Take a hand full of sugar cubes and roll them out in front of you. Wherever they land, build Siberian cottages of all colors so that when you look at them from a hilltop, you can see every home blend into all the others. You can see the cottages and their ornate woodwork, but that is all. No people or movement, perhaps the occasional bonfire smoke that fills the town and moves with the whims of the wind. The architect of Galich used sugar cubes, and he had the good sense to throw them in front of a forest lake. He did this so people can climb the hills at sunset, look towards the purple skies, and become enveloped by the fading light of a departing sun so that they could come to find the answers they need.
The architect rolled the sugar and left the pieces where they fell. During building, the sugar cubes fused into the ground, giving the homes a foundation of sweetness. This explains the temperament of the town’s people. They by no means have an easy life but a comfortable and steady one where nothing is taken for granted. Everything they need they have, and they have all that they could ever want. Children happily play football on the crooked streets as their mothers look on. No stray goes hungry and no church beggar is denied. At dusk, the smoke of burning birch and hickory lights up the faces of the hungry. It is a pure Russia, one that values brotherhood and health above all else, and Tolstoy smiles in his grave.
At sunset the town is doused in pastel lights. There are no shadows. Friends gather for a drink and a laugh and then walk home lakeside, sometimes stopping to skip stones. They lay down to sleep just as the sun disappears to fulfill its duty elsewhere.
The Trans Siberian Railway does that to you. It provokes the imagination with breathtaking sights of a Russian countryside, vast expanses of flower fields peppered with cottages, and then rips them away within seconds. That is the sad nature of a moving train. I saw Galich and its lake for no more than four seconds and then it disappeared forever, like a movie that can’t be rewound – it was theatrical perfection, endless calculations to concoct a flawless scene. It’s just that this time it was effortless, unassuming, and natural. But no matter how fleeting, no matter the flaws and inaccuracies of human memory, those four seconds are mine to keep. I have never set foot in Galich and never will. Nothing can ever be as good as a town made of sugar.