He had lived in Russia since the mid-1990s -- a young expatriated American, working in the import/export business. His fiancée was still there, he said; she was a Russian native. When I asked him what exactly he imported, he responded, smiling irreverently, "What have you got?" No. Seriously, I persisted. "Come on," he said, "I'll show you," and he threw on his full-length military overcoat -- which he claimed once belonged to a general who'd been murdered -- as we stepped out to his car.
When he turned the key, the trunk sprang open like a brilliant cartoon. He pulled out an assortment of objects: gas masks, toys, electrical gadgets, incomprehensible computer junk, old Communist propaganda banners and an authentic cavalry sword. He drew it from its sheath just as a party of revelers in a horse-drawn wagon rode past. They cheered as he posed, brandishing his sword, the tip of its blade pointed impressively skyward.