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A white night

Leningrad, 1989

By early June, the sun barely dipped below the horizon and the nights stayed white past midnight, just turning a little grayer and pinker in the early morning hours. The white nights brought people out on the streets, so that despite the fact that there was little to do around town, there seemed a heightened level of energy. One night I went out with Dima and Tanya, two friends who were active in the "democratic movement". We walked across the Neva River to the Peter and Paul Fortress, where Peter the Great had founded the city back at the beginning of the eighteenth century, hiked up the short ramp to the top of the fortress walls, and sat down facing the river and the low, sprawling skyline of Italian and French baroque palaces on the other embankment. The soft light of the midnight twilight cast a magnificent glow over the city. A thin cresent moon dangled low in the sky. It was a moment of dreamlike serenity -- a moment when Leningrad once again looked beautiful, and solid, and quite bourgeois. "I'm afraid," predicted Dima gloomily, shattering the mood, "that we will have a catastrophe in this country soon.


"Back in reality, we talked and argued and laughed and explained our tangentially intersecting worlds to each other, and then noted with alarm that we had better hurry if Dima and Tanya were to get to the bridge across the Neva before it went up at two o'clock to let the ships pass. We hurried back, arriving just a minute or two before two, only to find that the bridge actually went up at 1:55, and like few things in Leningrad except for the Metro and the trains, it was on schedule. By the time I finally got back to the apartment where I was staying, it was nearly 3:00 and almost light.



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