Ode on a U.S. Tycoon Whose Money Ran Out

So, farewell

Michael Mondini,

The shady phoenix

Of the expat business community.

You made big bucks,

Smoked exceedingly long cigars

And told tall tales.

"Nobody can't do nothing in town

Without first talking to Michael Mondini"

That was your catch-phrase.

The news that the FSB had supposedly given flamboyant real estate mogul Michael Mondini 48 hours to quit St. Petersburg has kept the expatriate gossip mills in the city grinding and churning away merrily for over a week now.

Depending on who you talked to, Mondini was in Moscow or Milan or was raising a mercenary posse in Cuba so he could blast his way back into the city. Now, it turns out that there may have been no significant FSB involvement in his hasty exit. He just got himself deeply into debt and then simply ran away.

All of this, I couldn't help thinking, might have made a rather interesting final chapter in the biography he asked me to write when I arrived in the city two years ago. I was working on an article about the Russian film industry and, as he had once worked in Hollywood, someone gave me his number.

"Nobody can write about the movie business in this town," he barked down the phone before inviting me to dinner, "without first talking to Michael Mondini."

His apartment on Revolution Square was a rather cramped, box-like affair, indistinguishable from all the others in the block that he had rented from his Russian neighbors, upgraded to "Western standards" and then re-rented to foreigners at a gigantic mark-up.

During the meal, he suddenly turned to me and said, "I can sense that there is something forthright about you, John, and I'd really like you to write my biography."

As I didn't flatly refuse, a second meeting was immediately arranged, during which the details of his life began to emerge. He had worked in Hollywood, though, by his own admission, he didn't amount to very much. "Sure, everybody knew me and all of the important people would say 'hi' to me in restaurants and I had a big car and a big house. But in terms of the major players out there, I was a nobody." Coming to Russia changed everything for Mondini: "When I got here, I knew that I could fulfill my potential. Russia is the new land of opportunity, and I'm right here reaping the benefits." Until last week, that is.

Unfortunately, the planned biography never got off the ground. Even so, I would like my token to the great man to be the above poem, which owes some apologies to EJ Thribb of London's Private Eye magazine. Michael Mondini, wherever you are, whoever you are, this one's for you.