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I am looking at a picture my girlfriend just took. I didn’t even know that I could look so serene and happy at the same time. Something in my facial expression is reminiscent of a mother looking at her sleeping baby. Cannibalistically.
It’s 10pm on a Wednesday night. It’s dark outside the window, a cold November drizzle smears the lights coming from the Castle Village buildings. I am sitting at a wooden table in my tiny Manhattan kitchen come dining room. My left hand is soaking in a blender – cold water is unsuccessfully trying to soothe the pain radiating from a large burn across my palm. I don’t care. I am happy. I achieved a dream that I hadn’t even have the guts to dream about. The dream is sitting right here, on the wooden table, on a black wire tray a foot and a half away from me. The dream looks like a misshapen slightly burnt brownish lump still covered in a thin coat of whitish powder. It’s about the same size and shape as a human brain but it’s slightly less symmetrical. I gingerly caress it with my fingertips; I run them along the rough folds, grooves and ridges of the surface. Something crackles faintly underneath. I bring my head close to it and almost touch the surface with my ear. Heat irradiates towards my head and I can feel faint noises coming from under thick crust. It’s talking to me. It says, “Hi.”
On Friday, as Yvonne and I discussed our weekend plans, my lovely girlfriend stumbled upon an idea that was as tasty as it was healthy.
“Why don’t we choose the ten best bakeries around the town and bike from one to another picking one pastry at every place? I will take some pictures and you will write it up,” Yvonne suggested.
“What are you waiting for? Choose the bakeries!” I enthusiastically blurted.
Yvonne burrowed inside her Apple delight for half an hour, browsed the internet and came up with a list of 12 French (oui), American, Turkish, German and otherwise-excellent-but-lacking-an-identifiable-ethnic-character bakeries all around town, from 58th street and Fifth avenue to Dumbo, Brooklyn.
This is a story about the Russian wine industry in the 1860’s told by Saltykov-Schedrin:
Apparently, no grapes grow in Kashino and wine is produced in wine-makers’ basements. The technology is amazingly simple. For every type of wine, the makers pick up genuine barrels from genuine wines. They fill a genuine barrel with Astrakhan Chikhir (a cheap red wine from the Astrakhan region) and mix it with water in a certain ratio. The Kashino river provides good water; recently they also found out that river Kotorosl in Yaroslavl region also possessed numerous Jerez and Lafite properties.
When the diluted Chikhir absorbs enough stink from the barrels, the wine-makers start beefing it up. Firstly, they add a bucket of alcohol per barrel. Then, based on the type of produced wine, they add some flavors. For Madeira, they add molasses; for Malaga, they add tar; for Rheinwein they add lead sugar (lead acetate). They mix the mixture till it gets uniform and reseal the barrel. After the wine sediments, the owner or his chief manager comes in and sorts the wine. If he spits once, the wine becomes a simple Madeira – 40 kopecks; if he spits twice, the wine becomes zwei-Madeira – 40 kopecks or 1 ruble; if he spits three times, the wine becomes drei-Madeira – 1.50 ruble or more (it could be a 100-years-aged Madeira). The makers bottle, cork and label the wine when it is ready.
Following the rules of hierarchy, the wine-makers bring the wine first to health department officials, then to the governor. Once everybody confirms that they’ve never drunk anything better, the wine goes to district judges and municipal officials. Then, the whole wine harvest takes the river and travels to Nizhnii Novgorod Fair from where it spreads instantly all over Russia. Cops drink it, local judges drink it, land owners drink it, merchants drink it and nobody knows what they’re drinking.