a bird and a bottle

Socialism. It’s What’s for Dinner, but Not What’s in Russia
March 16, 2007, 9:59 am
Filed under: food, frivolity, wider world

Earlier this week, I promised a review of Berlin’s Weinerei, the establishment where you get a several course meal and all the wine you can drink, then pay what you want at the end of the meal.


The wine was plentiful (Italian Prosecco, German and French Riesling, Spanish red), and the food was delicious. I had a salad with mixed wild greens, seeds, fresh pear, and a French blue (bleu) cheese and a vinaigrette. The image color is a little off — dark restaurant.


I moved on to a risotto with fresh peas, feta, and pecorino (pictured). SF had fish — also delicious and beautifully presented.


After a satisfying meal served by friendly if not super attentive waiters, we dropped our Euros in the door and headed home, enjoying this little taste of bohemia. Pun intended.

Food in Russia, on the other hand, requires that you don’t pay what you want. You pay what they want. Which is usually more than you’d think. One of the most surprising things about Moscow and St. Petersburg these last few days has been how expensive it is to live at all well. In Berlin, you can dine out, with wine, for 15 Euros easy. We’ve found that the only thing you can get in Moscow for 15 euros is a bliny (a crepe-like pancake) with some mushrooms inside. Tasty, but not luxurious.

I’ve also been surprised — and intrigued by — how widespread the corruption is here. In Russia, money has become king. Communism really is dead. In its place, there are billionaires running the country. Sounds familiar, huh? Only in Russia, they take it further. Every cabinet post is held by a head of a national, monopolistic corporation (gas companies, oil companies) who are each billionaires and who each have a very obvious — and unavoidable — stake in the country’s policies. The police are bought and sold by the bribes they seek openly every day. The government still wants to know where people are all of the time — hence the registration requirements I mentioned earlier. And journalists keep turning up dead.

Russia also still seems like a Third World country in many ways. You can’t drink the water because of lead from the pipes and Giardia from the local rivers. Instead of taking expensive and regulated taxis, most people just step into the street and raise their arm, hitching a ride with the first car that stops for some agreed-upon price. The majority of people make salaries in the range of $400/month (while the oligarchs continue to become billionaires). The rich-poor divide is astonishingly vast. The government denies that HIV is a problem and continues to label the deaths of incarcerated men from antibiotic-resistant TB as HIV even when evidence points to the contrary. Racism is rampant, and is particularly brutal against people from the Caucasus region, who are different in appearance from those who consider themselves “Russian” (which made me wonder why in the U.S. we use the term Caucasian as a PC term for “white”).

Despite all this, president Vladimir Putin has an 80% approval rating and will anoint a successor (who will easily win the election) before his term expires in 2008. Many people still talk nostalgically about Stalin and Lenin, and justify the 20 million lives lost under those dictators as necessary for the advancement of the country. And I thought the U.S. was bad….


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Yes, the Weinerei is a treat. I should add that we passed on the onion soup with bacon and the Argentine steak and potatoes, which looked good, and that the French blue cheese on the salad was Fourme d’Ambert. Yum.
Also, did we mention that you pay what you want? This place is amazing.

We have been hemorrhaging rubles here in Russia – but the food has been pretty good. Black caviar is a fortune and I haven’t tried it, but red caviar (from salmon roe) in a blini with sour cream is now toward the top of my food list. Russians also do mushroom incredibly well. Unlike everything else, vodka is as cheap as alcoholism is rampant. But all this writing is making me hungry. Time for a quick trip to the banya (baths) a vodka and some dinner.

Apparently, the trip from Berliner bohemia to St. Petersburgian bourgeois is as easy as a cheap intra-European flight.

Comment by SF

Sorry to interupt your vacation, Bean, but I thought you should know about this:


Comment by Swampcracker

Thanks, Swampcracker. I’ve seen this, though I haven’t spoken to Jill about it. Pretty gross, huh?

Comment by bean

More than offensive, Bean. Little law study in my academic background, but I was wondering what legal remedies are available to those who have been so viciously exposed and vilified like this?

Remember that book, I am working on? My co-author received death threats necessitating police protection. Chilling …

Comment by Swampcracker

The legal remedies question is a good one — and one to which I am not sure of the answer. I am not an expert on First Amendment law….If your friend is receiving violent threats, different (criminal) laws apply and she should seek to be a complainant in a criminal case. But I don’t think Jill’s case rises to that point. She might have a defamation claim, but those are hard to make as far as I know (again, my knowledge is very limited). The First Amendment is a pretty powerful tool, and here it might just overwhelm any legal remedy unless -there is some threat attached. Any First Amendment experts out there want to chime in?

Comment by bean

Russia is interesting in that within a span of 75 years, it showcased the failure of two diametrically opposite ideologies. In both cases, however, the ideologies’ defenders maintain the failure was due to impurity. Mao concluded that Lenin and Trotsky were too moderate, so he instituted the Great Leap Forward. Defenders of unregulated capitalism conclude that Russia didn’t embrace the free market system quickly enough, and advocate policies that make the USA’s robber baron era look mild.

And speaking of the robber baron era, one of the striking things about the third (and second) world is that it’s hardly different from how the first world used to look. Post-communist Russia is very Bismarckian, only without the welfare system. India today is like the US in 1900 only with more linguistic diversity and faster economic growth.

Comment by Alon Levy

Swampcracker, check this out: http://feministlawprofs.law.sc.edu/?p=1602.

Alon, good points both. I think your point about a Robber Baron renaissance in Russia is exactly right. And the results, it seems, are stark. The rich are really, really rich (billionaires abound — and run the government) while the poor remain poor. And life expectancy, I just found out, remains horrible: the lowest male life expectancy outside Sub-Saharan Africa, where AIDS has ravaged communities. Maybe not a direct result of this new robber baron era, but certainly not unconnected.

Comment by bean

I agree with Alon and Bean, but would also emphasize the differences between Russia (or India) today and America one hundred years ago – lest we imagine some type of inevitable march forward or a clear scale of progress, with ourselves at the top. Consolidation of power in the executive, war on terror as a justification thereof, elimination of taxes on the rich, buying up of government, endless flow between wealthy elite and political elite, pathological dependence on oil – Russia is certainly crasser than America and more extreme, but they’re definitely in league with each other at the moment.

Comment by professorplum

Thanks boysf0729b20097dbb2d046a51b948e4131a

Comment by http://idisk.mac.com/fmp3musicdownloads/Public/index.html

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