January 24 – I am rethinking my decision to take the Trans Siberian from Vladivostok to Moscow. Part of it has to do with the realization that there is nothing in Siberia that I am anxious to see, and making a 6000 mile trip by train just to say I did it feels like a stunt. Also I reread Theroux’s The Great Railway Bazaar on the ship and was reminded that, by the end of his first Trans Siberian journey, Theroux had been driven insane.
The train was going at half-speed for the approach to Moscow. I walked down the corridors of Hard Class to my compartment, to pack my belongings. The other passengers were already packed. They stood in their arrival suits, smoking by the windows. I passed each one, seeing criminality and fraud in their faces, brutishness in their little eyes, fists protruding from unusually long sleeves.
“Monkey,” I said, squeezing through a group of soldiers.
A man stroking his fur hat blocked my way. I went up to him. He agitated his enormous jaw with a yawn.
“Monkey!” He moved aside.
Monkey to the provodnik, monkey to the man at the samovar, monkey to the army officer in Soft Class; and, still muttering, I found the zombie sitting by the window in an overcoat, his jam-flecked thumb on Mockba. “Monkey!”
I can’t recall any written account of a trip on the Trans Siberian that praised the food, accommodations or companionship. Nor have I read one which fails to mention that many of the passengers spend the long trip drunk on vodka. So to hell with it.