I’m flying over Russia.
Surreal words. They warp me to a time where this was impossible. (It is a strange feeling to be grappling with an outdated mindset obtained second-hand.)
After procuring an invitation from our intended accommodation and purchasing a visa, we are here, suspended above this country, cruising in that space between ground and cloud. The mist of my breath expands and contracts on the plastic window.
The land is vast. Only the many slate-coloured lakes and wriggling creeks, the creases of earth lined with the white sand of erosion, show that it’s not entirely flat. Villages and towns congregate around the water. I see no farm dwellings, no sheds, in the paddocks. Large circular tilled areas are laid on the land like pieces of craft paper. The trees are grey-trunked and uniform. None stray beyond the confines of their reserves.
A few years ago I was in Norway. Three colours – blue and green with splashes of white. Russia emerging from winter is grey and brown. Then, unexpectedly, as we sink over Domodedovo airport: bright chips that are rooftops and walls – cornflower blue, sage, tawny gold, tartrazine yellow, carmine, emerald green.
And so I enter this city of visual contrasts where drabness is spiked by colour;
where dilapidated cars share the road with gleaming late-model Mercedes; where two huge dead rats lie on the pavement as women stride past in glamorous high heels; where glinting domes are sandwiched between worn brick buildings;
where a fellow sells wheels of warm bread from a shopping trolley at the corner of an arterial road while behind him a dishevelled and grimy old man fumblingly attaches a hand mirror to the metal gate of a derelict lot;
and where, all around, spring emerges unerringly from the straits of winter.
These contrasts step into my psyche and sit with their companions there.