November Diary
What is Derb doing in Russia?


John Derbyshire

Local distractions. I know, it’s a wicked stereotype; and I know, a major metropolis in a poorish country skews the relevant proportions; and I know, it’s shamefully heteronormative and patriarchal-oppressive of me even to notice; but my goodness! What an amazing number of nontrivially attractive females there are in Moscow.

I seem to be constantly in company with tall, willowy young women with creamy complexions, full lips, and soft-chiseled features, blue-eyed and with long, flowing natural-blonde hair. Add in that boots-and-jeans/tights fashion — revealing, as it does, the fact that (as I used to hear the older generation of Englishmen say) their legs go all the way up to their bottoms — and it’s all very distracting.

There’s another side to this, too, though.


How do you want your lard? It is, I think, a fairly well-known fact that a Russian woman goes to bed on the night of her 32nd birthday looking like a supermodel, and wakes up the next morning a 300-pound babushka with a wart on her nose.

How does this sad transformation happen?

I think I have discovered the answer. Here, transcribed word for word, is item 003 in the “Appetizers” section of the English-language menu at Taras Bulba restaurant on Petrovka Street in central Moscow. (And yes, as Gogol fans will instantly be aware, this restaurant is Ukrainian: But I’m assured that Russians patronize it very enthusiastically.)

Salted lard with pepper, lard with paprika, smoked lard, lard with black pepper, salted lard with mustard on the side.

Putin the joke killer. I was hoping to pick up some fresh strain of humor from the Russians on this trip. They are masters of dark humor. There were all those acrid Soviet-era jokes. Then in the 1990s there were the oligarch jokes:

“Hey, Sergei, you see this tie I’m wearing? Cost me a thousand rubles!”
“Ivan, Ivan, why didn’t you ask me? I could have told you where to get it for two thousand!”

Etc., etc. However, the Putin era seems not to have brought forth its own distinctive style of humor. Perhaps the Russians are too busy . . . or too depressed.


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