When I met him, on the winter streets of Moscow, I thought ‘pig farmer’.
Don’t get me wrong. The world needs pig farmers, because the world needs pork gyoza. Pork gyoza are the perfect expression of pot sticker art, little pillows of peace and joy. Pork gyoza are probably a key in the salvation of the world.
And bacon. Never forget bacon.
Igor – his name was Igor. Of course his name was Igor – stood in the sub zero air, a parody of the stoic Russian. Light coat, a ball cap, and a look utter indifference, as if to give an inch to the weather was so far beneath a real man as to warrant only contempt. At least, I thought it was so over the top it had to be a parody. Nope, I found out over time, that’s just Russian.
I, perhaps spiritually closer to the French and German soldiers who thought they could conquer such men and froze and died in the attempt, was freezing my ass off. I’d been in Chicago when the frigid wind would blow you down the slippery, icy streets, and in the Rockies with snow up to you eyebrows and cloudless, sunny skies that cheerily opened like a window on the eternal cold of deep space.
Igor was maybe 6’4″ and in his mid 60’s. A flannel shirt covered his considerable gut. Closer inspection revealed jeans and Nikes. Hmmm. Maybe not a pig farmer.
Anyway, Igor probably would have stood there happily – well, as happily as a Russian allows himself – while I turned into a tourist popsicle, but his phone rang. Out of his coat pocket came another indication he was no ordinary pig farmer – the latest iPhone. Some Russian, way faster than I could follow after only a 6 week course, flew by, punctuated with a ‘Da’ and the slightest nod.
‘Come.’ He turned and walked.
The bar was busy, but we found a corner table. I slipped off mittens, climbed out of my parka and doffed my hat.
“Two things.” Igor surveyed me without expression. “If you touch my daughter, I will not have to kill you.” I think he might have smiled, hard to tell. “She kill you herself.”
OK, then, hands off the daughter. Check.
“And,” now he did smile, very slightly, “Nice hat. John Kennedy Toole. Ignatius J. Reilly. You know?”
I didn’t get a chance to answer. I don’t know what I expected a could-be-a-pig-farmer’s daughter to look like, but ‘supermodel’ would not have been near the top of any list. I don’t get speechless easy, and consider myself a fair hand with the ladies, but – wow.
If Barbie is a parody of the American ideal of feminine beauty, Igor’s daughter was almost a parody of the Slav beauty. Almost, because she, unlike Barbie, was real, and standing very close to me.
Igor’s eyebrows rose a millimeter or two and he pointed a big meaty finger at me, with that could be a smile on his face. His daughter bent down and hugged and kissed him. This broke whatever spell was on me, and I clumsily rose to my feet and stuck out my hand.
Ksenia had a very firm handshake for a supermodel. We all sat back down, and the waitress brought us drinks.
Ksenia looked at me, and her unsmiling face gave the slightest hint of a family resemblance to her father’s. “Before you ask,” she said, her English accented just like her father’s, only from her utterly charming and captivating, “I am double agent. For government.” She leaned slightly forward, her face stoney. “You will not tell anyone. Or I have to kill you.”
I froze. I can only imagine the expression on my face. A long pause followed. Then a smile that could have powered a fair size city spread across her face. Her father emitted a chuckle that could have come from a bear, and Ksenia laughed the laugh of angels.
I exhaled, and laughed the laugh of relief. Suddenly, Ksenia got serious again, and stared at me with brown eyes of unutterable depth. “Funny part, it is true.” Another pause, and she laughed again.