Winding beneath the magnificent halls of St. Petersburg’s Hermitage Museum, with its Da Vincis, diamonds, Greek statuary, Egyptian parchments, enormous number of paintings, mechanical peacock clock, and other treasures, there is a catacomb of cellars. It was into this windowless nether region—far below the Winter Palace’s expansive view of the waters of the Neva—that Maria Haltunen and I had cautiously descended. As I followed her through a narrow, imperfectly-lit corridor, full of large pipes and jutting wires, Haltunen gasped. “Look!” she said.
In the semi-darkness, a little being had appeared. He perched, a foot-tall shadow, on a water pipe.
“Oh, you are a fat one!” said Haltunen, jangling the chain of her I.D. pass like a talisman as she approached the pointy-eared creature. “How nice you are!”