impressions of svalbard (2)

impressions of svalbard (2)


Pyramiden was an actively haunted ghost town. Weeks could go by with no visitors, and then one afternoon a cruise ship might arrive unannounced carrying 700 tourists, with well-dressed women making their way up the rutted dirt road in high heels, and not even one of the crew thinking to bring a gun, despite the threat of polar bears. The young Russian guide did his best to guard them as they explored the many empty rooms of the former Soviet utopia, its movie marquis featuring sun bleached posters of Michael Douglas, who had been starring agelessly through the long polar days and nights since 1998.  In the massive hotel, two older women baked fresh pastries every day, ever prepared for a moment such as this to open their small shop for a brisk business in chocolate and vodka. Across the courtyard in what had been the family dormitories, gaping windows coated in birdshit looked out over a decaying playground. When the wind changed, the endless shrieking of the birds grew deafening.  Over dinner on our ship, the guide confessed to having stumbled upon a KGB office in one of the basement rooms. How the hackles had raised on his neck when he remembered stories of torture and contact poison. How even he, a man of a different era, was not immune to certain ghosts.

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