Irish Baba Coming Soon To a Theater Near You

I was in the middle of a radio interview with Baba Darya, one of St. Petersburg's best known clairvoyants, when a momentous, earth-shattering revelation struck. Suddenly, Darya began clutching her temples and rolling her eyeballs in a most disturbing fashion.

"Has anybody in this room," she howled, glaring ominously at the crew, the translator and myself, "ever been involved with paranormal activity of any kind?"

There was a pause, followed by nervous mumbling and a wave of bemused denials.

"That is very strange," Darya continued, waving her arms around in a frenzy, "because I can feel waves of energy, fields of telepathic rays emanating from one individual here."

With that, she began bearing down on me and massaging my aura. I started to glow brightly, not through any extrasensory ability, but out of pure embarrassment. "Ah-ha," Darya announced triumphantly. "I have found the source."

So, it turns out that I have special powers. But that's no big deal in St. Petersburg at the moment, where a huge chunk of the population is involved in mysticism of one kind or another. There are even classes every weekend on the Fontanka embankment in "Psychic powers, reincarnation and the healing of Karma Dysfunction," given by a sprightly gentleman named Professor Sergei Terieskin. By taking his 400 to 600 pupils through a tour of their past lives, the professor claims he can cure all sorts of complexes and phobias.

"One of our regular students had a terrible fear of fire," he says. "We took her through a couple of reincarnations and discovered she had once been burnt at the stake as a witch in Germany."

But all this pales beside the Baba, or psychic granny phenomenon, of which Baba Darya is just one of many operating in the city's cinemas and theaters. Last week, Baba Nura crammed the Coliseum cinema with tens of thousands of old women in woolly caps, all hoping to have their arthritis or varicose veins cured instantaneously. At the beginning of the "seance," letters were read out. "Thank you Baba Nura," wrote one woman, "for helping me exchange my two-room apartment in the suburbs for a spacious one-room apartment in the center."

Strangely enough, these Babas have brutish armed guards, apparently to protect them from family members whose grannies have been stolen away. Skeptics believe that the phenomenon is designed to extract cash from vulnerable old women.

All of which is great news for me. There is not much money in column writing. And now that my psychic powers have been discovered, all I need is a red bandanna and a skirt. Look out for posters with my smiling face and deep, burning extrasensory eyes: Baba O'Mahony -- Coming Soon, to a cinema near you.