Bloom's Russo-Filipino Foray 2008 travel blog

Menace to society, or just a table? This one miraculously survived my...

Maritime monument, city of Azov, near Rostov

Church, Starocherkassk, near Rostov

Ermaku, most likely a Don Cossack, Novocherkassk

Lenin, Rostov

Harbor, city of Azov. One of my more pleasant moments was taking...

Nice mullet, kid. To be fair, the mullet is the national hairdo...

Onion domes, a beat up lada, and people selling useless junk. Could...


Once again I'm not really in Krasnodar, a large provincial city and gateway to the Black Sea, I'm still in Sochi. But I'm postdating this to Krasnodar to embellish my map, which now should be up and running. I was in Krasnodar a few days ago - a few days that seem like an eternity.

But I digress. You of course want to hear how I ended up picking glass out of my skin in a bloody pile of rubble and glass in Rostov. I'll get there. But first let me explain another nuance of the job that will hopefully make me seem like less of an idiot once you hear the real story.

Guidebook writers, or any writers for that matter, are well served by their powers of observation. In order to harness those powers, we should constantly be sizing up our surroundings - looking up at building facades, studying interior details, squinting to read distant signs. We're also always in a hurry. So much of our observing must be done in motion.

In our drive to observe, we often end up ignoring things that are right in front of our faces. I've walked into the occasional glass door - including one on this trip - simply because I was not looking straight ahead and didn't notice it. And/or it was very clean. In Kyiv last year I was "shlagbaumed". What's that? That's when a shlagbaum - both German and Russian for one of those pendulum-like parking lot barriers (I don't think there's a simple word in English, besides the unspecific "barrier") - comes down on your cabbage. It hurts. A lot. It happened when I was straining to read the sign on the facade of a hospital in Kiev's Lukianivka district. I was inching forward from the road into the hospital parking lot. When I finally made out the name I stopped and wrote it down. But I was under a shlagbaum. My presence there set off a motion detector, which inexplicably caused the shlagbaum to lower (shouldn't shlagbaums raise when you are in their vicinity?). The shlagbaum grazed my forehead before walloping the bridge of my nose. Luckily it caused only a minor cut. There have been plenty of other similar, if not quite so absurd, occurrences. Stubbed toes, tripping over low fences and that sort of thing.

But they were all topped by what happened in Rostov. OK, I'll admit before I start that the whole pool of blood thing was a slight exaggeration. But only slight. Here's what happened. I wandered into the Don Plaza Hotel, formerly the Soviet-era Intourist, now a spruced up midrange hotel with a top-end lobby. Usually I go right to the reception desk, but this time I really had to pee, so my goal was to avoid eye contact with the receptionists and sneak into the bathroom. (Finding a place to pee is a constant challenge in this job, especially for beer and coffee lovers like myself). I waltzed toward the rear of the lobby, gazing up and taking mental notes on the impressive neoclassical interior, when BAM! I tripped over a low-lying glass table. My peripheral vision had let me down, evidently. I had not noticed it. I wasn't walking that fast, but I still managed to hit the table with considerable force. Both of my shins bore bloody gashes after the incident, so I can only deduce that my two legs hit the table simultaneously.

After the initial contact, I tried to recover. Unfortunately, I was practically horizontal within a split second of making contact with the table. There would be no recovery. I crashed down on the top of the table, toppling the glass tabletop off its stone supports. The tabletop exploded when it hit the ground. I instinctively put my hands down as I fell onto the glass, taking out one of the stone supports on my way down. Needless to say I had laid waste to the peaceful ambience that had previously prevailed in the lobby. I reckon the average bull in a china shop makes far less racket.

I didn't feel any pain, really, just embarrassment. But then I looked at my hands and sure enough I'd put a deep slice in the pinky finger of my left hand. It was bleeding profusely, and there were a few drops on the floor (no pool, sorry). I had a few shards of glass stuck in my palms, too, which were also bleeding, albeit not so profusely. And of course my shins were bleeding. A security guy came over to see what the fuck had happened. I don't blame him. He found me red-faced and bleeding copiously. He led me into the guard room, where we washed up my hand. A manager came in next. She seemed genuinely concerned, but also hinted that I might have to pay for the table. I started doing mental calculations. The camera and now this. It didn't look good for my budget. She seemed to realize that I wasn't staying in the hotel because she wore a look that said, "who the hell are you and what are you doing causing a scene in my nice hotel?" But then she turned really nice and even arranged a free taxi to take me to a local clinic. While the guard thought otherwise ("eto nichevu, blyad, fsyo budet normalno" - it's nothing, fuck, it'll be ok) both her and I realized that the piece of flesh hanging off my pinky needed to be reattached with needle and thread.

Another, more senior manager came down and greeted me. She had good news. They had decided that, despite the fact that I wasn't a guest and nobody had any clue what I was doing there, they weren't going to charge me for the table. That was a relief. And then I got my free taxi ride to a nearby clinic, and a doctor stitched me up. He asked for 300 rubles (about $12), but I gave him 500. I figured it was the least I could do.

After that, I went back and reviewed the hotel as if nothing had happened.

I thought later about why they had let me off on the table. This is Russia, after all, the place that practically invented the "you break it, you take it" philosophy. Maybe you can sue in Russia these days, just like in the US? In the US surely I would have been able to blame the whole incident on the hotel and won thousands of dollars in damages in a court of law. Perhaps they were worried that I, being American, might sue them. And worse, that I might win? The younger manager had admitted that I wasn't the first to break one of these tables. Maybe these low-lying, practically invisible glass tables are bona fide menaces. I'm sure you could convince a US court of that.

Or maybe the Don Plaza, the former Intourist, really had shed its Soviet skin and was now customer oriented. Either way, their service will certainly get props from this reviewer.

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