Friday, 11 February 2011

I Wouldn't Start from Here

I remember driving from Belgrade to Sofia in the late summer of 1985. Our journey took us through miles of countryside - cornfields, grassland, occasionally groups of men in flat caps and women in colourful knotted scarves, digging and hacking at heavy looking soil. From time to time, a few dwellings would appear, plonked down on each side of the road too incoherently to justify the word 'village'. There was usually a half-built, mortar-smeared mansion among them, black plastic flapping in its exposed concrete rooms. These unfinished projects usually belonged to absent workers, away in Austria or Germany earning the money to complete the next stage of their dreams.

It all felt so remote from what we take to be the real world, the supposed centre of things, the place where whatever it is (that mysterious thing, 'it' - 'Where it's all at') was happening. I remember looking at the people that lived in those places - especially the young ones - and wondering how much where you are born shapes what you expect from life, whether your aspirations are limited by the horizons that you have grown up with.

Looking at this sequence on the English Russia blog, I was reminded of that time and those questions. It's easy to think that, with the advent of the Internet and speedy communications, et cetera, et cetera, Europe at least (and I mean geographical Europe, which I think includes Russia and the countries of the former Yugoslavia) has become a place where everyone has a relatively similar experience and starts from the same kind of basic position. These pictures suggest that there are still places where life must feel quite unconnected from the mainstream, where people quite probably feel abandoned, as if there is an impassable barrier between them and the glittering streamlined 21st-century European world that is really so little distance away.

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