"...The heart of Prestwich, the quiet Jewish part of North Manchester.
Tall, Victorian Gothic houses where the sun never shone. Engels
had lived round the corner, writing by gaslight, and Demetrius
took us to see his place on the way. The roof was gone, the windows
smashed in - skinned and gutted, it just needed one of those
ravenous winds off the moors to devour it completely. A Chinese
delegation stood outside, curious... No shrine to the people
here. Not even a plaque. They kept checking their mysterious
guidebooks, to see if they'd got the right address.
'Right address,' said Demetrius as we drove past, 'wrong philosophy.'
"...By the Great Salt Lake was a vast grey mudflat, covered in
fat black flies. God knows what they fed on in the alluvial slime
- the lake itself was dead. They flew up into your face with
each step. By the lake was a funfair... a kind of water-chute
that looks like a tunnel of plastic dustbins, and a bouncy castle.
Children were playing in the mud, making mud pies and mud castles.
The flies soon covered their work, a buzzing tide little black
It was so flat, so lonely, so far away from anything beautiful.
These were poor people and this was their beach, a thosand miles
from the sea."
"...As the bus rolled into Wenceslas Square Nico was at her wits'
end. She had nothing left and no one cared.
We parked up outside the elegant Hotel Europa and watched the
Russian soldiers' dismal foot patrol, followed by the occasional
rusty armoured car. The impression wasn't so much hostile as
omnivorously boring. The spotty toy soldiers didn't want to be
there, and the people didn't want them there. For the heart of
a city it sure was quiet. There were a couple of stalls selling
pickled slices of grey fish. Apart from occasional pairs of old
ladies with empty shopping bags, everyone seemed to be somehow
alone. I realsied when we'd all climbed out of the bus that we
were, in the eyes of a totalitarian regime, what constituted
As we were directly in front of the Europa, Nico assuemd it must
be our hotel, and began lugging her bag towards the entrance.
When Demetrius pointed out that we weren't actually staying there,
that we didn't, in fact, have any place to stay, she gave him
a mighty kick in the balls, a steel-capped castrating avenger.
When the heroin was out, Nico always seemed to get sudden bursts
Demetrius doubled up, gasping for breath, his hands cupping what
was left of his retracted testicles. Passers by smirked, but
didn't stop. The soldiers expressed a slight consternation as
they goose-stepped past, but they didn't stop either. Nothing
could alter the mechanical rhythm of the city's artifical heart."
"...We drove along dirt roads, through villages with small squat
houses, wooden roofs and white plaster walls with corn hanging
up to dry. Oxen would stray into our path. Our progress was
so slow that people started coming out of their houses to greet
us. Women in headscarves, little boys in short trousers and
in white dresses. They'd rush up to give us sweetmeats, candied
fruit, sugared pieces of oranges and plums. I didn't know if
they thought we were something special or whetehr they were
just kinder than we were.
I wanted to get away from the bus for a few minutes, just to
touch another reality for a moment. At the next gas station I
leffed it across the road to a wayside cafe. I ordered a beer
and a sllvovitz. There was only one other guy at the bar. His
Lada was parked by the window in full view. There was a coffin
in the back. I asked him who it was. He couldn't speak English
so I pointed. 'Mama,' he said.