hundred years, or it could come right now, this instant.”
“Right this instant? But you can’t build a house in an instant, and a garden won’t grow up even in a year.”
“But if you, right where you are living at the moment, even if it is just a tiny flat, plant a seed in a little clay pot of earth, from which may grow a shoot of a family tree, this tree will eventually grow to maturity in your future family domain...” “You yourself are talking about what will be — that’s not the same thing as right now. In other words, a dream cannot materialise itself in a single instant.”
“What do you mean, it cannot? After all, that material seed you plant — that is precisely the beginning of the dream’s coming true. The shoot interacts with the whole Universe, it materialises your dream, and you will be enfolded by splendid bright energies, you will stand before the Father as the embodiment of His dream.”
“Interesting, indeed. That means we should get started, right away?”
“Only where can I find the right words to get people to understand?!”
“The words will be found if you can be sincere and true to yourself in front of people.”
“I don’t know how, but I shall act. Your dream has sparked something in my soul, Anastasia. And I very much want to make the future I have seen come true.”