Excerpted Passages from
Lying Together: My Russian Affair
The officers of St. Petersburg's anti-corruption task force were ridiculously underpaid, if they were paid at all. To make ends meet, or even overlap, some guys developed the habit of confiscating items from crime scenes. Evidence. The Evidence was stored in the back of their headquarters and periodically sold off or even given away to potentially helpful personages. The short story is that, instead of a Tiffany box, my ring came wrapped in a Ziplock bag, the kind the dealers use when selling pot or crack. It had slipped quite easily from the whore's rigid finger onto my shaky one.
St. Petersburg, Russia, was built on a swamp and is precariously balanced on the bones of thousands of men. Built by edict and maintained by force, it is a beautifully cruel city, filled with cemented charm and a mystical grace. Everywhere you turn there are touches of evil decorated with hints of poetry.
A lot of poetry.
I pity the fools who think that Paris is the capital of romance. Because if romance is about passion and emotional extremes, there can't possibly be a more romantic city than St. Petersburg.
Fabulous facades battered down by the ages and the brutal winters mask crumbling interiors that house the warmth of families and lovers. Rivers and streams snake their way around the city streets, and in the winter the ice morphs the sidewalks into the embankment, creating a smooth, cunning, and continual field. In the summer the sun never sets, and in the winter it hardly shines but for the glimmer of a cupola over a church that reflects the midday attempt at light.
I am soon sitting in a marble bathroom stall at the Slavyanskaya Hotel. My cell phone rings as I reach for the toilet paper. It is a pimp named Pasha, and the irony is not lost on me at all that, as I chat with him from the stall, real prostitutes are chatting with their sootyen, their pimps, in the stalls next to me, up by the mirror, and in the lobby of the hotel.
"Can I call you back?" I say in Russian. "This is not a very good place for me to talk." I haven't even wiped yet.
"Nyet," he says. He won't give me a number. So we agree to meet in the evening at a cafe near Svetnoy Boulevard, just up from the Circus, and I wonder why everything in my life has to be such a damn metaphor.
The above excerpts from Lying Together: My Russian Affair, by Jennifer Cohen, are © 2004, University of Wisconsin Press. The book will be released in Fall 2004.