Instead of an introduction: a warning

It is, of course, already too late. The very fact that you have picked up this book means that you are already in St Petersburg, already exposed, already in the field of danger. The next plane out does not leave for at least another few days. It's too late to turn back. They should have warned you.

How are you feeling right now? Shaky on the feet? Disorientated? Appetite failing? And you didn't even drink anything last night? I thought so. Well, not to worry: your symptoms are at an early stage; things can only get worse.

They really should have warned you. No doubt you read the newspaper stories painting this city as something worse than Chicago in the 30s: mafiosi, gang warfare, street shootings, an array of violence spiced up by that picturesquely Russian touch - the casual or unmotivated killing in a dimly-lit doorway, done for the chance of a few dollars or for no gain at all. Impressive news-material, and some of it is even true. But what the papers neglect to say is that this sort of fun is mostly for the locals; visitors are rarely affected. Go to New York or White Hart Lane on a Saturday afternoon and your chances of becoming the passive element in a piece of violent action will improve dramatically.

The real dangers for the visitor to St Petersburg come from other directions. Did anyone tell you that this city is infectious? That it does things to the brain? That it acts degeneratively upon the muscles and loosens the mouth? That it breeds literature and other nonsense faster than London does rats? Was any mention made of the danger of drinking in St Petersburg? Was any microsyllable breathed about the greater danger involved in not drinking here? Did anyone dare inform you that St Petersburg is not really a city after all, but a state of mind? A diseased, unbalanced, potentially highly dangerous state of mind.

It would have been wiser, no doubt, never to have set foot here. But, now that you have, it is too late to turn back. So do the next best thing: find out about the other, the real St Petersburg. Read this small book.