Leningrad. Day 21

You have to rough it a little bit. BOTH sides of every page in my shirt pocket notebook are now full. Joan says I'm too cheap to buy a new one. My position is I can't find the right kind. It's not like going into a drugstore where they have everything.

We're taking the short flight from Moscow to Leningrad today, and there I at last discover what will do. It appears to be a Russian engagement book full of handy information in Cyrillic type. Until I start scribbling in it, I'm making full use of hotel stationery and inside covers of a guidebook. You have to rough it a little when you're away from home.

Our group is certainly not roughing it in accommodations. The hotel in Leningrad is remote from the downtown action. But it's beautifully placed on the Gulf of Finland off the Baltic Sea.

Is there time for the Russian Museum? We're still trying to see as much indigenous art as possible while we're here -- not to omit, of course, the international treasures of the Hermitage, which is on the schedule tomorrow.

The Russian Museum is well worth seeking out. Here is a whole room of portraits by the celebrated Ilya Repin, whose work we saw in Irkutsk. His ``Lev Tolstoy Barefooted'' (1901) brings home to the eyes a world-famed author's yearning for peasant simplicity.

Here is N.I. Altman's slightly cubist 1915 painting of the poet Anna Akhmatova. (What is that line of hers? Something about gnawing anguish -- ``Then why has the soul grown so light?'') And here are religious paintings from the 15th century that hardly seem less modern.

We stay so long at the museum that we don't eat before dashing to the theater for a serendipitous event. We thought we had missed any chance to see the Moscow Art Theater when it was sold out in Moscow. But here it is, on tour in Leningrad.

We don't have to starve either. There's a theater caf'e. Slices of bread with caviar and a big dab of butter are waiting to be picked up like fast food. Strangers unceremoniously take seats with strangers at small tables. Marvelous.

The play is Alexander Misharin's ``Silver Wedding.'' Some actors get celebrity applause. We're told they also appear on TV. A spectator next to us offers help in English. The unexpectedly (to us) political story is about a Communist Party regional director at an anniversary gathering that is interrupted by wry comedy and bitter emotion.

Joan notes that the characters appear well off. Our mentor laughs and says all regional party directors are well off.

Roderick Nordell is the Monitor's feature editor. Tomorrow he finds Kandinsky in a Hermitage corner.

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