so I handed over twelve hundred rubles—roughly forty dollars. The woman left the plate
of cabbage pies and scurried away. They turned out to be stale and lacking in cabbage.
Sergei came by, saw the plate, and burst out laughing. I had apparently fallen for the oldest
trick in the topic, handing over a fistful of money for day-old dough that was the end of the
batch after the cook ran out of cabbage. Humorous as that was, in truth, I feel that Russians
lead their lives in a chaotic and confused world, protecting themselves as best they can but
with little incentive to make waves. I could have gone to find the vendor to get my money
back—but I didn't.
Our train pulls out of Izhevsk, and I am already settled into the humdrum routine. I make
some tea, make my bed, and smile at the woman in the berth across from me. She is already
tucked under her blanket, reading.
My first solid night of sleep in a while ends with shouting. The provodnik is yelling “the
bathroom will be closed in five minutes for cleaning. Thirty minutes to Perm!” I crawl out
of bed, and run to the lavatory to brush my teeth and throw cold water at my face. Then
Sergei and I gather our belongings and disembark in Perm, where we have a few hours
to burn. This is by far the most ramshackle train station we've visited so far. In a dingy
basement Sergei and I find a luggage storage room to leave our suitcases. Then we walk
upstairs to a small café.
“Sergei, I'm starved—you want any food?”
“Just tea, David.”
I walk up to a buffet line and take two hard-boiled eggs, some kasha, and two teas—all
for a whopping sixty-nine rubles (two dollars). I am peeling my first egg when a thought
occurs to me. Maybe total paranoia, maybe not, but I ponder one way our “friends” could
bring an abrupt end to my trip: If they planted drugs or something else in my suitcase. I
scarf down the food, and we return to the basement to grab our luggage from the storage
room. Then we find a taxi.
One potential stop that interested me in Perm was the local office of Memorial, a na-
tionwide organization that highlights the repressions of Soviet times and helps modern-day
citizens fight for civil liberties. The group is often a thorn in the Kremlin's side, exposing
how protesters are jailed and intimidated, hurting Russia's image abroad. Sergei had made
a few calls and was told some of their leaders would be available today if we stopped by.
Our taxi pulls up on the side of a busy street, where there is no obvious sign of Memori-
al, just a gray cement block of apartment buildings, with storefronts on the ground floor.
Then I see it—next to a manicure/pedicure shop, beneath an advertisement with a woman
in a bikini is a small sign—“Memorial”—near a brown metal door. Sergei and I swing
the creaky door open and walk into a dank cement corridor with signs for lawyers, travel
agents, and business advice plastering the walls. On another metal door at the opposite end
of the corridor, there's another sign for Memorial, mentioning “alternatives to military ser-