A Revolutionary Guide For Buffs and Bluffers

I recently noticed that while there is a succinct bluffers' guide to almost everything from opera to brain surgery, there is no such informative handbook on the Russian Revolution.

This would seem to me, as a current blow-in resident of St. Petersburg, a grave oversight. The revolution was one of the most important historical events ever to befall this city. And what is often forgotten now, refracted through the horrendous consequences of Russia's revolutionary escapade, is that "Glorious February" was truly glorious, a euphoric upsurge of violent indignation that instantly liberated the people from the tsarist yoke.

In any case, even those who view the events of 1917 in a wholly negative light may have to express some intelligent opinions on the subject over the current commemorative period. So here it is: the bluffers mini-guide to the revolution -- both February and October.

?The February revolution was, in its initial stages, a terrifically organized affair. The quiet, dignified behavior of the people was commented on by many, including one English correspondent, who noted: "The astounding, and to the stranger unacquainted with the Russian character, almost uncanny, orderliness and good nature of the crowds are perhaps the most striking features of this great Russian revolution."

?As the post-revolutionary expectations of the people sky-rocketed, there was a rash of industrial unrest throughout Russia. The most bizarre labor protest during this period was a nation-wide strike by the country's prostitutes. Presumably, they were complaining about unsociable hours.

?On Oct. 25, when the moment came to raise a red lantern on the flagpole of the Peter and Paul Fortress -- a signal for the storming of the Winter Palace to begin -- no red lantern could be found. One of the Bolshevik commanders went in search of the necessary item, got lost in the dark and fell into a bog. When he finally did return, the lantern he appropriated was found to have a number of substantial drawbacks: It could not be attached to the flagpole, and it wasn't red.

?The greatest threat to Bolshevik discipline in the days following the October revolution was the discovery, inside the Winter Palace, of a gigantic wine cellar. Martial law was imposed to try to quell the anarchy, but it was only when the cellar was drained dry that the bacchanalia festivities ceased.

?According to a local St. Petersburg legend, an aristocrat who was evicted from his home and stripped of his wealth in the wake of the revolution went to work at the Kunst-kammer, Peter the Great's collection of freaks and oddities. There, it is claimed that he cracked open the canisters containing the two-headed babies, drained out the spirit and sold it on the street to unsuspecting punters. Yeeeeech.