Coming back after thirty-five years was like picking a scab – the wound re-bled at the edges.

The mixture of sea salt, fermented cat urine and linden trees, blooming with ferocity this time of year, stuck in my throat. I held my breath and swallowed a few times to keep from weeping at its comfortable familiarity.

On the Primorski Boulevard, squat sandstone buildings painted in pastels shielded the statue of the Duke from the afternoon sun, all except his head, which cast its lonely shadow onto the iconic Potemkin steps.

I catalogued the sounds of engines and horns and the smells of petrol-fueled gridlocks in the cobblestone streets built for horse-drawn vehicles under “new.” On Pushkin Street I stood under an elm, one of many planted 200 years ago on the orders of the Great Empress, closed my eyes and inhaled deeply.

“Damn,” I whispered, “I am home.”

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