If you watched the closing ceremonies of the Olympics, you may have come away with the impression that Russia's culture is a little more...mmm...high-brow than Canada's. (Please don't think I'm necessarily complaining about this, though.) They have the Bolshoi Ballet, we have giant floating beavers; they have Valeri Gergiev and the Mariinsky Orchestra (who, incidentally, will be at the National Arts Centre on March 15), we have William Shatner and a sadly under-used Catherine O'Hara telling very poor jokes. (We do, on the other hand, have Neil Young, who is probably worth a couple of those wordy 19th-century Russian novelists all on his own.)
The Russians have always taken their culture seriously - sometimes too much so. The poet Osip Mandelstam famously said, "Only in Russia is poetry respected - it gets people killed." (He himself would eventually become one of the victimes.) Joseph Stalin had been a well-known, even admired, romantic poet in his youth in Georgia, and showed a lively (and deadly) interest in Soviet writers and composers after he became dictator.
But still - they were also able to produce something like this: