Jul 28

You don’t know how lucky you are, boy, back in the U.S.S.R.

Phoenix and its 116 degree heat and Manhattan with its hazy, hot and humid spell of six million
St-petersburg-russia straight, 90 degree days have nothing on St. Petersburg, Russia.

Having had the pleasure of touring the historic Czarist city the past few days, I can report on the following:

The Russians don't do air conditioning. Period. And, that's not a good thing. I thought London struggled with excessively high heat, but the Brits could learn a trick or two from the plucky Russians. Most merely shrug their shoulders, sigh and deal with it. As Pauline, our tour guide put it: “Your Mr. Albert Gore was sure right about his world warming theory, da?”

To begin with, there's St. Petersburg's overall miasma: daytime temperatures soar well in excess of 100 degrees (F). But, unlike Phoenix and it’s much heralded and over-hyped 'dry heat,' the humidity here is Vietnamese jungle-like in its intensity (courtesy of its proximity to the Baltic Sea).

Stir in absolutely no carbon dioxide emission standards whatsoever, never-ending road construction work which sears the air with a heady aroma of burning tar and a sun that, due to our extreme Northern exposure, doesn't set until 11pm and one gets hot, hot, hot to paraphrase another pop song.

But St. Petersburg's special charm is its cigarette-addicted populace. When it came to conquering the Russian population, Napoleon and Hitler should have studied Phillip Morris instead of Carl von Clausewitz. Nearly every uber attractive, scantily-clad Russian lass can be seen strolling the Neskiye Prospekt with a cigarette dangling from her lips. And, the men puff away just as enthusiastically. So, if you're an investor, hang onto your tobacco stocks- Phillip Morris is making a killing here, literally.

On the plus side, St. Petersburg has beautifully restored 17th and 18th century Russian Orthodox churches on virtually every street corner. They also have a subway system that is clean and cool. (Yes, I said, cool. I was actually thinking of bedding down in one for the night.) There are also lots of historic sites for the hyperactive tourist. (But, one morning of inhaling noxious fumes and sweating through my clothes many times over was enough to put a damper on any extended tours for this blogger.)
 
Another plus is the World War II memorabilia. The Russians proudly display many of the weapons used to fight back the Nazi siege of Leningrad (St. Petersburg's name during the Communist regime). And, there's even a brief tour of the Astoria Hotel (not to be confused with NYC's Waldorf-Astoria) where Hitler had already made plans to host a gala celebration of the fall of Leningrad. (As our guide, Pauline, beamed, “So, he did not have the chance for that, no? So, instead, Stalin came here and he give big, big celebration.”)

I found it curious that there were no statues or murals of Stalin to be found, but Lenin is everywhere. I guess those 30 million mass murders tended to dampen the Russians' pride in Uncle Joe.

Anyway, my climbing team leaves St. Petersburg this morning for a day-long flight South to Mineral Vody in the Caucasus Mountains, where we begin our assault on 18,840 foot Mt Elbrus. With cell service being as scarce as tobacco and nicotine are plentiful, this blogger doubts he'll be able to file an update until we reach Moscow midweek of next week. Here's hoping in advance that Moscow copes with the heat a little bit better than its neighbor to the North.

St. Petersburg was nice to visit, but here's one comrade who wouldn't want to live there. Dasvedanya, Amerikanskis.

Nov 09

Talk about the client from hell

How'd you like the task of rehabilitating Joseph Stalin's image and reputation? Well, 
according to O’Dwyer’s, Russian Information Agency Novosti is searching for an international PR firm to do just that.Stalin

According to the report, the goal is to re-position the Soviet despot who, some historians say, may be responsible for more than 30 million deaths and, instead, highlight his role in defeating Nazi Germany and rebuilding the Soviet Union into a super power.

This is so wrong but, in a perverse way, kind of hilarious as well.

Can you imagine media training the lead 'Stalin' spokesperson?

Agency trainer: “Sergei, baby, you need to stay focused. Put the vodka down. Now, you need to be mindful of negative or irrelevant questions in an actual interview and 'bridge' to the talking points we just developed. Let's practice. Let's say I'm a Reuters reporter and ask you this question: ‘Sergei, how can you possibly call one of history's greatest mass murderers one of Russia's greatest leaders instead?’ ”

Sergei (downs a shot of Stoli): “On the contrary, we're saying Comrade Stalin saved hundreds of millions of lives by defeating the Nazis. Imagine how many Russians might have died if Hitler had won?”

Agency trainer: “Nice Sergei. OK, question number two: ‘How do you explain the way in which Stalin's rivals such as Leon Trotsky not only disappeared, but were air brushed out of official state photographs? Is that the way a great leader behaves?' ”

Sergei (pops another shot): “On the contrary, comrade reporter. We've done some homework and discovered that Trotsky, Molotov and others who you Western media types said were murdered simply took extended sabbaticals. They asked that their likenesses be removed. They'd had enough of the limelight.”

Agency trainer: “Smooth Sergei. Very smooth. One more toughie: 'How do justify the gulags?' ”
Sergei: “How do you justify Gitmo?”

Agency trainer: “You are so ready Sergei! After we're done, the Western press will be listing Stalin right alongside Alexander the Great and Caesar.”

If the chosen agency succeeds with the Stalin image program, I could see them building an entire practice around the emerging discipline. Were we were to do it, we'd call it PepperDespot and probably market it on our Website with such wording as:

“Are you the brand manager of a former Soviet Republic? Or maybe the CMO of an erstwhile member of the Axis Powers? Do you need to burnish the reputation of your local Mussolini, Hitler or Tojo?”

PepperDespot can help. Our efforts saved Joseph Stalin's name from the scrapheap of history (link to AP story: 'Stalin described as warm and fuzzy in new poll.'). And, we can do it for you as well. Just think of the tourism dollars that will accrue to your beleaguered brand once consumers understand the softer, human side of your dead despot.  ‘PepperDespot: Making yesterday's scum tomorrow's rock stars.’ "