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Knights of the Vine RUSSIA

Fred Flintstone

Pray in One Hand
Fred Flintstone

In July, Fred prayed that this year Bedrock would be spared last summer’s smoke and heat. But he took his old man’s advice to “spit in one hand and pray in the other and see which one fills first.” He headed for the land of corn-fed beef and peaches ‘n’ cream sweet corn with Wilma and Fred Jr—with empty bags. They were heading to a land free of the “corruption tax” that saddles Bedrock residents with exorbitant prices for almost everything.

The Flintstones stayed in a small fairytale of a town far from any city, without Bentleys, Audi 8s, Mercs, and Cayennes, though there were a few “vettes.” The CEO of a hundred million dollar company drives a Prius, and it’s not black. Farms are going organic, the mayor is green, and “sustainable” is the by-word. Wild beasts roam: deer, fox, owls, turkey, rabbits, and squirrels. On the back roads, drivers give each other a quick wave in passing, a “secret handshake” that let’s the other know you belong.

Fred had to get used to hearing the words “thank you”. People actually said “thanks” when Fred opened the door for them at the coffee shop. Shop owners and grocery clerks said “thanks for your business, come back soon.” OK, so the “how are you” greetings and small talk about the weather can be a little much, but a quick “fine, and you” is a small price to pay for civility.

The door-lock thing also threw him: residents lock neither home nor car. The UPS delivery guy leaves your Amazonordered iPad on the porch, or inside your door (since its open). If someone does lock, you’ll be shown to location of the secret key above the door or in the umbrella stand on the porch.

Businesses don’t have high security overhead. Flintstones never saw a shop security guard during the entire month and only occasionally a policeman. The oncea- week-or-so car accident makes the paper. The sheriff of a nearby town really was arrested and jailed for drunk driving.

For the equivalent of about 1000 roubles he got four corn-fed Amana steaks, a few brats, and a dozen ears of corn for the grill, a six-pack of Potosi Snake Hollow India Pale Ale, a pound of luscious Oxnard strawberries, and a half-gallon of Blue Bunny ice cream. Even a real Dutch brewed 750 ml Heineken cost the equivalent of 75 roubles—compare that with its weak sister, Bedrock-brewed 500 ml Heineken at almost the same price.

TV was a disappointment: there was not much to watch on the 500 or so channels. Anything interesting was constantly interrupted by what seemed to be the only TV advertising these days. First are the ads for pharmaceuticals, which with soft and soothing music and images of grandmothers and happy families, warn of side affects: heart attacks, sudden death, if you have an erection for more than four hours call your physician. The second are ads from Texas lawyers suggesting “if you’ve ever taken such and such drug or medical treatment, call us in order to get you the compensation you deserve.”

“Rabbi, is there a proper blessing for the Czar? Of course Lebish, ‘May God bless and keep the Czar, (pause) far away from us.’” (Fiddler on the Roof)

Like the little village Anatevka in Fiddler on the Roof, Fred’s village is part of a much bigger circle. During Fred’s visit, leaders who hysterically led the country into a conflict ten years ago that for the first time in history was financed entirely by debt, created a new crisis. This one had the potential to escalate to a global catastrophe.

The rhetoric alarmed Fred. It trickled down to Fred’s village. Normally intelligent people seemed to be streaming Internet webpages from their mouths. Even acquaintances, people with “green” and liberal credentials, said about default “bring it on”. Fred knows from default, having seen the result of the 1992 collapse of the USSR and the 1998 crisis in Bedrock.

Back in the day, visitors brought suitcases of jeans and other hard-to-get goods to Bedrock. Goods are not longer hard to get in Bedrock, but the variety is limited and they’re so damned expensive. Fred and family returned to Bedrock with suitcases full—a small happy ending to the fairy tale.

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