TIL is a special blog series inspired by Joe Dunthorne’s advice on using the “Random article” button on Wikipedia as a source of inspiration. Every Monday, I click on the button and write about whatever comes up.
Gladyshevo is a Russian village in the Moshokskoye Rural Settlement of Vladimir Oblast. It is located 25 km to the southeast of the district administrative center Sudogda; some 250 km east of Moscow; and 8,600 km to the northwest of Cebu City, where I live and write from.
There are very few unique Google results on Gladyshevo. Most of them relate to satellite maps, geomagnetic fields, and weather forecasts. If you look for Gladyshevo on such a satellite map, you’ll see that it is a town with a single road that stretches out for a kilometer. On the western end of the road there is a tiny Russian Orthodox church with two small towers. The church was made from logs. At the end of last year, someone named Elena helpfully took pictures of this church from the inside and out, and put them on the Internet. Graves surround the perimeter of the church and in the photos Elena has taken, there are no other signs of people.
The satellite images, on the other hand, were taken at an hour when the rooftops were blazingly bright. Hence, it was difficult to make out the church at first. Initially, the buildings were indistinguishable—blurry, blue, shiny, and square. However, upon closer inspection, shadows revealed that most of the buildings have gabled roofs, not to mention rather generous backyard space. On the eastern end of the road of Gladyshevo, opposite the church, there is the shadow of what might be a cell tower.
The Sudogodsky District, in which Gladyshevo is found, is one of sixteen districts in the Vladimir Oblast. There are a little more than 80 regions like Vladimir across the entire Russian Federation. A census in 2010 recorded Gladyshevo’s population at 58. Meanwhile, the district administrative center of Sudogda outnumbers Gladyshevo by at least 11,000 people, which is actually much smaller than previous census numbers in 2002 (pop. 13,328) and 1989 (pop. 14,191), when the Berlin Wall fell. Out of these little factoids, I started to wonder what it must be like to live in a community with that fraction of the total population. Obviously the number must have changed in the last ten years and Russia is due for its next census this October, but it’s hard to imagine that a single road a kilometer long can contain any more than a hundred lives. Does everyone know everyone who lives on that street? What do they do? What secrets do they keep from one another, and what kind of gossip goes around?
Whenever I think of how big the world is, I often try to think about all the towns and cities I do not yet know. I mentioned that there were 58 people living in Gladyshevo to my best friend, Mandy, and we immediately both had the same reaction at once: “That’s no bigger than a university classroom!” A good reason for coming to that comparison is that I was very used to the idea of constantly living around small groups of people when I was in college. In my later years of undergraduate, I used to romanticize the idea of our batch of Humanities students—there were only 13 of us in the whole course—all living under one roof. About five years later, many of us were in very different living scenarios and situations, which ranged from married with kids to living and working abroad.
In my case I live in a small, cordoned-off community of my own. Granted, a subdivision could not be further from the kind of place Gladyshevo is, but the way my parents talk about it, the way they seem to possess knowledge of all our neighbors, you could be convinced of their similarities. I tend to keep to myself, and so I don’t really know any of my neighbors, save for one, who has become a good friend in the time since I moved back in with my family. I told my family about Gladyshevo and then scrambled to show Elena’s pictures of the church to my mother. I knew she would like it because the church reminded me of a shrine a little ways away outside the city where we live, which I know she has always liked.
When I was living in Norwich, I took a course on The Poetics of Place, and a lot of the things we discussed danced around theories of psychogeography. We talked plenty about unforgivingly rocky islands and sentient rivers, but we also talked about walking aimlessly, letting our instincts guide us, and then recording our emotions after the walk. In the class, I felt like one of the odd ones out, since many of our readings and case studies were Eurocentric, but I still tried to work around applying the ideas in my immediate surroundings and familiar environments. Now that I have been nowhere outside of home for months, I feel like it is all that I can do. I am expanding the bounds of my physical environment, so that it will seem as though I am walking through maps. Walking through maps will suffice for now.
Unlike Gladyshevo, life in our village is primarily affected by the fact that it was built within the city. Meanwhile, Gladyshevo’s neighbors are very few and far in between. On the map, I can see that the nearest town, Kondryayevo, is about 5 km away. It would take an hour to get there on foot. Kondryayevo is said to have four streets. Moshok, the next town, is 8 km away in the other direction, or an hour and half’s journey on foot. Moshok is certainly much bigger than Gladyshevo, and the Wikipedia page on Moshok even boasts that they have thirteen streets. Imagine if you were a young person growing up in Gladyshevo, and you knew with absolute certainty that the nearest party was not on your street. You’d have to walk so far, if only to dance. The residents of Gladyshevo must have very powerful legs.