Christmas Day, 2006! It at least looks like Christmas, finally. The snow is white and fresh, but not deep. At 21 degrees F (-6 C) with a bit of a wind, it’s crisp, cool walking.
A visible sun in a blue sky is an unexpected Christmas present. Who could ask for more?
“Catholic Christmas,” as Russians refer to it, is pretty much ignored here. It’s a normal working day. I’ve had Christmas greetings from quite a few friends and students. But there’s no “Christmas Spirit” stirring inside me.
Would there be under any circumstances? Doubtful. I must be getting old.
Here it is, the end of the year – the tail of the dawg and the snout of the pig. It means I’ve been coming to Russia now for a full cycle of the Chinese New Year – 12 years.
I can remember when I was here visiting Tioufline in 1994 when his mother, suka Buchenwalda (just to show you I know how to say the bitch of Buchenwald in Russian), presented me and Tioufline with twin pigs to commemorate the holiday – cheap, ugly, plastic beasts that reminded me of nothing so much as the woman who gave them.
She’s dead now, of lung cancer, a gift of the cigarettes she chain-smoked; but she managed to leave me a never-forgotten legacy – the theft of my apartment, which has cost me tens of thousands of dollars and kept me a relatively poor man.
But we can’t dwell on our mistakes. And that was unquestionably nobody’s mistake but mine – my biggest one so far. All my friends had warned me about Tioufline’s potential for perfidy before I ever left Seattle. But I trusted him and ignored my friends.
Ring a bell? The only difference between Andrei Tioufline and Andrei Samokhvalova – the twin – was the amount of money each managed to suck out of me. Samokhvalova only got about $ 20,000. I figure Tioufline has cost me about $ 150,000, and the tally goes up by another $ 800 on the 17th of every month, when I have to fork over another 30 days’ rent.
Ah, but why dwell on the parasites when we’re surrounded by honey bees and humming birds (how’d we get here from pigs?) to brighten and enliven our otherwise intolerable existence?
Without the bitter taste of twin Andrei I wouldn’t be the legatee of the the huge and unremitting dose of sweet honey from his womb-mate, Sergei, whose devotion and unstinting love leave me simply agape. How could anyone love another human being as he loves me.
He went somewhere Saturday night; and when he returned Sunday morning, he couldn’t turn loose of me. “My darling honey Grandfather Dane, all night long I thought about you. I couldn’t wait to get back to you. I missed Tanya, but it was you I thought about all night long.”
And then he told me the full story of Andrei’s middle-of-the-night visit last week (Chapt. 229), when Sergei refused to let Andrei into the apartment to spend the night “because Dane told me not to let you in.”
“Who’s more important to you, me or Dane?” Andrei had shouted angrily through the door.”
“I had to think. This is my twin brother. We’ve done everything together. I love him. We’ve lived together since we left home when we were 16. We’ve always supported each other. We’ve always been together.
“But I realized how good and kind you are and how much you’ve done for me and others, and how I want us to be together for another 73 years, and I told him: ‘Dane.’ And I didn’t let him in.
“When you look for boys on Facelink,” he continued, “I don’t like it, because whoever you find is not going to love you like I love you. They’re all con-men who are just going to let you suck their cock and take your money. You don’t need them.
“I want to take care of you. When you are old and tired of teaching, we will still be together and I will take care of you. If anybody would hurt you I would take a knife and kill them.”
The whole time he was hugging me and smothering me with kisses.
“I lost you once, and I didn’t think I would ever get you back. But I’m so glad I have you now, and I’ll never let you go again. I love two people the most in this world: My father and you – my father and my grandfather,” he laughed.
“How I love you, my darling Dane.”
It was just nine years and one day from the night Tioufline met me at the airport on December 23, 1997, and I thrust my fate and my future into Russia’s great unwashed paws.
I don’t for one minute begrudge all the perfidy, the swindles, the thefts, the cons, the betrayals that have strewn my path these nine years. They are nothing beside the unreserved, adoring devotion and affection of my beloved Sergei, street urchin once removed.
But the nice part is that I think I am twice blessed by the House of Samokhvalova. Zhorik sent me an SMS Sunday: “Are you really going to come on the 5th of January?”
Just the day before, Sergei and I had finally figured out all the train schedules. I will return from Spain on the 4th of January. I had thought I could catch a train on the 5th, ride it for 24 hours and arrive in Novosibirsk on Saturday, the 6th, spend Saturday and Sunday with Zhorik, leave on the 8th, and return to Moscow on the 9th in time to resume my normal Wednesday schedule on the 10th.
But that all got shot down the drain when we discovered that it was not a one-day trip, but a two-day trip – two full days on the train both ways.
“Unfortunately,” I answered, I’m not going to have the time.”
This time there was no answer.
“Honey, maybe I can come on a later holiday, like Women’s Day in March. Please answer me.”
“You don’t need to come visit me, then. I wanted you to come in January….Why did you promise you would come on the 5th?”
A little while later another SMS: “Please come on the 5th of January. I’ll be waiting for you. Dane, please come.”
He was clearly deeply hurt. He had been planning for my and Sergei’s visit for weeks, and it was probably the only thing keeping him going. His natural sense of Russian-soldier despair had only deepened when he got the package of goodies I sent him – without the two cartons of Marlboros and the dozen Snicker’s bars I had packed.
Some son-of-a-bitch, either a postal employee or an army employee – in either case somebody in an official capacity – had simply stolen them.
The Russian national pastime – thievery -- strikes again!
It means it will be pointless to ever again send him cigarettes or candy – two things that make his life a little more bearable.
So after that, all he needed was to hear from me that I wasn’t coming after all.
When Sergei got home a little later, we discussed it, and discovered that for $ 400 I could catch an Aeroflot flight on the morning of the 5th and be there Friday evening. Zhorik and I would spend Friday night, Saturday night, Sunday night, and Monday night together. Alone.
So I will do it. It also solves the problem of Igor’s request to go with me. A $ 200-$ 250 train ticket is one thing. A $ 400 plane ticket is another.
So Zhorik and I will plan our future. Good or bad, I will find out how he feels about me – at least for the time being -- and our future life together.
I’ve had three more brushes this past week with the local den of narcos and thieves. Sergei came home Wednesday night with another digital camera – a 6.3 million pixel model. Did I want to buy it for 7000 rubles – a little over $ 200?
“Is it stolen?” I asked.
“No. But it belongs to a drug addict who wants to sell it to buy drugs.”
So I bought it.
The next night he entered bearing a “Trembita” brand acoustic guitar. It belonged to another drug addict who wanted to sell it for $ 100. Igor had said he played the guitar back in Moldava, and I had promised to try to find him one.
“Of course I’ll buy it,” I said.
So for the past five days I’ve had the unique opportunity of eavesdropping on Igor’s musical prowess. My god, not only is he tone deaf, but the guitar is badly out of tune! But he bangs it proudly and looks at me for approval. His model guitarist is a guy from Metallica, one of whose CDs Igor played; and much to my surprise, it actually closely resembled music.
Igor’s, however, does not. He has found a friend who will give him guitar lessons for six bucksi a crack. Well worth it if he learns nothing more than how to tune the guitar.
Oh, well, nobody’s perfect.
My third and most unfortunate encounter came Friday morning while student Lena was having her lesson. When she went to pay me, she found her purse on the floor by the door with the money and her mobile phone gone!
Not only did she not have the 500 rubles to pay me for her lesson, but since she had no money left, I gave her the 1000 rubles that Dima and Sasha had just given me for their lesson.
So the hit cost me $ 50 even if I don’t foot the bill for her replacement phone, which I offered to do.
My first assumption was that this was another Andrei gambit, and Sergei agreed until he remembered that Andrei had left the day before to go to Stavropol – on the lam from the cops.
But I was still very angry with myself for not having double checked to be sure the door was locked after last week’s carbon copy episode with Svetlana. So maybe Andrei really hadn’t stolen her mobile phone after all! Maybe it was another local thief. Doesn’t really make any difference, since he’s already proven beyond the shadow of a doubt that he is a thief and a liar, so whether the rap he’s taking for stealing Svetlana’s phone is deserved or not really makes no difference in the grand scheme of things.
He’s still dead as far as I’m concerned.
“Dane, why don't you describe in your next chapter the most significant events in Russia/Moscow over this past year, since it will be the last chapter in this year?” queried Red Queen administrator Basil last week.
“Good idea,” I countered. “What are some of the things you would include?”
He replied: 1) Air crashes – I remember that there were a couple, but I can’t remember the details; 2) the young soldier who lost his legs and genitalia to Army hazing (Chapt. 185, 219, 220); the “Finnish Polka,” a catchy little ditty which has earned the unofficial title of “the song of the year”; and “the weather again – the warm December temperatures.”
Remarkable by its absence was any mention of the Litvinenko affair, which the Western press is treating as a watershed issue, a dividing line between a civilized 21st century Russia and the unthawed, ham-handed Soviet leviathan of the cold war.
Why, I asked.
“I’d prefer a mention about Anna Politkovskaya’s murder than Litvinenko's,” he replied. “At least I've heard of her.
“But they are one case,” he continued, “and this is just the beginning of the murders in the next election race. They knew against whom they're fighting. I would be more disappointed if innocent people would die, as it was before Putin's second term.”
He was referring, he said, to the apartment bombings of the late ‘90s that Putin used as an excuse to initiate the 2nd Chechen War, and which several insiders – including Litvinenko – said was really the work of the KGB>FSB, which Putin headed at the time.
The Moscow Times, in a detailed analysis of the affair, suggested that it “could signal a major new chapter in a battle for power between rival factions of the Kremlin elite.”
In any case, the MT continued, “it is severely shaking President Vladimir Putin’s standing in the West and could end up changing the course of his presidency.”
While the bizarre assassination is being pictured by the Western press as a Kremlin-orchestrated act of revenge against what they label a traitorous KGB>FSB agent, what Muscovites read and hear is that it is an elaborate scheme to discredit Putin – perhaps orchestrated by Boris Berezovsky, perhaps even by Litvinenko himself in a twisted suicide.
It is no wonder Basil – and other Muscovites – don’t view it with the same sardonic jaundice as we Westerners. In both cases, our views are being largely shaped by the media, which in return reflect the traditions, sensitivities, and assumptions of our respective cultures and recent histories.
Only one thing seems certain: Litvinenko’s murder will not be solved soon – perhaps ever. Right now all anybody can do is point fingers, despite the incriminating trail of radioactivity from the polonium-210 which killed him.
As the MT analysis observed, the most likely conclusion is that “he had stumbled into a spider’s web of oligarchs, organized crime, and Kremlin agents.”
“This is a continuation of the Cold War,” agreed Litvinenko’s long-time friend, compatriot, and colleague Alex Goldfarb in an MT interview; “but there’s a big difference. Number 1 is that back in those days, nothing could happen without the explicit permission of the Politburo.” So the fingers all pointed in one direction.
Today, control is much less rigid, so now fingers can – and indeed, do --point in almost every direction, and everyone is looking at Litvinenko’s murder as confirmation of his own suspicions.
And for the West, that suspicion is that the Kremlin, perhaps Putin himself, was dosing the poison. So Putin’s Russia is the big PR loser and will continue to be for a long time.
Nobody trusts Russia anymore.
But nobody has trusted Russia for a long time anyway, so it’s hard to see how that translates into any significant new foreign policy hurdles for the Evil Empire. Russia still has the oil that the world is hungry for, so Russia’s still the boss, whether they kill people they don’t like or not.
P.S.: It’s two days later, the 27th, at 12 noon and Igor still hasn’t gotten his visa and we still don’t know if he’s going to get it. “Come back at 1 p.m.,” the jerk told us.
Our flight leaves at 7 p.m., and we must be there no later than 3:30-4:00. If he doesn’t get it, will he still get the registration and “propusk” that he needs to live here without being hounded by the cops?
If not, will I get my 650 euros back?
Who the hell knows? This is Russia.
P.P.S.: Happy New Year. See ya in 2007! I hope. If our planes don’t crash or some other Russian disaster doesn’t overtake us.
Love to all, the Red Queen.