Nothing exceeds like excess. It colors a somber Russian landscape and its offshoot eccentricities perhaps aided and abetted by the extreme and often inhospitable climate. For Russia whether Czarist, Communist and new Czarist appears to have no middle ground, only extremes of extravagance… ” I am God’s spoiled child,” he would declare. Mighty Potemkin, the lover of Catherine The Great, was the embodiment of all Russian excess, with his unappeased appetites, furious energies, limitless resolves, and inconsequent oddities.
…Even on the march and at his camp, Potemkin liked to create around him the sumptuous atmosphere of the imperial palace at Tsarskoe Selo. His silken tents were adorned with gilt mirrors and malachite urns. Sometimes he was dressed with equal splendor, pomaded and perfumed, his coat glittering with diamonds, while he worked on state papers with such savage energy that he reduced relays of secretaries to fainting point.
Sometimes, for days on end, he would not bother to dress; and he would even arrive at state receptions, or a ball, wrapped in a tattered, though ermine lined, dressing gown spotted with ink and grease, a crumpled nightshirt dragging below, from which appeared his bare, hairy legs, and feet thrust into Turkish slippers. After calling for as many as fifteen golden beakers of cabbage soup, at intervals of a few minutes, he would roar for coffee, and when it was brought, turn away, tears welling from his one Cyclops eye,” Take it away… I only wanted to long for something. You have dome me out of my pleasure.”
God’s spoiled child was extravagant to the end. Far from his beloved Empress, death overtook him in the south, near Jassy, as he was heading homeward. He ordered his great gilded traveling coach to stop. “Lift me out, I want to die in a field,” he said. “he lived on gold, but died on grass,” said his Cossacks, watching by the huge body. No golden coin could be found to close his one eye, but a copper kopeck served well enough. It was in keeping with the life of this Russian giant, which had always swung from one extreme to the other.
Potemkin’s name was a byword for gluttony, and he rarely woke before noon. This was in sharp contrast to Catherine who rose at three in the morning to hunt and horseback ride, all the while “for 24 hours, eating nothing and drinking only cold water.”
Potemkin wooed the empress with what he called “The Key to Catherine’s Glory.” He claimed to have won the box from the Comte de Saint Germain during a night of gambling. Potemkin and Catherine became lovers in 1774. The couple’s romantic relationship lasted less than three years, but they remained close the rest of their lives….
…He did not allow Catherine to touch the bronze inlaid box during these early years of their relationship. He only teased her with the sight of it, following their intimate moments together, all the while speaking dreamingly of their future destinies. Read More:http://www.pyramid-gallery.com/CageOfDesire.html
…So, in 1787, Catherine announced that she would visit the Crimea to inspect the transformation. Most men would have been horror-struck on realizing that their deception was soon to be exposed. But not Gregory Potemkin.
He went ahead to make sure that bands of happy peasants, prosperous villages and thriving factories were there for the empress to see as she progressed down the River Dnieper.
The fact that virtually none of the wonders he had described so vividly existed, and that Catherine was already on her way to the Crimea, did not worry Potemkin (the dreamer) in the least.
Over part of the route, Catherine traveled with a retinue of 40,000 friends, officials and servants. Her sleigh was like a miniature house on runners and was drawn by eight horses. At each stopping place Potemkin had 500 horses stationed. Bonfires blazed at scores of points and every village through which Catherine passed had been painted. To the empress everything was perfection – neat houses, happy villagers and a general air of contentment.
In fact, the houses had only had their fronts painted. Trees had been hurriedly planted to hide unsightly spots. Roofs had been re-tiled with pieces of cardboard. Everyone was compelled to wear their best clothes, and all the aged and infirm were kept out of sight until the royal procession had passed.
Only a few years before, Catherine had traveled along the same road and shed tears over the obvious poverty and misery she had seen. Now, it seemed to her, Potemkin had achieved miracles.
At Kiev, everyone in her retinue was provided with a beautifully furnished house. After every meal, the table linen was given to the poor. All the time, Catherine chattered most enthusiastically about the prosperity of the region. ( ibid.)