VODKA is the stuff that Russian life and dreams have...

salmagundi

November 05, 1993

VODKA is the stuff that Russian life and dreams have always been made of. Proverbs prove this.

"If you drink, you'll die. Unless you drink, you'll die. Better drink and die," says one proverb. Another adage advises us that "a drunkard is not he who drinks but he who gets drunk." Predictably, this leads to a Russian conviction that "you are not drunk until you see triple."

So it is no surprise that one result of the recent free-market experiments is the introduction of a new brand of vodka to the Russian market.

It is called Vodka Newyorskaya (New York vodka).

A picture of the Statue of Liberty raising her torch against the Manhattan skyline is on the label, with the following claim:

"Vodka Newyorskaya is produced in the United States from selected varieties of American grain and using an original technique. The high quality of the ingredients and multiple distillations guarantee the inimitable taste and aroma."

We haven't tasted the stuff. But it must be strong -- its distiller is identified as the "Zigzag Group."

* * * READ the London Sunday Times and you'd hardly know you are Baltimore. Such is the case with the Aug. 15 Travel Section of the Times which featured a double spread on Baltimore, written by someone named Nik Cohn. Take the lead paragraph:

" 'Let's get ready to rumble,' the waiter says, and plunks down a dozen hard-shelled Chesapeake crabs. A mottled burning red, slithered in pepper sauce thick as sludge, they squat on the brown-paper tablecloth like a row of crustacean tanks. A wooden hammer slides into my hand; I take a swing at random. A crimson carapace shatters, showering my shirt front with shards of mixed shell and gristle. So battle is joined."

He goes on: "All around me the denizens of Obrycki's Crab House are engaged in similar slaughter. Ripping their victims asunder with their bare hands, crushing the claws and sucking out the cartilage, chomping, grease-dripping, beer-swilling, they look like time-travelers from one of those orgiastic Dutch tavern paintings by Franz Hals or Jan Steen."

So that's the picture which the readers of the Sunday Times get of Baltimore. It is about as accurate as his comment that Lou Panos still works for The Evening Sun. (He left more than a decade ago to become Gov. Harry Hughes' press secretary.)

And where was he, really, when he describes this scene: "We catch a water taxi downtown. It takes a wide sweep across the Patapsco River, Northwest Branch, past rotting piers and abandoned warehouses, the massive bulk of the Gillette factory with its neon clock . . ."

Just remember, this is the London Sunday Times, not the Times of London. They ain't the same, hon!

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