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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Dizzy Life of Celebrity Spin

Tanya makes a paltry salary but gets to hobnob with the likes of Jack Nicholson, Holly Hunter and Jose Carreras. She says the trade-off is worth it.

Tanya, who holds a university degree in history, earns $200 a month as a reporter for a small entertainment weekly. She said it wasn't her first choice for a job, but it beats her previous positions as a clerk in a pharmacy and an archivist. And it allows her to live in Moscow.

Tanya was born and raised in Baku, the daughter of a Russian naval captain stationed on the shores of the Caspian Sea. She said she came to Moscow because there were no work prospects in Azerbaijan.

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And she loves her work. "This is about the best kind of job a person can get," she said. "Except for the salary." She laughed.

The hours are late. Many of the news conferences and presentations she attends in nightclubs and restaurants start at 11 p.m. That means she also eats late, but the food is free. At each event, guests are treated to spreads of sliced meats, fish, salads and fruits. The food is piled high next to glasses of wine, vodka, orange juice and mineral water.

The free meal comes with a catch. Reporters have to write about the newly announced album, music video or concert. After publication, each reporter sends the event organizer a copy of the article. No article -- or a negative one -- carries the threat of being dropped from the party list.

Tanya can live with the required good spin. She is fascinated by just about everybody she interviews. A rare exception was the girl group Strelki, a rip-off of the Spice Girls. "They were idiots," she said, wrinkling her nose. "They couldn't put two words together and remain coherent."

After some fussing around on her office computer, Tanya managed to put together a coherent article about the group.

In addition to a flock of second-rate Russian celebrities, Tanya has interviewed Jean-Louis Dumas, the head of French luxury retailer Hermes, and Ermenegildo Zegna, the Italian designer who dresses actors such as Brad Pitt, Bruce Willis and Al Pacino. Both men were in town to open boutiques.

At film festivals, she got an interview and autograph from Eric Roberts and presented a small toy heart to Hunter. She also has attended parties for Geri Halliwell, James Cameron, Dolph Lundgren, Sean Penn and Woody Harrelson, as well as Nicholson and Carreras.

At times, she seems to be living off of the banquets and her fondness for celebrities. She has for years been trying to scrape together enough money to buy an apartment.

An occasional freelance assignment brings in a little extra money. She has rejected job offers with higher salaries elsewhere because they meant giving up celebrity interviews.

I once asked her what was the draw of the stars. She recalled a meeting with George Moustaki, the composer who penned "Milord" for Edith Piaf. It was Moustaki's friendship with Marlene Dietrich, not Piaf, that impressed Tanya.

At the end of the 15-minute interview, Tanya had leaned toward Moustaki with a question. "I told him I wanted to shake the hand that Marlene Dietrich had shaken. He said, 'Of course.'"

Tanya was pushed aside for the next reporter before she got her wish, but Moustaki didn't forget her.

"He later came up to me and said, 'I promised you something, didn't I?'"

"Yes, a handshake," Tanya replied.

"What handshake? I want a kiss," Moustaki said.

He planted a lingering kiss on her lips.

Andrew McChesney is deputy editor of The Moscow Times.