LOVE AND DEATH: It's Not Chechnya, But It's Pretty Darn Close




My husband, the man from the country of Ch--, has had an interesting tour in Russia.


Like many other foreigners, he falls in the category of those who arrive by default, toted along by the partner with Things to Do here. (We promise them caviar, dachas and the Trans-Siberian, but what we mostly deliver is a metro map and a lot of time left on their own.) Still, like many of the same foreigners, the man from Ch-- has ended up finding much more to love about Russia than the partner who did the dragging.


I chalk this up to his bold spirit of adventure. He chalks this up to the fact that his new homeland is not noticeably different than his old one. Americans, he seems to be saying, are much more likely to be cranky when things don't go their way. His relationship with our landlord, a man who enjoys sitting in our kitchen over a shot of vodka and telling us how he doesn't have time to fix the sink just then, is in fact much jollier than the one I enjoy. In Ch-- as in Russia, bad plumbing is just part of life's rich tapestry.


Where exactly my husband comes from is not important. We can say simply that he likes red wine and was recently thrown into a deep funk over the liberation of a certain General P--. But now that he is in Russia, his precise country of origin is of little discernible value. What has caused a stir are those first two letters - or one, depending on which alphabet you're dealing with. That Ch seems to get him noticed just about everywhere.


This has caused many a suspenseful moment during our regular visits from the police, who in the course of keeping a vigilant eye on the city's foreign element have apparently had to combine their renowned gift for bias with a dose of speed-reading. "Ch--?" they ask with a frown, giving my husband the gimlet-eye once-over before fanning out into the apartment to check for bags of sugar. "Ch--," they once again intone with disgust as they finally take their grim leave. "Damn! Almost had him that time," you can almost hear them mumbling out by the elevator.


Their last visit, however, put an end to my fears of guilt by alphabetical association. It seems there are things that police fear even more than home-grown explosives, and one of them is a man in his underwear. Hoping to finally crack my husband's fiendish document scam, they instead were treated to the sight of him leaping into the stairwell in his boxer shorts in hot pursuit of a cat who had made a break for freedom. This was so disappointing, or perhaps merely disconcerting, that the police (and most of the neighbors, for that matter) haven't bothered us since. "Although he is from Ch--, this man is definitely not a terrorist." Case closed.