I’ve returned from my trip to Anapa on the coast of the Black Sea, a beach resort vacation-meets-that Twilight Zone episode where all the town inhabitants have disappeared. It’s not tourist season for another month or so, and we were the only guests in the lovely Hotel de la Mapa.
Russians often speak of ideas like “the Russian soul” in quasi-mystical terms, but as with stereotypes, there’s often a grain of truth to all the mythologizing. In the south of Russia, I found that the ideal of “Southern hospitality” (a more common variant: “Eastern hospitality,” but the Caucasus and Black Sea region has always been considered Oriental by Russians) is indeed grounded in real life.
We were lounging in the dunes along the beach one fine day during our visit, drinking local half-sweet red wine and eating adjika with lavash (hot pepper sauce and flatbread) when two dudes rode up on a moped. The exact details of the encounter were lost in the sudden chaotic meeting of people, emotional gesticulating, persistent soft crash of the waves and a bottle of vodka produced from the seat compartment, but Yura and Slava soon offered to photograph us on the moped.
At this time, I’d already been searching for a moped to rent (in vain, they’re “not in-season” yet), so I asked if we could take it for a spin. They agreed and with a friend a careened up the beach, through the cresting and crumbling dunes and out onto the highway.
By the time we got back, the conversation had moved to shashlik — the Russian barbecue of skewered meat — and why we weren’t cooking some on our beach holiday. We had no good reason, so Yura and Slava invited us back to Yura’s “tourism base.”
What followed in the next few hours was a mostly happy, sometimes tragic trainwreck of barbecued meat and too much Putinka vodka. Highlights include a high-speed ride through Anapa in a sports car, vomit, a late-night search for a friend who had wandered off and fallen asleep under a willow tree as if in some vodka-drenched, atavistic fairy tale, and more vomit.
Just some Southern hospitality for you.
Yura took me out shooting on the coast the morning of our last day, and we pinged away at cans and bottles along the cliffs with his 20-gauge.
“Sorry we can’t use my machine gun (‘avtomat’),” he told me. “I lent it to a friend.”