Back In Leningrad
It will always be Leningrad to me. Call me old-fashioned.
Of course, some things have changed. But not everything, I thought, as I first stepped off the train a couple days ago and was greeted almost immediately by protesting pensioners, red flags. Perhaps they seek more humble goals - free transport rather than world domination - but if you ask me, the soul remains the same. For good, and ill.
One thing that has changed, on the other hand, is the once-vaunted KGB. I assure you, the name-change is not merely cosmetic; these people are but a shell of what they once were. In one small protesting crowd alone I spotted three obvious agents provocateurs. They're getting downright sloppy.
I shall be operating here for an unspecified period of time. Publication of entries to my electronic journal could possibly continue, facilitated by small, seemingly semi-illegal establishments for connecting to the global network. Staffed by 19-year-old worldly-wise vixens happy to bring you coffee but who will charge extra for milk, patronized by Westerners with too much money and too little concern for how easily they will be robbed (I have witnessed two robberies already - in one amusing case, by a policeman), these dark corners of Leningrad are more comfortable than they have any right to be.
Of special interest for me are the open-air markets for ex-Soviet army paraphernalia. Canteens and patches and medals, all up for sale to spoiled Westerners. The empire, hollowed out at last, a garage sale on the lawn. There were times when I never thought I'd see that, and it is almost enough to bring a tear to this old man's eye. If only so and so could still be here to see it, I think to myself - but enough.
Wish me luck, then, as I try to survive an indefinite stay in a land without living rooms and which has a million kinds of "salad", none of them involving either lettuce or Jello. Clearly, I am not in Kansas anymore.