Incidentally, Moscow is the only place I’ve ever bought them, or had caviar, or done shots of vodka for that matter. Daddy had me pick up some Russian cigarettes for his secretary back in the states, a chain-smoking alcoholic who always had funny/depressing things to say, so she could tell us whether they were as bad as rumored (terrible, she confirmed). I pointed and grunted—my Москва́ m.o.—at the labels in a booth near the Red Square on an August afternoon before heading down to the KGB building, which my guidebook voted ‘Best Place to Feel Like James Bond’ in Eastern Europe, and where a guard with a gun appeared from nowhere and ran me off for trying to take pictures of myself looking like a spy because photos of government buildings are illegal.
Then I went and had a peak at Lenin. I circled the embalmed corpse with the other tourists, avoiding the Chinese students bowing repeatedly. The morning we left I sat in a corner of the dinning room with champagne and caviar, nutella and toast. “Table for one,” I’d told the host, then pointed to the table I wanted—secluded and obscured by potted plants. The first day of the trip I was shy about eating alone, but that got easier after discovering how extremely difficult it was to get anything to eat outside. Pointing and smiling got me nowhere at the sausage stand. The ever-present tall, waif-like Russian girls turned away and the guys acted confused. You sell glorified hot dogs. I am hungry. I want a hot dog. How is it possible to lose that in translation?! “Sorry,” I’m sure the willow girls were saying outside my native tongue. “Sorry, but these sausages are only for the long-legged and wispy. You, clearly, are broad and gnome-like. Your hair is much too long and you grunt in ways I do not understand. Begone with you, small troll. Back to the subway from whence you came.”
I finally got myself a pastry from a booth like the cigarette stand (how did they get pastries in there?) around 4 p.m., showing me the importance of packing it in at breakfast, table for one or not. For the record, I am now a pro at eating by myself, a talent probably started by that morning with the champagne and caviar, enhanced by working the night shift cop reporting in Corpus Christi, and perfected now if need be with my excellent, mysterious nail polish….