Vladimir Putin has been in the news a lot lately, taking time from his re-conquest of Eastern Europe to send fighter jets and troops to his ophthalmologist pal Bashar al-Assad. Watching him on television, I was reminded of the week I spent two months ago with Vlad at his new dacha on the beach at the Black Sea coastal resort of Sochi. The town seemed deserted compared to the Sochi I experienced during the Winter Olympics when I helped win a silver medal as a sweeper for the Paraguayan curling team, whose coach I met two years ago at a layover in Orly Airport near Paris when I asked him why the round granite rock he was holding had a handle.
Putin’s dacha, as you would expect, is state of the art, built to the President’s exacting specifications by Russian craftsmen. Shaking off jet lag, I poured a vodka from the carafe in my bathroom, knocked it back, and shaved and showered in invigorating ice cold water in a tub with no drain. I slammed another vodka and joined Putin in his breakfast nook. After a fabulous meal of black bean curd, hambone, black bread, and black coffee laced with vodka, Putin tore off his shirt, sending buttons flying everywhere. The President suggested we leave the dacha for a stroll around town. I said okay, ripped off my shirt, and followed him out the door.
We had not yet made it to the street when a massive Russian boar came crashing through Putin’s black picket fence and barreled into Putin, knocking him ten feet into the air. Incredibly, he landed on his feet. I watched in awe as Putin grabbed the 700 pound boar in the throat with one hand, lifted him off the ground and throttled him. Putin held the boar aloft until it died, then grabbed the dead animal by its tusks and flung it into his neighbor’s yard.
“You don’t think your neighbor will mind having that dead boar in his yard?” I asked.
“Nyet,” Putin said, “he is Crimean. If he complains I will annex his yard into mine.”
Putin looked at me with cold eyes, then punched me on my upper arm and started laughing. I realized he was joking, and began to laugh with him, having momentarily forgotten what a keen sense of humor he has. We walked toward the beach, puffing out our bare chests, nodding to the admiring comrades we passed. I watched with envy as a couple of stocky babushkas stopped Putin to rub his hairless pecs. The ladies offered us a drink, so the four of us knocked back a vodka. The President patted their heads and strutted off.
After a couple of blocks I caught up with him. We walked past a vacant lot. Putin stopped abruptly and stared at something on the lot. I saw nothing.
“What is it, Poot?” I asked.
“Follow me,” he said.
Putin strode to a small mound on the back of the lot, kicked the mound a few times with his black boots, and reached into the dirt to pull out an ancient cloth sack. He knocked the dust from the bag then held it open for me. I gasped when a saw hundreds of Roman gold coins.
“My God, Poot,” I said, “these are worth a fortune.”
“Yes,” Putin said. “I find these treasures all the time. The Romans left in a hurry.”
Putin noticed the two babushkas trailing us, and waved them over. Laughing and singing, he poured the gold coins into their aprons. They thanked him and fondled his bare pectorals again.
We continued to strut toward the beach. Out of an alley a white Siberian tiger bounded toward us. I yelled, but Putin calmly moved between the tiger and me, raised his hand and spoke quietly. The tiger stopped, tilted his head, and sat on its haunches before the President of Russia. Putin stroked and petted the tiger’s enormous head.
“That is unbelievable, Poot,” I whispered from behind him.
“He only wants love,” he said, then stuck two fingers in his mouth and cleaved the morning calm with an ear-splitting whistle.
A gorgeous black stallion raced around the corner and stopped in front of us. Putin grabbed the stallion’s mane and swung his leg over the horse’s back, coming to rest atop the magnificent beast. Poot gestured for me to ride with him, but I demurred. He spoke quietly to the tiger, who leapt from the ground onto the horse to ride behind Putin. The President smoothed the tiger’s white fur and gently nudged the stallion forward. I followed them to the beach.
Putin dismounted, slapped the horse’s rump and shooed the tiger away with a kiss on the nose. He kicked off his black boots and sauntered across the black stone beach. He marched deeper into the water until the waves were breaking over his head. He disappeared for a few minutes, then burst through the surface and strode back toward me. I saw something in his hand.
When he joined me on the rocky beach, he broke the barnacles and sea detritus off the object with his bare hands, revealing a gorgeous golden astrolabe, which Putin identified as one used by Portuguese mariners in the 16th Century. He held it aloft and determined our latitude, then gave the priceless astrolabe to a young Russian boy who happened by. The boy patted Putin on his bare chest pulled a bottle from his backpack. We all slammed a vodka. The boy held the astrolabe aloft, thanked the President and ran off down the beach.
“An amazing day, Poot,” I said, clapping my pal on his bare shoulder as we headed for his dacha.
“Nyet,” he said. “Merely a day in the life. Come. Let us now drink some vodka.”
Copyright © 2015