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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

SAY WHAT?: St. Pete's Lace-Clad Walk?re Take to Streets




The plans of presidential envoy Viktor Cherkesov to move his offices into a wedding palace have caused several dozen St. Petersburg brides to arise from their lacy pink beds and take to the windy streets of the Venice of the North, where they gathered last week to protest a move that will postpone - and perhaps even cancel - their wedding ceremonies.


Newspapers found the conflict surrounding the planned closing of the wedding palace particularly colorful since Cherkesov, President Vladimir Putin's longtime buddy, is the former head of the St. Petersburg branch of the KGB's successor agency, the Federal Security Service, or FSB. Cherkesov is infamous for his zeal in the dissident-repression business, masterminding the house-of-cards espionage case against environmentalist Alexander Nikitin, and for his support of a security program under which the FSB would have access to all Internet traffic in real time.


The whole situation screamed for headlines along the lines of "St. Pete Brides Victimized by KGB," a tabloid photo collage of fleur d'oranges wrapped in barbed wire, and television footage of tanks rolling over innocent white veils. Close-up. Set to music from Richard Wagner's "Die Walk?re."


Actually, St. Petersburg has two more wedding palaces - and I am not talking about ZAGSs, the citizens' status registration offices, where an unwed couple can quietly get married without the hullabaloo of the wedding palaces. In both of these other palaces, middle-aged women with lots of bright makeup, bright fake silk gowns and matching fake penetrating voices perform secular wedding ceremonies. Both seem to be a bride's worst nightmare come true: As the betrothed puts the final touches of spray on her hairdo, waiting to lawfully become that long-awaited Only One, she finds herself surrounded by dozens of other lacy beauties, applying hair spray to that same unruly curl behind the ear, checking their cleavage in the mirror, pulling on identical white gloves. Each of them wants to be unique, but the wedding palaces turn them into a uniformed army.


No wonder the divorce rate in this country is so high. Many a bridegroom must easily become confused and accidentally tie the knot with the wrong girl. They all smell of the same hairspray, anyway.


None of these two wedding palaces are overburdened with couples waiting to be wed. Both palaces can easily find time to perform the not-so-secret secular ceremony to wed the affianced couples who are scheduled to be wed at Cherkesov's future residence.


So why did the brides don their flowing white dresses, take to the dirty street last week and howl their dismay at the envoy's plan to move in?


Because Wedding Palace No. 3 on Petrovskaya Naberezhnaya is the only place in St. Petersburg where Russians can marry foreign citizens - that's why.


Cherkesov could not possibly have picked worse timing to announce his plans to move into that particular wedding palace. As the FSB appears to grow stronger by the hour, imprisoning scores of environmentalists for alleged espionage, kicking students reluctant to spy on their friends out of school, and threatening to read - and possibly even change - all our incoming and outgoing e-mail, Cherkesov threatens to destroy the last vestige of hope of any Russian beauty (bust, 90 cm; waist, 60 cm; well-read, nonsmoker): to marry a foreign prince who will carry her to the land of her dreams (New London, Connecticut) in a golden chariot (dutifully performed by Delta Airlines).


And, come to think of it, this is the only kind of secular marriage worth going through. Even if your white lace and artificial curls are so universally confusing that you end up marrying the wrong groom, you still get a visa.


Bon voyage!