photo by John Ranard
photo by John Ranard

When I first arrived in Moscow the summer of '92, I was told that the secrets of the Russian soul would become apparent once I shared bread and salt with local Russians.

Confusion surrounded me as the people were adjusting to the change from a command economy to one governed by the free market.

More than once a Russian would confuse democracy with capitalism and point to the chaos on the street with a wave of his hand and ask the question "This is democracy?"

It was as if the aquarium had been turned upside down and everyone was scrambling to find a safe place -- and in the process creating a new code of ethics.

I returned again during the fall of '93 and was able to stay long enough to see the seasons change four times.

I saw and read things in the newspaper that would boggle an American's sense of credibility.

A Russian housewife regularly checks her groceries with a Geiger counter, then discovers radioactive money in her purse.

The crew of an Aeroflot commercial flight pours lemonade into the hydraulic landing gear system in order to get the wheels down. It works.

Valentin Varennikov accused of high treason for plotting to overthrow Gorbachev refuses amnesty in favor of a trial and is then acquitted by the Supreme Court.

His defense is that he acted out of loyalty to the Soviet State and that Gorbachev is the man who should be on trial.

Sergei Movrodi, one of Russia's nouveau bankers, designs his own currency with an image of himself on the face of each note.

After the collapse of his vast pyramid scheme which bilks the life savings from elderly pensioners, he finds his strongest support among the very people he victimized.

Movrodi campaigns for a seat in the Duma after being arrested for suspicion of tax evasion. He wins the seat assuring him legal immunity and freedom.

Later I learned that the statement regarding friendship and knowledge comes from a proverb and was more complex than I originally understood. "To know someone well you need to have shared bread and a "pood" of salt," I was told. A pood is an archaic measurement that equals nearly 40 pounds.

After cooking in my apartment for a year, I noticed, while packing my bags before returning to New York, that the kilo package of salt in my cupboard purchased the first week I arrived was still mostly full.

photo by John Ranard