|| For an hour, adopt a beggar, preferably a woman
(they are the ones most in need of protection), take her to the
market and let her buy the groceries she needs. You may have arrived
on the scene just in time. In any event, make sure the person is
|| You are advised to enter and leave
North American towns when the respectable people are at the office
and bad folks are already sitting down to a beer.
|| For their churches, Protestants, Baptists
and Lutherans favour the Gothic style, whereas Catholics love contemporary.
|| Coming to Russia and not seeing a ballet
performance is like going to Madrid and refusing to watch a bullfight.
Regardless of whether the pirouettes of that dancer in Don Quixote
seem closer to the spinning moves of a Cossack than the graceful
turns of an Andalusian gypsy, be indulgent: remember, you’re
in Novosibirsk, not Seville.
|| After months of carrying your computer around the
world, don’t think that even the most powerful antivirus program
– launched several times – will be enough to get rid
of what has deviously concealed itself inside the keyboard. It may
be necessary to call some ghost buster. Indeed, the best thing to
do would be to turn to an exorcist.
|| Bering blockage – see “Easy”.
|| Bread sellers at Ulan Bator – under Gulag,
|| The invention dates back to about the year 1000
and can be attributed to the women of the nomadic tribes of Mongolia.
Tired of mounting and dismantling the heavy sheepskin tents, they
convinced their restless husbands to build a wooden platform with
large wheels along the sides, pulled by oxen on which they could
mount the tent once and for all.
|| Children on the train: troublesome and restless
by day, whiny by night. A child never travels alone, and always
brings along a swarm of mothers, aunts, big sisters and grandmothers
who noisily vie for the privilege of stuffing the child like a Strasbourg
duck or of chasing after him/her in tireless races up and down the
aisle. Photographing the species is quite simple, as they come in
||They have lost their soul, but to their great satisfaction
they have found another one, which takes the shape of a wallet for
some and of a piggybank for others. Among the less fortunate, it
resembles a mobile phone.
|| Church at Petropavlovsk. There’s one near
the airport, almost as if it had landed just yesterday but already
had its return booked on the first flight tomorrow morning.
|| When you’re in Seoul, you might think that
the locals tend to lose coins from their pockets, but it’s
actually a widespread local form of greeting. Don’t let it
go to your head.
|| See “Siberian duty-free”.
|| You will learn the full meaning of this word, which
has not fallen by the wayside, only if, at 11 p.m. in Novosibirsk
(outside temperature: –18), your room key falls down the hotel
lift shaft. Divine Providence – materialising in the form
of a little man in shirtsleeves – will descend beneath the
lift several times until he finally returns to you what you lost,
without wanting a tip and simply settling for a “thank you”
and your somewhat silly smile.
|| If anyone should ask you “Where are you from?”,
you don’t need to launch into a detailed description of your
life, complete with pictures of family and friends. A simple geographical
indication will satisfy your questioner’s curiosity.
||The Gobi Desert: the way deserts used to be!
|| If a drunkard with a split second of lucidity asks
you what on earth you’re doing in Missoula, don’t fall
into the trap of asking him the same thing. He’ll just smile
and answer, “That’s why I get drunk in the first
|| It’s easy to distinguish a manager from a
clerk in the United States. If you have a problem the manager will
not leave you alone until he has sold you the answer plus something
else, while the clerk will only give you vague indications. Choose
the clerk if you don’t want to end up with a lifetime subscription
to eccentric and expensive magazines that you’ll never read
and receive a ridiculous and unwieldy fishing net.
|| Numerous but not always troublesome. Indeed, most
|| It is easier for a herd of camels to pass through
the eye of a needle, going four by four, than it is to cross the
|| Insidious language full of traps. Therefore, don’t
think you have mastered it simply because you can get through a
restaurant menu. Avoid using certain innocuous words like “leaf,
chicken, beach, steel” if you don’t know exactly how
||If a cashier, a police officer or anyone else should
ask you for “ay-dee”, don’t think they’re
asking you about the latest adventures of the nimble Tyrolean lass.
|| It seems that “We’ve already bought
enough ice for this year” was the response of shortsighted
Washington bureaucrats to the greedy officials from St Petersburg
who insisted that the Americans purchase not only Alaska but also
the Kamchatka Peninsula.
|| If many people ask you “ay-doo”,
don’t be confused: they are not asking about the Congolese
half-brother of “ay-dee”
|Figure of speech
|| I am going through a difficult period financially.
“I don’t have enough money to take my dog out to
|Food (in New York)
||Supply – obese – runs breathlessly,
chased by voracious and insatiable consumption.
|| Expecting a North American car rental company to
give you a manual car is like going to the pharmacy and asking if,
perchance, they still have a little mould and a few cobwebs to disinfect
|| Wine glass – in the United
States, wine has become a status symbol. As a result, so has its
container, which was humdrum until just yesterday. In any event
there are various ways to hold a wine glass, but the most important
are as follows.
(defined by some as “the nonchalance of the affluent”):
the glass is set on the arm of a lounge chair in one of the many
VIP waiting areas of JFK Airport in New York (other airports don’t
count), waiting for a flight to Europe (other destinations don’t
count). The glass is held by the bottom of the stem and, every so
often, is swirled counter-clockwise before being brought to the
drinker’s lips. One’s eyes stare off into space, with
the look of one whose thoughts are too important to be recounted,
or one pleasantly chats on the phone about golf games and polo matches.
What a dull party: one strolls through
the room (to which one begged on bended knee for an invitation),
with the politely bored air of one who “really didn’t
want to come”. The glass must be held with three fingers
(thumb, index and middle finger), while the other two are relaxed,
almost as if they didn’t exist. Every so often, one must pause
for a quick exchange of opinions, but only with those who are gossiping
about the host’s wife. The wine? Drinking it isn’t necessary,
but discussing it is mandatory.
|| Anyone who is interested in visiting should hurry.
In a few years there will be an enormous mass of beer cans in the
shape of an iceberg, floating to the nearest dump. Even the bears
are starting to have bad breath.
||Not all those who were sent there were stubborn
dissidents or sophisticated intellectuals. There were also cutthroats
and street scoundrels. Therefore, if there is any truth to the saying
“blood will tell”, then the porters at Siberian
stations are their proud descendents. A few specimens can also be
found in Beijing.
|| It seems that, in his lifetime, each hunter has
been a paragon of virtue; when he dies, he is sent to Mongolia.
Instead, if he behaves badly he will still be sent to Mongolia,
but will be transformed into a wolf, boar, marten, etc.
|| See “snow”. Generally devious, as it
tends to disguise itself as soft snow.
||Part of the equipment supplied to Trans-Siberian
personnel and skilfully used along the coldest sections to clear
the ice from the doors and allow frozen passengers to board.
|| - If you’re indulgent
with that driver who, returning from a party for the Chinese New
Year, was a little too cheerful when he took you to Beijing airport
at 2 a.m.
- If you don’t let anger get the best of you
when you’re forced to pay an exorbitant price to the KrasAir
ground crew for your excess baggage
- If you don’t pointlessly ask yourself “why?”
when you notice that six gigantic plasma televisions (wooden packaging
included) are lighter than your two suitcases
- If you manage to conceal your surprise
when the security officer, after having you clamber onto a platform
as he runs the metal detector up and down your body, roughly and
unexpectedly “searches” you … right there
- If you manage to keep your cool
even when, on the plane of the aforesaid airline company, the fat
lady who wedged herself into the miniscule seat next to you spills
her tea on your trousers
- If you are thankful to the Almighty and to the flight school of
the former USSR
when the pilot manages to land your plane on the runway of Irkutsk
airport, which is identical to rinks you see in Holiday on Ice
- If you are lucky enough
to fill out – correctly – an immigration card written
exclusively in the Cyrillic alphabet, the Mongolian alphabet and
- If you’re patient with cab drivers
tolerant with waiters
indulgent with the laundry staff
decisive with porters
kind to the needy
firm with children
- If you are all of this and much more, then – and only then
– you will be a man, my son.
|| They came from Siberia and represent the majority
of the population of Greenland. Long Arctic nights and poor television
reception have saved them from extinction.
|| Effective antidote against “children
on train”. Recommended listening: Gianna Nannini, Loredana
Bertè and Renzo Arbore’s Orchestra Italiana. Undesirable
side effects: extended use can cause headaches.
|| Democrats wear bowties whereas Republicans prefer
conventional neckties. Then there are those who can afford to be
both, so they wear braces (which they call suspenders in the US)
in order to be recognised.
|| If you have a slight but niggling sense of uneasiness
when the plane is flying off its coast, don’t worry because
| Every hour spent at Kulusuk is worth it.
|| … and on the eighth day he created scrambled
eggs and bacon, and then with apple pie he achieved perfection.
But when he went to Oregon and wanted to make wine, he realised
he wasn’t omnipotent.
|| If a cashier or police officer should ask you for
“ay-dee”, don’t think they’re asking
you about the latest adventures of the nimble Tyrolean lass.
|| The world talks, but has lost its taste for narrating.
|| It is losing its soul but doesn’t have a
spare one ready.
|| In America, where a wall cannot stay clean overnight
and ends up with multicoloured graffiti the next morning, the bathrooms
on highways are mysteriously cleaner than the operating room of
a Swiss clinic specialising in infective diseases.
Therefore, don’t look for those familiar glorifications of
Latin virility that have left you doubts and questions, or those
telephone numbers promising erotic adventures that you have been
tempted to jot down, or those fanatic football comments that have
left you as indifferent as generic political denigrations.
|| Siberian synonym for “far”.
|| Venditrici di pane di Ulan Bator - alla voce Gulag
|| In the United States, Italians who miss panettone
can try “fruit bread”, which is not only delicious but
has the advantage of having fewer calories. Warning: fewer calories
does not mean dietetic.
|| Se ne trovano dovunque di ogni colore, tipo e foggia.
Compratene un paio non ve ne pentirete.
| To a certain extent, reminiscent of the staff of
Italy’s domestic air carrier.
Efficient, courteous, cheerful and always helpful.
|| The old stubbornly holds out more tenaciously than
elsewhere. The new advances with the annoying pace of those who
know they will win. Miniskirts reign supreme, men’s shoulder
bags still make a timid appearance, and the look of low-slung jeans
with piercing and bare abdomens face strong obstacles due to the
|| The Dalai Lama’s winter palace, known around
the world thanks to Brad Pitt.
The Tibetan monks who currently overrun it have been badly cast
in their bit parts.
|Pretending nothing’s wrong
|| When you put on those mercilessly body-hugging
tights and the mirror tells that the passage of time has left its
mark on you, get over your initial horror and subsequent despair
... and pretend nothing’s wrong. When you’re safe from
frostbite on Whittier’s Pier at 7 p.m., you’ll feel
a little less vain and a whole lot wiser.
|| “The true Siberian is not the one who can
withstand the cold but the one who can protect himself from it.”
|| “Life is a journey and travelling means living
|| On 19 January in Ekaterinburg, if you see a long
line of men and women holding a plastic can and waiting to enter
a church, don’t think that the city water pipes have suddenly
burst and don’t say “Poor Russians, yesterday queuing
for bread, today queuing for water!”
Don’t be superficial: investigate!
|| Everything that has been written and said about
this is so optimistic with respect to reality that it crosses into
the grey area of fabrication.
|| Quick shortcuts traditionally used by speeding
cars in winter.
The Anatoly, the Misha and the Andrei, who have been missing since
the evening they went out saying, “I’m heading into
town with the car to buy a pack of cigarettes”, resurface
in the springtime.
Their families had feared the worst!
|| In the New World, you don’t joke about Fourth
of July fireworks, Halloween pumpkins, turkey stuffing on Thanksgiving,
Santa Claus or apple pie. They are all things that are sacred, to
say the least, just as it is sacrosanct (and advisable) to stay
in the same lane on the highway once you’ve made your choice.
For how many miles? It’s irrelevant.
|| Since they didn’t have the chance to be torn
apart by lions, roasted over a spit, pierced through like pin cushions
or even participate in the Crusades, the people of the United States
have no saints. Thus, for obvious reasons tied to an old grudge
from the past they choose the least English one available on the
market: St Patrick. Since the saint is also tied to a common religious
belief, in a country where religions are homemade products for which
each one has a different recipe and they are as numerous as the
fleas on your neighbour’s dog, the decision was made to link
the saint with a beer that is “religiously correct”
and that unites everyone in the liturgy of parades, ecumenical drunkenness,
brawls as a pastime and rueing one’s headache the following
|| Don’t trust the indulgent and “friendly
scale” you find in the bathroom of your hotel room, wasting
precious time in complicated “pound-kilogram” conversions.
Rely instead on the inflexibility of your belt, which has never
lied to you over the years.
|| Don’t ask yourselves why at least
half of the restaurant car is filled with cases of beer, scotch
and various foodstuffs.
Don’t ask yourselves who is sitting quietly alongside these
cases, absorbed in jotting down numbers and locations.
Don’t ask yourselves why someone boards at every stop and,
after handing a wad of rubles to the mysterious passenger, then
heads off with one or more cases.
Trust your imagination!
|| They can be found everywhere, in every colour,
style and type. Buy a pair and you won’t regret it.
|| Only mutual spitefulness can justify the twelve-hour
wait to leave Russia and enter Mongolia.
|| For some mysterious reason, this utensil is not
very fashionable in either the United States or Canada. Especially
for coffee, a type of plastic straw in various sizes and colours
is used in its stead. Therefore, you are advised to pour your coffee
based on the “straw length/cup depth” ratio if you want
to avoid scalding your fingertips in a rash attempt to save your
straw from sinking.
|| China is far away – extremely far: the United
States is just around the corner.
|| The very worst thing that could happen to anyone
is to have a sled driver who has a conflictual relationship with
his pack of dogs, which are already edgy because of a sudden mass
attack of dysentery.
|| The taste and smell of food didn’t manage
to board the ships of the Alaska Marine Lines. As a result, only
shape and colour will allow you to distinguish a hamburger from
the fried fish platter and ubiquitous pizza.
|| Optional east of the Caucasus Mountains.
|| East of the Caucasus, widespread and always fashionable.
|| Virtually nonexistent.
Maybe because Siberia is so close?
|| None arrived.
|Tourist (Italian in New York)
|| The only species classified to date that is capable
of consuming an entire Easter brunch with one hand, while the other
hand never lets go of its reassuring mobile phone for an instant.
The acrobats of the Moscow Circus are clumsy dilettantes in comparison.
|| Don’t complain about the traffic of Rome,
London, Paris or New York if you haven’t seen what it’s
like on the icy roads of Vladivostok.
|| The disquieting logo of the Trans-Mongolian is
a lynx fleeing with a marten (I presume) clenched between in its
|| When you get off you’ll be sorry to leave
what was your home for so many days and hours.
|United States of America
|| United States? Hollywood is something else.
|| Your first impression is that you’ve
arrived at Tokyo’s European branch, but when you see the number
of homeless, the plein-air drug dealing, the troubling ad campaign
“against suicide”, the wild games of the hockey championship
broadcast from opening to closing time of any self-respecting pub,
then you realise that you’re in Vancouver.
|| In Irkurtsk, if you’re mad enough
to order wine and the waiter should suggest a bottle of the Bulgarian
house wine, which then tastes corked, don’t insist. Russia
has some excellent beers.