After six months in Moscow, we missed animals. There are exactly five kinds of animal in the city: dogs, hooded crows, pigeons, sparrows and rats. So Katherine and I decided to go on one of the Sunday "Nature Walks" mentioned in the Moscow Times and dragged ourselves to the rendezvous at Savelyovskaya Station, where Mr. Lee, our stern Korean leader, marched us to the Elektrichka station next door.
It was the first time Katherine and I had been on one of the one of these trains, which link the farther suburbs to the Metro. We sat with our fellow hikers, being "gregarious." Very tiring, "gregarious." The others knew each other already. They were what we'd call, in Berkeley, "diverse": a Bjork-double, a burbling Brit, an old Russian man who was already recounting in polite, archaic English his ancestors' deeds in 1612: "The Poles were at the gates of Moscow..."
He was interrupted by a cat-like shriek--a man came at us with accordion screaming. Russians gave him coins. It was as if they were paying him to take the noise away. When he did, the old Russian had changed topics: "Of course Booosh has...the lowest...ah, intelligence-"
The Brit helped out: "'IQ'"
Russian: "The lowest IQ of any-"
Before he could finish, he was drowned out by another fierce sales-pitch, from a grim middle-aged man holding up a tub of pens. Since I had neglected to bring a pen (I'm new at this journalism game) we bought one. Five rubles. When the peddler moved on, we could hear the Brit saying, "What amused me is Bush only found out-"
He was interrupted by the loud, flat sales-pitch of a woman holding up her wares: surgical gloves and panty hose. It was hard to imagine why train riders would buy surgical gloves on impulse unless they were Jeffrey Dahmer. All those Death Porn podmoskovie stories.
But the gloves were a good buy: five rubles. In fact, everything sold on the train seemed to be five rubles. As soon as the glove-vendor passed by the Brit burbled on, "-because he only found out where Iraq WAS a few months ago...."
There was a time when this kind of talk from a European would have enraged me, when I was the only American nationalist at UC Berkeley, getting verbally stomped on a regular basis by the trust-fund Stalinists who infested the place. Now they've moved with the times, turned Republican, and I'm stuck out here on what seems to be the far Left, agreeing with every word the Brit said. The US has become so vile, so alien in the past three years that I don't think anyone could overstate the case against it.
As we flashed past the 12- and 20-storey tenements of the outskirts, the Russian tried to drop the Bush-bash and resume the story of his ancestor's deeds in 1612: "The first general was absolutely un-, ah, useless..."
But before the plot could turn, another saleswoman appeared, orating on her waressome kind of "ecologically pure" Brazilian herbs. Five rubles a packet.
Right on her heels, another peddler blew in with a spiel about the virtues of a women's magazine, Dasha. Most of the Russian women bought a copy, the only thing I saw anyone actually buy from a peddler. Five rubles a copy.
We'd left the tenements now, entered a realm of big dachas--even a yacht harbor.
The Russian behind us had reached the inevitable Stalin disquisition: "It is a great mistake to say Repression started in 1937..."
Then a peddler started chanting--but from the back of the car! You were supposed to start at the front of the car. Everybody knew that.
When that wall of sound had passed, the Russian went on in his careful English, "My grandfather was...professor of Economy; he was arrested in 1930...."
Another peddler, this one selling absurdly huge law books, crashed in on the story. Law books--another item only Dahmer would buy on the way home...plan B, if the surgical gloves didn't hide the fingerprints.