A SUMMER SOIREE IN MOSCOW
For several months, Mike Stockford and I had been deliberating over the idea of getting together a few people over to his imposing and impressive apartment for an evening of culinary delight. These conversations usually took place on a Friday night at Chicago Prime, having indulged in several wines (or beers in Mike’s case), but never went any further for some reason. During the course of July, many of my clients and friends went away to hotter European destinations to chase away the summertime blues we were enduring weather-wise, then a couple of weeks ago, the conversation took a decidedly different direction as we were one of a few diehard expats who were staying put. “You know what,” I said to Mike, “this party we’ve been talking about for months on end- let’s do it, let’s really do it; people need cheering up and I for one don’t need any excuse for a party!” Mike responded enthusiastically, and thus August 12th ended our dreams and started the reality.
We decided to announce it on Facebook because of fear that someone we should have invited got left out accidently, and with some provisos that each person should bring a bottle, and that people shouldn’t promise to come then be a no-show like happens at Internations events, as we had to have a reasonable idea of numbers for catering purposes. Half a dozen people bailed but were kind enough to write well in advance, and that gesture was much appreciated. We decided on a menu of Coronation chicken, Chicken curry, not overly spiced so everyone could indulge; and Mike chimed in with his iconic Thai curry.I arrived at his house just before 4.00 to give myself plenty of time to prepare the marinade and chill it, then we went shopping in the local Azbuka Vkuza where Mike generously bought some beers and several bottles of rose wine; rather fitting for the glorious summer sunshine of late. Mike was cheerfully waving to and chatting with many of the staff as he’s a regular there, but when we reached the check-out, the cashier recognised me and was very excited to see me- Mike was stunned into silence as I savoured the attention, saying “you’d be surprised who I know!” However, as we were staggering back with several bags of goodies, lo and behold, waiting at the doorstep was my friend from Obninsk, the first of 40 people to arrive, half an hour early but great to see her and her friends whom I taught when they were at LG Company. “Hi,” she exclaimed, but not at me, at Mike. “How do you two know each other?” At this point, not 5 minutes after the Azbuka incident, Mike exacted his revenge and said “you’d be surprised who I know, Simon!” What a terrific touche!
The guests having been ushered into his apartment and drinks poured, I went into panic mode as I was at least an hour from completion and the doorbell kept ringing announcing yet more arrivals. Rescue came in the guise of Amor Elboghdady, a chef and English teacher, who went to work with great gusto, the rat-a-tat-tat of the knife on the cutting board as he cut through the onions with rifle precision and at the rate of knots compared to my more measured approach, then went to work on the chickens. In record time my two dishes and Mike’s Thai curry were put out on the full size dining table and people fell on the food ravenously.
There were people from all walks of life there: a doctor, a psychologist a couple of lawyers, the head of a global bank and, of course, the ubiquitous sprinkling of English teachers. I was in the middle of one of many animated conversations when suddenly there was a tap on my shoulder followed by “are you Simon Green?” “Guilty as charged” I replied, putting both hands in the air in mock surrender, and slowly turning round. “I’m Will Chilcott- we were at school together.” I came face to face with a guy who appeared to be 30 years younger than me, and for a minute my brain was confused, most probably clouded my one Chianti too many. What he meant to say was we went to the same school, but it was a lovely surprise and we reminisced about bygone days, leaving me to reflect that the world is indeed a small place.
Lyubov’s lovely crooning to the carousing guests was replaced by dancing music and revelry which was to lead guests into the small hours. Three large bin liners that were filled and carted out into the night air bore witness to the previous 8 hours of hard partying that makes Moscow such a special place to live in. Thank you, Mike, for opening up your home to us rebel-rousers, and talks are already underway for a Halloween party to end all parties- watch this space!
The summer has burst upon us after an never ending dreary Spring. Suddenly we have beautiful blue skies, carefree faces, shorts, scantily dressed extremely attractive ladies, Moscow has become an enchanted city and even feels relaxed, the place to be. But already, the air is tinged with a subtle touch of Autumn. Intoxicating as that feeling may be, this does mean that the slow journey back into the cold has already begun.
But wait a minute – what about all night summer parties, pagan rituals around open fires with naked divas exorcising evil spirits? The endless summer parties on prim lawns in all embassies except the British Embassy? What about the many summer parties that usually fill the remainers’ (not the Brexit type) calendars at this time of year? Either we (well me) for some reason (joke), have fallen out of favour and are not on the chosen ones’ lists, OR, due to the continuing exodus of true blue expatriate blood, there simply haven’t been many or even any. One cannot deny, of course that CP and other central venues now provide the settings for such revelries every night, however having a meeting in a pub or club is one thing, being invited to summer party is quite another.
Enter Mike Stockford and Simon Green. Both are well known expatriates living in Moscow. Mike lives in a most amazingly huge techno-style flat on Petrovsky Boulevard. The living room alone is big enough to land a small aeroplane in, and it has been tastefully decorated to highlight original features.
A small amount of investigation revealed that the building next door was actually Moscow’s first pre-revolutionary sado-masochistic brothel. It operated from 1889-1891 and was then shut down because of ‘extreme debauchery.’ In case readers are wondering, none of this of course has anything to do with Mike’s flat or the summer party, however it was comforting to know that this part of Moscow has a history of being unusual, and that evening was certainly unusual.
Why unusual? Enter Simon Green, executive English teacher, childhood concert pianist, cook extraordinaire, and networker supremo. He not only helped create the evening with Mike, but was also the master chef, and prepared together with the much underestimated Amor Elboghdady, and Mike himself, a magnificent summer feast consisting of a classical Coronation chicken curry slightly spiced, and Thai curry and various side dishes! Mike and Simon’s requests to bring a bottle were actually heeded to, which meant that; with some generous help from Mike, there was indeed an impressive array of various alcoholic beverages including gin, martini even Jamieson’s whisky; enabling guests to become completely intoxicated.
The summer evening started, guests drifted in and were enveloped by the vast space inside the flat which reverberated with warm welcoming vibes. Shorts, smiling faces, sun tanned bodies. Summer in the city. Very unusually, mercifully, I did not hear one person talk about the pitiful state of international politics/the economy/sanctions the whole evening. If a year ago, that would have been all people would have talked about, now everybody is blasé, and allocate such topics as the latest war and the sanctions to the department of important but boring themes. Much more important things were discussed, such as our lives…
Suddenly the master conductor Mike took centre stage (the middle of his living room) and introduced Lyubov Zolotova and the Minne singers. A performance of Russian folk music, which included a pagan song or two so that we understood the more recent music from the correct perspective followed. Lyubov’s clear voice perfectly captured that Russian upturn at the end of the lines, and the audience beat along in time with their fingers, heads, and eventually broke out into dances during the more rhythmic numbers. Singing traditional Russian music to expatriates does not always work. This time it did, brilliantly. Thank you!
Simon, who had arranged the performance thanked everyone at the end of the performance and the evening continued. A thousand conversations swelled and merged into one common expression of intoxicated summer joviality and good pagan spirits. Clearly this was a night to remember, thanks to hosts Mike, Simon, to the musicians and to the guests for being so well behaved.