Thursday, March 13, 2014

Enter the Oligarch (and Girlfriend)

My period of starvation was rectified on Monday when Anatoly and Vanya took me to a nearby village to go grocery shopping. The drive took us through rural Russia, which looks like it has been forgotten in time. Log cabins and ramshackle wooden houses make up small hamlets, and Siberian cows and horses roam free. I found it charming, in a rather rustic way, but Vanya commented, “It looks like there was an atomic explosion.” It should be noted that Vanya’s English is not as non-existent as he led me to believe. After one beer in the airport, he started translating a few Russian phrases into English for me, and after some vodka yesterday evening, he was borderline conversational. When I pointed out the correlation between his alcohol consumption and English levels, he said, “If I keep drinking, I’ll speak Chinese.” We’ll see how that unfolds.

Once we reached the grocery store, I found myself in food heaven. Never mind that this was a tiny Soviet-style market; to me it felt like Costco. I started listing off vegetables faster than the shop attendant could get them, and a second shop attendant had to join in to help. When I’d cleaned out the produce section, they calculated my bill on an abacus, and Vanya picked up the tab. The drive home led to the wonderful discovery that I could get cell service outside the fortress, so I fired off a text to a friend in Moscow saying, “Vanya and I just bought out an entire produkti, I might marry him simply out of gratitude for saving me from starvation.” His powers of language may extend to telepathy because a few hours later he asked me when I was going to invite him to the United States. If not for the oligarch’s girlfriend and her crates of food, my parents might have had a Russian son-in-law.

Tuesday brought the arrival of both the Oligarch and his girlfriend, Elena. The two of them are quite an interesting pair, and have defied many of my preconceived notions of oligarchs and their mistresses. The Oligarch, it turns out, does not eat red meat (or dinner) and has the energy of a man half his age. Yesterday he chastised me for not joining him in the gym in the morning, took six of us on an alpine expedition with the dogs and a pair of rifles in the afternoon, belted out Russian show tunes in the evening, and finally dragged us all out for some night skating around 10pm. His English is spoken with similar vigor, albeit with a severely limited vocabulary.  He compensates with enthusiasm and personality, and his accent is so ridiculous that it guarantees his jokes are always funny. I’ve tried to avoid the topic of politics, but that hasn’t stopped him from letting me know that he thinks Obama is an idiot, that Snowden is a hero, and that Putin is saving the world, one Ukrainian peninsula at a time.

Elena, on the other hand, is much more subdued and a far cry from the stereotypical Russian girl I was expecting. She washes her own dishes, puts the Oligarch in his place when he gets too misogynistic, and is probably more in touch with reality than my freshman year roommate. I did, however, get some interesting gossip on her from one of the staff members, but the “upstairs/downstairs” drama will have to wait for tomorrow.

Typical Siberian village

Typical Siberian fortress


  1. I am so loving this. AHH please keep posting this story forever! (And good luck with the future Mr. Moscowed!)