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  • As a "state of mind" this is the mystical, misty, and mythical city of Saint Petersburg, which in the Russian mentality, stands in contradistinction to the natural, earthy city of Moscow. Russians always drop the "saint" part of the name (which in Russian is not really Russian, but a borrowing from Dutch: Санкт–Петербург – Sankt-Peterburg) and often call it familiarly simply Peter. This is the town Peter the Great summoned from the festering swamp by the force of his will, where a century later his statue, The Bronze Horseman comes alive to drive the poor, bereaved Evgeny mad; where Raskolnikov plots Nietzschean murder and Ivan Karamazov has visions of the devil; where Aleksandr Blok imagines Christ as leading a band of revolutionaries in The Twelve, and Andrej Bely imagines assassins and terrorists in masquerade dominos in his great toponymic novel Petersburg; this is the place Akhmatova cannot leave even if it means being turned into a pillar of salt like Lot's wife, and of which Mandelshtam says "I have returned to my city, familiar to the point of tears…"

    September 5, 2008