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    Un-American activities

    THE VILLAGE VOICE  - 27 JUNE 2005 TO 9 JULY 2005

    Screw the Hamptons. I summer in Russia.

    Stretching through JFK's forgotten terminal three is a line of travelers willing to wait for accident prone-Aeroflot's overnight flight to Moscow. We're crossing a cultural barrier, entering this two-hour line ruled by Russian stewards, and I take it all as a gentle preview of the former Soviet Union. My fellow travelers: One is an lumpy middle-aged woman in leopard-print pants fanning herself, slightly disturbing a bright orange helmet of hair. Her shoes curl up like an elf's—the epitome of women's footwear on the other side of the Pacific. Her husband rubs his ribs under a Brezhnev-era suit, then spits on the floor and mutters in Russian.

    God love it: I'm 14 hours from St. Petersburg, where I'll join the final two weeks of a month-long writing conference called Summer Literary Seminars. Full Disclosure: They paid for my plane ticket; I do their print design. Additional Disclosure: The seminar is Breadloaf in the Motherland, one of the largest and probably best writing seminars in the world—based for eight years now in Russia's cultural capitol. The city itself is a stunning and churlish host, a ghostly facsimile of 17th-century Europe, built on marshland by royal decree on the bones of thousands of serfs shipped in for labor. Five million people live here and recent studies place it as the 10th most expensive city in the world. New York is number twelve. The hundred participants and faculty—in the past, we've had Dave Eggers, the late Robert Creeley, The New Yorker's fiction editor—will pound the same streets as Pushkin, Dostoevsky, Gogol. There's no better summer gig out there, and I'm happy to provide a written record.


    The red-faced marine standing military stiff in line holds baggage with tags indicating an early-morning flight from Phoenix. His fiancée, a tight woman in a black v-neck and jeans, holds his meaty hand.

    "What does that mean?" she says, pointing to a blue sign across the terminal. I see one word, "KIOSK."

    "It's an information booth, honey," he says.

    "Is that word in English?"

    "Yeah," he says sighing.

    She clicks her tongue and fingers the enormous rock on her finger. A few minutes later, she stares transfixed at the departure screens, which list another Moscow flight on an airline not known as the most dangerous in world. I share her longing, if not her vocabulary. We've been in line for 45 minutes.

    "When we get to Russia," she says, "signs will all be in Russian, right?"

    "Yes," he says, looking at his ample watch, a Corvette-themed souvenir piece.

    "They even have a different alphabet, don't they?"

    The Russian in Brezhnev's retired suit pats his dyed skull and inches his bags forward with a knock-off Italian loafer. It's approaching an hour we've been waiting.

    Two American college girls behind me—one is carrying two new tennis rackets—brag about how many tampons they're bringing. Funny, but then I remember my own indulgence: Fifteen books, not one less.

    I look back to the Marine. His largest bag has a tag that indicates a weight of 41 pounds. I'm thinking there are enough soldiers abroad, that another Marine's foreign appointment—with a particularly heavy bag that screams "inside: super-deadly hardware"—is not a cause for celebration. I hope he's on vacation but acknowledge to myself there are probably nuclear facilities outside Moscow that merit a Marine's long-term supervision.

    I notice an American couple with a baby stroller standing outside the line. They're hugging each other in a desperate embrace, the woman bawling uncontrollably, whipping her head back and forth. They have baggage but no baby. Were they waiting for an adoption agency to deliver an orphaned Russian tot? Were they to fly with the new child to Ohio? This would seem to explain the baby carriage, the woman's enormous grief, and the sensible shoes that say, "Akron."

    Another vaguely military-looking American adjusts the volume on his iPod and leans his black duffel against muscled legs struggling against black denim. The duffel is his only luggage. No novel, no camera. Nothing but his clunky Doc Martens and a shaved head to keep him busy. On a transatlantic flight.

    We're long past an hour in this line in JFK's terminal three. But no force can stifle the Russian soul for indefinitely and the line gradually gives way to party time. A jolly couple with Russian passports are headed to Moscow and break out a big bag of cherries. The wife bellows at a couple nearby, well-appointed seniors probably from a land called Connecticut. "Have a cherry!" she says. The seniors, with matching retiree rucksacks and sour smiles, seem prepared to demure. "Come on," the Russian husband says, juice running down his cheek. After pausing, the seniors each pluck a cherry out of the bag and suck politely. The Russian wife beams, working a pit to the front of her mouth, then spits into the communal cherry bag with gusto. She offers the spittoon to her American compatriots, who appear ill at ease.

    We all creep forward. We all have our reasons to board a cheap flight to Russia. Mine? A chance to step outside New York and the relentless knowledge industry, to re-test my powers of observation, to drink my weight in 50-cent beers and three-dollar bottles of vodka—and to watch writers do what they do best: Walk through a weird world, writing some of it down, gorging on each other's sentences, and drinking their own weight in 50-cent beers and three-dollar bottles of vodka.

    It's my fourth year here, and I have a feeling I'll get into less trouble than years previous. But there's the same backdrop: a drab Soviet-era apartment in which to hang my hat, a culture that encourages public drinking, and a position just south of the Arctic circle, so far north that in high summer such as now, it never grows truly dark.


    28 June 2005

    The White Stripes, live in old Leningrad

    The line to enter The White Stripes show follows a city block on the far bank of the Neva river. Stretching as far as I can see are the city's distinctive three- and four-story layer cake buildings dating from a royal century. This is not your typical queue for a concert. The venue itself is the Czar's former horse stables, entered through an elegant yellow arch frosted by white cornice-work.

    I feel like I should be wearing a cravat.

    Instead, I'm in jeans and a wool hat, smoking a cigarette and sizing up my companions, two dozen participants from the Summer Literary Seminars, for which I am print designer and a former student. A pair behind me—she a graduate of the New School MFA program and he a current student there; both are gallery workers in Manhattan—compare notes about living in that city.

    "Nobody's from New York," she says. "It's hard to make friends."

    That's not the case here at SLS, where Russian cell phones have been purchased, bottles of Vodka are passed, and the collective hilarity of navigating 21st-century Russia creates a boozy, beleaguered bonhomie.

    As for the rest of the concert crowd, I expect to see the motley leftovers of '80s hair metal fashion, but the country is shedding its style milk-teeth and a flash New Russia is in evidence.

    A woman picks a careful path along the sidewalk, balancing in 10-inch heels, legs swaddled in black-and-white striped terry cloth. She wears a miniskirt the size of an eye patch and her hair is dyed, well, silver. Her boyfriend looks like a buff Beck, with better feathered hair and a man purse.

    Meanwhile, bobbing in the cool waters of the Neva is a three-masted sailing ship, decommissioned from the Navy in some distant past when Chechnya didn't mean exploding subway stations in Moscow and downed planes in Russian airspace. Army men are posted all around the venue, fingers on triggers.

    I spy a foursome of VIPs dressed in what I understand is Jack White's signature—a black suit jacket, red tie, fancy hats. Even if the band prides itself on being a twosome, I'm hoping these dudes make it onstage. There's something distressing about live rock 'n' roll assembled by only two people.

    In fact, I'm no big fan of the White Stripes. Few of their songs convince me there's more than facility with a guitar knocking around behind the facade. And there's too much effort to maintain the image, the story, the "ideas." Hearing Jack White give somber elaboration for the band's color scheme, as Fresh Air host Terry Gross giggled, was not a proud moment in rock.

    But the chance to see them live, in Russia, undermines all such logic. Perhaps they'll kick my ass?

    Passing through the gilded arch, I join a hundred others standing in the sun-drenched courtyard, drinking beer and murmuring happily as if everyone's just eaten a full meal.

    Inside, the space is a large room, twice as long as it is wide. Staff pulls back a curtain at the rear, revealing another three acres of floor space. Two great windows have been thrown open and "white night," a seasonal perk for living so close to the Arctic circle, floods the room.

    The crowd's getting antsy and the DJ's eating it up, playing everyone like an author who leaves an entire page blank for effect. Between songs, he's pausing for 10, 15, 20 seconds, letting the silence fill with cheering and chanting.

    Then they come on, blasting immediately into "Black Math," a pounding, driving song from Elephant with relentless 4/4 drum work that seems to argue against Sasha Frere Jones's blistering call to have Meg White dismissed from the band. She's pounding with authority, and I can't imagine a more perfect syncopation.

    With feedback still buzzing and hand poised to begin the next song, Jack White addresses the crowd in English: "Hello, we're the White Stripes, from Detroit."

    The show cost $20, more than a day's wages for the vast majority of Russians, and of the 2,000 paying customers, it appears that as many as a quarter are English-speaking expatriates. I begrudge him his failure to say hello in Russian.

    The third song is "In the Cold Cold Night," and as the crowd sings along, I realize that the three-quarters Russian contingent nonetheless speaks enough English to follow with apparent feeling. "Hotel Yorba" comes out as the fifth selection and the crowd begins to pogo. Jack breaks out the mandolin, but the move is eclipsed by an acoustic guitar played for the following track, a devastating chunk-a-thon that redefined for me the cacophony a hollow body can create.

    Jack's hat comes off, and Meg's drumming begins to unravel. It may be jet lag, but she's missing cues, changes speeds—and all this in service of a stunningly simple beat.

    Xylophones emerge for "The Nurse," a quiet track without guitars from the new album, and poor maligned Meg's deterioration continues. But after "Just Another Asshole," there's another address from Jack: "My sister's very sick today," he says, "but we didn't want to cancel the show."

    With that, they leave the stage. The crowd explodes, chanting "White" (pause) "Stripes"—over and over.

    The first encore is " Just Don't Know What to Do With Myself," a solid sing-along that, as the chorus inflates with the power of a 2,000-person choir , the White Stripes suddenly feels like a band of consequence.

    Then there's "Seven Nation Army," to my knowledge the band's flagship property, and Jack White goes totally nuts, writhing across the stage, stressing the chords with an awesome urgency. Even better is the next song, "Ball and Biscuit," the strongest effort from the entire show, and evidence that two white kids from Detroit can blur genre boundaries—in this case bicep-curling guitar rock with black man's blues—and not crawl back home from the scene of the crime, intestines dragging and fingers bleeding.

    Arm in arm, the Whites take a bow, leaving the guitar fuzzing as house lights come on and booming from the speakers is "Torn and Frayed," a track from an earlier effort from a different band intending not to get fucked by blurring genres, but one that probably has more of a legacy  than is probable for this vigorous, silly duo.


    The walk back to the city center across the Neva requires crossing a series of dare-devil crosswalks. One woman—not, I realize later, part of our group—dashes across an intersection and is nearly flattened by one of those warship BMWs the size of a dinosaur.

    I think it's because of rock 'n' roll: She gives him the bird, tosses her hair, and sprints off.

    The driver keeps pace as she flees, and when the window rolls down, I hold my breath, expecting a sleek pistol to shoot my metaphor in the breast. But she squares her jaw and blows the car an enormous air kiss. Even if kleptocracy is strangling Russia—and concert organizers can bring American bands to the country's cultural capitol and charge $20—here is one moment when the kids, not the crooks, are winning.


    30 June 2005

    Tits and class: Porn and Lenin in new Russia

    A young girl in an A-line skirt and pig-tails stands beside her mother on Nevksy Prospekt, St. Petersburg's main thoroughfare, the equivalent—to borrow from Gary Schteyngart—of New York's Fifth Avenue, Chicago's Michigan Avenue, and L.A.'s Sunset Strip, all in a single package.

    On this bright, Russian afternoon, a small moment in the sea of pedestrians, the little girl and her pig-tails whip back and forth as she lunges at a fly, spitting enormously, missing the insect and giggling. She repeats, tongue darting in and out as if I've encountered a soft-skinned, blonde lizard.

    Yards away, Pepsi sponsors a tent on prime sidewalk real estate. An underfed, half-assembled Darth Vader serenades a crowd of enthusiastic teenagers in Gucci T-shirts and tight denim.

    Meanwhile, in an underground café nearby called the Stray Dog, participants and faculty from the Summer Literary Seminar attend a reading. Refuge for a century of Russia's avant garde, the brick-lined lair seats three dozen of us in the back room. Two men are set to read, both in town for a weeks-long festival celebrating the 100th anniversary of the birth of Daniel Kharms, the preeminent poet of Russia's Absurdist tradition.

    In the subterranean cool, I want Star Wars to feel like a distant cultural meteor shower. But in the constellation of modern distractions, here in Russia as all other colonies of the digital age, another installation of Spielberg Inc. gets bodies into a tent on the street. And few, if any, are thinking to dress up like Kharms.


    "I wrote nothing today. It doesn't matter."

    This was an entire journal entry for Kharms one day in the 1930s.


    Kharms's contemporaries in the Absurdist school made money writing children stories to fund a sometimes deadly compunction to write illogical poetry in the wake of Stalin's post-Lenin train wreck. Taking stock of the audience of mostly American writers in the year 2005—a credulous crowd seated reverentially—I find it a crude joy to measure the force of our laughter in response to the Absurdists' work. Their shit is hilarious. But it got them killed.

    One of the school's poets has been called an "accidental absurdist." In 1929, as the first bones were broken in the wheels of collectivization, he wrote a book-length piece called "The Triumph of Agriculture," in which Communism was to serve the people by saving animals from sickness and death. A stanza from one section—narrated by a talking horse and a bear with a consciousness—refers to a Futurist who, deceased in 1921, when the Revolution was still freshly (not as much morbidly) bizarre, was known to give readings in this self-same café.

    I'm no vegetarian, but you can see how it might be difficult to laugh here without doing meta-historical and -cultural flips of incomprehension. When I can write so easily, and they were executed . . .


    A selection from Kharms:

    "To love children is to love embryos./To love embryos is to love excrement./ . . . /I am a good person because I love embryos./I am a good person because I love to defecate."

    He wasn't the biggest fan of children. He wrote children's stories.


    Meanwhile, in a restaurant called Lenin's Mating Call, blocks from Nevsky, diners are treated to flat-screen TVs broadcasting video of Lenin, Trotsky, Brezhnev, and all the others saluting crowds. The soviet footage is cut with warm, fuzzed-out clips of pornography. How delicious!

    What understanding of Russia's politics makes this fun? Tin busts of Lenin, bare-chested, wearing a biker's leather vest, hold up the main dining room's rafters. The waitresses wear blue miniskirts, red tights, and velour hammer-and-sickle bands strapped around their slim thighs.

    Two years ago, I stayed with a pair of new Russians at their sumptuously-appointed apartment outside Moscow. Employees respectively of Accenture (Arthur Anderson's new incarnation) and the Russian stock exchange, the woman and man had a curious relation to the country's history. Stalin? T. thought he was a great guy, defender of Russia's greatness in the flow of history. K. didn't concern herself with politics, preferring to discuss literature.

    In Lenin's Mating Call, it's difficult to imagine their reconciliation. It's difficult to imagine the gymnastics of a post-Soviet history textbook.

    And what of the people who are still alive, and actually perspired through it all? An older, well-fed formerly soviet couple dances to karaoke in the center of the main room. Red-faced and blissful, the old man holds his woman's haunches and beams. I begrudge him nothing.

    On the TV, a woman painted silver, her taut breasts unleashed from a leather vest not unlike our tin Lenin's, holds a Kalashnikov and aims at the screen. The slogan, "People and the Party Are United," flashes across the screen in red letters.

    The waitress pours me more vodka, and I take notes.


    Just so you know more about me: I'm an editor at The Village Voice. I helped co-found and still edit Six Billion, an online magazine of narrative journalism. I live in New York. This is my fourth time to St. Petersburg, each and every year as a guest of the Summer Literary Seminars.

    Thanks for reading.


    6 July 2009

    My date with William T. Vollmann

    A Baltic sun burned the noses of a thousand beaming grandmothers in the northern cultural capitol this weekend.

    For several days I had been in the tubercular throes of a nasty sick, writhing and sweating in starched sheets and administering to myself bowls of soup and vitamin tablets. The timing was unfortunate: William T. Vollmann, one of America's great living writers, arrived Thursday, and I was to introduce his talk Friday night.

    Instead, I observed a faithful vigil by starting and finishing his latest novel, Europe Central, a delirious trick for 48 hours of bed residency.

    The book is good, as ambitious as any volume from his seven-part sketch of North American history, but a better record, ultimately, of the author's almost accidental gift of spiraling information around profoundly rendered characters, a result of deep research and a lavish flow of words. (Thank indulgent editors. Attempts to trim and prune Vollmann results in work like his shrill columns for Gear, pieces that read like addled stories from a hopped-up million-dollar DNC donor and Nation subscriber.)

    Any given paragraph in Europe Central would not, I acknowledge, top the charts for clarity, concision, or diction—but the sum reward of any 10 pages should not be underestimated. There are times when Vollmann literally trades places with a Red Army general, where the author's project becomes indistinguishable in terms of stakes and urgency from his finely-crafted characters, when the politics of literature—the author's principle of travel and personal risk as much as his staggering output—cannot be seen as better, worse, or any less flawed than any of  the dark corners he prowls.

    I hacked into the Russian night, pausing to admire the waters of the Griboedova canal, stomping grounds for Dostoevsky and Gogol, as I devoured chapters about St. Petersburg's 900-day siege by Hitler's German Army.

    Closing the final pages, I declared myself well. I lit a cigarette in our cramped, Soviet kitchen, curling my toes into deep grooves worn into the wooden flooring. I toasted Vollmann with a glass of Vodka and called it a night.


    By Saturday, the sun, I tell you, was stunning, baking the great columned arms of the Kazan Cathedral, which in turn gave shade for a small park and mud-filled fountain—blocks from Nevsky Prospekt and thronged on a day like today. In Soviet times, the church was used as a public toilet and later, in an equally sublime gesture, served as the city's Museum of Atheism. Today, the park and fountain are flanked by twin beer gardens.

    By 2 p.m., everyone's drinking. Sun-burnt punks lay dazed in the grass, one chipped-tooth wise guy strumming a worn guitar. A straight-backed young woman in crisp, white jeans brushes her horse's flank while a friend in dirty sneakers braids the tail. Arm in arm and sipping cups of red wine are two older Russian women—babushkas, they call them, a true story that most of the country's women evolve rapidly from towering, thin sculptures into stout, smiling grandmothers.

    I blow the foam off a draft and feel the sun cracking my lips. No more coughing. Haven't seen Vollmann yet. Kinda nervous.


    I visit another park deeper in the city, back in a neighborhood where the alleys are tighter and fewer foreign cars can be seen negotiating the rough asphalt, pitted as if trod by tanks.

    I'm reading An African in Greenland, a first-person account of a black villager born to the West African nation of Togo. Possessed by an ethnography of the north found in a missionary's small library, Mikael determines to visit and settle in Greenland. It takes him six years, but he reaches the Dutch island of ice, trading equatorial beaches for blizzards.

    At the park in St. Petersburg, the grasses are recently shorn and give off a calming green perfume. Released from nine months of deep freeze, foliage here is a riot, with trees sprouting shoots from any junction, flowers bursting through cracked brick walkways, vines struggling against iron fencing.

    Any square yard of park turf is a bouquet of salad, with grass blades as much as lush leaves, dense sprigs, and fans of spicy bloom.


    Seeking shade, I meander to the city's main train station, built in the 1850s. A giant flat screen mounted on a far wall of the grand concourse attempts to discourage travelers from smoking cigarettes. A short animation features one such cigarette flying across the screen, where it is then trapped by a giant, glowing red circle. The circle fades and the cigarette reanimates, twisting through space, when it impales a chubby white hand, fingers half-clenched. The camera pulls back, and—yes— that hand belongs to Jesus, who has been crucified by cigarettes-turned-nails.

    Under the screen, I notice a pair of teenaged soldiers tapping ashes into their hands and grinning at each other.

    The former musculature of the Soviet Union is a creature that has withered and all that remains is the arteries of a great rail system, rendered in iron and bolted to the great wall of St. Petersburg's Moscow station. On one end, Prague and Berlin. At the map's other end, Novosibirsk.


    I learn later that night, having returned to the Cathedral's beer garden in good company, that taxi drivers at St. Petersburg's airport no longer seek out passengers from the United States. A better catch are visitors from Moscow, who bring more luggage and spend more money.

    I consider this fact, add it to the archive, resolve not to worry about it too much.


    Contact: At the birthday party for the seminar's founder last night, held in a shabby hotel bar, I finally talk with William T. Vollmann. The room is sweltering, everyone's drinking warm beer, and smoke hangs in the air. We shake hands. Tomorrow, he delivers a lecture; I'm to give the introduction; there's a plan to drink shots of absinthe together. Full report forthcoming.

    Trouble ahead.


    9 July 2005

    Huffing Russian absinthe with W. T. Vollmann

    At a subterranean café on the Fontanka river, green liquor rolls heavily in glasses set carefully before my wife, whose eyes widen, and before William T. Vollmann, who cocks his head and smiles.

    The set up: A four-inch snifter rests at a 10-degree angle, cradled over a standard low-ball cocktail glass, and the snifter contains roughly two ounces of absinthe. The waiter submerges a teaspoon of sugar into the liquid and the crystal is entirely soaked. With a practiced flourish, he produces a lighter from his apron and torches the sugar. A blue flame reaches a height of several inches, and with his other hand the waiter rotates the angled snifter on its low-ball perch. In the spoon goes, igniting the agitated liquor, which bursts into fire, with red licking waves of yellow and blue.

    The waiter dumps the flaming absinthe into the low-ball and seals the concoction with the up-ended snifter, trapping fumes and allowing every drop to settle into the low-ball.

    Next, he tears a hole in a folded paper napkin, through which he works a bended straw. The snifter, swirling with hot gases and coated with a layer of absinthe, is placed over the napkin and straw, so that my wife can take straw in mouth and huff the fumes.

    Vollmann is beaming. Kelly draws deep breaths and closes her eyes.


    Earlier, he had addressed a room of American fiction writers and poets in St. Petersburg's House of Journalists. The talk was to cover literature and politics, and it wasn't lost on us the irony of audience, topic, and location.

    After all, Vollmann is more than a novelist. His books—almost a dozen now, including his staggering 3,000-page, seven-volume study of violence—are often crafted with a depth of research more common for serious books of journalism, including reporting that includes real time in tough places.

    What would he say tonight, in Russia?

    His project, from the start, I think, has centered around the idea of personal risk, the sacrifice of comfort for story.

    I've heard Vollmann tell an audience to consider, if not actually flying to Iraq with a pile of notebooks, then making even the smallest step in that direction.

    I know he addressed a group of college students (at Deep Springs, incidentally, where we were both students) and told them the greatest good would be to learn Arabic and go East.

    It wasn't obvious what tack he might take this evening, but it was a treat to capture him when he's moving slowly, taking a break from a furious pace.

    I was thinking: What if everyone in the English-speaking world—particularly its creative writers—each time they put pen to paper, or cracked a book, or visited St. Petersburg, asked, What Would William T. Vollmann Do?

    If they did this, I can't guarantee the world would be a better place, but I do think the darker corners of the world would make more sense, that we'd come that much closer to bridging that enormous gulf of understanding between us and them.


    The talk is good. Vollmann points to the Russian political novel, asking why—if America had its own Civil War—we've never produced a novel that comes anywhere close to War and Peace?

    "We can try to ignore politics," he says. "But that is possible only if politics were to continue to ignore us." And after September 11th, he explains, "that became impossible."

    Impossible, but unheeded by America's fiction writers—for beyond the glut of nimble, narrative nonfiction that tackles politics directly, he says there is an absence of novels that attempt to do so.

    "There are people dead as a result of [American] political and religious praxis," he says. "Whether we owe those dead bodies a tight, middle, or panoramic gaze, we owe those dead bodies a story."

    As for collecting these stories, Vollmann acknowledges that he feels he has no home, that instead he does his best to feel at home wherever he is.

    His project: To find the despised people of the world—and help them.

    To do so, he says he tries as hard as possible to live—not just observe—the life of others. He visits some fare off corner of hell and locates a big brother or sister. With their advice, he goes totally native.

    And: "To the extent that their life involves illegal drugs and or terrorism, I do my earnest best to join in."


    A few hours after Vollmann's talk, my wife concludes huffing burned absinthe. She eyes the low-ball, glowing with sugar crystals and containing several ounces of liquor warmed by flame. Should she drink the whole thing in one go? It smells like kerosene and insect repellant.

    "You might as well live it up," Vollmann says to her.

    Kelly tips the glass. I leave the next day, back to New York. She'll live the life down south, coming as close to Chechnya as possible.


    The London bombings: Security is at highest alert at the Moscow airport. An army of airport employees wearing white gloves hand inspects every piece of check-in luggage.

    The red-haired woman pawing my dirty laundry finds an alarm clock, a basic wind-up model with bells—almost a cartoon of an "alarm clock." It's not ticking; I've been lax in keeping it wound. She's disturbed, and fingers the bells, pinching the cheap metal. She looks tired, shrugs, and shoves the alarm clock back into the bag with a pile of shirts.


    Through three security checks, I'm standing in line for the flight home. A square-jawed attendant in boots and coveralls is scoring an advertisement with a box cutter, removing the panel in strips. "Moscow 2012," it reads. "An Olympic Dream."


    I think it's a safe bet we'll read solid nonfiction about London's bombs before we'll read a decent novel thereof.

    I think there's something about the rapid movement of information—and the knowledge industry's ability to package news quickly—that makes the novel a refuge.

    Nabokov said any fiction that tackles politics would remain banished from his bedside table.

    As I fly back to life in New York City, itself another failed candidate for 2012, I'm wondering if maybe we no longer have Nabakov's luxury?


    Thanks for reading.


    This piece was published by The Village Voice. Read the original here.