U.S. President Barack Obama’s limousine leaving Alexandrovsky Sad after a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Solider on Monday.
Tourists who choose to go on organized tours to Moscow always regret it in the end. You may lodge in a nice hotel, say a whole floor in the Ritz-Carlton, and get to bring your own chef and bodyguards, but you are still restricted to seeing the city through the tinted windows of your limousine.
But what if you sneak away?
Barack Obama, stop the car, open the door and get out so that it is just you (and the world’s media and the snipers on rooftops) and Moscow alone together.
Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev was known for his spontaneous stops and walkabouts, and as you are set to meet him Tuesday, you could ask for some advice. He liked to go and talk to the people, but they seemed less busy in those days, standing around in lines. So you may see everyone walk past very quickly, berate you for the 28-kilometer traffic jam you just caused or assume that you are advertising a restaurant or a tanning salon.
But while standing there, take a deep breath. Can you smell it? It’s the whiff of a smoker’s nation. You are among friends, smoking friends, so enjoy yourself. You can smoke in restaurants, bars, and even while halting cars for bribes while working as a traffic policeman.
If you don’t have any cigarettes on you, just say, “Mozhno strelnut u vas sigaretu?” or “Can I cadge a cigarette off you?” to any passerby. A pack only costs the equivalent of $1.25, so people will happily share.
Your two hosts may not smoke, but they are an anomaly. If you take a look at their team, you will spot the yellowing fingers and the nervous twitch as a meeting goes on too long. Ask for a smoke break, and you will have the team on your side — and be able to find out who is sleeping with whom from the gossip in the smoking area.
Ajaruli KhachapuriKhachapuri, a cheese-filled Georgian delicacy, is a tasty Moscow treasure.
The lifestyle magazine Bolshoi Gorod wrote a long letter to you in their latest issue — the picture has you seated in the back of a Volga where you look concerned that the gypsy cab driver has gone the wrong way again.
The letter contains an interesting list of 67 places to visit in Moscow. If your aides have not translated and placed it in a neat little folder for you to read, then you should get new aides.
Many of the destinations could be fitting for any first-time visitor: Red Square, Pushkin Cafe and the Bolshoi Theater. A few of the suggestions show that renegade Republicans might work at the magazine: They recommend a visit to Oscar-winning film director Nikita Mikhalkov’s house, the Center for Breast Enlargement and the Ostrov supermarket where three people were killed by a renegade policeman in April.
Go with the suggestion to head to the basketball courts in Festivalny Park at the corner of Olympiisky Prospekt and Sushovsky Val for a pickup game. “Polozhi kola!” or “Show me a real slam-dunk!” is what to say, the magazine advises.
Do take Dima and Volodya with you, because height is not always crucial in the game. Just look at the New York Knicks’ Nate Robinson, who is only a little taller than both of them.
Bolshoi Gorod says there is no need to visit the ultranationalist Movement Against Illegal Immigration, or DNPI, because the DNPI will “find you. Run, Obama, run.”
In fact, you should head straight for a DNPI stronghold and wait for their shaven-headed members to come introduce themselves. Just make sure two truckloads of marines from the embassy are waiting around the corner.
You could then ask the marines to station themselves at Peoples’ Friendship University, where media reports say your cousin is still waiting for her White House invitation.
You could also visit thePR department, not to discuss gas disputes with Ukraine but to seek an explanation of how the company came up with the name Nigaz for a new Russian-Nigerian joint venture. We hear that Gazprom spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov is especially good at the correct pronunciation of the word.
Top off your trip around town with dinner at a Georgian restaurant. Sample the khinkali dumplings and khachapuri cheese bread, but don’t try to order a fine Georgian wine — the authorities may not be lenient if they catch you with a banned substance.