What hits you first is just how much space there is. There’s extra air packed in between every moment. It feels like floating, like hovering, your feet not actually touching the ground. And, after that, the mood: light, atmospheric, wrapping you in a glimmering fog—and underneath, a threat. Danger, speed, and violence.
It’s a wallpaper place and also straightforward, the true nature of how things work pasted over by a paper-thin veneer. Your understanding of the place slips in sideways through the cracks, in sudden semi-conscious revelations. Signs and symbols point to vast nebulous looming webs of power and money, swirling invisibly through the atmosphere but always knowing just exactly where and how you are.
That’s the baseline, anyway. A fiercely piercing eye, a surveillance state, always slightly paranoid. Nothing is to be trusted, not really. Things may appear one way but suddenly reveal themselves to be another. Yet at the same time brutally honest—this is who I am to you, this is who you are. This is how we stand in relation to one another.
A contradiction in terms laid delicately on top of a casual heap of other contradictions, all unresolved, all in languid contemplation of each other, all floating in air. It’s an in-between place. Ephemeral, uncanny, unreal, ethereal. Stuck out of time yet grinding interminably onwards in relentless breezy time. The far east, a neither-nor, a doppelganger place slid deftly in like a leaf of paper between a pile of familiar and not. There’s a KFC. A McDonald’s. A monument to the Great Patriotic War.
What hits you next is just how generous your friends become, once they know you are to be called friend. If you’ve been vetted, known, seen—well then you are an ally and you have an ally. The structure of values is not abstract or saturated through the civic fabric but embedded directly in a network of relations. These are my people, this is me, this is who I can trust, this is who I avoid. Tribes swimming in a dissociative sea.
I remember one particular moment, in the South, sitting in a hazy backyard in white plastic chairs. His father is the chief of police. He is a judge in Krasnodar. He owns the only American burger restaurant in town. He got some Kobe steaks from a friend of a friend but could not sell them—it is unclear whether the beef actually came from Japan. Across the river a massive fire is slowly burning, a thick column of smoke filling the air before fading off into wisps, black tendrils reaching out along the evening breeze.
In the South, life is generous and hard and easy all at the same time. The fields stretch out in industrial rectangles, too large, segregated by perfect wind-breaking lines of birches and pines. Overgrown cottages, root cellars, abandoned and choked by creeping scrub, falling back to the earth surrounded by greening barley and wheat.
In the North, life is art, and culture, and power. The delicate monuments of empire have been gilded again, are painted and renewed every year. In the air hangs a soft cultivated refinement, a hovering stillness, velvet over an iron glove.