I have been seeing a lot of the Fiat 500’s lately. The original “cinquecento” was produced in Italy from 1957 to 1975. I remember it was tiny. We would squeeze into them when hitching rides in Italy. We made jokes about them. It was a mere 10 feet long and honestly not very comfortable. The new Fiat 500 sold today is a full foot longer.
When I moved to Russia, I came across the Zhiguli. When I first saw it I immediately thought of the cinquecento. Interestingly enough, in the mid 1960’s the Zhiguli was produced by the Volga Automobile Works (VAZ) in collaboration with Fiat and the Soviet government. The Zhiguli was modeled after the original Fiat 500 and was exported to the West after 1975 as the Lada.
The Zhiguli was small and boxy. I would sometimes see very large Russian policemen cramming themselves into the Zhiguli four at a time. I wondered what would happen if there was an emergency. Would they be able to extract themselves in time?
The Russian car that I liked the most was the Volga. It was the car used for city government officials and usually came with an official driver. In Moscow there was no taxi service, you just hailed down a passing car and negotiated a price and they took you where you wanted to go. When my son was in pre-school, I would go out every morning and hail a car to take us to school. I was too harried to manage a stroller, a screaming child, and a bus in the middle of the Russian winter. And the cars were usually pretty cheap.
One day I lucked out and managed to flag down a black Volga. Volgas are mid sized sedans with comfortable seats and plenty of room for the child and the stroller. Much better than a Zhiguli. I was in heaven. The next morning I went out as usual to flag a car, and there was the same Volga sitting at the end of my drive. He was waiting for me. Apparently our schedules were in sync. For the next couple of months, I had a driver every morning waiting for me.
Several months earlier my friend Suzette had picked up a Russian dog – probably on some street corner. It was a sad looking thing. She called it Scruffy.
When Suzette left Russia she couldn’t take Scruffy with her right away. I am guessing she had too much luggage and couldn’t fit him in. So she dumped him on me. Great, I spent the next two months cursing her name as I dragged myself out of bed at 6 in the morning in the dark cold Russian winter to walk the dog.
Luckily the Russians have no concept of cleaning up after dog poop and don’t care where animals do their business so all I had to do was cross the driveway and let him go at it in the children’s playground. Of course, I knew I would be cursing Suzette again in the spring when the snow melted and all the dog poop revealed itself on my darling child’s playground. But for the moment I stood in solidarity with the Russian people.
For some unknown reason, probably to retain my sanity, I had to leave the country for a few days around the time my Volga showed up. Suzette told me about a ‘clinic’ where I could board the dog while I was gone. Of course the clinic was in outer suburbia so I needed a car to get there.
I managed to convince my Volga driver to take me to the dog ‘clinic’ to drop Scruffy off. I even talked him into taking me to the airport but I think I pushed him too far because one day he just wasn’t there anymore. My luck ran out.
The ‘clinic’ looked more like a gulag to me. It was typical Soviet drab with that empty feeling like experiments were going on behind closed doors. I had a twinge of regret leaving Scruffy there but, hey, it wasn’t me. Suzette was doing this. It was her guilt. I was merely an innocent third party.
After several months, Suzette sent her accomplice, George to fetch the dog. She didn’t have the guts to do it herself. My four year old couldn’t understand who this evil woman was who tortured us with her dog and then wrenched him away.
Years later I came across her again. She still had that mangy dog and he didn’t look much better than the day she found him.
Kathleen Gamble was born and raised overseas and has traveled extensively. She has a BA in Spanish and has worked in publishing, printing, desktop publishing, translating, and purchasing. She also designs and creates her own needlepoint. She started journaling at a young age and her memoir, Expat Alien, came out of those early journals. Over the years she has edited and produced an American Women’s Organization cookbook in Moscow, Russia, and several newsletters. Her first book, Expat Alien, was published in 2012 and she recently published a cookbook, 52 Food Fridays, both available on Amazon.com. You can also follow her blog at ExpatAlien.com.