(From Russia With Love)
And now you've given me, given me
Nothing but shattered dreams, shattered dreams
Feel like I could run away, run away
From this empty heart
Johnny Hates Jazz
Anger is dangerous.
It makes people do stupid things
--Eastern Promises (2007)
Red wine with fish.
Well that should have told me something.
--From Russia with Love (1963)
It all began with a small dream for cabbage rolls . . .
While in Jacksonville, a Navy town, Ranger thought to seek out some new cuisine, such as a North Florida town may offer. In retrospect, Southeast Asian would have been the logical choice,
But throwing caution to the wind we dialed “Moscow Nights”. The second person with whom we spoke spoke an English patois, and he said they did have cabbage rolls. We were off.
“Did” turned out to be the operative word.
This is the pleasure of traveling with Ranger, his boundless eagerness to engage the natives, on his turf -- matters of geopolitical speculation. They rarely know what to make of it, but it is a not too-unkind amusement when traveling, and one way to suss out the humor of the locals.
After passing by the typical Florida strip mall, we found it upon circling back. Three men sat languidly at an outdoor bistro table smoking Gauloises as the sun was setting. Two looked like Russian Vory v Zakone in the film "Eastern Promises", the ones who tried to kill Viggo Mortenson in the steam room.
One had a visible ankle holster, perhaps for his linoleum knife. They were drinking hot tea out of small glass cups. We imagined they wore long sleeves in the Florida heat to cover their killer tattoos.
The third was squat and swarthy. He was the only one who seemed happy to see us, and he was the designated major domo who led us into the ersatz restaurant.
But something besides ambience was missing in this small restaurant of three tables, and that was food. Where there were apparently once cabbage rolls, there were no more. He showed us the menu on which the dish was printed, but expressed sad dismay that none remained.
In a feeble effort at good cheer, he spread his hands over a small cooler case as a proud Boulanger might have done over a showcase of sweets: “But we do have some items here.”
A humorless Rose Klebb stood guard over the refrigerated case which housed an odd selection of smoked fish, something wrapped in grape leaves, and ¾ of a sheet of stale-looking pink & white marshmallow treat in a tray, the plastic wrap half folded back. There were also two head-sized Styrofoam coolers at the bottom of the cooler, but their contents remained a mystery.
Jim said, “We came for cabbage rolls . . . but I have a question.”
“Yes, anything,” the server with no food to serve said, helpfully.
“Who do you hate?”
Perplexed, the small but stout man canted his head, always with a smile.
“Who do you hate!” Jim repeated, con brio this time, like General Orlov, raising his voice like some people do to deaf people or dogs, thinking they will hear better this time.
This time the man stepped out of his confusion and said, “No one . . . I don’t hate anyone!”
To this Jim delivered his coup de grace.
He looked at the world map on the wall and said with the surety born of one who can unravel most espionage novels by page 50, “Hate – it is what holds the world together!”
That was it, like Trotsky in the café, like Boris Spassky at check mate.
The squat swarthy man stood with an unwavering smile, I fancied thinking that a true Rasputin had just entered his shop. But he was not out of the net, yet. The master had one final card up his sleeve.
“You’re not Russian, are you!”
The man nodded and smiled.
“No, you are Bosnian or Serbian – look!”, and Jim approached the map, tracing his way down to the regions he felt this non-Russian person pretending to be a cabbage roll-maker originated.
The man put up his hands in the universal gesture for, “You win, sir,” whatever the pot was.
I nervously nudged Ranger and eyed the door, and with that, having successfully countered the slight of having driven across Jacksonville for cabbage rolls that were not, we left.
The men were still sitting at the table smoking galoises, squinting, or maybe that is the way they always looked. To me it said, “good riddance”.
The swarthy man came out. He called, cheerfully, “Next time, cabbage rolls!”