I've never traveled to Russia, although I studied the language in college just because I found the idea of a complex, mysterious alphabet entirely beguiling. And then of course, there's the Russian writers I admire... Nabokov, Akhmatova... and the sensibility which often balances extremes, of casting desire and despair in the same sentiment, heightening the most exquisite aspects of both (see: The Stray Dog Cabaret). This particular juxtaposition prevailed when I was reading the new biography of Catherine the Great, in Berlin, and the one that stuck with me most is the one of such opulence, so many diamonds, amidst such a harsh landscape, so much snow. It's an image that I think of often, perhaps one of the reasons that winter has coolly unfurled its appeal for me lately, especially when admiring the Viennese Rococo sleigh on display at the Royal Palace in Stockholm last summer, which noted that travel over ice was far more pleasant than muddy, rutted roads. The superficial can sometimes be its own reward. Today I watched this promo video of the Russian Tea Room and was stunned. How've I not been? Every night? It promises the sort of ambling, escapist interlude described in a favorite passage from Dr. Zhivago: "What a mad thing, the waltz! You whirl and whirl, without a thought in your head... While the music is playing, a whole eternity goes by, like life in novels."