St PETERSBURG: Russians do not smile much and a journey into the centre reveals why. Near the brand new port set in a flattened bleak landscape a six lane highway leads nowhere. Cordoned off at each end, the locals sit on the central reservation and picnic; evidence that such surroundings are an improvement on the urban sprawl where they live. Vast tenements reach upwards and outwards along the coast; this is not some hangover from the Soviet regime because they are building yet more. This does not look a happy place. I am reading Kathleen Jamie’s Sightlines – the third essay, The Woman in the Field ends: You are placed in the landscape, you are placed in time. But, within that, there’s a bit of room for manoeuvre. To some extent, you can be author of your own fate. True in the West, less so here. So they seek alternatives.