This is the question that the narrator of Mikhail Bulgakov’s slim Morphine asks. His answer:
But if someone has has sat, like me, in snow in winter, and in stern, sorry woods in the summer, for a year and a half, without being away for a single day, if someone has ripped open the postal wrapping on the previous week’s newspaper with beating heart, the way a happy lover does a light-blue envelope, if someone has travelled eighteen versts [kilometers] to a woman in labour in a sledge with horses harnessed in single file, he, one must assume, will understand me.
A kerosene lamp is a very cosy thing, but I’m in favor of electricity!
And now I saw them again, at last, seductive electric lamps! The little town’s main street, well smoothed down by peasants’ sledges, the street in which, enchanting one’s gaze, there hung a shop sign with boots on it, a golden pretzel, red flags and an image of a young man with insolent little piggy eyes and an utterly unnatural hairstyle…At the crossroads stood a live policeman; dimly visible in a dusty shop window were iron trays, bearing crowded rows of fancy cakes with ginger-colored buttercream; hay covered the square; people walked, and rode, and conversed; on sale in a booth were the previous day’s Moscow papers containing stunning news; nearby, the Moscow trains exchanged whistles of invitation. In a word, this was civilization, Babylon, Nevsky Avenue.
I wonder if this particular experience of the small town as an outpost, an extension of modern civilization, as opposed to an escape from it, is lost.