Leningrad. Day 23

Spilling water where Pushkin had tea. WHEN you're having tea in the caf'e where Alexander Pushkin did 150 years ago, you don't worry about ice water. Unless the day is hot, and you've asked for it, and it finally comes when you're about to leave, and you feel you have to pour some anyway. The waitress has gone to such trouble. I know this is no excuse for my continuing to pour after my glass is full, thus soaking the tablecloth and making me wish we could tip in the Soviet Union. I must be overrelaxed by the atmosphere. The whiteness of the tables reflected in the whiteness of the curving ceilings. The light tree with gilded leaves. The waitresses' simple black dresses and ready smiles. The pianist and violinist gently playing ``Aloha Oe'' and other innocent airs, for which there is a small cover charge.

We didn't know this was called the Caf'e Literaturnaya. Now we imagine Pushkin dropping in not far from where we're told the old woman with a secret lived in his ``Queen of Spades.''

We're on the Nevsky Prospekt, the city's main avenue. It is named for Alexander Nevsky, the 13th-century national hero whom, I blush to say, I've known mainly through a stirring Soviet film portrayal by Nicolai Cherkasov. We have seen a letter about this portrayal on display. It is from the eminent British actor Paul Scofield, who appreciates how his acting was influenced by Cherkasov's.

No offense to Mr. Lenin, but we hear less about him in Leningrad than about Peter the Great, the 18th-century ruler who gave the city its former name, St. Petersburg.

Today our group goes by water to Peter's Grand Palace and small Mon Plaisir. In addition to the well-guided tour of grounds and fountains, some of us have other preoccupations. Like being sure guards will let us back on the palace grounds if we slip out among the Soviet tourists to buy ice cream on a stick.

Tonight: Leningrad Philharmonic Hall. To see the hall, the painted chairs with velvet seats, the velvet draperies behind painted wood columns. To hear, in the Leningrad Philharmonic's absence, a recital of Bach chorale preludes. To experience a Soviet concert audience -- such extraordinary intentness, so many family groups including children.

Ushers gather from our gestures that we would like to meet the organist. ``Ah, Maestro!'' They nod and pass us backstage. There he graciously adds us to his circle, giving Joan her second Russian kiss on the hand, signing our program ``With great pleasure. In remembering the days in the Soviet Union. A. Fis.''

Roderick Nordell is the Monitor's feature editor. Tomorrow he leaves from the Finland Station where Lenin arrived.

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