A Week in Moscow – the Cossack

We, that is to say I, another Irish person, a Polish/American, and a Russian, were in a restaurant buffet on Arbat street, when a guy sat at the table next to us.

This wouldn’t sound unusual, except for A) how he was dressed B) his hairstyle and C) the fact that he joined our conversation, having taken an interest in us foreigners. While A) and B) are superficial details, but all the same add to the overall experience, the conversation is what made it.

So, I’ll start with A) how he was dressed:

He was dressed in a suit that made him look like he belonged in a Russian gangster film set in the 90s (see below). Now, although it wasn’t pink, it was a questionable cream colour, and he was wearing a large, chunky gold ring to go with and a colourful tie.

B) His hair was a sort of mullet, which again screamed of early 90s hairstyles.

C) The Conversation:

This was interesting. It went on for over an hour, and some parts are sort of hazy while others are more clear in my mind. It began with the usual ‘where are you from?’ etc etc. As the conversation continued on, we learned from him that he worked in the legal world. More interestingly, he told us that he worked as part of a body that drafts government laws.

Him: ‘I helped draft the law to legalise the unification of Crimea with Russia’. (Unification of Crimea – His words, not mine)

He handed us each a business card.

Me: ‘Your surname is Daneiko? That’s not a Russian surname, right? It sounds Ukrainian because of the -ko at the end.’ (In light of what has happened over the past year, and what he said about drafting the law re Crimea, this would have been a sore spot. I pointed it out in all innocence, however.)

Him: ‘Well, I suppose it is a Ukrainian name…’

Sensing the discomfort from my companions, I struggled to avoid making eye contact with them, for fear of getting a fit of nervous giggles.

Him: ‘I mean, it’s a Slavic name, but I’m a Cossack.’

Note: The pronunciation of the words ‘Cossack’ and ‘Kazakh’ in Russian sound sort of similar to a foreigner (in English letters its ‘Kаzаk’ and ‘Kazakh’), especially if you’re in a loud public place and are struggling not to get the giggles.

Me: ‘But you don’t look like you’re from Kazakhstan.’

Him: ‘No, I’m a Cossack.’

I look bemused.

My companions (in English) say: ‘He’s a Cossack!’

Me: ‘Oh, you’re a Cossack! Sorry, the words sound very similar to me! I was wondering, because you don’t have the asian look at all.’

After this, I left for the bathroom – at this stage, upon realising that I’d put my foot in it more than once.

The conversation digressed then to other subjects, such as why he thought Greece should also become a part of Russia, and what currency Poland has. He then asked for our numbers (I made up an excuse that I’d only just arrived and still didn’t have a Russian phone number)

It was an interesting evening.

Russia – A Walk in the Woods

You forget what silence, in its true form, actually is until you leave a city, something I hadn’t done properly for at least a year until last Saturday. Nor is it everyday that you pick several kilos of wild plum-like fruits while drinking straight from a bottle of cognac.

Following this, sitting by a roaring fire, surrounded by forest on the shore of a lake, which was apparently the result of a fallen meteorite in the distant past, the topics of conversation ranged accordingly.

For instance, our friend and guide, who at one point had disappeared into the gloom to find more bits of wood, elicited references to The Walking Dead when gunshots echoed across the lake. We could no longer see his torch.

‘Are you alive?’ we called. ‘Auuuu?’

‘Yes, yes, I’m here!’ comes the reply. ‘They’re hunters! They’re some way off’

‘This is soooo The Walking Dead.’

‘I know, all we need is to encounter some walkers, or worse, cannibals and then we’d be right at home.’

*rustles bushes and mimics a groaning flesh-eating zombie*

‘Stop it’


‘Let’s have more cognac’

‘When Hari and I were out in the woods one time, we came across a fresh bear print.’


‘Is there any more black pudding?’


‘It’s much better when it’s been over a flame.’

‘So what are we going to do with the plums, put them in vodka?’

‘We can get pure alcohol for that. It’s way cheaper and better than vodka. Give them two months or so and they’ll make a really nice drink.’

‘How much is a bottle of pure alcohol?’

‘It starts at 800 Rubles for 5 litres.’

‘So why don’t homeless people drink it?’

‘I guess that’s still kind of pricey for them.’

‘Are you sure we won’t go blind from it?’

‘No, trust me, it’s not that kind of alcohol. This is cleaner than the vodka you get in the shops. Also, we add water to it, obviously.’

‘Okay then!’

Sometime later…

‘We have to make sure it’s completely out. That was one of the rules we learned in scouts.’

*soft, spattering hiss of liquid hitting flames*

‘It’s like as if evolution thought of everything…’


‘Do you want to finish it off?’


*hisssss, sputter hisssss*

‘Where have the girls gone?’

‘They’ve gone to find a bush’


The Month of November – A Revolutionary History

What does one do with a hangover? Today, in my case, it’s listen to Irish rebel songs and surf the net to try and get the motivation to move off the bed. One of these songs in particular is called ‘Follow Me Up to Carlow’, about the Second Desmond Rebellion in the 16th century. Naturally, as with 99.9% of Irish rebellions against the English, it ended in defeat. What struck me was the date that it ended – November 11th. Maybe I’m being selective, but it has occurred to me on more than one occasion that there is something about the month of November and major world events, particularly in the 20th century. Now, the Second Desmond Rebellion was by no means a Major world event, but more a blip on the endless timeline of history. I digress. The point of this post is to list some of the major things that have happened in November:

1. Peter the Great became Emperor of Russia (Nov 2nd, 1703)
2. Assassination of Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzak Rabin (Nov 4th, 1995)
3. The Hungarian Revolution of 1956 was crushed by the Soviet army (Nov 4)
4. The Gunpowder Plot of 1605 by Guy Fawkes (Nov 5th)
5. The Bolshevik Revolution (Nov 7th, 1917 – by the new calendar, October 25th by the old calendar)
6. The East German Government resigned (Nov 7th, 1989) followed by the fall of the Berlin Wall two days later.
7. Hitler’s Beer Hall Putsch (Nov 8th, 1923)
8. Kristallnacht (9-10 November, 1938)
9. End of WWI (November 11th, 1918)
10. Death of PLO leader, Yasser Arafat (Nov. 11th 2004)
11. The end of the Second Desmond Rebellion (Nov 11th, 1583)
12. Official end of the Cold War, with the signing of a treaty of conventional forces at the Paris summit (19-20 Nov. 1990)
13. Nuremburg trials began (20th Nov., 1946)
14. John F. Kennedy assassination (22nd Nov.)
15. The publication of Origin of Species, by Charles Darwin (24th Nov., 1859)
16. The partition of Palestine (29th Nov. 1947)
17. The ill-fated invasion of Finland by the Soviet Union (30th Nov. 1939)


I’m sure there are plenty more. If anybody thinks of any, please, don’t hesitate to add them in the comment stream.