Nine Years Later

May 22, 2017

It’s just past eight in the evening on 21 June 2013 and Benno May grumpily unpacks his suitcase. He returned that morning from one of his employer’s interminable business trips to Tokyo. It’s not that Benno dislikes Tokyo, although he does find it sterile and lacking in the graceful charm that practically oozes in much of Japan. Sixteen-hour-shifts in the company of co-workers who are in an increasing state of inebriation as the day wears on merely test Benno’s patience. Nor does Benno dislike his job, despite “compliance officer at the Australian division of a Japanese bank” not exactly topping the list of dream careers he composed as a ten-year-old schoolboy at his rural New South Wales school. What it lacks in excitement is compensated by a comfortable income and stable employment. Benno has always been the practical sort and being able to pay rent for his 735-square-foot flat on the upper storey of a federation house in the northern Sydney suburbs holds more charm for him than any youthful sense of adventure. He is especially fond of his balcony with its original wrought-iron balustrades

Benno’s somewhat tetchy mood isn’t the result of a ten-hour flight from Haneda or anything related to his job. His job is far too sensible to inspire more than lukewarm acceptance of the adult’s fate. Two weeks prior, just before leaving for Tokyo, he received an early morning telephone call from the joy of his youth and the bane of his existence, Arne Fält. Imagine it, if you will – the 28-year-old Benno is shirtless and wearing a pair of old linen shorts – undyed. He sleeps on his side, his mouth slightly agape. This scene of somnial bliss is shattered by the daemonic chiming of the other bane of his existence, his Samsung smartphone. “Benno, mate! So glad to talk to you”. “Arne, you bloody bastard”! Benno groggily interjects before checking his clock, “It’s 3:42 in the morning”. “Right, anyway, I’m moving back to Australia on the 22nd of this month”. “Bloody hell, when did this come about” he exclaims, sitting up with an unexpected burst of energy. “Oh, last month, I put in for an IT position in Sydney and they hired me” Arne responds chirpily. Benno gets up and briefly looks for an axe with which to beat sense into Arne’s thick head, or at very least split his skull open before realising that, Arne still being in Stockholm, this would not exactly be effective.  At this point Benno doesn’t know what irks him most, Arne’s timing or his nauseatingly chirpy tone.  “Where are you going to live”? Benno asks, suspicious that he will probably not be able to return to sleep. “Well, you have a bed, don’t you” Arne chimes.

Benno and Arne have known each other since they were both ten. Arne’s parents, veterinarians both, from Dalarna, decided to leave the bucolic tedium of provincial Sweden behind in exchange for the bucolic tedium, spiders and snakes of provincial New South Wales. Of all the places in the world they could choose; they chose the town of Canary – population 257 – in Cowrashire.  In a way, this strange turn of events endeared the disgustingly cheerful Arne to the slightly dour, taciturn Benno. After all, when he was six months old his mother, a haematologist, left Germany and her family behind. She argued that brown snakes and funnel web spiders were not nearly as deadly as her relatives. The limited experience Benno had with them convinced him that his mother was probably correct. He never knew his father, a Canadian student who read medicine with his mother. Apparently taking care of a child was too great a burden on him for a relationship of several months.

Their teacher, a stout middle-aged brunette named Ms Patterson who was destined to resemble Dame Edna sans the naturally violet hair in her retirement, noted the change in Benno’s demeanour since he was asked to sit with Arne. His became lighter, less sullen. “Joyful” might not be the correct word to describe him, post-Arne, but he was certainly happier. Arne, for his part, was naturally predisposed to good humour and meeting a friend on the first day did little to make his cheer more palatable. It was, as Ms Patterson was to recall some six years later, as if they were a couple before they knew it.

Benno looks at his watch: 8:27. He puts his empty suitcase in the box room alongside the brooms, mops, buckets, various cleaning supplies and vacuum cleaner. “Tomorrow, then” he says to himself quietly. He’s no longer quite as curmudgeonly. Benno closes the door and walks into his sitting room, half-collapsing on his small couch. Benno has always hated uncertainty – and he was without doubt trapped in that most vile of states. Nine years have passed since Arne left Australia, ten years since they were caught together in a compromising position among some gum trees a couple miles outside Canary. Benno couldn’t entirely fault Arne’s decision to return to Sweden, although he did find his remark “Australia, 20,000,000 people, 450,000,000 kangaroos” a tad flippant. After all, wasn’t Benno one of those 20,000,000 people? And didn’t kangaroos mean something? Still, underneath is optimistic mask, Benno knew better than anyone that Arne felt insecure and doubted his parents’ decision to leave. Arne’s was a fortunate childhood, a golden time from birth. He didn’t quite dislike Australia – far from it, he had become Australian in most ways, but something in him needed to be placated – questions had to be answered. The glowing embers of contempt that some of their ostensible mates showed them after their relationship had been turned into the topic of small-town intrigue merely gave this new impetus. Benno didn’t suffer from this. He had no half-remembered life elsewhere, merely a birth certificate in a foreign language and the legal right to claim a second passport – not that he had the desire to, his Australian sufficed.

And it had been more than four years since Benno and Arne had seen each other. After finishing their mandatory education, Benno and Arne followed different paths. Benno spent five years at the University of Sydney’s School of Business; Arne flew to Stockholm to read Information Technology at KTH.  Benno spent his holidays working internships, paid and otherwise. Frivolity was not in his nature. The quiet, diligent young man made a good impression on the management of Mizuho Bank. He was reliable, made few mistakes and learnt quickly. Most importantly, he asked only the most relevant questions and never more than once. The employers similarly took to him quickly. He never created more work for them and did what they asked him to do with no argument. At the same time, he seemingly lacked ambition and could be relied upon not to step on any toes or make anyone lose face by seeking to rise too quickly. When Saul Stonebridge, the former head of compliance at that particular branch chose to spend more time with his grandchildren, the automatic promotion of all others based on seniority meant that a new position would open up a few months after Benno was set to complete his studies. The management were chuffed. They could be spared the arduous task of sifting through the semi-literate rabble in order to find a candidate who might, potentially, not prove overly embarrassing. Benno was simply happy to not have to endure the tribulations of a job search. Arne did just as well. The charming young lad built a good name for himself in Stockholm and proved his mettle at London and Tel Aviv internships. They both made it in their way.

Benno telephoned Arne from Tokyo one night. The Japanese summer heat was murderous. In that sea of 38 million souls, in that jungle of concrete, glass and steel there was no respite in places not blessed with air conditioning.  Benno hadn’t been sensible and rejected Arne’s brash incursion. Time didn’t seem to matter – nor could Benno see much reason to try dating. The rhythms of his life fell into a comforting regularity. Each morning he woke up, showered, shaved, dressed correctly and walked to Roseville Station and took a Sydney Train across the Harbour Bridge to Wynyard Station. He invariably had a sensible lunch. If he didn’t bring it with him, he’d simply rush to the Vietnamese deli and order a banh mi. “Arne, you bloody bastard, why are you coming back to Australia”? Benno himself couldn’t entirely understand why. Arne was keen on leaving, even if that meant leaving Benno behind. “Because I have no life here” was his reply. Unable to resist, Benno twisted the knife a little. “So 23,000,000 people and 450,000,000 kangaroos are suddenly not so bad”? His snarky tone was intended to be the salt that the knife dragged into the wound. Arne hurt him. Even if he didn’t say it, Benno felt betrayed by Arne’s flippancy. Understanding the motivations of a departure and avoiding feelings of abandonment are two separate matters. There was a pause on the Swedish end of the conversation, a deafening silence only punctured after what seemed to be the intermission at the end of the first half of the second eternity by a sigh of resignation. “I was wrong, Benno. I was selfish. I am selfish. I don’t know what more to say. I only thought about myself then. No, you don’t need to say it. You don’t need to turn your words into weapons. I only thought about myself when I decided to return to NSW. It’s just…” Arne paused, the silence returned. Benno couldn’t take this. “You were right. I have room”.

After Benno completed his studies he had a few months, and his landlords were happy to continue collecting rent despite his absence. He decided to spend those months in Europe; forgoing the purgatorial family visits that comprised the so-called “European holidays” he had been on before. Arne sub-leased a tiny flat in Gamla Stan – Stockholm’s old town then. Benno was concerned. How would their reunion go? What could he expect of it? Over four years at passed since they saw each other. They still spoke regularly and exchanged hampers each Christmas, even sending each other small gifts on each other’s birthdays. Benno still had two Dalarna horses, hand-blown vases, Oscarian lithographs of Swedish cities and various small trinkets from various provinces. Benno could see the stuffed marsupials and pieces of Aboriginal art – authentic of course, he had sent Arne whenever they talked on Skype. When Benno saw Arne waiting for him at the arrivals hall at Arlanda, it was as if they had never been apart at all. Arne made time for him. They spent New Year’s in Stockholm, bundled up on Djurgårdsbron, to watch the fireworks. It was the coldest New Year’s Benno could remember. A Scandinavian winter night is notably cooler than that of an Australian summer. Arne called in a favour and took Benno to Norrland, to stay at a co-worker’s cabin in the woods – to see the Northern Lights in splendid isolation. Benno could never forget that – the unearthly sounds, the slightly sulphuric smell.  There was not a soul to see, but he had never felt less lonely – and had never felt so insignificant. Those months in Scandinavia became a blur. Returning to Australia felt almost a burden on him, a sense that Benno never imagined he was capable of having. And yet, it was there.

Benno was overwhelmed by a sense of loneliness when his flight landed at Kingsford Smith. Days turned into weeks, weeks turned into months and months turned into years. Twice each year he went to Tokyo for two weeks. Sometimes, he went on holiday elsewhere in Japan. A few months after returning from Scandinavia, his mother left Canary for Perth with her new boyfriend, Bruce. Not that it really mattered all that much. Benno and Bruce could never stand each other’s presence and Bruce, as much as possible, made Benno’s visits as unpleasant as possible in order to discourage needless contact. After several increasingly tense visits, Benno’s mother decided that long weekends in Sydney would be preferable to seeing the two men in her life glowering in murderous silence; steadfastly refusing eye contact lest looks result in extended incarceration. Benno still went to Canary on occasion to visit Anna, the owner of the post office and only coffee shop in town. Anna was the type of person who had seen more than her share of disappointment and treachery. Anna was in equal measures mercy and moxie. When Benno and Arne were met with hard glances and the occasional jeer, she took them under her wings and nurtured them.

The infernal Samsung sings and vibrates. Benno grudgingly separates himself from his bed. This was a hardship. The clock reads 7:30 – there was time enough for breakfast, a shave and a shower. With luck, he could pop in at the corner coffee shop for a flat white to drink on the way to Mascot – across the Harbour Bridge. At the arrivals hall, Benno glances up – Arne’s Cathay Pacific connecting flight arrived on time. Benno haphazardly bins his now-empty coffee cup at the exact moment that Arne walks up to him, as if they had seen each other the day before.


Återförening i Småland

April 30, 2017

“That’s it, then” Esbjörn said as he signed their divorce agreement. He extended his now ex-wife, Pernilla, his hand. “Good luck, Esbjörn and please take care of yourself” she responded as they shook hands. With the sweep of a pen, their marriage of thirty years was over. Esbjörn Sjöstrom, 57 years of age with much-thinned hair, more salt than pepper, wrapped himself in his jacket and walked away. Pernilla could just about hear the “tingle, tingle” of the door closing as it closed behind him. Pernilla looked down at the signed divorce agreement. Two names, two signatures, side-by-side. Pernilla Karlsson, Esbjörn Sjöstrom.

“Birgit”, she called out, “could you please bring me another coffee with milk”? before staring down at the stack of magazines to her left. She reached for a Bildjournalen from 1955. Pernilla enjoyed that most about this Smör restaurant. Nothing was new – post-war film magazines, Depression-era film posters, the chaotic distribution of bric-à-brac from an unknowable number of Scandinavian schools and homes. There were tin pencil cases, widgets in various, often dubious, states of repair, old paper moons hanging from the ceiling and, her favourite, an old scale marked in Skålpond. “Here’s your coffee” Birgit said, placing the chipped 1960s-white-and-brown cup-and-saucer in front of her. The thrown-together aesthetic of the place was comforting. Everything was so imperfect, everything was used. It felt as if the pieces quietly said “Please forgive the chips, scratched and clutter. We´re trying to find a new purpose”.

Pernilla drank slowly. Her life was, once again, entirely her own. Well, it was mostly her own.  There was, of course, her 25-year-old son, Åke and his fiancée, Inge Østergaard and, of course, Pernilla’s new paramour, Jiro. Still, it was a start. After paying, she walked onto Brukgatan – the brisk sea air caressing her. She checked her watch: 6:15. There’d be time to watch the sun set over the Öresund, to see Denmark consumed in fiery light. “Consume” is such an ugly word – Pernilla thought as she walked towards Kärnan, Helsingborg’s mediaeval tower with its unbroken view across the narrow strait to Helsingør and Krongborg, Hamlet’s castle.

Pernilla and Esbjörn met at the University of Uppsala. She read marketing and market analysis, he was a bookkeeper. It seemed to be an ideal match. Both worked in business and Esbjörn, while lacking flair, was unusually responsible. He was the type of fiancé that not even the sternest grandmother would object to. He was so very normal. What would she remember of him? He collected stamps. Every summer, he wanted to holiday at the cabin he inherited from his grandparents on the Bohuslän coast. They lived together in the flat he was given by his parents in Östermalm, only two blocks from Karlapan. It was a respectable life. They went to Skansen as a family at least once each season. Esbjörn was a Stockholmer, as were his parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. Somewhere in the long distant past there was a family memory of Dalarna, but aside from those few half-remembered nebulae of peasant lore, there was nothing that tied them to anything but Stockholm. Pernilla was a skåningar. “Scratch a Skåningar and you’ll find a Dane” they’d say to her. In many ways, that held true. Pernilla hated having to constantly repeat herself for the first few years – her Skånska dialect so thick that people would ask if she had come on holiday from Copenhagen. Actually, that’s what she liked about Inge. Her pure Copenhagen accent made it easier to understand her Danish than Swedes from Norrland or rural Svealand. Stockholm for her first twenty years was a remote, almost foreign, city. Denmark was so close at hand – were it not for a foolish king’s failed ambitions, she’s have been a Karlsen. But that isn’t so interesting.

Perhaps that alienation is what she’d remember most. Esbjörn was considerate, but she had to learn to imitate his Stockholmska to be understood. She had to adjust to an upper-middle-class life that was always so strange, so insincere. She dreaded his family’s social functions. They were naturally gracious – but she was, after all, judged. She grew up on a farm in Osbyholm, a place famous more for its number of meadows than for its cultural attractions. Pernilla always had to check herself, to avoid telling coarse jokes or being too direct. Worst of all was Esbjörn. He had no interests. He had no opinions. His reliability wasn’t, Pernilla realised halfway through their marriage, a virtue – but a result of his simply lacking the curiosity to do anything that he hadn’t done before. The suggestion that they do something that broke the patterns of their lives, patterns that moved as predictably as the seasons, would send him into a state of near-panic. She knew, of course, that he’d yield if she insisted. But she didn’t want to insist, she didn’t want to have to feel as if she needed to order him to do something, anything that didn’t drive her into sob-ridden boredom. She had enough after asking him if they could go to Bohuslän in the autumn. She wanted to go to Småland, to Kalmar on the Baltic coast, to visit the famous castle – to see something that wasn’t that rudding yellow cabin 100 yards from the Skagerrak in the summer. Like his Östermalm flat, his Bohuslän cottage was inherited. Esbjörn could never have afforded to live in Östermalm. He would never have imagined travelling beyond the Stockholm Archipelago, much less to Götaland.

For all his kindness, Esbjörn had also been selfish. He had to have known that, or perhaps, Pernilla thought as the yellow sky turned to orange, he lacked the imagination to see even that. When she told him that she wanted to leave, that she wanted to return to Skåne, he barely reacted. “Are you certain” he asked? “Am I certain” she had screamed at him. “Can you for the first time in your tedious existence show some sort of emotion”? Their divorce proceedings were painless. He didn’t object, she refused financial support – that was all. Thirty years of marriage and he treated her no differently than he would treat a pen.  Actually, as Pernilla thought as her train to Skåne sped out of Stockholm-län, his indifference was liberating. Losing her marriage meant losing nothing at all. Her only error was not having walked away sooner.

Pernilla walked to her flat alone as Denmark drowned in the sun’s dying embers. Jiro would be there. Jiro Tanabe. She was not yet entirely certain what to make of him yet, save that she rather liked him and that he seemed, at least after several months, to be an improvement on Esbjörn. Not that that was exactly an impossible task. Jiro was thirty. Perhaps somewhat young, but both were adults and he was the one who approached her. Pernilla met him at a business meeting.  Jiro works for a start-up dedicated to exporting the work of young designers to East Asian markets. Pernilla’s company were hired to prepare marketing materials in cooperation with Jiro and his Taiwanese co-worker, Chase Li. After several weeks of working together, Jiro asked her to supper at La Petite. In his charmingly clumsy way, Jiro resorted to the trope of asking Pernilla to dine at that most established French restaurant on Bruksgatan.

Jiro was as quirky and clumsy as he was earnest. He mangled his Swedish at moments, confusing “väntar”, to wait, for “vet”, to know. Growing flustered, he asked “May we speak in English? I’m sorry, my Swedish is not so good” – his face redder than a cardinal. Pernilla laughed to herself before replying “Yes, of course. But your Swedish is very good”. She found it all very endearing. He was imperfect, but he tried. He was younger, but like Pernilla, was trying to find new bearings. He was relieved when she agreed to meet again. Jiro was overjoyed when she agreed to each request to meet again, before asking him if he’d like to set up a regular date. As the weeks turned into months, she looked forward more and more to seeing him. At each date, he’d bring her something new – a handmade portrait of dried flowers, a hand-blown vase from Småland and her favourite, a 19th century lithograph of a Skånska farm. His gifts were small, but they were thoughtful. He listened to her. He laughed with her.

Jiro was waiting for her, punctual as ever, flowers in hand when she returned. He stood up and handed her the bouquet. “Thank you for coming” she said, kissing his right cheek, “would you like anything to drink”? “A tea, if you will” he replied. She took the caddy containing the gyokuro, the fine, shade-grown Japanese green tea he had given her, and prepared a pot to share. It was obvious that Åke would, at some point, have to meet Jiro. This was the most delicate moment of their relationship. Contrary to what many believe, divorce – and the introduction of new love interests – is harder on grown children than on the young. The loss of one of life’s great fixtures – the family and home that one always knew – can be devastating. After all, where is one to return for solace or to reflect on innocence long lost. Åke had taken the news in stride and good humour. He accepted the news of his parents’ divorce with better grace than Pernilla could have hoped. He was much like his mother, in any event, and he had always seemed to understand – perhaps better than Pernilla herself – that their home in Stockholm was no more than a house, and that their family was no more than a mother and son with the increasingly wan ghost of a man flitting in the shadows.

“Let’s go to Småland”. Jiro said as Pernilla handed him a cuppa. “My grandfather was a fisherman in Ishikawa Prefecture”. The two statements were in linear chronology, but failed to follow any logical order. Pernilla chuckled softly, Jiro’s face turned slightly pink before he said “I mean, if you’d like, we can go to the sea”. “Yes, I’d like that” Pernilla said. “I found a few cottages to hire for a week in June” he said, handing her several advertisements. She looked through them carefully before stopping on one. It was for a red cottage on Ölandsgatan in Kalmar. It would take no more than ten minutes to walk to the castle she’d wanted to see for years – the castle where Scandinavia’s brief unity had been agreed. It seemed so apposite – the mother, whose antecedents were Danes in those halcyon days, the son, a child of Stockholm, the fiancée – a Dane. And then there was Jiro, who was Japanese, but somehow fit so well into the narrative that Pernilla’s life had become that it would seem discordant without him there. “Let’s go here”, she said with a sudden start.

Golden Light

March 30, 2017

“This isn’t bloody London” I thought with a tinge of bitterness. My dear reader, you fail to understand the bitter frustrations of living in a German provincial town. For all its rich history and great beauty, Trier remains painfully inadequate in many ways. I’ve had to trudge countless miles in search of the basic necessities of life: English cheddar, a proper tea and the ingredients for Japanese noodle soups.

Through some fluke in the fabric of the universe a Dorset tea company have started to market a limited selection of their products throughout the Federal Republic. It makes for a relatively solid brew, although one resents the limited choice. To find a reliable purveyor of cheddar one must resort to the tender mercies of the vile Kaufland – Germany’s Tesco, filled with Germany’s chavs. But it isn’t a very good cheddar and this simply cannot be forgiven. Vile, vile, vile. I’m yet to find the necessary ingredients for all my favourite Japanese noodle soups. Oh, to be in Goulder’s Green…But in London I’m not and one must suffer for it.

One tries, dear reader, to survive. These deprivations are only sharpened by the unpredictability of customer care. When popping in for bread at bakery I wince when my favourite clerk isn’t behind the counter. She is at times curt, but she possesses a refreshingly artless frankness. Without fail, she ensures that all products are satisfactory – that her coffee is properly made and presented. One of her co-workers, a younger woman, is casually polite but ever so slightly careless. She does the minimum required, no more, no less. Their colleague, I shall call her “Helga-Ursula von Grumpydorf” has the demeanour of a Prussian dominatrix. Should I dare to ask for a “König Ludwig Brot” instead of a ”Könish Ludwish Brot” I risk her eternal opprobrium. What is that she is reaching for, dear reader, preserve me! Is it a whip? No, it’s a cat o’nine! Oh for heaven’s sake, to literally translate the German phrase to describe her countenance, “What ran over her liver”? A lorry? A train? John Bercow’s ego?

Never-the-less, her crude customer care is at least partially offset by her pedantry. Her coffee is properly made, even if served with less care than my usual clerk’s. Her Müslischnitt – a glorious confection of sunflower seeds, sultanas, chocolate bits and honey over a crisp biscuit is perfectly prepared. One must run from her after paying. Mistress von Grumpydorf’s House of Pain cannot be sullied with the presence of her lesser.

One cannot dwell on the misfortunes of this world on a glorious day like this. The warm spring sun shines, filtered gold. Amongst the strewn ruins of empires long fallen, monuments to the tremendous egos of kings and emperors long forgotten to the masses, life continues its eternal course. A grandmother sits with her infant grandson. This, so many years ago, was where her grandmother sat with her. The great men who ordered these grand monuments built are gone, their inglorious descendants cast into eternal obscurity. We, the heirs of the peasants who built their monuments, can soak in the satisfaction of enjoying that which our forefathers could scarcely ask to cast their eyes upon.

Living with the Han 2: Other than that it wasn’t too bad…

July 31, 2015

I walked through Huzhou last Saturday in a desperate attempt to change money. I did not expect a good rate of exchange or stellar service, but I did expect it to be possible. After all, even with the rise of touch-pay mobile phones and nearly-universal use for bank cards it is still advisable to carry some cash. My efforts were futile. Most banks only exchange money on weekdays and only for their customers. The one bank that will exchange currency on weekends for non-account holders is the Bank of China but they require extensive documentation and special residence papers. At that point, I had neither. In frustration I quietly returned to my flat with a small pile of cash in hand that might as well have not existed. I went to sleep nervous. The internet installer was supposed to have come the following day and I could not pay him. At around 1 AM I woke up and decided to give it a last go. A bank was 2 blocks away and they had a secured cash machine. My losing streak broke – my account was open and I could withdraw cash.

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Test 2

June 4, 2011


June 4, 2011


May 15, 2011

Julian Assange and His US Trial

December 15, 2010

According to the Daily Telegraph the US Department of Justice is preparing a trial for Julian Assange was espionage charges. Recently leaked photos of the preliminary procedures have shown the great care with which the US government is proceeding.

December Love Song

November 12, 2010

Oh what a difference…

May 17, 2010

Oh, what a difference twenty years makes. Scanning through the finance section on the Telegraph website a piece by Edmund Conway caught my attention. The article, in short, detailed the difficulties the United States would have in financing its debts — particularly since the US bonds tend to have a fairly short maturation — 4.4 years to be exact. This is where the juicy irony comes in… Late in the Bush Administration and now, during the Obama administration, the United States has managed to spend its way into such a hole that it would take generations to pay off. The lion’s share of this, the debts accrued in late 2008 and Obama’s incontinent spending on anything under the sun in 2009 will come due in the period of late 2012-2013. Twenty years before this the Soviet Union collapsed in on itself. The United States will, at that point, be even more reliant on foreign sources for its oil. As the Middle East is rapidly drying-up much of this oil will be Russian. Since the United States doesn’t have two farthings to rub together it will rely increasingly on surplus-states like, say, Russia. to finance its deficits — especially with Mr Hope-and-Change’s spending plans. It is not that I am overly sympathetic to Russia — Russia is Russia and has its place in the world but is certainly not the most kind or just of lands. It just strikes me that, not too long after the United States poked its finger in Russia’s eye at every opportunity — just a few short years after the American establishment mocked Russia and its travails that the United States would, itself, be prostrate.