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Negotiations on the Riviera of Hell

Put out by the climate, Churchill called Yalta “the Riviera of Hades” during the famous conference in early 1945. Meanwhile, FDR’s health was steadily failing; he’d be dead within a few months. Stalin however was as carefree as a little girl, with Stalingrad behind him and the Nazis on the run.

And so it was here at Livadia Palace that Uncle Joe negotiated for dominance in Eastern Europe and agreed to keep his nose out of the Mediterranean. See the final scene in Spies Like Us for an artist’s 1980’s rendition of the discussions.

Always interesting to see the backdrop of famous photographs—such as the one of the three leaders in Livadia’s garden, or discussions at the round table, or the puppet shows that Churchill performed in the upstairs bathroom.

Much of the tour, in Russian, was dedicated to the history of the palace itself, which isn’t terribly fascinating. It was built for Nicholas II and his family. Above each of the entry pillars are actually carved the initials of each family member.

Throughout the house are photographs of the fit young Romanov girls and spoiled little heir who always looks as though he’s afraid of getting caught and punished for perpetual bleeding. Our guide felt compelled to point out every little detail without actually providing any substantive information.

“These are photographs of the family. This is a chair that the empress would sit in.” Even at the end of the tour, as we exited through the gift shop, she noted, “These are paintings by very talented artists, some very helpful maps, some very beautiful postcards, and other well-crafted items you should consider purchasing.”

If they’d had postcard outtakes of the famous photo of the three leaders, I might have bought that. Something like Stalin getting Churchill in a headlock while FDR gives him a noogie. It must’ve happened; how could the whole getaway not have been a gas? Good times.


livadia palace

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