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Romancing the Stone

It was a monument to make a pharaoh preen. St. Petersburg’s equestrian statue of Tsar Peter the Great was the brainchild of Prussian-born Tsarina Catherine II in an ambitious effort to ingratiate herself to the Russian people. Like the legendary tsar himself, the project proved to be audacious, unprecedented and a colossal piece of work. It started smoothly enough, with Catherine commissioning French sculptor Etienne Maurice Falconet who began work in 1770. While he designed the horse and the tsar’s torso, his apprentice, Marie-Anne Collot, only 18 years old, was given the daunting task of recreating Peter’s face which she modeled after his death mask and various portraits. Calamity struck when the mold split while the twenty-foot-tall statue was being cast,...

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The Ice Queen

Anna Ivanova (1693-1740) was one of Russia’s lesser known empresses, and, arguably, the cruelest. A blip on the tsarist radar, her ten-year rule was dubbed a reign of terror as well as one of reform and remains contentious among historians. Anna could be petty, progressive or hideously harsh to both man and beast. Some scholars have traced her often erratic behavior to her father Ivan IV, whose mental illness is a matter of record. Her mother, Praskovia, only worsened matters as a cold, controlling woman who raised Anna for the nunnery with all the requisite strictness. As an ignored, unloved, only child, Anna’s emotional growth was understandably stunted. When Tsar Peter II died without an heir in 1730, several potential candidates were passed over in favor of...

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Southern Exposure

Last week’s turmoil over the Confederate flag triggered a firestorm of commentary, and while people are certainly entitled to their opinions, I was distressed by the amount of vitriol heaped on the South in general. As a native Southerner who grew up in the days of segregation, I’m all too aware of the region’s violent history, as I am aware of race riots, past and ongoing, in other parts of this country. I also know there’s more than enough guilt and blame to go around, and while it’s crucial to learn from the past, we should not be so consumed with evil deeds that we ignore the good ones. There were numerous white Southerners, myself included, who recognized the injustice of segregation and contributed to the civil rights movement. Yes, it’s time to relegate...

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