Sunday, December 07, 2014

These requests from abroad, Vol. 6: "I wish you prosperity and development!"

If you own a brewery or work for one, you've probably fielded numerous e-mail inquiries from overseas asking for beer labels, crown caps and the like, as destined to become the cherished keepsakes of private collectors who've somehow heard of your portfolio, even in far-off Montenegro or Macao.

To me, there is something compelling and yet haunting about these foreign requests, which tend most often to come from Central/Eastern European locales, places of longtime personal interest to me historically and geographically. They speak to my inner melancholic.

Lately, I've been pasting their addresses into Google Map and seeing what their places of residence look like. After all, they can look at my business, and it seems only fair for me to see where they live, so very far away. In this spirit of introductions, meet Pavel from St. Petersburg, Russia

"Good day! Ladies and gentlemen, may I ask you a favor? I am interested in beer coasters/beer mats from around the world."

The last time I visited St. Petersburg, it was called Leningrad, and that was in 1987. Two years before, in 1985, my introduction to the Russian capital of old ... a real-life figment of Peter the Great's imagination ... came aboard a bus from Helsinki with a group of youthful tourists just like me, and it seems so much like a dream now. It was still the USSR, fully Communist, and Mikhail Gorbachev had been the head cheese for only a few scant months.

Leningrad was a big city even then, and the industrial suburbs coming in seemed endless, but in the historic city center, near the Winter Palace and other historic sites lifted directly from all the damn books I read in college, seemingly in preparation for those three slim days on the ground, it was so quiet you could hear a crown cap drop. Nevski Prospekt, the main shopping street, seemed perpetually deserted apart from the street cars, which cost the equivalent of about five cents to ride.

Forlorn vending machines dispensed still or fizzy water into communal glasses -- not paper, not plastic, but glass; two or three might be lined up atop the contraption, with a "sanitizer" function that occasionally worked. I celebrated my 25th birthday at a Central Asian joint, in the company of an entertaining Aussie named Mark, who regaled me with tales of the Smiths.

Leningrad was punished severely at the hands of the invading Germans during World War II (the Great Patriotic War, in regional usage). There was a 900-day-long siege, and the city bent but didn't break. A half-million people died, most of them civilians, and among the sites my tour group visited was the Piskariovskoye Memorial Cemetery. At the time, it was a favored pilgrimage spot for newlyweds. Sure enough, upon arrival, we saw a bride and groom posing for photos with the cemetery as backdrop. Somewhere I have a slide to prove it.

My point in recounting all this is that in all likelihood, Pavel hadn't yet been born when I was there. His apartment block on Turistskaya, which appears quite new, looks to be roughly 8-10 miles away from where I spent most of my time 29 years ago, which is labeled "Tsentralny" on the map above.

At least he has a nice shopping mall right across the street.

I wonder if there is beer for sale there?

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