6:32 Moscow time, 11:32 Irkutsk time.
Today morning I said goodbye to Sasha and Vanya and Tanya. Last night
Sasha made some attempts to talk to me, us passing the russian-english
dictionary back and forth, and I learned that they had actually gone
to Moscow for a relative's wedding, and that Vanya was one of seven
children, and that they were returning home to Angarsk. I told him to
wake me up in the morning when they left.
In the morning I woke up, everything full of fog, sun not yet risen,
moon not yet set. Maybe it was the latitude here or such, but in the
daze of sleepiness it seemed to me that the sun was rising before the
moon was setting. In that quiet hushed tones that are so particular to
early mornings, we got up, packed our bags. I helped Sasha and Tanya
move their bags to the train door, and then we spent fifteen minutes
looking out of the car into the distance. I tried to play this game
where I would look for the reflection of the train in the windows of
opposing shacks, houses, and every once in a while I would succeed,
would see a row of rectangular yellow squares suddenly jump out at me
out of the window of someone's home, windows glaring, like the rows of
a spider's eyes, and then gone as quickly as they had appeared.
After fifteen such minutes the train stopped. Vanya gave me his
lighter. Having nothing else to give I gave him my card, and he looked
at it and gestured 'language difficulties', and I shrugged and smiled
and felt sort of sad because obviously his gift was a gift and my gift
was the signifier of a gift, like "here this is sort of a gift", or
maybe his gift was a signifier of a gift and my gift signified a
signifier of a gift. But then I rubbed it all out like an eraser on
paper and smiled and said bye, dobrizeh, I think, I could be wrong,
but said it anyways and waved, and went back to my compartment to wait
for my own stop, half an hour later.
On the platform at Irkutsk I met most of the people I had met on the
train, and shook hands and said bye, take care, have fun on your trip.
And then I went to the station ticket counter (KACCA), realized it
opened at 8am, and went to the service center to sleep for an hour,
but couldn't, so I watched the sun rise through the city of Irkutsk in
a quiet room full of sleeping travelers, listened more to a train mix
made for me. I looked at the ceiling a lot.
Once thing I've been thinking a lot about the ornamentation of Russian
buildings and interiors is that they depend a lot on the obfuscation
of immediate understanding, of a quick gestalt, and instead make
things complicated. Intricately ornamented chandeliers created as to
please the eye because the eye drifts up and down it, isn't sure how
to grasp it immediately, and there's this time-taken-to-look that is
taken as a valuable function of ornamentation, maybe. As if anything
that makes you look at it and try to understand it and in the process
take some time is valuable. This happens outdoors, on the exteriors of
moldings; this happens inside, in the most mundane of rooms, where the
absence of any decoration would have been accepted equally as well..
it's like ornament is this friction force of the eye, drags it, makes
it stop. A holder of attention, sticky eye-glue.
(Right now we're passing Lake Baikal as I type this, the deepest lake
in the world. It looks unphotographable. Untouchable. And oh my god,
the sky. And the moon. And the lake. And the train. I am sitting in a
darkened car, all by my self, writing this, and unlike the previous
train I was in (the Rossiya) you can open the windows, here, and it's
so much better, I can feel the train with every sense of being, the
rhythm of the train wheels is so hypnotic. Passing trains are like
thunder and lightning, descending onto me all of a sudden,
disappearing just as sudden. The moon is so very bright, illuminates
the inside of this compartment. This is the train ride I wanted, yes,
yes yes yes. It's a cool night, and everything smells like trees and
grass and green.)
I am struck lately sometimes by the urgent impulse to shout and say
something like: "I am here! I am really here!" as if not fully aware
of my presence here. I sometimes sit and think: what does it mean to
be here? Me, being here, not being there. I was just there. Just
there, not there anymore, but here.
I think what especially touches me is that I am so presently here,
that I arrived here and am suddenly so here here, that it strikes me
as odd that it is so natural for me to be here. What is it about
Russia that is so familiar? It's some affinity with old/rural Korea,
some infrastructural details that are similar, at the very least.
Examples: Apartment buildings, entrances, apartments on either side of
the elevator. Painted yellow-and-green mini-fences in apartment yards.
Grandmothers sitting around and selling half-useful items in shops
that play sped-up tinny pop.
But there's something else too, something that makes me feel so here.
Maybe it is that I am so here within myself much more lately and thus
when I think of myself as here it is so natural. I'm here more because
I can feel myself in me more.
Regardless, there's this constant sense of overwhelming (and thus
invisible) presentness. Presentness is grace?
After I got a ticket for Ulan Bator from the station I wandered around the city of Irkutsk a bit. Tired from my stomach bug the day before (and not having eaten anything for a day as well) I decided to just half-ponder going to Listvyanka, one of the port towns around Lake Baikal an hour away. And so I drifted around town, bumped into D and R and their three children again, chatted for a little, said goodbye and continued on my way until I found myself at the tram stop that supposedly would take me to the hydrofoil stop. And so I climbed aboard the tram, paid my twelve rubles, and sat down in a seat. The warmth of the sun and the vibration was too much for me, and I fell asleep in the tram and woke up at the end of the stop, somewhere out in the middle of nowhere.
I asked the driver, "Raketa station?" and she half-nodded, maybe, and said something which I didn't understand, but I got off anyways, looked around. Some area vaguely seemed to correspond to an area on the map I had, so I started walking south. Why not? Far off in the distance I saw a hill of houses, which could have meant a valley of houses below it, or even better a river, and so I kept on walking, played this game of follow-the-babushka, followed grandmothers, mothers, also fathers, grandfathers. On dirt roads, paved roads, past crumbling Soviet-era apartments, new apartment skeletons barely under construction, graffiti on walls, and so on. Very peaceful, though, very sunny and overgrown weeds and old old old swing sets. Somewhere in the distance the sound of a lone hammer against steel, "klink, klink, klink", and some birds chirping, and again that smell of green, and that was enough to make me keep on going.
Eventually I found myself in the middle of nowhere. The hill I saw, I realized, was just a hill; there was no river, no hydrofoil station, just old gray apartments showing their age and grandmothers hanging sheets on a line out the window and people selling dill and cucumbers on the street and a bus stop station selling thirty varieties of ice cream, and the lone sound of a hammer working away in the distance. Colorless dust accumulating at the corners of everything. Half-ripped posters of last election cycle's candidate, a face looking at you proudly, four-and-a-half times over. Ads for credit, rent, and erotic massage pasted, torn off, new ones pasted, torn off, pasted, torn off, creating geologies of advertisements, depth, strata. And amidst all of this, a strange strange sense of comfort, domesticity, familiarity, home.