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Pole to Pole

Day 34: Kiev

Michael Palin - Pole to PoleI celebrate the end of my twenty-four-hour, post-crayfish fast with a slap-up breakfast at the Warsaw Hotel. This consists of a thin sliver of cheese, some equally thin slivers of bread, a jam smear and a cup of coffee.

Soviet restaurants exist for one purpose, and that is to keep the customer out, and if by any chance he or she should get in to make life so uncomfortable that they wish they hadn't. Even to get as far as the sliver of cheese involves a considerable amount of bureaucratic negotiation. A card, which can only be issued at reception, must be produced and exchanged for a voucher, which is thoroughly scrutinized by the restaurant gauleiter, who will then turn you over to the waitresses who will ignore you.

It's all very depressing and is, I suppose, just the Soviet system in microcosm - unwieldy, paranoid and impersonal.

This morning I witness evidence of an encouraging change when I accompany Vadim to see the Deputy Procurator of the Ukraine, who has been examining the case for returning Vadim's father's papers, held by the KGB. For whatever reason, this senior Soviet law officer is welcoming and affable, even happy for the meeting to be filmed. Short, square-shouldered, with a wide, strong face and a well-cut suit, he personifies Gorbachev Man, assiduous in attention to the smallest public relations details.
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  • Series: Pole to Pole
  • Day: 34
  • Country/sea: USSR
  • Place: Kiev
  • Book page no: 75

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