Monday, February 11, 2008

Going to Russia

On a cold, blustery Saturday afternoon we hopped the rail to Russia for lunch. A mere hour away through rugged and colorful countryside we arrived in the main shopping district of a suburb of the former Soviet Union. In those few minutes we had time travelled to Belarus, Ukraine, Moscow and Moldova.

Made even colder by the gigantic gray shadow of the elevated train that brought us, the avenue bustled with fur coats and walkers. Stores with large lettering, as if for the blind, were crammed floor to ceiling with Russian porn books and cd's, fresh baked pastries steaming under a plastic canopy, markets jammed with fur hats and women with pointy elbows, and Curves. Pickled watermelon, Birch juice, frozen cheese treats and mile-long ropes of sausage that looked like cinnamon rolls lined the aisles. And cinnamon rolls too. And monstrous cakes with inch thick icing. Star shaped meringues glued together with chocolate cream. Compote. Oversized boxes of buckwheat in varying states of grind. Gherkins, 5-pounds for $3.69.

We had lunch at Cafe Glechik, gorging on hot borscht with sour cream, sweet dumplings that tasted like blintzes, but in the shape of dumplings. Salty dumplings that tasted like regular dumplings, and sour cherry dumplings where I bit into the seed. We also had another kind of soup with meat-like cubes and capers, a beef that fell off the bone and right into a big pile of buckwheat, considered the most prized of all grains and topped off with a rich and creamy Strogonoff that clogs the arteries in your brain before settling in your thighs for the rest of eternity. Not a vegetable in sight if you don't count cabbage, or if you consider pickles a vegetable.

One mile-long block away is the icy cold beach with shuttered nightclubs, seagulls squawking and men bundled in thick layers playing chess on the bench.

Had the weather been more forgiving, a 10 minute stroll down the boardwalk to Coney Island would have been the sour cherry on top of the cake. Its destruction has been delayed by at least one more season so there is time to return before it is gone. Don't forget to mark your calendars and make sure to spend the entire summer at Coney Island this year because that will be the end of it. And, if you don't live in New York, make sure you visit to witness the end of an era.

But alas, Coney Island will have to wait, as it was time to return home, back on the slow rail, the local Q train, one of those modern day train lines that didn't exist when I was growing up that somehow attached itself to the N and R lines while I wasn't paying attention. Or should I say RR.

And just an hour to get back home, to see modern dance, slow and deliberate, perfect and fluid, the exact opposite of Russia. If you don't count Baryshnikov.

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