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Pole to Pole

Day 31: Novgorod

Michael Palin - Pole to PoleAs I go through the hotel every shiny floor is being made even more treacherous by an army of cleaners, and there is an elderly, bald and very sweaty plumber in my bathroom trying to fix the heated towel-rail. He finishes his work and shuffles off. I complete my packing and take a last look at my bed, soon to be occupied by the second most powerful man in the Soviet Union. Toy with the idea of leaving him a note - 'Keep up the good work . . . we know everyone in Russia hates Gorbachev but we think he's doing a good job', that sort of thing - but, as I've discovered, the notepad is actually toilet paper. I'm about to close the door when I become aware of a widening pool of liquid creeping out from the bathroom. A jet of water is gushing merrily from the end of the heated towel-rail.

Edward Ranenko has offered me traditional Russian hospitality at the Correspondents Club tonight. He wants to treat me to crayfish and samogon - home-made vodka that he brews up in his garage.

He assures me: 'Mine is only the best. With samogon you have no headache in the morning'.

Dinner is laid out on the most remarkable table I've ever seen. It's ten feet long, carved in an irregular outline, varnished and stained the colour of raw meat. The surface is engraved and from the centre of the table rears a horse's head with a brass harness of bells attached. It is, Edward tells me, the work of Vladimir Grebenikov, a father of five and a great and unappreciated genius. His fantastical designs are evident in the rest of the decoration - intricately worked chairs and elaborate lampshades the size of Roman breastplates. The whole effect is as if someone had gone berserk with a Black and Decker.
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  • Series: Pole to Pole
  • Day: 31
  • Country/sea: USSR
  • Place: Novgorod
  • Book page no: 68

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