Sunday, September 13, 2009

Village People

The serene fellow above is one Grigory Potomkin born this day 1739, in Chizhovo, Russia. He is best known for his attempts to populate the wide, underpopulated steppes of southern Ukraine. He helped oust the weak emperor Peter III in 1762, and soon became a "favourite" of the new ruler Catherine II. Anyone who knows anything about Catherine II (she of "horse riding" fame) knows that being a favourite meant a lot more than just helping her keep the account book in balance. From 1774 to about 1791, due to his exalted status as Catherine's boy toy, he was the most powerful man in Russian. It seems he gloried in it. He was apparently a great fan of the "if you have it flaunt" school of money. Absolute power also seemed to be a bit of a rush of blood to his head as well. I guess money, sex with the empress, and unlimited power will go to your head in a big way, and our boy Grigory was no exception. For all his, um, "hard" work he was appointed governor of Russia's newly acquired southern provinces. This is the work for which he is best remembered. He founded the Russian Black Sea Fleet, helped annex the Crimea to the empire, and founded several towns including Sevastopol. His other claim to fame is the "Potemkin village." During Catherine's tour of his newly minted provinces he supposedly erected fake villages with fat, prosperous peasants, and charming little houses to mask the grinding, soul-numbing reality of the poverty that the "real" peasants were faced with under his rule. Historians disagree on the details of these "villages" but, that never stopped it from being attached to his name, and for being one of the reasons he is remembered by history. Near the end of his life, it had become apparent that he was quite mad, possibly suffering from the effects of an untreated STD. Well, sleeping with Catherine II did have it risks. Although there is no evidence that he had an STD, or that he got it from Catherine, historical facts need not stop us from engaging in some delicious gossip should it? He died among the open steppes that he tried to populate supposedly as a consequence of eating an entire goose while in a high fever. So, for that awesome manner of death, and for showing us that things are much better than they appear, Grigory Potyomkin, (September 13th, 1739-October 5th, 1791 at the age of 52), you are my hero of the day.

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