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
Google Maps hides image of Android robot urinating on Apple in surprisingly insolent Easter egg
KickassTorrents down: new Isle of Man domain taken offline just hours after launch
Company breaks open Apple Watch to discover what it says is 'planned obsolescence'
The confessions of men who ordered mail-order brides
What do the emoji on Snapchat mean?
- 1 I've been called an abusive and dangerous parent, when all I did was listen to my transgender child
- 2 Migrant crisis: Greek soldier saved 20 people singlehandedly off Rhodes beach
- 3 Sofyen Belamouadden murder: The inside story of a crime that horrified Britain
- 4 Company breaks open Apple Watch to discover what it says is 'planned obsolescence'
- 5 Ian Brady: Moors murderer announces his support for Ukip and the SNP
iJobs Food & Drink
£35 - 45k: Guru Careers: An MI Developer is needed to join the leading provide...
£20000 - £22500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leisure organisation manag...
£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Delivering an inspiring, engagi...
£17500 - £20500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are looking for a great te...