Monday, February 28, 2005

Biggest News from Summit? IMHO It's Bush to Moscow for V-E Day Celebrations

As Andrew Sullivan likes to say, here's the money quote from the transcript of the Bush-Putin summit in Bratislava:

In conclusion, I would like to say that I highly appreciate the outcome of this summit. Later this year, we are going to meet a few more times within the framework of various international fora. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the President of the United States who has accepted the invitation to participate in the festivities on the occasion of the anniversary of the great victory on May 9th in Moscow. This is a natural manifestation of respect of historic memory and the memory of the alliance that bonded our two countries in the years of the second world war.

This seems like a fine idea--especially if Putin releases Khodorkovsky beforehand. A good time to renew the US-Russian alliance that beat the Nazis and can beat Islamic extremism in the same way. There's a huge statue of a victorious Soviet soldier looming over Vienna, and for all its awful grandiosity, I kind of liked seeing it.

Of course the plaza was probably the only unswept snow in Vienna, they don't much like the Russians here.

One reason Europeans were nice to America in the past, it seems to me, is that they wanted us to protect Europe from the Russians. Now that they're not so afraid of a weak Russia, Europeans think that they don't need us, and they're not so nice to America.

On the other hand, the Russians really do need us, and I sort of think we need them to beat the new Nazi threat, so this might be the beginning of a beautiful friendship, as Humphrey Bogart said to Claude Rains in Casablanca...

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Vienna Diary

Well, the Bush~Putin summit has come and gone, not much news coverage here in Vienna. We are staying at the Hilton, which has a nice American feel to it, even a Coca Cola convention where I got an old Coke in a small glass bottle that needed a bottle opener. Ahh...

Vienna itself is a little of a letdown after Moscow. We saw the graves of the Hapsburgs, crammed with schoolchildren, in the crypt of the Capuchin church. Someone is putting a lot of flowers on the grave of Franz Josef, it was impressive. Freud Museum didn't have too much in it, still it was interesting to see. Also the Lichtenstein Palace which has a terrific art collection and is hosting a Rubens show with some other Vienna museums, including the Kunsthistorisches Museum, where we spent today.

Last nights, sausages for supper. Now off for a schnitzel.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

A Shameless Plug for a Relative's Art

My cousin, Louise Link Rath, has just put her paintings online. She's a graduate of the California Institute of the Arts, founded by Walt Disney, lives in bucolic New Hampshire. You can take a look at her artwork at

Let Khodorkovsky Go

Press coverage about the upcoming Bush-Putin summit seems a little vague. From reading the smoke signals, it is not clear at this point, for example, what Bush is asking for. Take this item on Yahoo! News:
"Bush and Putin are due to discuss issues such as combatting terrorism, signing in the Slovakian capital Bratislava an accord imposing controls on 'man-portable' air defenses, and review as well Iraq, North Korea and US support for Russia's membership in the World Trade Organisation (WTO). The two men should also hold 'frank' talks on the Yukos affair and Russian political reforms, sources said.

What's to discuss in the Yukos affair? The whole thing is chilling, many here here say Khodorkovsky will remain in jail as long as Putin is in office--maybe longer, like Dumas' "Man in the Iron Mask." What meaning could any talk of political reforms have in this environment?

Instead of "frank" private talks, Bush might just try something a little more Reaganesque. He might directly and publicly ask Putin to let Mikhail Khodorkovsky out of jail -- in the same way Reagan asked Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall. The release of Khodordovsky would immediately improve the climate for American business with Russia, and signal a return to a more democratic path. Better business with Russia would help American-Russian relations, and make it easier for Russia to take other steps of mutual benefit to the two countries.

Monday, February 21, 2005

The Bachelor Stripped Bare

Getting ready to leave on the day after "Defenders of the Fatherland Day," a Soviet-era tribute to soldiers, sailors, and airmen which has become a sort of "Men's Day" in answer to International Women's Day on March 8th. You can buy greeting cards with a tank!

Not too much blogging last week because I was hosting Alice Goldfarb Marquis, author of a recent biography of Marcel Duchamp, The Bachelor Stripped Bare and a forthcoming biography of Clement Greenberg, in town to speak at my university and the American Center Library--and to attend the Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art, "Dialectics of Hope." She talked about Art and the Cold War, and about the legacy of Marcel Duchamp.

It was really interesting to hear Alice in Moscow, because we had some excellent and very sophisticated discussions about everything from Duchamp's "Large Glass" to Alice knitting mittens and scarves for Soviet troops during World War II.

And, gratifyingly, almost everyone here understands the importance of "ne oficialne" art and real meaning of artistic freedom. And things like the Museum of Modern Art's banning of Alice's biography of Alfred Barr, Jr. from its bookshop-- apparently, you still can't buy it there, but you can buy it here, from

Alice made an extremely interesting point in a couple of her lectures, namely, that the Soviet Cultural Offensive that lead to American support for the arts in the Cold War actually helped America to develop its own self-conscious art, independent of Europe--viz., Jackson Pollock (discovered by Greenberg) and Duchamp.

The Cold War in art ended up helping America, since, as Alice concluded one talk, "thanks to some anonymous Russian bureaucrats who dreamt up the Soviet Cultural Offensive, I can now see good art and listen to good music in my hometown of La Jolla, California..."

One other interesting item from Alice's talks related to the politics of art, and art criticism. Apparently, the New York Times spiked a scheduled book review of The Bachelor Stripped Bare, after 9/11.


Sunday, February 20, 2005

A Really Bad Idea from PBS

The New York Times has already begun lobbying for a trust fund for PBS in this article. (Thanks to Artsjournal for the tip)

Among the NYT's curious decisions was labelling Norman Ornstein of AEI a "conservative." When I was involved in the issue, a decade ago, Ornstein was considered a liberal democrat and CNN commentator (CNN at that point was called by some the Clinton News Network). But maybe he's changed. In any case, any conservative Republican might realize that Ornstein's catchphrase "socially useful programming" means spending taxpayer money to defeat Republicans...

IMHO, PBS stations should return any proceeds from spectrum sale directly to the US taxpayers -- who subsidized the network in the first place. Then the money can be used for real social needs--preserving social security or paying for homeland security, or to buy bulletproof vests and armor for our soldiers in Iraq.

Luckily for President Bush, PBS has done a good job of self-destruction in the last ten years. Ratings are down nicely. Programming is stupider than ever. And serious viewers who want educational and cultural enrichment have C-SPAN and the History Channel to turn to. Congress should let the process continue to its natural end, and stop PBS stations (many of which already have multi-million dollar endowments!) from stealing valuable spectrum revenue from the American taxpayer.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Ahmad Chalabi: Iraq's 'Comeback Kid'

According to this AP story, Ahmad Chalabi may have been the big winner in the recent Iraqi elections. Although dumped by the US government in favor of CIA-State Department-MI6 favorite Iyad Allawi, then indicted on trumped up charges of money laundering, Chalabi achieved a political comeback when his Shi'ite party, the United Iraqi Alliance, took the majority of votes, with the blessing of Ayatollah al-Sistani (by contrast, interim leader Allawi took 3rd place--bye, bye...). Given Chalabi's insulting treatment by the US, look for a more independent-minded approach to geopolitics from any new Shi'ite government, a balancing act with Iran, and possible recognition of Israel. America's abandonment of Chalabi strengthened his credentials at home with the Shi'ites, with what US politicians call "the base". Result: Chalabi doesn't owe the US for his victory, and can deal with America somewhat independently.

A whle back, I saw Chalabi speak at the American Enterprise Institute (there were tears in Danielle Pletka's eyes as she made the introduction), and Chalabi was open to peace and trade with what Saddam Hussein used to call "the Zionist entity." It would be interesting if the Shi'ites pulled this off, as Baghdad used to have a flourishing Jewish community, and an Israeli-Iraqi alliance might do wonders for Middle East peace and development. So, stay tuned.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Roger L. Simon Released from Hospital

Roger L. Simon: Mystery Novelist and Screenwriter recently had gall bladder surgery, according to his blog, and is recovering at home. We just want to take this opportunity to pass along our sincere wishes for a smooth recovery...

"We're With Putin!"

Yesterday, while trying to cross Tverskaya Street (formerly Gorky Street), to meet our friend Alice--who has braved the Russian winter to visit us from New York, and is now staying in Alla Pugachova's apartment building (Muscovites are like New Yorkers when it comes to having the best address, it seems)--we found the perehod was zakrit. A militiaman pointed out the large demonstration which had closed down Tverskaya. Indeed, there were some 30,000 people with Russian flags, and banners reading "We're with Putin!", "Stability," and the most persuasive, "Putin--Our President!" It was a march organized by the United Russia party, Putin's own answer to America's Republicans, dedicated to the preservtion of the Russian federation from disintegration.

The march took place at the exact same moment that Russian truckers were closing down the ring road with a "go slow" protest about pensions and benefits--especially fuel prices. The evening news covered the pro-Putin march, thus displacing news of protests. Thus marches on the "Babushka Revolution" sparked by benefit cuts to elderly pensioners, and used by the communists as a very effective anti=Putin organizing tool.

Putin's popularity has plunged over 20 points in the last few weeks, and more and more protesters are taking to the streets--not all of them on the Government payroll. As more and more people are less and less afraid to voice their opposition, Putin's carefully crafted siloviki revival stands a chance of stalling. The danger, unfortunately, is that the Communists--old, unreconstructed, and openly anti-semitic as well as anti-America--are the only opposition force well-organized enough to take advantage of the situation.

What Russia needs is a "loyal opposition" like those in Western democracies, as a safety valve, a feedback mechanism, and an alternative to yet another bloody revolt in Russia. Reform, not revolution, will be the key to progress here, and to a peaceful country with a growing economy.

Henry Kissinger and Citibank Chairman Sanford Weill (they have branches here) were photographed meeting with Putin in the papers today. This is all part of the runup to the US-Russian summit in ten days. It is certain that Bush and Putin will have a lot to discuss in Bratislava. If Putin wants to make a better impression on Americans, he might order the release of Khodorkovsky, Yukos's founder, from prison -- as a gesture of progress, prior to the meeting...

Friday, February 11, 2005

WETA Cuts Classical Music

Another nice thing about Moscow, "Radio Kultura" and "TV Kultura" are all highbrow, all the time. Unlike the dastardly public broadcasting lowbrows in Washington, DC, who are dumping classical music, according to this story in the Washington Post:WETA Board Approves Switch To News-Talk Format ( (thanks to Artsjournal for the tip).

What can I say? I was active in the movement to bring the Metropolitan Opera to WETA, writing about it in The Idler. We succeeded, and so far, WETA is keeping those broadcasts--but unfortunatley, cutting everything else, in favor of programming for which there is no public need whatsoever, since DC is already overserved with news and talk radio, and has a number of other NPR stations.

My guess is that the reason is political, to put more liberal propaganda on the air to attack the Bush administration from NPR, instead of cultural programming which is an oasis from politics.

The news at least gives me a personal project. When I come back to the USA next month, I hope to start an American version of Russia's TV and Radio Kultura, so that Washington might become competetive with Moscow again in the culture department. A C-span for music and the arts...

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

The Guardian on Middle East Peace

In a reasonable editorial, The Guardian calls the latest Arab-Israeli summit 'a moment of hope':

"If warm words could solve problems, then it would all be over bar the celebrations. Mr Abbas spoke of the beginning of a 'new era'; Mr Sharon - more remarkably - of his commitment to Palestinian 'dignity and independence'. But his comment about ending 'unrealistic dreams' must apply to both sides if a workable, two-state peace settlement is ever to be agreed. Hard choices lie ahead if a day of hope in the sun is not to end, like too many before it, in bitter tears."

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

The Diplomad is Shutting Down!

No, it wasn't by Vladimir Putin's iron hand, under Islam Karmov's repressive regime, but America that has shut downThe Diplomad, and he's issued this farewell:

It's been fun; the postings from the readers have been great (except for the idiot trolls -- the same ones who collapsed our hotmail account and made it useless.) But for a variety of personal and professional reasons it's time to stop (we might blog again under a different name; might not.) Lest any of you think so, we have not been threatened or shut down; the State Department goons are not knocking at the door. It's just time to do something else.

The Chief Diplomad urges all of you to read the very well written brother sites at Daily Demarche and New Sisyphus (maybe they'll let us put up an occasional posting.) We've heard that our Republican cousins over at USAID might be starting a blog, too, so keep an out eye for it.

The Diplomad says good bye and thanks.

Translation: The State Department knows who he is, and told the Diplomad to shut up. The thing is, The Diplomad has offered really good stuff--helpful to America's cause. I did always wonder how he got away with it.

I hope Secretary of State Rice finds The Diplomad--and puts him in charge of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, asap. If our official line sounded more like The Diplomad, and less like "The Sound of Silence," America might be doing a lot better in the international arena.

Condoleezza Rice, Doestoevsky Fan

This paragraph jumped out of a very interesting profile by Jay Nordlinger on Condoleezza Rice on National Review Online, first published in 1999, that discussed the new Secretary of State's training as classical pianist--she has performed Brahms with Yo Yo Ma--and Sovietologist:

As to those "roots," what was it, indeed, that drew her to the Soviet Union, to Russia? "I was attracted to the Byzantine nature of Soviet politics," she says, "and by power: how it operates, how it's used." She read everything she could get her hands on about World War II "and about war generally." She particularly remembers John Erickson's "great books" — The Road to Stalingrad, The Road to Berlin. She read Dostoevsky "rather than Tolstoy." And she encountered Solzhenitsyn: "He understood the dark side of Russia better than anyone else. Like most Russian novels, it was tragedy without redemption."

Of course, Tolstoy offers redemption, and he's pretty darn Russian, too. Solzhenitsyn is seen by some as a little extreme. Yet, one doesn't have to completeley concur with Rice's taste to to agree that it will be interesting to see what changes Rice might makes to the style and substance of American diplomacy.

Clearly she takes ideas seriously, takes culture seriously, and takes Russia seriously--all good signs, especially when viewing America from Moscow...Which may mean a change in American policy vis-a-vis Chechnya, if Rice is reading her Russian history as I think she might, perhaps in exchange for the release of Khodorhovsky and better business relations with the US. Let's see what happens at the Bush-Putin summit in Slovakia. (Curiously, Rice's dissertation advisor at the University of Denver, Josef Korbel--Madeleine Albright's father--was a former diplomat from Czechoslovakia).

Monday, February 07, 2005

Russian Romance at the Obraztsov Puppet Theater

Hard not to sound like a a tour guide, as we wind up our stay... We spent Super Bowl Sunday at Moscow's Obraztsov Puppet Theater, watching a puppet version of "Aladdin and his Magic Lamp" with a new friend from New York, and her daughter. Incredibly, they lived in the building next to ours on West 110th Street near Amsterdam Avenue and we only met in Moscow!

In any case, the Obraztsov is better than Disney, for Russian style. In the lobby, in a fountain, is an animated lady with a mask, perhaps the spirit of puppetry. She wears a mask, and beneath her glass skirt swim live fish. Lots of gears whirring around. Perhaps she is a version of Hoffman's Olympia, the "living doll."
There is also an animated clock on the building facade, like the famous one in New York's old Central Park Children's Zoo, or Germany's Bremen Town Square. But we didn't wait for it to ring, so can't say what the animated figures do.

This was just a foretaste of an imaginative and stirring production of Aladdin. This genie wasn't genial--instead scary, huge, red, looking like a devil. The court of the Sultan appreared to come from Uzbekistan,the designer was named Alimov, often an Uzbek name. Voices were by famous Russian actors, named in a real theatre program. The story was full of Russian soul, about brave individuals suffering unjust persecution by powerful state figures. I couldn't stop thinking that Aladdin's fate--thrown in jail, in chains, his lamp taken from him by the government, his property stolen--had echoes of the Khodorkhovsky case, and the shows probably resonated at other time with other events in Russia. Maybe children's theatre, like Soviet "multfilms" (animated cartoons), were safer venues for artists to express themselves, even if in code, than in adult theatre.

The Obraztsov's stage is full-sized, and the theatre, built in the 1960s, is beautiful, modern, wood-paneled. It was packed with giggling, laughing children and their parents. In front of us sat a professor of Russian culture from the University of Pennsylvania, with his daughter. His field of study was Russian romanticism. He confirmed what seemed apparent from living in Moscow, if we didn't already realize it from Russian music and art: Russians are very romantic. Hard to believe as it may seem, apparently they got their romanticism from the Germans. But of course, I wouldn't believe in Romantic Englishmen from our recent trip to London, yet we know at one time such did exist--Keats, Shelly, Byron, et al.

In any case, Romance was everywhere in the Obraztsov's staging of Aladdin. What a spectacle! Elephants, lions, horses, camels! A beautiful princess, an evil Vizier, an aged and foolish Sultan, thieves, an oasis and,of course and the desert. A golden palace, a humble home. A "Babushkha" of course, as Aladdin's mother. In the foyer bar, an aquarium with colorful live fishes, in the halls, artworks by schoolchildren among magnificent theatrical puppets. And downstairs, in the puppet museum, hundreds of puppets--ranging from ancient clay marionettes thousands of years old to a couple of Jim Henson's muppets, which looked sort of like poor relations, rather scruffy and chintzy, compared to the Russian, Polish, German, Hungarian, Japanese, Chinese, Indonesian, and Bengali exhibits--some of them life-sized.

A little learning, a little romance, and a lot of joy for children is to be found at Moscow's Obraztsov's Puppet Theater.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Inside the Vladimir Vysotsky Museum

Some acquaintances took us to see the Vladimir Vysotsky Museum today, near the Taganka theatre. It was just fascinating, everything from Vysotsky's guitar to his childhood letters to his mother and earliest school excercise books, furniture from his dacha, a model of his apartment, postcards from France, America, and other travels, clips of his films, videos of his songs. Imagine Elvis, Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Marlon Brando, and Frank Sinatra all rolled up into one, and you'll begin to get someone like Vysotsky. He's in the tradition of the Russian "Bard" and that of Pushkin, as well. He died tragically young, during the 1980 Moscow Olympics. His funeral crowds stretched for blocks. His history is the history of Russian culture, dissidence, poetry, song, theatre, and film. Technology played a role, as samizdat tape recordings spread his fame throughout the former USSR. There were even some photos of Vysotsky on tour in Tashkent, with some comrades from the Taganka theatre, including Vysotsky's director Lubimov, who returned to Russia from exile in Paris during Perestroika, and still is working at the age of 87 (this year is the 40th anniversary of the theatre). We bought tickets to see his rock musical version of Dr. Zhivago next week (we kid you not, as Jack Paar used to say...). Don't miss cases devoted to Vysotsky's Hamlet and his performance in The Cherry Orchard, incredible versatility as an actor and performer--as well as perhaps best representing the sufferings of the Russian soul. Our tour guide explained that Vysotsky's distinctive voice was the sound Gulag prisoners. When half the country returned from imprisonment, and heard Vysotsky, they heard themselves and what they had suffered, she explained. There were crowds in the museum this afternoon, so his popularity is still evident, twenty-five years after his death.

Why is Vysotsky not very well-known in the West, except among students of Russian culture, Russian emigrants, and Russophiles? Perhaps because of years of cultural indifference to those who suffered under Communism. Ironically, the most authentic and most enduring voice of protest from the 1960s may have belonged to a protester against the totalitarian system in the USSR: Vladimir Vysotsky. FIVE STARS *****.

Bernard Weinraub's Hollywood Ending

Reading this story from last Sunday by The New York Times Hollywood correspondent reminded me that Bernie Weinraub covered the Washington, DC premiere of my film "Who Shall Live and Who Shall Die?" At the time, Weinraub was White House correspondent for the Times. It was during the Reagan administration. He didn't know me, and his story was perfectly fair and factual. In fact, we became sort of friendly acquaintances after the screening, and sort of stayed in touch. I found him to be an honest reporter, and a perfectly decent person. He said Reagan was more complicated than people thought, and that the Central American situation was not so simple as administration critics were claiming. I thought Weinraub seemed thoughtful and intelligent, reasonable and sensible.

I never understood the venom directed against him, in print, nor the ridiculous "conflict-of-interest" charges in the press. Anyone who knows Hollywood knows that the only reason to cover it is a "conflict of interest"--to be discovered as a writer, to make some money, to get your dream onscreen. Why else put up with show-biz nonsense, except for fun or profit?

Weinraub covered Vietnam, Central America, the White House and other big stories. I think assignment Hollywood meant a change of pace. Perhaps he went through a mid-life crisis, that led to the move from covering the serious to writing about the ridiculous.

I know he has a serious streak. At one time, Weinraub discussed writing a novel set in the period covered in my film, about Ben Hecht, Peter Bergson, Franklin Roosevelt and the work of the Emergency Committee to Save the Jewish People of Europe during WWII. At the time, I advised him not to publish about the topic, if he wanted to keep his day job. (He had already published a roman a clef about the New York Times, and was not afraid of anything). Discretion won, and Weinraub has had a good run covering Tinsel Town.

Now that Weinraub's quit the Times, I am looking forward to see what he does next. He's a good writer, and I hope one of his projects might be the historical novel we discussed some twenty years ago...

Thursday, February 03, 2005


On Wednesday evening, I got a peek at my own university's contribution to the Moscow Contemporary Art Biennale:Apartment's Exhibitions
Yesterday and today. 1956-2005
. The show featured recreations of Moscow apartments where dissidents held art exhibitions, called "Kvartirniki"-- in opposition to the approved art of cultural officials displayed in museums and galleries.

–°urators Julia Lebedeva and Oksana Sarkisyan have done a good job of recreating not only the hanging of pictures on the walls, but also the spririt of defiance of authority that lay behind the projects. In addition to the show at Russian State Humanitarian University, they have arranged some of the art around town in private apartments, just like the old days. So, if you happen to be in Moscow this month, you can book a private viewing through the exhibition website.

It is nice to see modern art defying cultural officialdom, and a visit to the recreated apartments does give one some inspiration that individuals can eventually prevail over bureaucracy, in keeping with the title of this year's Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art, "Dialectics of Hope."

From the catalog description:

Apartment exhibitions ("kvartirniki") emerged in Soviet times as an answer to the necessity of presenting informal art. They embodied hopes of their participants for freedom of creativity and were part of dissident opposition to officiality.

Apartment exhibitions brought together artists who shared the same views. Owners of the «living premises» formed a certain movement. Svjatoslav Rikhter demonstrated the works of Dmitry Krasnopevtsev, «lianozovtsi» gathered in Oscar Rabin's barrack and young conceptualists were shown in the workshop of Mikhail Odnoralov and Leonid Sokov.

As part of private life the non-official art came hand in hand with conversations on art and the artistically active way of living through the Soviet reality. The experience of apartment exhibitions was diverse - from private club personal exhibitions to group actions and total installations. Quite often they turned into performances and visits to such exhibitions merged on a radical demarche.

Today this art has acquired a museum status and is shown in the world famous museums. Russian State University for the Humanities displays one of the best collections of non-conformist art of 1950-1980 (Leonid Talochkin's «Other art» collection).

The purpose of the exhibition is to reveal the dialectics of informal art development by using apartment exhibitions as an example. It presents the museum works in their original authentic environment drawing a parallel with similar phenomena on the contemporary art stage.

Inside the Lenin-Komsomol Theatre

Last night, finally made it inside the LENKOM(Lenin-Komsomol) theatre, to see Eduardo de Filippo's comedy "City of Millionaires" (not the Italian title), which might be called Philomena in the original . The program notes pointed out it was made into a movie twice--one version is well known in America: Marriage, Italian Style. de Filippo is apparently not the only Italian playwright popular in Moscow. Comedies by Carlo Gozzi are performed frequently as well. Gozzi, a contemporary of Goldoni, is not as well-known in the US. Certainly, there aren't any Gozzi shows running on Broadway or in the West End of London right now.

The LENKOM theatre, despite its rather Soviet name, is a lovely middle-class theatre company. The theatre is a converted merchant's club, a pre-revolutionary design from about 1905, that looks a bit like New York City's Grand Central Station. The acting style, as far my pidgin Russian could be relied upon, was naturalistic. Stanislavsky would approve of this production,certainly. The set was a beautiful reconstruction of a Neapolitan apartment, the costumes were lovely, the lighting excellent.

A beautiful show, in a gorgeous theatre. If you do happen to find yourself in Moscow a visit to the LENKOM is highly recommended.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

American Escapes Moscow Kidnappers

Stories like this report in yesterday's Moscow Times are a reminder that Russia still isn't exactly like America, and there still is some work to do to make Moscow a real tourist-friendly place:

Yesterday, American John Lazoriny escaped from an apartment where he had been handcuffed to a radiator for five days. He was held for ransom by two men from the North Caucasus, who demanded a large sum for his release. Their American captive managed to escape when his kidnappers were out of the apartment. He somehow slipped out of his handcuffs and jumped out of a third-story window. Lazoriny broke his pelvis in the fall, and was taken to City Hospital Number 7. The hospital informed the police, which is how the story made it to the Moscow Times.

The American victim was held in a southern district of Moscow, and normally lives in a far-away southwestern neighborhood, at the end of one of the metro lines. However, he was kidnapped near the center of town--at a cafe outside the Novoslobodskaya metro station on January 15th. That is the metro station for our university! We go there all the time.

The American victim went with his kidnappers because they invited him to their home after having some drinks together. According to police report in the Moscow Times, "he might have thought it was in line with traditional Russian hospitality."

Police have started an investigation, and the American Embassy is reportedly following the case. So, when a friendly Russian man came up to chat with us last night in English at a local restaurant, we were just a little bit wary...