"But where shall wisdom be found?" [Job 28: 12]. Not necessarily, it would appear, within the pages of Wikipedia. For only recently, in pursuit of something entirely different, we happened upon a self published, biographical entry which, at best, from certain knowledge, was entirely flawed and, at worst, totally misleading. That it had been amended some thirty-seven times was, we felt, indicative of the false premise upon which it had been based.
|Russian Poster 1969: Lenin, Pravda [Truth]|
Things, as Grigori Aleksandrovich Potemkin knew only too well, can be deceptive. In order to impress the Russian Empress Catherine II on her tour of the Crimea in 1787, he installed a number of sham villages along the route in order to demonstrate to her the prosperity, neatness and order to be found, even in the remotest corner of the Empire, of the great Motherland over which she ruled.
And so he gave rise to the term 'Potemkin', to mean 'sham', 'false', even 'untrue'. Ideas, as is well known, are infectious. It comes, therefore, as little surprise to learn that by the time of his death in 1791, a row of cottages in the village of Tattingstone in Suffolk was already being encased in the stonework of a 'church', complete with 'tower', as a means of improving the landscape for the local landowner.
|front facade of 'church' cottages at Tattingstone, Suffolk|
|rear view of cottages revealing sham 'church' and 'tower'|
Almost 100 years later, in 1888, the Templeton Carpet Factory in Glasgow was built with a frontage inspired by the Doge's Palace in Venice to a design so grand that it could not, after several planning applications, be rejected by the then Glasgow Corporation.
|the facade of the Templeton Carpet Factory, Glasgow|
Once completed, those rich enough to live in the nearby Monteith Row were daily transported from their drawing room windows to the Serenissima, rather than to be confronted with the unsightly trappings of late nineteenth century industry. Such overt deception!
Today, one of our young Russian friends, Dmitry, informs us that the competitors' accommodation, currently under construction in Sochi on the Black Sea for the 2014 Winter Olympics, is considered Potemkin - all front and very little substance. Or, as our mothers would have said, all fur coat and no knickers!!