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Feature Story April 22, 2004
Lord of the Swine
Censorship in Russia: Revenge of the Disenfranchised By Mark Ames Browse author Email
Page 5 of 7
Which brings me back to Tregubova and elitny food. We learn in the book that not only does she love her elitny chai and fresh-squeezed juice, but she also likes "French sugar-free plum jam 'St. Dalfour,'" and Danone yogurt which she buys at a supermarket in elitny Zhukovka on Rublyovskoye Shosse. She also shops at Stockmann's, as she notes several times. Lobster is her favorite food. Then there are her favorite elitny restaurants, such as the aforementioned Scandinavia. Or the famous Nobu in London, where she met Berezovsky while on a date with her boyfriend. Tregubova doesn't like Tsarskoe Okhota in Zhukovka because it is packed with New Russians ("not a single prilichny person has ever once in their life gone there").

And then there is, yup, you guessed it, sushi. She loves sushi. And it is over sushi that she and Putin meet in the heart of her book.

Tregubova's meeting with Putin in 1998, while he was still head of the FSB, is one of the most fascinating anecdotes in the book -- and to be fair, there are some great anecdotes in the book, (such as Roman Abramovich grilling shashlik for Yumashev, or Tatyana Dyachenko crying crocodile tears), and she tells them well -- Tregubova is a genuinely talented writer... when she can spare us a moment away from her grotesque inner world.

The problem with her anecdotes is that she is constantly convinced that whomever she is speaking to is either falling in love with her or threatened by her.

In Putin's case, it's first the former, and later the latter.

As they eat sushi ("Putin and I discovered that we both share a certain character trait: a sincere passion for raw fresh fish and the knowledge of how to use chopsticks") at an elitny sushi restaurant near Patriarch's Pond, Putin says, "Lena, where are you going to spend the New Year?"

"'I'm not sure yet.'

"'I'd like to go to Piter...' and here he somehow let the last part of his sentence trail off.

"This sounded to me like an invitation to go to Piter with him. So I quickly said that in fact I will have to spend it with my closest friend Masha Slonim, who not long before had lost her husband, to support her.

"Putin grew sad, expressed his sympathies, carefully told me about the death of Sergei Shkalikov, and even pointed out that he'd heard he was a wonderful actor.

"The conversation petered out. The sushi was all eaten up.

"'Well, the newspaper's waiting for me, and the government awaits you,' I sighed.

"Putin jumped up from his chair, headed up to me and gallantly led me by my elbow..."

In spite of how she wants to portray Putin -- as "small" and "unmanly" and otherwise not genuinely elitny in the SPS meaning of the term, not to mention hopelessly attracted to her -- he comes off, I hate to say this, as a funny, likeably-evil character. She completely misses the point -- every politician who compliments her does so because it's the cheapest way to snow a female journalist over (I'll have to remember to compliment women more, I didn't realize that it actually worked it's so transparent!).

In order to show you what I mean, I'll translate a more complete episode, perhaps the funniest of the book -- the opening episode, when Tregubova first meets Putin in his office, just before he invites her out for sushi:

"Shall we celebrate Chekists' Day together in a restaurant together?" Volodya Putin unexpectedly suggested to me.

I sat in his office in Lyubyanka after the interview, alone, in the office of the director of the FSB, and, controlling an urge to smile, tried to understand what the top chekist of the country was trying to do -- recruit me as a journalist or pick me up as a chick?

"Leave your telephone number with me and I'll call you in two days, and we'll agree on a time and place," he suggested.

"Your secretary already has my telephone number," I muttered cautiously.

"Well here, why don't you write it down for me again just in case..."

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