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Knights of the Vine RUSSIA


Lipp Service: Our Lady of Izmailovo
Text Linda Lippner

The Izmailovo market has its charms and can certainly generate a pull on your purse strings when you go out there to buy a birthday or Christmas gift. It’s guaranteed that you will walk away clutching packages of items you didn’t know you had to have as you set out on that “short trip to pick up one or two things.”

Izmailovo is good in any weather, but my favorite time is early fall when there is just a slight nip in the air as you emerge from the Partizanskaya metro stop. One reason the air is nippy when I go to Izmailovo is that I like to go early with friends who are serious antiques shoppers. We are up at dawn — or before dawn in winter — and at the doors of the market at 7 am. At this time of day there are no crowds, and, as I have found out, no vendors! Th e craft and souvenir sellers on the downstairs or ground level are sleep-in types just like me, especially on Sundays. But upstairs, where the antique and junk dealers plant themselves, early morning is their time to do a little early-bird shopping among themselves. A pretty good breakfast is available on the upper level from the ladies with the metal shopping carts full of goodies to get you started in the morning: hot carafes of water for green or black tea, hot coffee, and yes, vodka. To accompany your eye-opener of choice, try the blinis stuffed with meat or cheese wrapped in plastic baggies kept hot in some mysterious way at the bottom of the shopping cart.

But after a couple little plastic cups of tea and a blini or two, there is another need you might want to satisfy on the market’s upper level. In the middle of the shopping area, there is a rather nice green, open space where you will find the wildly eccentric but charming Toi Toi Lady tending to her nicely landscaped and elaborately decorated outhouses. In every season and all kinds of weather, the Toi Toi Lady is there to collect a few rubles, and spray some air freshener into the toi toi she has selected for you as she beckons you to its door. You are happy to discover that it is very nice inside. There are wood shavings scattered on the floor for absorbency, and although it can be a little dark inside once you close and latch the door, you notice before you go in that there is plastic greenery and flowers and a little toy or stuffed animal to keep you company. And you can always count on toilet tissue!

Once you emerge, the services of the Toi Toi Lady don’t end just because she has collected your rubles for the basics. She’ll welcomes you over to her little service cabin where she applies soapy water to your hands with one squire bottle and clear water from another for a rinse. A cotton towel is offered for a hand dry-off and, if you are lucky, it’s rather clean. Classical or folk music is playing on her CD player, and if you want a rest before you resume your shopping, have a seat on the nearby bench and fix your hair in the large mirror. When I last visited the Toi Toi Lady, we had a good time trying on funny hats in front of the mirror. (She stores these hats in her little cabin.)

Our Lady of Izmailovo, as I like to call her, is always cheerful, always happy to help you out, and, most importantly, always there. Go visit her, take a break, and discover one of the more pleasant features of shopping at Izmailovo — and it won’t cost you an arm and a leg!

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