A client had requested me to accompany him and another director of his company to Russia. The Australian Trade Commission invited him to make a presentation to a seminar in Moscow. My role was to conclude an agreement with the regional government of St Petersburg. I shall write from that beautiful city in due course.
Moscow is an exciting destination featuring magnificent architecture and historic buildings. It is also renowned for being a major cultural centre in northern Europe. With approximately 12 million people in the major part of the city and a further 4 million or so in the outer suburbs, Moscow is the most populated inland city in the world.
The renowned historical buildings situated near the Moskva River include Saint Basil’s Cathedral, resplendent with its colourful domes; the medieval city fortress, home of the President of Russia, the Kremlin; the State Duma or Russian Parliament; and Red Square.
A visit to Moscow would not be complete without taking the Moscow Metro, not only for the purpose of experiencing the efficiency of inner-city rail travel but also to undertake a tour of Russian art. During the rule of the ruthless dictator Joseph Stalin (he succeeded Lenin in 1929 and died after a stroke at the age of 74 in 1953) the underground railway stations were magnificently painted and covered with inspirational mosaics. A visit to any city station is a significant cultural experience in itself.
But I ramble. My client’s seminar presentation was well received. The Moscow-based Senior Trade Commissioner – I shall name him Felix to protect his anonymity – was so impressed he arranged a subsequent dinner meeting with one of his wealthy business friends who had significant links to the Government.
The Russian businessman was one of Felix’s former schoolmates and apparently an expert in computer technology. Felix informed us that his friend’s expertise had secured him a contract with the Russian Government to supply and install computer hardware for the entire government system. Felix appropriately described his friend as an ‘oligarch’ – a person of considerable wealth and influence. I suspect he was therefore also a friend of Vladimir Putin.
“He is enormously influential and should be able to finalise some contracts,” said Felix. “My young friend is single and is usually with a different girlfriend whenever I see him.”
I wonder why!
Dinner was held at an exclusive restaurant but surprisingly we were seated next to what appeared to be a large circular cage approximately 5 metres in diameter. Into our second course and suddenly two men dressed in traditional Russian costumes appeared. They both carried a small cage, each holding a chook. But these were not ordinary chooks. They were large roosters and they too were dressed unusually – strange headwear, jewellery around legs and sharp, probably false claws.
We had ringside seats at a cockfight. As feathers fly as hard as it was I tried to ignore the activities immediately behind my seat. The Russian craned his neck across the table to watch the skirmish as he gulped vodka like we would normally drink water on a hot summer’s day. Felix had previously advised us to punctuate our vodka ‘nips’ with copious quantities of cranberry juice. It was obviously top quality vodka but the juice certainly aided in maintaining sobriety.
Following dinner we strolled two hundred metres up the road to a bar for more serious discussions, apparently. A large black limousine crawled alongside us and we were preceded by two hefty bodyguards.
Why does this bloke have the need for bodyguards? I asked myself. Enemies? Kidnapping? Perhaps a status symbol – the more heavyweights that surround one the more important one is?
Upon arrival at an apparently exclusive club the oligarch barked in Russian at the owner. Suddenly bar staff scurried everywhere and within a few minutes the place was empty.
We were ushered into a quiet corner of the large, partitioned and dimly lit room. Across the room a small band played mood music. Several attractive young waitresses appeared in our small lounge area and we were offered more vodka!
A failed attempt to be discreet, after a few drinks the company director who accompanied my client quietly left the lounge. ‘Discreet’ means ‘having or showing good judgment in conduct’.
Certainly not showing good judgment.
He returned some time later accompanied by a waitress and quietly slipped onto a sofa. At that point the Russian oligarch and his latest girlfriend took their leave. My client and I also announced our departure but Felix and the not-so-discreet one remained behind, presumably to enjoy more vodka.
Having returned to our hotel my client and I decided to have a nightcap. We were enjoying a single malt scotch in the convivial top floor bar when the not-so-discreet one hastily entered.
“I need to borrow some money,” he addressed my client as he rushed to the bar, “Err …. I have to pay for the taxi.”
“How much do you need?”
“A few hundred would be good. I’ll repay you tomorrow when I can to get to an ATM.”
Bloody expensive taxi!
Money in hand he beat a hasty retreat.
I am somewhat bemused and noting this my client informed me of his colleague’s common practice, “I assume he has female company.” Nothing more was said. His behaviour merely served to confirm my earlier impression of him as an asshole (excuse my language).
Later that night, reflecting on the unusual venue for dinner, I wrote:
This is the night
of the world title fight
(we wait for ours to come in)
the crowd is swelling
as the announcer is telling
how the champ is odds-on to win.
The champ prances round
Like a blood-thirsty hound,
(we wait for ours to appear)
a capacity crowd
is yelling out loud,
not long to start, but the end is too near.
…… but wait!
The announcer enters the ring;
in a loud voice commences to sing:
“the fighter won’t leave his pen,
I’m afraid it’s all off,
the challenger’s gone soft,
the world champ has won it again.”
Tonight was the night
of a world title fight
(and feathers were expected to fly),
the crowd has gone now
leaving the champ all forlorn,
and our cock is now in a pie.
Gordon d’Venables has been, inter alia, a teacher, soldier, farmhand, lawyer and businessman. As a lawyer he travelled extensively for international clients. His letters from various times and places around the globe (PNG, England, Ireland, France, USA, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Iran and others) refer to some of his experiences. Gordon’s recently published book, The Medusa Image, can be obtained from Pegasus at www.pegasuspublishers.com, ISBN: 9781784658939 www.amazon.com.au or https://www.amazon.com/Medusa-Image-Gordon-DVenables/dp/1784658936
GORDON D’VENABLES: Letters.
GORDON D’VENABLES: Letter from USA, pre-Soviet Union Breakup.
GORDON D’VENABLES: Letter from Belgrade.
GORDON D’VENABLES: Letter from Iran.
GORDON D’VENABLES: Letter from India.
GORDON D’VENABLES: Letter from Saudi Arabia.
GORDON D’VENABLES: Letter from Vietnam.
GORDON D’VENABLES: Letter from Germany.
GORDON D’VENABLES: Letter from London.
GORDON D’VENABLES: Second Letter From London.
GORDON D’VENABLES: Second Letter From Iran.
Source: Tasmanian Times https://www.tasmaniantimes.com/2021/04/letter-from-moscow/#utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=letter-from-moscow