On flags and crosses (continued)

The aesthetic perfection of the Confederate battle flag (both in its square and rectangular varieties) makes Old Glory look like a patched mattress. In retrospect, one can’t help seeing the fallen ensign in shades of doom. Picture it on a uniform: the saltire nailed to a soldier’s chest (nailheads glimmering like stars from the blue), crossing him out of earthly existence and the good memory of generations to come. (A black and white image: crossed boards over the windows of an abandoned house.) And still, taken as an work of art, cleared from the ugly political connotations, the Southern Cross is amazing. Some of its enchanting power is undoubtedly due to its central element — the cross of St. Andrew.

Remember the flag of Scotland — a white saltire on a blue field? St. Andrew is the patron saint of both Scotland and Russia (as everyone knows, Scots speak English with a Russian accent); not surprisingly, the diagonal cross of his martyrdom is also found on one of the most revered Russian emblems. Blue on white, it is the flag of the Russian Navy — that glorious creation of Peter the Great — known as Andreyevsky flag, that is, simply the Andrew Flag. Joseph Brodsky (Nobel Prize winner and US Poet Laureate) laconically called it “the best flag in the world”.

It is said that the Andrew Flag has never been lowered in surrender. This is most likely not true. However, there is no denying that the good old Russian Navy scored quite a few illustrious victories, mostly over Swedes and Turks. Interestingly, during the War of Secession, Russian ships guarded Northern ports from potential attacks by the British. As part of the compensation, Russia insisted that the US purchase Alaska — hence Seward’s “folly”.

For all those great naval victories, a randomly picked Russian may have difficulty naming two or three of them; yet she will hardly fail to name the Russian ship that epitomizes the bitter art of losing gracefully — the cruiser Varyag — the Varangian — the Viking.

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