And thus he mused: “From here indeed
And here a city, by our labor,
“Here cut” – So Nature gives command –
Firm-footed by the sea, unchanging!”
(Your intrepid blogger’s personal tribute to the Baltic Fleet in Leningrad circa 1990)
The Baltic Fleet, like the Black Sea Fleet, has a sticky wicket in terms of the territorial waters it defends, a historically complex relationship with its near-neighbors, and, of course, the base question. One Baltic Fleet base is in Kronstadt, and the other in the Russian enclave, Kalingrad. Kronstadt has the advantage of being cozily tucked deep into the Gulf of Finland, and Russia’s second city, St. Petersburg has its back. Kalingrad, formerly German Konigsberg, on the other hand, is handicapped by being the lone blueberry in a NATO muffin. As with the Black Sea post, it’s a visual so check out this helpful map:
A few years ago, my friend Jack, who goes to Russia frequently for business, was being held hostage at a long liquid lunch in St. Petersburg with some tourism types. This happens to Jack a lot, and not having much of a head for liquor, he was tuning out, letting his local representative do the heavy conversational lifting, until he vaguely noticed that the conversation kept including a funny word he’d not heard before, which sounded like the syllable “nat-“ (as in “fat-“ “cat-“ or “rat-“) and then “oh.” Nat-OH. Jack first thought it might be a newly opened summer palace, which, as far as he was concerned, are all unpronounceable: “Gatchina,” and “Orianbaum,” Forchrissakes, or the ultimate tongue twister, “Tsarskoye Selo.” But that didn’t seem right, because the battleaxe he was lunching with kept saying things like,
“Perhaps,” thought Jack, “it’s a new hotel and they haven’t got the price points we need.” That seemed plausible: God knows most St. Petersburg hotels were both overpriced and unpronounceable – after 25 years he still couldn’t say “Pribaltiyskaya,” “Pulkovskaya,” or “Oktyabrskaya,” and, really, he thought, why on earth should anyone want to try?
“A-ha,” thought Jack, relieved he’d at last got the right end of the stick, “it’s a tourism ministry thing.” He prepared to jump into the conversation, when his interlocutor said, bafflingly,
“Kaliningrad?” thought Jack, wildly, downing another shot of Stolichnaya in an ill-advised attempt to achieve some clarity, “Where the hell is that?” Then, because he’d been on 461 city tours of St. Petersburg, he recalled that St. Petersburg had been called Leningrad from 1924 – 1991, (well, that’s not what Jack thought…but I’m supplying the correct information) and as The Battleaxe paused to take in another lungful of air, he interjected what he hoped was an overdue intelligent observation.
The Battleaxe leaned over and slammed her fist down on the table, making the silverware dance, and the crockery rattle. Sour cream splashed onto the tablecloth. Jack sighed, thinking that much – perhaps too much — of his professional life had been spent in a semi-alcoholic-induced stupor, sitting across the table from Slavic battleaxes from the tourism industry who rested their titanic bosoms on the shelf of a groaning lunch table, and banged on the grease-stained tablecloth to make some emphatic point the vodka kept him from fully understanding. Perhaps, thought Jack, it was time to begin to contemplate partial retirement.
“Golly,” thought my friend, “this new tourism ministry is even more powerful than the old guys.”
“The Swedes,” asserted Jack’s local St. Petersburg representative, who had much more of a head for lunchtime drinking and had been following along with a certain amount of wicked amusement.
“NATO,” said the local rep, making it rhyme with ‘Plato,’ and kicking Jack under the table to silence him. “You have to keep your eyes on them at all times.”
This post is part of The Stunt.