The Republic of Transnistria is a breakaway dictatorship of the Republic of Moldova one the former Soviet Socialist Republics of the Soviet Union. I'm not sure of its size, length or exact borders, mainly because there aren't any firm borders - just blockades in the road where a bunch of soldiers set up a border checkpoint and demand to see your passport, then decide whether or not you are going to get a visa for no good reason. The first time I came across the Republic, I was actually heading for a shoe factory which had, the night before, somehow changed countries.

The Republic owes its existence to the now deceased General Alexander Lebed, who, once the Soviet Union fell apart, refused to disband the Russian Fourth Army but rather hunkered down and made a deal with the local Russian nationalists to declare the space between two rivers a country. It has its own currency, with a picture of some local hero on it, and is probably the last place on earth to fly the Hammer and Sickle Flag and have statues of Lenin everywhere which are not meant ironically.

I wish I could tell you more about the place, but when I arrived there some little satrap decided that I wasn't serious looking enough for him and gave me only a three hour visa. I traveled to the city we were looking for, Tighina, which is the second largest city of the Republic, (I never did see the capital Tiraspol which is supposed to be festooned in the kind of Soviet Propaganda I thought you could now only buy in Greenwich village.) There were three types of people in Tighina - prostitutes, old women, and Russian soldiers. Actually, there were also black marketeers, but these seemed to generally fall into one of the category aboved. We never made it to the shoe factory as we were chased back into our car by a gang of Russian skinheads the minute we got outside it, and they followed us in some Communist era pickup truck until we reached the border, cursing us and hollering at us in Russian.

Oddly enough, I believe I have dreamed about the place, when I was a five year old child. I distinctly remember, in one of my youngest dreams, trying to drive into Russia, but never making it past the Southwest corner, and then waking up filled with frustration and sadness. As I was diving through street after street of apartment blocks where 80% of the apartments were abandoned, and evading the gaze of people who clearly hated us, hated us because our Romanian license plates marked us as citizens of the free (if poor) world, and hated us because of everything they had and we didn't I recongized exactly what I remembered dreaming about - the only supernatural experience I will ever own up to having, and I am more than ready to believe that my memories of my dreams altered to fit this new reality to give me the deja vu sensation.

Other than the shoe factory, the Republic has a factory for concrete steel bar in a city called Ribnita, and a couple of weapons factories left over from the Soviet Union. In order to drive from Odessa to Western Europe you really need to go through it, so it's filled with a bunch of mobster types paying bribes at both ends to get through without a hitch. I hope I never see a place like that again, chilly, without hope, even without any culture other than those Soviet flags flying everywhere - all I could think about when I saw them was the saying of some philosopher whose name I don't remember - Those who live in the past are condemned to share in its dead coldness