Thursday, December 05, 2013

Herring & Moonshine & Shotguns! Oh My!

Here Comes Trouble

How did this calvados-swilling Capitalist Pig wind up with a 12ga Over/Under in a Cold War apartment building?
Read on, Constant Readers.

So, on Friday evening we were off to the birthday party for St. Ass's cousin, Svetlana.

After a fairly short drive from the Krasnaya ulitsa we arrived in the target neighborhood, a warren of partially paved streets, ditches, playgrounds and car axle-killing curbs with parking for only 10% of the cars in the area. Hence- finding a spot to park was a challenge.
We finally settled on a spot that blocked access to a children's playground and only partially blocked the through street.

The buildings were Cold-War era high-rises and except for the signs and posters being in Cyrillic, it could have been part of Pruitt-Igoe. (Big points for any Constant Reader that knows the reference without clicking the link.)
Lots of concrete, corners and walls chipped and streaked by the cold winters and hot summers. Virtually no outside maintenance... 
A tenement, for all intents and purposes.
We got buzzed through the big steel door and found an elevator. It might have been a dumbwaiter, but for our purposes is was tight and small, but still usable to go to the...something...floor. There were no numbers on the buttons, but Vakhtang counted the them and pushed one seemingly at random...
The overloaded box struggled to get us up, and when the door opened it was dark...
Why waste power lighting a foyer? If you are supposed to be here, you should know where the door is.
We were welcomed into the mudroom for the floor, shedding our coats and our shoes, and then entered Igor & Svetlana's home. Vakhtang, St. Ass and Yours Truly arrived in style, bearing flowers and goodwill.

In Kazan I had noticed that there seemed to be a flower shop on nearly every corner.
I asked about this phenomenon, and St.Ass said that if you are going visiting for nearly any reason, it is considered good form to bring flowers.
In theory, anything short of a forced encounter with the specific purpose of bodily injury necessitates bringing flowers to your host.

Rules of Thumb:
  • Birthday party: Flowers.
  • Stopping by for a drink before going out: Flowers.
  • Collecting on an overdue debt: Flowers.
  • Accosting a neighbor for parking in your spot: Flowers
  • Chasing down a local hoodlum for impregnating your 14 year old daughter: Tokarev 7.62x25
Enough said.

So- Social occasions in Russia differ from those in America in a couple ways...
For instance- In the US, a table or series of tables will be set with different foods to be enjoyed. Guests will fill a small plate or napkin or whathaveyou and circulate among the other guests, joining or leaving small discussion groups. A somewhat random method for people to socialize.
In Russia- social encounters are, as a rule, dinner parties. Everyone sits down at a single table and enjoys the offerings of the house, and the conversation is (mostly) a single discussion involving all the participants. (unless, of course, you are American, and only one or two of the nine people there speak Engrish, then hopefully one of the Engrish-speakers will indulge you and translate specific exchanges and discussion points.)

Alcohol flows freely, and long, detailed toasts are mandatory for all participants.

And the food... Oh. My. Ghod, the food!
Salads, pickled vegetables, baked salmon, a beet-fish-potato dish called 'herring under fur', baked chicken, slaw, olives, and the list goes on and on...

This picture does not do justice to the feast that Svetlana put on for us...

Now- I have been overindulging in pickles and fish (and pickled fish) over here...

On my first night at Hotel Terem in Krasnodar I had a pickled vegetable plate, salted herring and smoked salmon whilst being serenaded by the Violin Girls and it was marvelous.

The next day we went and caused a shortage of salmon and caviar in the Krasnodar region, due to sampling; Some might even call it oversampling.
(Those Saturday Morning grazers at Costco could take lessons from us.)

Then at this party there was the "herring under fur" which was awesome.

My indulging in salmon and herring continues here in Sochi, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Let's talk about booze...
Svetlana's better half Igor started us off in style- he brought out a cut-class decanter of a homebrewed samogon (rus: самого́н) called sha-sha...
Relatively smooth but very warm, it reminded me of the Raki I had in Crete...
Igor then produced a recycled Tullamore Dew bottle filled with his self-distilled calvados- an apple-based brandy that was very fine - even smoother than the sha-sah.
I could tell we were in for a long evening.

Igor and Yours Truly

One thing about Russian get-togethers, there is a good amount of drinking...But it is done with style and grace...
Glasses are periodically filled and a guest will rise and say a few kind words about the birthday boy or girl, or the anniversary couple, or whoever. Some of these toasts were quite wordy, and when you don't understand all the words (nay, ANY  of the words) you can miss the point if you don't pay attention.
As Vakhtang gave his toast in honor of Svetlana's birthday, I watched the faces of the folks at the table... Lots of nodding in agreement and other forms of agreement.
I even took my turn and gave a short toast... Nothing memorable, and I'm sure St.Ass cleaned it up when he translated it, but it was all good.

Igor got a little into his cups and somewhere along the way St.Ass mentioned my enjoyment of shooting sports and Igor got a crazed gleam in his eye...
He rushed out of the room and came back in with a 12ga. over/under with modified chokes.
This, I was not expecting.
It was a beautiful gun. St.Ass explained that Igor was a hunter and that I should blow off going to Sochi and stay in Krasnodar and we'd go duck hunting.

First- Way cool. I had no idea that casual gun ownership was widespread.
Second- I was worried about the other guests and how they were feeling about us fondling this boomstick. But, no one ran screaming from the room, so, all's well.

Until he brought out his Browning .300 Winmag.
Holy crap! What a gun!
Surely this is not for casual plinking...

No, he trotted out his laptop and we scrolled though the pictures from his last bear hunt.
He and his hunting buddies- out in the wilderness hunting for Ursa Major.
And it look like they bagged 3 that trip.

More drinks! More toasts!
And more guns!
He then brought out his squirrel gun, a Walther G-22- complete with a suppressor.
Again, I was astounded.
We chatted gun stuff, with St.Ass translating Igor's increasingly inebriated speech...
He was pretty well in the bag- and I was feeling pretty good.
The crystal decanter was empty, the Tullamore Dew bottle was a dead soldier.
We wrapped up, Igor insisting I come to Russia again after the Olympics and we would hunt duck and bear and many other creatures, there would be sha-sha, calvados and all manner of good things.
Vakhtang and St.Ass took me back to Hotel Terem...
As I got out, St.Ass was passed out in the back seat of the car-
He'd been hitting the wine pretty hard... I hoped for Vakhtangs car's sake it wouldn't be a replay of TR2 in Torino...

Tomorrow- another get together, and a flight on Aeroflot.
I was looking forward to that.



Borepatch said...

Holy cow! This is awesome, and *very* unexpected.

doubletrouble said...

Have you had the opportunity to try "plov" yet?
Awesome; I think it's native to Uzbekistan or another one of the eastern republics.
My bud's wife is Russian, & her folks come over to visit. And cook. And drink.
And drink.
Na Zdorovie!

Old NFO said...

Neat! And is a road trip for FUN in the future???