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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.

There was some odd stuff in the store besides the stuff I don't know what it is. For example, I saw some big slabs of good–looking peanut brittle. There was some music CDs too but these were beyond me. Ah, the vodka – there's a lot of it, and like on the Pushkin, it comes in different flavors and many colors besides none. Dennis won't be able to leave here without getting a variety pack.

There was champagne too, the stuff Germans call Krimsekt. It can be as dry as you like as I well know from drinking it in the first class bar on the Pushkin, but little of it would be as dry as the Café Metropole Blanc de Blanc. That I can still remember the six–packs of Krimsekt and kilos of caviar probably had something to do with the sea air.

Well, it's good to know that we can walk to our nearest Russian grocery store instead of going across town to those caviar boutiques at Ternes. I'll have to get Dennis to visit this place with a bundle of euros and help him carry it back.

In fact he said there's a new jazz place on the boulevard, up by the Closerie des Lilas. I said 'bye' to thephoto, krimsekt, ethnic doll ethnic doll and wandered over there and sure enough, the place is called Swan. It opens at 21:30 and is run by some New York type who dreamed of having a jazz joint in Montparnasse. The neighborhood of dreams is filling up with dreamers.

The shop is called Gastronomie Russe 14 but don't mind if the Web site seems to be 'under construction.' It the thought that counts. Find it at 130. Boulevard du Montparnasse, Paris 14. Then, if you are in the area you can pop over to the Swan Bar, at 165. Boulevard du Montparnasse, Paris 14, but after 21:30.

For do–it–yourself fans like Dennis, you might want to learn how to distill samogon. Many Web sites I looked at seemed to think that home–made booze equals delerium and blindness, but with some care and using the proper raw materials you can roll your own five–star hooch.

If you need technical aid you might turn to the pros, who say there is no great mystery involved with building a still.

Finally, the French ministry of health wants you to know that, "L'abus de l'alcool est dangereux pour la santé. A consommer avec modération." This is good advice no matter where it comes from.

Meet Einar Moos

The recognition signs were shades, yellow scarf and hat but I didn't see any of this around outside the Café Medard. So I went in and a checkered yellow scarf and a hat was over to the left, sitting on a stool. We pretended to recognize each other, exchanged hands, and I found another stool and perched on it.

If you are meeting someone like Einar Moos, who is wearing a yellow and black checkered scarf andphoto, einar moos a black hat, and does have shades hanging by a string nearly invisible against the scarf, it's hard to know where to start. Einar started in Valparaiso. He said it smelled like fish.

We don't know each other so we were having a meeting with no agenda. Einar grew up in rightwing dictator places in South America, had movie ideas filched in Hollywood, grew tired in New York, partied in Berlin and several other likely capitals and found himself in Paris, a town his says has more than enough layers of history to keep you interested.

Such as right here, near the bed of the Bièvre at the bottom of Mouffetard. "Shrimps," Einar says, "You could pick them up with your bare hands. This is where people settled, isolated from the northwest wind, lolling around next to the river with grassy banks with its free fish for happy–go–lucky Parisian peasants."

Then the Romans showed up and organized everything and this is how they are still organized. It's from them that we got all these soviet ideas, the ones those Russians filched and took back to St. Petersburg.

The café's doors are open to the outside air and I'm wondering if there are shrimp in the fountain outside. Besides being an Internet tycoon, Einar runs a swim club at Saint–Germain on Mondays and Fridays called 'Wazzaaapool.' It is a non–profit association.

I can't be sure but I have a feeling that the meeting we're having is about the downside of non–profits or associations, and both of us are on the same side, the down one. Einar tells me he has a Paris Web site called Parisiana and a blog and five or six other sites that he says are commercial.

Just in case I take Einar's photo. Just in case he takes mine, making sure there's a blond in the background. It's not my day off but I feel like it should be and I find it hard to concentrate on the non–profit idea.

Another feeling I have is that Einar might be the Roman Polanski of the Web in Paris. But he says he needs to pick up his son from school so we finish our cafés and off he goes, and I think how great it is to be in Paris on a warm October afternoon and not have to race to be any particular place at any particular time. It's too bad the Bièvre and its shrimp are gone.

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