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DEMOLITION DAYS, PART 98
Time passed: winter changed into spring, spring changed into summer ... and winter gave spring and summer a miss and went straight on into autumn... until we decided that it was the proper time to host a housewarming party for all our new friends and colleagues here in Russia.
But first, I had to take several relatively short trips to Western and Eastern Siberia. To Kazakhstan, to Uzbekistan, to Kalmykia, to Dagestan, to Chechnya, to Ukraine, to Georgia, to Latvia, to Lithuania, to Tajikistan, to Estonia…didn’t get a lick of work done for my company, but sure met one hell of a lot of folks and got info on many, many different projects.
It was basically ‘pump-priming’, or ‘testing the waters’, or whatever the hell you want to call making initial contacts, spending huge amounts of company money on flights and ‘entertainment’ expenses. As well as meeting people from well over 1.6 million different countries.
I had a most burgeoning Rolodex, not Rolex, as if anyone here would remember those things. I carried a brick-like satellite phone which was monstrously expensive so I used it as much as possible. Had binders full of business cards and I had more visas for more different countries…strange thing, though. With my red Diplomatic Passport, I could sail right through the vast majority of border control points. I guess they were still jittery after the not-so-amicable breakup and were loath to cause any ‘Diplomat’ any grief.
I got away with such shit those days.
Smuggling? “Of course not! I’m a Diplomat!”
Are those rocks of any value? “Of course not! I’m an international geologist and those are but shiny, faceted, green, blue, and red crystalline hand samples!”
Are three cases of vodka really just for ‘personal use’? “Of course not! You’re right. Let me get another one to stuff into the Diplomatic Pouch.”
So, one bright spring day over bilberry-jammed blinis and freshly Samovared-coffee, Esme and I decided that since the kids had such good friends in the complex, we’d farm them out on one Friday night. Then we’d throw a house-warming party for all our new Muscovian friends.
The party was to include several of my Siberian friends and some actual real Muscovites; who we had to strangely invite via registered letter so they could be allowed entrance to our compound.
That was one of the things I didn’t care for in compound living. But, that’s the way it was; and nothing I could do, even grouse about the rules, would change anything.
Esme had invited her entire American Women’s Club, which was composed of North and South American women. They would be bringing their husbands.
We made it sort of clear that this was an adult’s night out. As much as we loved their little ankle-biters, carpet-crawlers, and curtain-climbers; they all needed to take this one as a time out.
It was parent time in the Motherland. I already had ordered up 3 half-barrels of beer and an equal number of cases of vodka. This was not a time for puberty, it was time for adultery.
No, wait. That’s didn’t come out right…it was parent time. A time for parents...
To socialize. To get to know each other. To eat, drink, and act like a bunch of goofy teenagers.
You get a general idea.
Anyways, there were going to be Russians, Siberians; and yes, there is a difference, Czechs, Brazilians, Scots, Americans, Canadians, Dutch, Brits, Australians, Moldovans, Chinese, Nepalese, several from various Stans, Botswanans, Danes, South Africans…ah, hell, there were going to be a lot of the globe represented.
All united by the common threads of bar-be-que, free beer, and ample smokeables.
Luckily, it was fairly equable outside, weather-wise, and we were in-between the seasons of the Spring *Rasputitsa *, or mud season, and the early summer thunderstorms. I had arranged for several large tarps on poles to be erected over the front dais of the house and even more in the back yard.
The back yard would hold all the troughs full of ice, beer, and soft drinks. There would be a separate one for the vodka, cognac, and sweet girly champagne that the local women seemed to really enjoy. These tarps also covered the bar-be-que grills I had made to order a few months previously.
One of the oilfield service companies took some 8 foot-long sections of 42” line pipe, sandblasted them and sawed them in half lengthwise. They were hinged together in back and handles were welded front and back for transport. Set on four stout pipe legs, interior racks were repurposed from some Russian appliances of one sort or another. The ends were welded shut with caps and suddenly, there were a couple of very Texas-sized bar-be-que grills in my backyard.
The company had stuffed the grills into their industrial autoclave and heated the things to 2 or 3 million degrees C. to burn off all the nasty oilfield schmoo. While they were still warm, they were powder coated with electronegative paint, and re-kilned. The result was the grills and racks were surgically clean and coated in a blast-furnace-heat resistant covering of melted porcelain-like glass.
One was red, of course, and one was blue. They were works of art and are still with the service company that created them as I willed them to the company when we left some years later.
Now, bar-be-que and outdoor grilling might be as dull as dishwater to us Norteamericanos, but it was absolutely thrilling for most of our new friends. Many knew of cooking over an open fire, but only during camping, hunting, fishing, or times of natural calamity.
To cook outdoors when it wasn’t really required? Such Western decadence. This was all something thrillingly new and potentially dangerous.
I had arranged for some charcoal to be flown in from Finland, as the stuff available locally just couldn’t cut the mustard, so to speak. It was more loamy and peaty than charcoal-y. The Finnish stuff was as hard as anthracitic coal.
We were going to grill up a half-side of cow, several small suckling pigs, a load of pike-type fish, and just because, a couple of locally sourced briskets, some ‘gamburgers’ and hot dogs.
Just because it was a barbeque. Of epic proportions. Of Rocknocker-esque proportions.
Esme tried several times to reign me in, but after the truck showed up with an entire side of beef, she realized it was a lost cause.
“Rock”, she cooed to me as I tried to stuff the side of beef into our tiny kitchen, “I knew that sooner or later, you’d twist off. You’ve been under a lot of stress lately and I guess it’s finally arrived. I just want to let you know, I love you greatly and if I should disappear, I wouldn’t have gone far. I just don’t want to get caught in the crossfire.”
“What’s that, m’dear?” I asked while I tore the kitchen apart looking for the Old Bay spice and Dave’s Insanity sauce we smuggled in on our last trip.
“Oh. Nothing, dear.” Es smiled, “Go nuts. But please, be careful.”
“Oh, sure. Yeah. No worries.”, I smiled as I found that ceremonial Gurkha knife, “This will work a treat in cutting up the beef once it’s done.” as I swung the massive thing around like Darth Vader confronting a Rebel contingent.
“Kids”, Es called, “Isn’t it time to go to your friend’s house?”
This all started on a Tuesday afternoon. Es and I had to prepare the menu and then I’d get after what needed getting after.
Besides a half-side of beef on the bar-be-que, as I mentioned, we’d have some stuffed and grilled pike, hot dogs, ‘gamburgers’, a few suckling pigs, a couple of big, meaty briskets, currently corning in the kitchen, and maybe some form of poultry or two.
It’s a meat-heavy menu for a meat-heavy diet round these parts.
I took care of the beer, vodka, champagne, cognac, and gin, well, there’s were going to be some Brits in attendance, soft-drink mixers, and ridiculously expensive citrus fruits. I had the country store on-site crank up their ice machine and had standing orders for all the excess ice they could produce over the next few days.
Roger, my Texan neighbor, confidant, and mechanical engineer buddy who kept to a work schedule which closely mimicked mine, decided he couldn’t let this hapless Baja Canadian handle these whole two grills on his own.
Truth be told, Roger was a major help in fabricating the necessary rotisseries and pipework to spin the pigs and side of beef above the fire. He was keen and adept at drawing things up on paper, but pretty worthless in translating them from two to three dimensions.
That’s where my adroitness and past experiences with a pipe cutter and welding torch, again, ‘borrowed’ from the oilfield service company, along with their pipe-rack truck, came into its own. He designed, we both cut the appropriate metal, and I metal-glued them in place.
Roger ‘located’ a couple of large electrical motors, one capable of turning the 300 pounds of cow on the one spit and one efficient in handling the ‘pig basket’ of about 250 pounds of young piglet that was going to be prepared. Each was several dozen horsepower in displacement and heavy as a motherfucker. They stood alone on the ground, while Roger fabricobbled up a drive-train system and electrical controls for each.
What began as a simple ‘C’mon over for a back yard bar-be-que’ had turned into something of which NASA would have been proud.
Picture this: 2 eight-foot-long, 42” diameter pipe grills, one gleaming red, one shining blue, with a Rube Goldberg set of pipe contraption A-frames making a pair of rotisseries; one driven by a 30HP 3-phase electric motor, the other by one only churning out 20 HP. There was a separate control tower Roger ginned up which contained the start-stop switches and rheostats which controlled the rotation of the beeve and baconators.
With all that, we still had room for four stuffed pike, each at least a meter in length, my briskets, a few butterflied chickens, hot dogs and ‘gamburgers’.
“Nothing succeeds like excess”, I said to Roger as I toasted him with the second or eighth beer of the morning.
He agreed with me and stole yet another cigar.
The beef was turning slowly over a low fire of finest Finnish hardwood. This was calculated to take at least 2.5 days to complete. The suckling pigs I’d start the next morning. If all went to plan, we’d have everything ready for dinner by 1700 that Friday.
Well, the meat’s taken care of, as were the drinks.
Esme and Linda, Roger’s wife, grabbed Valosh and made a trek into downtown to Stockman’s Pantry for some typically American repasts.
Cans of baked beans, fresh lettuce, rocket, radicchio, romaine, and other salad-y makings. Several varieties of fresh fruit, Emmenthal cheese and melting Dutch chocolate for the fondues that Es set up every single time we had a gathering.
It was a tradition.
We’d source much of the remainder of the party munchies locally. There was a bakery just around the corner of the compound and after buying our bread there for months, we got to know the proprietors quite well. We explained the concept of the “tortilla chip” and damn if they didn’t create a very passable Russian version.
We created our own flavorings for dusting over them, and I think we were the absolute first to come out with a caviar-flavored chip. Potato chips were easy enough to make, as were soft tortillas, but we were coming up shy on dips.
Substituting unflavored Greek yogurt for the more usual labneh back in the Middle East, I converted some of our imported biryani masala, lamb masala, curry mix, and other Middle Eastern spices into chip dips.
You haven’t lived until you’ve had Red Caviar flavored Russian tortilla chips with a healthy dollop of garam Masala and yogurt dip.
As Emmanuel from Argentina sniffingly said: “It’s a brilliant antihistamine.”
I contracted with a batch of local school-aged kids to pick fresh mushrooms for the party.
Russians are just crazy over mushrooms. However, as we were to find out, they will only eat them cooked; having them raw for dipping or in salads really gave them pause.
Ah, just another twist on the usual house warming party.
The cow continued cooking, the porks were happily spinning along in their private horizontal merry-go-round and the Finnish cooking wood was holding out well. The smells emanating from our corner of the compound had many, many people wandering over wondering who was opening the restaurant.
Thursday slid into Friday. I took the car and made a mad dash for the Mitino Ramstore to replenish our butter, paprika and vodka stocks. Seems all those Russian bottles had holes in them…
I was actually using a good supply of the stuff in cooking. Take a cup or so of good vodka, taste-test it, just in case, restore to proper measure and heat it gently as to not incinerate your eyebrows. Add a cup or so of berries, and a cup of sugar, and a smidge of molasses. Heat until just right. Repeat until you have enough drunken berries to fill a pie crust; graham cracker or otherwise.
You can freeze this and serve it with whipped cream frozen or bake it until the berries bubble; then you can serve it with ice cream.
I made homemade ice cream as well for the evening’s festivities. To a standard vanilla base of sugar, egg yolks, and hot heavy crème, you whip this stuff until it can’t take it any longer and it goes all custardy. Then you add your flavorings and churn the hell out of it over rock salt and ice.
Mint chocolate chip with Cornish crème de menthe.
Rum raisin with Jamaican dark RUM.
Watermelon ice and spirit. Spirt is homemade Siberian rocket fuel. Pretty close to 200 proof as one can get.
Rocky road with pecans, marshmallows, caramel, chocolate truffle, and Napoleon cognac.
Bourbon vanilla with fresh Madagascar vanilla-bean vanilla.
“You can’t get booze to freeze in ice cream!” I hear some wag yell.
“You can if you freeze the stuff with liquid nitrogen!” I yell back.
I have access to all sorts of fun, sciency stuff. Liquid nitrogen is as much a cooking staple as is liquid oxygen.
We’ll save the Great Grill Meltdown story of 2002 for a later date.
Friday morning, as I was out tending the grills, several of Esme’s friends from the compound showed up to help set up for the evening’s festivities.
“Great”, I thought, “They’re in there, I’m out here with the vodka and beer. All is right with the world.”
There was a flurry of activity as each of Esme’s friends busied themselves with a different portion of the party. One was handling the desserts, one was preparing the salads, one was setting out the plates, cups (first time for red Solo Cozy Cups in Russia), and silverware. It was going to be a very informal sort of party, but evidently, there was a certain protocol to follow.
Flowers appeared from the Babushka Mafia; where we had a standing order. A huge centerpiece filled what seemed half the dining room table. A fire was started in the fireplace.
Me? I just stayed out of their way.
Esme started up her fondue pots; ones we’ve had since day one of our marriage. Into one went a four-cheese mixture of Emmenthal, edam, cheddar, and brie cheese, along with some light white wine. Into the other pot went a kilo or so of melting chocolate, imported from the Netherlands or other European someplace. Some very expensive, 45-year-old cognac went into that pot to facilitate meltage. There was some nutmeg, cinnamon, saffron, and other spices as well.
Potato salads were made and brought out, covered under chilled cheesecloths as the fridge was hopelessly full at this point. Green salads were made, with and without locally-produced mushrooms. The whole table groaned after a fairly short time from it’s covering of fruits, breads, beans, salsas, salads, and other party fares.
The ice creams I had made were up at the country store near the entrance to the compound, We had no room and they graciously ‘rented’ out some of their freezer space. All it cost were a few rubles and a couple of quarts of ice cream.
The horse troughs out back were stocked with kegs of beer, tappers, and bottles of booze, all on ice. There was one smaller trough full of Russian soft drinks, juices, fizzy and still waters, and other things that would probably stave off if not prevent total alcohol poisoning.
Olga, our house girl, insisted on stuffing and preparing the pike for the grill. She was a wonder. She was teaching the girls, and truth be told, Es and I, Russian and Ukrainian. She insisted on making dinner anytime Es or I wandered into the kitchen looking for a sandwich and generally made us feel like some sort of privileged class. We didn’t want that at all and went out of our way to make certain we treated her like family.
She was scrupulously honest, and when we included 250 extra rubles for her first week since all the extra work she took upon herself; she actually chewed us out for being too “credulous”.
“People will take advantage.”, she scolded, “I agree to weekly pay, no more. I will not make you more naïve.”
I finally got her to take it for payment for the language lessons.
She was a real polymath. She helped the girls with homework, ran interference with any local entanglements, and could cook like there was no tomorrow. She was a peach, pure and simple.
Plus, she liked my cigars and loved cognac.
We got on like a house afire.
She also knew her way around a fish. She had those four-meter long critters gutted, scaled, stuffed and trussed as good as any Michelin starred chef in any international seafood house.
They went on the grill, just to the south of my briskets. The chickens would only take a couple of hours over this low and slow heat and the aromas of them comingled with the other proteins were intoxicating.
Or it might have been the potato juice and beer marinades I was using for the various bits of animal carcass.
Vodka, melted butter, smoked Himalayan salt, and smoked Hungarian paprika was brushed liberally over the butterflied chickens. Many times during their grilling tenure.
Beer, a tomato reduction sauce, molasses, maple syrup, and cognac graced our rapidly caramelizing roasted piglets.
Bourbon, coffee, treacle, and a few secret ingredients made up the sauce for the beef. It went on every 100 or so turns.
The brisket and pike were left alone, except for some fish masala for the pikes and Old Bay mixture for the briskets. The grill was closed on these and they were allowed to continue more or less unmolested.
The day drew along and it was soon noon. The house was decked out very festively. The girls were going directly over to the neighbor’s after school so it was now T-5 hours to party time. But with all our help, there’s wasn’t much to do. It was all pretty much done.
Roger assured me he’d stop over at the country store and pick up the pies, ice cream and extra ice in our amassed coolers when he returned from work, around 1500 hours. So that was taken care of.
Esme decided she wanted a shower and nap before the evening’s frivolities, and since everything had already been done I couldn’t agree more. We kissed and smiled at our good fortune and taste in friends and neighbors, as she headed upstairs for a bit of kip.
The cow was turning, the pigs were spinning, the pike and briskets were smoking and I decided to grab a lawn chair, fire up a cigar and sit out back enjoying the warmish afternoon in northwestern Moscow. Oh, sure; I nodded off a few times, but made certain my charges were well looked after. Be silly to get this far and have things go south.
Roger showed up around 1600 hours and I helped him move all the coolers into the garage, as there just wasn’t room in the house nor kitchen, it was that stuffed with party favors. The meat was approaching that point where it was done to if you’ll pardon the expression, a turn.
Roger sampled a piece of the spinny cow and declared it good enough for a Texas rodeo.
High praise indeed.
He left and would return with Linda in perhaps an hour.
I went to wake Es and got her in the shower with a cup of coffee. I decided to forego the shower and helped myself to another pre-party cocktail.
5:00 PM arrived and our guests…did not.
Roger and Linda, our only North American invitees showed up around 1730.
Es, myself, Roger and Linda sat around chatting and nibbling, wondering where the hell everyone else was. I even motored up to the gate to see if the officious guards were giving any of my local invitees any grief and thus holding them up.
No. They hadn’t shown up as of yet.
Back to the house, and now, I’ve dealt with the Arabic version of showing up for a meeting, party, or operation. These characters will be late for their own autopsy. I thought punctuality was more prized in the European community.
I fiddled around with the grills and turned everything to ‘warm’. I was, truth be told, a bit miffed at all this. I had spent a fair fortune on feeding these characters, you would think…
At that precise moment, the doors burst open. The crowds had arrived. All a bit ‘fashionably late’, but with their gird on and ready to party. There was no mention of their unpunctuality, but huge bear hugs, back slaps, and depositions of house warming gifts, all bottles of some form or another of alcohol, typically rare and reflecting the origin of the giver.
The party went from absolute silence to incredible raucousness in nothing flat. I still had to man the grills, so I dragooned Roger into being the ad hoc bartender. Esme and Linda were showing folks around the place, making the perfunctory tour before the inevitable feeding and drinking. Roger was busier than a one-handed paperhanger in a windstorm. I helped out best I could by tapping the kegs and passing around the Solo Cozy cups, which made a huge hit among the Western and Eastern Europeans.
Of course, the stereo was cranked up. Between Esme’s classical music and my 60s and 70s rock collections, the place began vibrating. Luckily, we had the forethought to invite the neighbors who lived immediately adjacent to us.
After the initial drinks were disbursed, it was time for the first rounds of nibbly bits. Being in Russia, one simply cannot have a drink without a nosh. Esme’s fondues were incredible hits. Since fondue is a Scandinavian invention, we figured it’d be more well known here. Evidently not as several folks had to be given instructions as to how to build a cheesy or chocolatey snack.
The dips, crudités, amuse bouche, and chips went over very well. We had people from Africa, Asia, Europe, both Americas, Australia and other ports of call not yet mapped. Everyone had their story of foods back home that mimicked our offerings. It was most entertaining to hear stories of the braai, pit roast, chuanr, yakitori, satay, khorkhog, tandoor, and the like.
But it was the whole, well, a half grilled cow that boinged everyone’s eyes. The whole suckling pigs, smoked stuffed pike, briskets, and chickens also got their share of gapes. I had some hamburgers and hot dogs in case anyone was about to go hungry.
Over more rounds of drinks, I announced that I’d be carving up the meat and setting it out, for everyone to help themselves.
Olga shouldered her way through the crowd with my Gurkha knife and a couple of large platters. First off were two of the whole smoked and stuffed pike. These were attacked with abandon, much to Esme’s alarm as people missed the salads and zeroed in straight on the protein.
Olga sorted them all out by pointing out proper party protocol and for people to take notice of the assortment of bread, salads, Jellos, and fresh fruits provided to accompany the meals.
Properly chastised, some sense of party decorum returned as the beer continued to flow, the empty vodka bottles stacked up and my cigar humidors went, for the time being, unnoticed.
I carved off great, bleeding hunks of cow. It was so tender I could have butchered the thing with a pleasant remark. Some were blue, some were medium and some, down the way along the beast, we well done. I carved up huge hunks of each for all to take that which they would please.
The chickens came off the grill next, and after a few deft knife swipes, were deboned and ready for consumption. The briskets were resting on a sideboard in the kitchen and Olga assured me she’d take care of them as long as I handled the disassembly of the suckling pigs.
Taking a quick restroom break, I was amazed to see one of our living room tables completely covered by bottles of wine, champagne, spirits, and who-knows-what. These were our inevitable house warming gifts from our assembled friends.
There was much greeting and handshaking as I tried to make my way to the facilities. I could hear Valosh and his wife somewhere in the madding crowd, but this was simply going to have to wait. Internal pressure was approaching critical limits.
I decided to keep station out by the grills as I still needed to handle the roast suckling pigs. I figured that if people were wondering where I was, follow their nose out to the bars and grill; I’d be around somewhere close.
Roger dragged a table over from his backyard to give me some room to disassemble the little porkers. He kept up with his bartending duties and I reduced those crispy little pork packets into more eatable size pieces. People had gotten the idea that enough with me bringing in the grilled food, they’d just come outside and get it fresh off the cooker.
The party was going into high gear. People were showing up who I didn’t know, and after quizzing Esme, she had no idea as well. Didn’t make a bit of difference; there was no way we’d run out of food or drink, and as long as we’re here, we international ambassadors of general amity. As long as these interlopers behaved themselves, no one had any objections.
There was one small incident where some local younger hooligans tried to swipe a couple of bottles of booze off the living room table. Some older Russian gentlemen, Heroes of the Soviet Union all, relieved the hooligans of their ill-gotten gains. Somewhat forcefully. They gifted them instead cuffed ears, kicks up the backside and swats on the back of the head as they admonished them off the property.
We learned later these older Russian gentlemen were both maintenance and security for the compound. We were most pleased to make their acquaintance and happy they could join us.
The house was packed, the front yard was packed, the back was really packed. Everyone was eating and drinking like there was no tomorrow. And as tomorrow was Saturday, the international day of rest and hangover nursing, and since we’re so far north, we’re starting to get into White Nights territory, this was going to be a long, long night.
The pike were gone. All four, consumed.
The briskets were as well. I was told they were ‘very good’. I’ll have to take their word for it, I never as much as got a slice.
Chickens? Disappeared. Gone without a trace.
Piglets? We had about one small half left.
The side of beef? Well, there were still a few steaks left, as I carved myself a healthy hunk, but I was amazed at the feeding frenzy we had just witnessed. It was mostly gone as well. Maybe enough for a few sandwiches come the morning.
The salads were most appreciated and devoured. Even Esme’s grandmothers bit-o-a-joke lime Jell-O with carrots and peas disappeared. Bread? Mostly gone. Chips and dips? Still holding out, but would never survive the night.
Esme and I were glad everyone was getting their fill.
Everyone was finishing up on the main courses and all helped pitch in to clean up any trash and do what few dishes Olga hadn’t yet gotten to. There was an actual lull in the gathering as now it was time for a post-dinner smoke and a bit of rest before dessert.
Roger and his teenage son went out in the garage and brought back the 4 coolers full of bespoke ice cream. One would think ice cream wouldn’t be terribly relished by denizens of the far north. Au contraire. The locals love the stuff. In fact, I haven’t found a single person who has actually refused a bowl of my homemade nitrogenized ice cream.
Esme broke out the plastic bowls and announced that there were homemade pie and ice cream available out back.
“Name your poison”, I chuckled.
That idiom took some time to explain across 20 or so different languages.
There was a problem though. People may be familiar with chocolate, vanilla and strawberry ice cream; but Rum Raisin, Vodkamelon ice, and Crème de menthe chocolate chip? This was ‘terra incognita’ for most everyone.
What better way to sort it all out by providing samplers of each of the flavors in one bowl?
I froze the plastic bowls in liquid nitrogen then placed smallish scoops of each flavor ice cream in each.
“Just a sample”, I said, “So you can figure out which you like best.”
It took a bit of translating, but soon everyone got the idea.
Once I dished out the mixed-berry pie, there was no clear winner on which ice cream flavor was the favorite. They were all consumed 100%. Some actually came back for thirds.
And the pie was good, or so I was told.
Once more, after the dessert course, the whole area was policed clean. Food, drink and various fun activities started to take their toll. Things were beginning to quiet down.
Then I forgot and went to my humidor and grabbed a smoke.
Over a couple of boxes of cigars, impromptu Bocce ball, lawn darts, and corn hole games broke out. I mean, it’s 2200 hours, you have a huge cigar, it’s still light. What better than tossing around heavy metal balls, pointed oversized darts, or bean bags at holes sawn in plywood?
Then Laurens-Jan and his wife, Fientje broke out the Absinthe Fountain.
An absinthe fountain is not for dispensing absinthe, but rather for dispensing water.
A typical absinthe fountain is an ornate vessel with several taps around its central water container, which permits a number of drinkers to louche their absinthe at the same time. On contact with water, absinthe will louche -- or develop a certain subtle clouding that will slowly transform the drink's color from deep emerald into a delightful shade of opalescent light green.
They had brought a couple of bottles of King of Spirits Absinth from Denmark with them.
Just for a side note, the stuff is 70% alcohol or 140 proof.
As if the evening needed another shot in the arm.
The Absinthe Fountain louched four drinks at a time. It did so in a mesmerizing and nearly hypnotizing manner so that when the drink was ready for consumption, one could scarcely decline.
OK, there was still a half-barrel or so of beer out in the backyard, probably a case or so of spirits of various denominations swimming around back there as well. There was an active absinthe loacher going on in the dining room, cigars were being had by most everyone and games of very little skill were being attempted out in the yard.
The party had found its high watermark.
People had achieved what we Baja Canadians would call ‘blissed’. It’s that feeling you get, sitting out under a basic roof, at a rained-out ballgame or after trekking all over a country or state fair, sitting with several pitchers of probably somewhat flat and lukewarm beer, feet up and just enjoying the hell out of the universe.
It’s a rare condition, but I think we attained it here.
Spontaneous card games erupted: cribbage, Schafskopf, Canasta, poker, and spit.
The music toned down and was more instrumental than the early electronica synth-pop of dinner. Conversations broke out. Friendships were made and cemented.
Bliss had been achieved.
One of those friendships came back the very next day to haunt us.
Dr. Dumitru Hurgoi and his wife, Dr. Anamaria Stelymes, veterinarians both, showed up at our door early the next afternoon; planned strategically after the girls had returned from school.
Seems Dr. Dumitru heard me lamenting the loss of our Lady McBeast a few years prior and how our daughters were missing having a pet or two around the house.
Drs. Dumitru and Anamaria ran the local chapter of the Russian version of the Society of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. They had just taken possession of a litter of little, pure-snow-white Samoyed pups that had been abandoned at their clinic.
They made their entrance carefully, making certain the girls saw all 6 puppies as they spilled, oops, out of the box and into our villa. They were about 5 weeks old, very inquisitive and were immediately all over the house. It took us over an hour to round them all up.
Of course, at that time, we had a great deal of exposure to each of the pups.
Of course, we couldn’t be cads and refuse to take at least one for our very own. It was Khris, already starting her studies to be a large animal veterinarian, that ran each of the pups through her testing scales to see which would be the most appropriate for our family.
That all didn’t matter, as Tash glommed onto one little female and refused to give her up.
We took the smaller female puppy of the litter. It proved to be the best idea of the time because once she was removed from the bump and tussle of the litter, she really came into her own.
So, that afternoon, I signed the papers on the ownership of “Zima”, Russian for “Winter” due to her snow-white countenance.
Smart? Like a whip. Clever. Inquisitive? Oh, yes. A footwear thief?
Until we left Russia, I never had a matching pair of socks again.
To be continued