Food: Old salt in Moscow
Saturday 13 March 1993
Outside the apartment block, up the road from one of Stalin's towering five fingers (the Leningradskaya Hotel), a black Cadillac with Californian number plates has been left in a heap of filthy snow. Its nearside wing is creased and three youths are peering furtively through its windows.
I negotiate the rutted ice to the Komsomolskaya Metro, and slowly decipher my route from the signs. Between Biblioteka, where I get off, and the tourist trap of the Arbat, the kiosks of nascent capitalism are thick on the ground.
Want a game of poker, Black Bear 'whisky', flick-knife, Y-fronts?
Niet. Got any sol?
The main roads are speckled with BMWs, Volvos and Mercedes speeding among their clumsy Russian brethren, and the Arbat pedestrian precinct resounds to the crisp clackety-clack of the well-heeled.
Two or three grocery shops look promising, but they want dollars or marks. I have only roubles and, anyway, they have no salt.
On Kalinina Boulevard - actually it is Novy Arbat but I have a 'Soviet' map - I look around a few former department stores, now split into dozens of co-operative units. One hard currency outfit is displaying a lawnmower that looks like a small tractor: perhaps some millionaire speculator will have enough grass for it to cut in the spring. But the food section says sorry, it has no salt and, anyway, I have only roubles.
Back in the street, a Mercedes skids out of control and on to the pavement a couple of yards from me. Further on, a great slab of ice slides off a roof, missing me by inches. But in the snow-laden twilight I can make out another of Stalin's fingers: a hotel, and - to hell with the salt - most hotels sell English-language newspapers and coffee.
Eyes fixed on this beacon, I nervously follow a Muscovite across the 100-yard-wide Novinsky Boulevard, when the little green Russian turns to red, stranding us for two horrifying minutes in a maelstrom of ill-lit, steel projectiles. As I near the hotel, I begin to see that it is the Russian state-run equivalent of four supermarkets topped, I learn later, by huge spires-ful of apartments, formerly the tied cottages of Stalin's favourites.
I stumble into the first shop, a gilded, dimly chandelier-lit hall whose large congregation has worn pathways in its marble floor, and at a counter covered with great slabs of butter, I almost shout, 'Sol?'
'Niet,' the woman assistant says succinctly. 'Sol?' I ask one of her colleagues in a white coat, who at least points thataway.
The next two shops are no help but there, on a shelf of the fourth, lie six packets of precious sodium chloride. I remember I must first get a receipt for my purchase, but I do not know the Russian for 74 (roubles). 'Sol,' I murmur, sheepishly, desperately.
'Ne problem. Salt,' says the till-keeper, pointing to the figure she has rung up. 'My English not good.'
Life & Style blogs
McDonald's is finally trialling all-day breakfast
Apple expands reuse and recycle scheme, letting Android phones be swapped for iPhones
Replica Back to the Future Hoverboard released
When did the Eiffel Tower open to the public? Six things you didn't know about iconic structure
Contents of women's handbags can be worth more than a small car
- 1 Replica Back to the Future Hoverboard released
- 2 Katie Hopkins attacked me on Twitter — so I reported her to the police for inciting racial hatred
- 3 Tidal: Jay Z's Spotify rival streaming service criticised for making wealthy artists even richer
- 4 Brixton squat flats now costing up to £3k per month show how out of control rent is in London
- 5 A new (old) cure for MRSA? Revolting recipe from the Dark Ages may be key to defeat infection
iJobs Food & Drink
£25,000 - £30,000: Sheridan Maine: Are you looking for a fantastic opportunity...
£25000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester...
£23000 - £25000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Project Accountant (Part-...
£23,000: Beverley James: Do you have a background in hospitality and are you l...