« PreviousContinue »
so richly yet delicately flavored ; so bright, glowing, and transparent as it flashes through the crystal glasses; nothing acrid, gross, or earthly about it -a heavenly compound that “ cheers but not inebriates.”
"A balm for the sickness of care,
A bliss for a bosom unbless’d.” Come with me, friend, and let us take a seat in the traktir. Every body here is a tea-drinker. Coffee is never good in Russia. Besides, it is gross and villainous stuff compared with the tchai of Moscow. At all hours of the day we find the saloons crowded with Russians, French, Germans, and the representatives of various other nations — all worshipers before the burnished shrine of Tchai. A little saint in the corner presides especially over this department. The devout Russians take off their hats and make a profound salam to this accommodating little patron, whose corpulent stomach and smiling countenance betoken an appreciation of all the good things of life. Now observe how these wonderful Russians—the strangest and most incomprehensible of beings-cool themselves this sweltering hot day. Each stalwart son of the North calls for a portion of tchai, not a tea-cupful or a glassful, but a genuine Russian portion-a tea-potful. The tea-pot is small, but · the tea is strong enough to bear an unlimited amount of dilution; and it is one of the glorious privileges of the tea-drinker in this country that he may have as much hot water as he pleases. Sugar is more sparingly supplied. The adept remedies this difficulty by placing a lump of sugar in his mouth and sipping his tea through it—a great improvement upon the custom said to exist in some parts of Holland, where a lump of sugar is hung by a string over the table and swung around from mouth to mouth, so that each guest may take a pull at it after swallowing his tea. A portion would be quite enough for a good-sized family in America. The Russian makes nothing of it. Filling and swilling hour after hour, he seldom rises before he gets through ten or fifteen tum
blersful, and, if he happens to be thirsty, will double itenough, one would think, to founder a horse. But the Russian stomach is constructed upon some physiological
through his shin in globules fit oozes from
bage soup; raw cucumbers; cold fish; lumps of ice; decayed cheese and black bread, seem to have no other effect upon it than to provoke an appetite. In warm weather it is absolutely marvelous to see the quantities of fiery-hot liquids these people pour down their throats. Just cast your eye upon that bearded giant in the corner, with his hissing urn of tea before him, his batvina and his shtshie! What a spectacle of physical enjoyment! His throat is bare; his face a glowing carbuncle; his body a monstrous caldron, seething and dripping with overflowing juices. Shade of Hebe! how he swills the tea-how glass after glass of the steaminghot liquid flows into his capacious maw, and diffuses itself over his entire person! It oozes from every pore of his Skin; drops in globules from his forehead; smokes through his shirt; makes a piebald chart of seas and islands over his back; streams down and simmers in his boots! He is saturated with tea, inside and out-a living sponge overflowing at every pore. You might wring him out, and there would still be a heavy balance left in him.
These traktirs are the general places of meeting, where matters of business or pleasure are discussed; accounts settled and bargains made. Here the merchant, the broker, the banker, and the votary of pleasure meet in common. Here all the pursuits of human life are represented, and the best qualities of men drawn out with the drawing of the tea. Enmities are forgotten and friendships cemented in tea. In short, the traktir is an institution, and its influence extends through all the ramifications of society.
But it is in the gardens and various places of suburban resort that the universal passion for tea is displayed in its most pleasing and romantic phases. Surrounded by the beauties of nature, lovers make their avowals over the irrepressible tea-pot; the hearts of fair damsels are won in the intoxication of love and tea; quarrels between man and wife are made up, and children weaned
--I had almost said baptized-in tea. The traveler must see the families seated under the trees, with the burnished urn before them — the children romping about over the grass; joy beaming upon every face; the whole neighborhood a repetition of family groups and steaming urns, bound together by the mystic tie of sympathy, before he can fully appreciate the important part that tea performs in the great drama of Russian life.
THE PETERSKOI GARDENS. This draws me insensibly toward the beautiful gardens of the Peterskoi—a favorite place of resort for the Moskovites, and famous for its chateau built by the Empress Elizabeth, in which Napoleon sought refuge during the burning of Moscow. It is here the rank and fashion of the city may be seen to the greatest advantage of a fine summer afternoon. In these gardens all that is brilliant, beautiful, and poetical in Russian life finds a congenial atmosphere.
I spent an evening at the Peterskoi which I shall long remember as one of the most interesting I ever spent at any place of popular amusement. The weather was charming-neither too warm nor too cold, but of that peculiarly soft and dreamy temperature which predisposes one for the enjoyment of music, flowers, the prattle of children, the fascinations of female loveliness, and the luxuries of idleness. In such an atmosphere no man of sentiment can rack his brain with troublesome problems. These witching hours, when the sun lingers dreamily on the horizon; when the long twilight weaves a web of purple and gold that covers the transition from night to morning; when nature, wearied of the dazzling glare of day, puts on her silver-spangled robes, and receives her worshipers with celestial smiles, are surely enough to soften the most stubborn heart. We must make love, sweet ladies, or die. There is no help for it. Resistance is an abstract impossibility. The best man in the world could not justly be censured for practicing a little with his eyes, when away from home, merely as I do, you know, to keep up the expression.
The gardens of the Peterskoi are still a dream to me. For a distance of three versts from the gate of St. Petersburg the road was thronged with carriages and droskies, and crowds of gayly-dressed citizens, all wending their way toward the scene of entertainment. The pressure for tickets at the porter's lodge was so great that it required considerable patience and good-humor to get through at all. Officers in dashing uniforms rode on spirited chargers up and down the long rows of vehicles, and with drawn swords made way for the foot-passengers. Guards in imperial livery, glittering from head to foot with embroidery, stood at the grand portals of the gate, and with many profound and elegant bows ushered in the company. Policeman with cocked hats and shining epaulets were stationed at intervals along the leading thoroughfares to preserve order..
The scene inside the gates was wonderfully imposing. Nothing could be more fanciful. In every aspect it presented some striking combination of natural and artificial beauties, admirably calculated to fascinate the imagination. I have a vague recollection of shady and undulating walks, winding over sweeping lawns dotted with masses of flowers and copses of shrubbery, and overhung by wide-spreading trees, sometimes gradually rising over gentle acclivities or points of rock overhung with moss and fern. Rustic cottages, half hidden by the luxuriant foliage, crowned each prominent eminence, and little byways branched off into cool, umbrageous recesses, where caves, glittering with sea-shells and illuminated stalactites, invited the wayfarer to linger a while and rest. Far down in deep glens and grottoes were retired nooks, where lovers, hidden from the busy throng, might mingle their vows to the harmony of falling waters; where the