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The City in the Wilderness

Cutting to the chase in this post. This is a picture of me about 50 feet away from the geographical center of the city of Nizhny Novgorod, the fifth most populated city in the Russian Federation.

Yes, that is what looks like a thousand miles of wilderness behind me. In front of me is a beautiful street with museums and other historic buildings with lovely Greekish stone carvings, but across the river, there’s…just…nothing. We talked about the concept of простор in one of our Russian Concepts class. простор translates as wilderness or open/free space. No people, no civilization, nothing. The closest thing to this that we have in America that I can think of is the middle part of the drive between Utah and Arizona (although maybe I only remember so much nothing there because I make the trip several times a year) or perhaps the northern part of states near the Canada border. (Actually Canada probably has this concept down pretty well, too.) But the idea, as far as I can tell, is that there’s still a ton of uncivilized wilderness (thousands and thousands of square miles) right alongside all the modernized, bustling cities. It’s really a strange concept, but this city illustrates it perfectly. This picture was taken pretty close to the Kremlin, the ancient fortress the city was built around, and I guess everyone only built in one direction (across another river, so crossing water wasn’t that big of a deterrent). I don’t know exactly what to make of this part of Russia. It’s almost a testament to the futility of civilization or the power of nature. No matter how old a people or a civilization, they still are intruders on the barren and dangerous wilderness that rules the land. But civilization is expanding every day, for better or for worse. Maybe one day, all of Russia will be either bustling city or geometrically roped off and carefully preserved State Parks. What then? What will be lost along with this concept of простор?

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