Chapter Three
TYUMEN: DALLAS IN SIBERIA

“Siberia is a cold and long country. I drive on and on and see no end to
it. I see little that is new or of interest, but I feel and experience a great
deal. I have contended with flooded rivers, with cold, with impassable
mud, hunger and sleepiness: such sensations as you could not get for a
million in Moscow! You ought to come to Siberia. Ask the authorities
to exile you.”

Anton Chekhov, 1890, writing to his brother Alexander

The conductress on the trolley bus was hard to spot at first, but I eventually found her, disguised in a black mesh blouse and violet-coloured plastic sandals. She took my money and promised to tell me when I reached my stop, one of the large hotels dating from the Soviet era; it loomed grimly above a busy boulevard, close to the business heart of the capital of resource-rich Tyumen Region. She was not the only well-camouflaged conductress on public transport in Tyumen. Another I later saw was wearing a fake leopard-skin polyester top and tight black trousers, and if not for the telltale black purse slung around her waist, I probably would not have noticed her either at first glance.

I was finding Tyumen an unusual town. It is the kind of place where the extravagant, the unusual and the mundane seemed to find roles in the same play. Later that day I also caught sight of a woman walking past a bus stop with mud-splattered high, leather boots and miniskirt. No one else seemed to pay much attention to her as she picked her way around the large puddles that had formed on the pavement after an afternoon shower, and she probably would not even have stood out at all if not for her mudsplattered boots and one unusual detail: she carried a kitchen sink under one arm.

The women with the kitchen sink on one of Tyumen’s busiest streets struck me as a surreal vision in this town of almost 600,000 inhabitants. Much about Siberia, however, can suddenly appear surreal, even in a moment of boredom waiting for a bus. In this sense, Chekhov was right— it can be boredom infused with intense experiences.

Siberia is notorious for the cold Chekhov writes about to his brother,

-51-

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Siberia: A Cultural History
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