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I was privileged to meet one of the columnists at The Unz Review. Feel free to guess who.
Ironically, we met up at Jean-Jacques cafe on Nikitsky Boulevard, the favorite watering hole of the rukopozhatnaya kreakl crowd (handshake-worthy/”respectable” “creative” hipsters). It’s a solid enough place, though – slightly pretentious French style lunch with wine for 1,000 rubles.
Finally got Twenty Years to the Great War, a massive tome on the late Tsarist industrialization by HSE professor Mikhail Davydov.
A taste of some of what it covers in the intro to an an interview with the author:
The development of Magnitogorsk? Planned by the State Council of the Russian Empire in 1915. The irrigation of Central Asia? Started in 1901, by 1912 there were working excavators… About the poverty of the people: In 1906-1913 credit cooperatives gave farmers loans totalling 2.5 billion rubles (equivalent to six naval modernization programs). In 1913, 30% of families in the country possessed savings books.
People lived considerably better than Soviet propaganda would later claim, and in fact many of the big “signature” Soviet modernization projects were first planned out and initiated in the waning days of the Empire (even including electrification).
But there’s really a lot more to it. One thousand pages, many of which are devoted to statistical tables. Looking forwards to reading it and reviewing it properly.
A mundane example of how Moscow has really been spruced up in the past couple of years.
Some more culinary notes, since we haven’t had those for a while:
At around the time of the New Year, I tried out a nutria burger at the Krasnodar Bistro, thanks to a “recommendation” of sorts from The Guardian’s Shaun Walker (“Hot rat is so hot right now: Moscow falls for the rodent burger“).
It was entirely fine, a bit similar in texture to a beef patty, but with a distinctive flavor and a greasier texture. Not perhaps the best meat, but still, 2033 should be perfectly survivable.
The more relevant and encouraging sociological observation is that its one example of many in which Russia is developing its own culinary traditions as opposed to aping from abroad (nutria is particular to Russia’s Krasnodar region).
Thanks to JL for the Likuria recommendation – I got a set of them. I thought the Blend and the Merlot were pretty good, but the Cabernet Sauvignon disappointed, and the Shiraz was very bad.
The Agora bastardo from Crimea remains my favorite dry Russian red, but frankly none of them are anything to write home about. For now at least its better to just get the European imports.
That said, the Abrau Durso champagnes, with the partial exception of their bruts, are surprisingly good and continue to gain on me.
I enjoyed Ararat cognac from Armenia, the standard product in this class here, but I am not a conoisseur of cognac, so my opinion isn’t worth much.
I am not exactly a big cheese fan, I don’t even buy it normally, but I do like to make Greek salad from time to time, and that means feta. I suspect it is directly on the sanctions list because I haven’t been able to find it in the usual supermarkets (though I haven’t bothered searching). The alternative here is a thing called bryndza, but it is most decidedly not feta; the Serbian bryndza I bought first is far closer to cheap standard cream cheeses. That said, the “classical” version is the one that’s at least very faintly reminscent of feta.
As I explained in one of my earlier open threads, in my opinion Georgian cuisine is overrated (it’s only particularly interesting or “exotic” by Soviet standards).
That said, the one exception to that assessment – and its a real bigly one – is kharcho.