Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Saturday, August 4, 2018

A Roads Classic: Dining with Rasputin

Should time travel ever be invented and you're contemplating inviting some interesting historical figures over for dinner,  you might want to think twice about extending an offer to Rasputin. Here is the report of Mr. Joseph Vecchi, restauranteur, who operated the French restaurant at the Astoria Hotel in St. Petersburg in the days of the last tsar. He served a party of society ladies celebrating the birthday of an unnamed princess one evening.

Throughout the evening the behavior of Rasputin was intolerable. Remember that he was an adventurer, possessed of undoubted powers of personal magnetism, a skilled psychologist, and was the secret power behind the Russian Court. Many of the ladies present had favors to beg from the Court which Rasputin was in a position to influence. Though his supporters vowed that he was a man of ascetic life, he was, nevertheless, a man entirely without principle...and he was surrounded by some of the loveliest and youngest women in Russia, only too anxious to court his favors. Such a compliment might go to any man's head, and it certainly went to Rasputin's. Strive as I will I can find no words to mitigate of excuse his disgusting behavior.When he ate it was like a beast using his long talon-like fingers in lieu of knife and fork, grabbling amongst the food on his plate and stuffing himself in a very vulgar way with no regard of the feelings of the cultured ladies who sat at table with him.  

Rasputin at His Most Photogenic and Sober

HE drank freely, but it didn't get the better of him. Rasputin was not a drunkard. No one could intimidate him. He used the most vulgar language in the presence of his hostess and ladies (and rumor said that he used it even at Court in the presence of the Czar), and none of them dared to utter a rebuke, or betray by as much as a hostile look or averted eyes how shocked they were. Yes, the party was gay, but I was disgusted, and felt sympathy in every nerve for the lovely women present who were dining with such a beast (though nobody could have told from their expressions and demeanor what they might have been thinking). They seemed to be enjoying the party thoroughly, and the feeblest joke on the part of Rasputin would send them off into peals of laughter...and the most vulgar ones did not bring a blush to their cheeks..or if they did, it went unnoticed.

Rasputin made a habit of leaving every party he attended before any of the other guests did. It was a favorable affectation of his, and no doubt copied from better men. This particular party was no exception to the rule;  but it wasn't until about 3:30 a.m. that he made his departure, quietly slipping away up the little staircase and unnoticed out of the hotel to his waiting carriage. After that the party lost its coherence, the ladies leaving in twos and threes, in an inconspicuous manner so that  they would not be observed, although it was unlikely that such a notability as Rasputin could be in the hotel and rumors and conjecture not fly about.

Source:  The full account of the evening can be found at the excellent Alexander Palace website, "The Home of the Last Tsar." (Link)

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