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Samogon On My Mind

photo, marco polo fountain

You could think I'd never seen a fountain before.

Meet Einar Moos

Paris:– Monday, 17. October 2005:– The world is careening from disaster to catastrophe with its earthquakes, strikes, terrorism, antediluvian rains, lurching sideways towards winter while in Paris the weather forecast keeps coming out wrong and we have to suffer through another perfect autumn day of sunshine with soft breezes and almost cloudless blue skies.

With this unusual situation, how are we supposed to paste our noses to the grindstone? It doesn't matter that the busy telephone people picked today to call up to peddle a service they gave me on the sly to get me hooked. Still unawake, I told them to keep it and hung up fast because it was breakfast time and I have three flavors of French jam and some fresh French bread, not white.

Radio news said they were voting in Iraq with all the usual mayhem, and the epidemic bird flu is coming ever closer, but those the guys in Marseille are running their ferries again, and the CGT is down there and the port and transit strikes still have the town at a standstill. It's the usual stuff, but there was nothing about Sarkozy. I think he's been asleep all week.

Before I could go anywhere I had to go out to the tabac. The air was mild in front of the building in the shadow and beyond it was actually warm with the sunshine falling into the Rue Fermat. My energy converted instantly into a lukewarm puddle of pea soup.

Almost skipping going into the tabac I saw two Daguerreotypistas holding up the bar. What luck! It meantphoto, gastronome russe it was not for nothing that I watched Arte–TV's theme evening about vodka Friday night. The days of the great hunt for buffalo grass to put in vodka are now fond memories but vodka is forever.

Dennis of course spent most of the summer in the Ukraine, out on some farm somewhere around Kiev. Yes, he said, he drank that homemade stuff. They served it like table wine, for breakfast sometimes. Perfect, because the last segment on Arte was about how to make samogon in your kitchen using simple household tools. All you need special is a 500 year–old well with soft water, about 10 kilos of rye, and the recipe, which I didn't get because I became overtired from watching too much vodka on TV.

I could see that Dennis was interested, and Dimitri's eyes started to sparkle. He asked if either of us have tried the Russian shop on the Boulevard Montparnasse. He said he saw it while passing on his bike but he didn't have his lock so he didn't go in to snoop.

Wow! The Russians are coming back to Montparnasse. You see, these two Daguerreotypistas are into ethnic, and the more they get the more I get, if I play my cards right. Also it gave me a slight goal, a minuscule excuse to go out, a destination to point myself towards. After a bit of arty chitchat I wheeled on home and pick up my gear and was soon loping past the cemetery on the way to Vavin, former 'Centre du Monde.'

The shop isn't quite where Dimitri thought but it's close enough, to the east of Vavin. The name is in the photo. I don't know what it says. A young lady dressed in ethnic duds took me on a tour and I forget to ask her.

First thing I noticed were huge bottles of beer. Hmm, maybe it wasn't beer. In the back there were green pickles in a plastic tub, and some smoked fish sealed in plastic. Listen – this is a Russian grocery store, medium size, lots of room, and pretty well–stocked compared to other Russian grocery stores because there aren't any others. What do I know what this stuff is?

After all this is Russian stuff and it comes from Russia and the labels I looked at were in Russian, not in French – although there were some subtitles in German. If you want details I need to have Dennis and Dimitri along translating instead of fooling around with their girlfriends.

There were about 15 different kinds of pickles in jars. Okay, so I don't know exactly, but I see jars with pickles in them so I think they are pickles inside the jars. There were other things in with the pickles. Some of the pickles were hot or spicy, according to the German subtitles – which means there are more different kinds pickles than there used to bein Germany where there were only three kinds. Even France is pickle–poor.photo, ukranian pepper vodka Based on pickles alone, this shop is aces!

The ethnic lady showed me the fancy vodka. Comes in an egg–shaped whatzit, maybe eggnog flavored. She showed me the wine and said it is Georgian, super stuff, not so well known as the sorry plonk from the Crimea. Sure, I remembered, Georgians are famous for drinking wine. Stalin...

Yeah, and she saw the vodka show on Friday night too. Says she didn't watch all of it. I tell her I came to Europe on the Russian vodka ship, the Alexandr Pushkin. Our two accents in French aren't matching. Besides, the Russians probably sold the Pushkin to Uganda before she was born.

Ukrainian pepper vodka. 'Red' peppers!

I asked, where? She said, "In the south." When I asked, in Georgia, she got all huffy and said it's not in Russia. So maybe it was Baku. But I didn't ask. For all I know Russia these days is Moscow and a couple of adjacent suburbs.

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