I’ve got a special spot for you, if you have a moment. If you find yourself standing on Borodinsky Bridge at twilight, on a night like this one, turn and walk toward the great arching road of Bulvarnoye Koltso. Count your steps, it’s important.
At one hundred, you’ll find yourself in Dorogomilovo’s lee. The Station has been recently redesigned to fit the changing requirements of the city. The sky-rails all meet here. During the day, the air is thick with ‘ships. It gleams even at night, a beacon to the Tsarina, Blessed Be She. When the spotlights switch on, those marble statues can be seen for miles.
At two hundred, you’re past the Station. The streets get bleaker here, in the shadow of the rails. This is the winter to the summer of Dorogomilovo. Move on quickly, before the Witherers come and steal you away. Still counting? Good.
When you reach three hundred and three steps, turn left. You’ll find yourself in a small plaza. Gogol Square, the locals call it. On the far side there is a small shop – if you were here an hour earlier, you would see the sun’s dying light will catch it, just so. Never mind the cobwebs in the window. It’s the one I’ve told you about. ‘Berries Karamazov’.
It’s a sweet shop, but different than you’d expected. The owner is passionate about literature in the way that only a Russian can be. But Volodya, as he’s affectionately called by his sister, has his unique take. The stories of the Empire are the inspiration for his art, his desserts.
I tried the Pecan Pushkin on my first visit. Sublime. Complex and sublime. The flavours, untranslateable.
He won’t disclose his secrets. He has his own Sweet Tooth Manifesto – that’s what Anyuta, his sister, calls it – but he doesn’t share it. I think he used to be someone. Remember the Troubles that your mother may have told you about, back during the War? All that chaos of the Provisional Government and the Fifth Duma? He was there, during that One Bad Year. A revolutionary, if I judge right, simply because he doesn’t talk about it. Not directly.
One night, I thought I saw him crying. When I offered him a handkerchief, he waved it away. It was his latest recipe, he told me. Fairy Flosstoesvsky, with its surprising aftertaste of ashes that will bring tears to the eyes. He offered me some, his face gleaming in the lamplight. “Any cook should be able to run the country,” he told me. “Anyone.” Across the rooftops, the spires of Dorogomilovo stretched up into the night. The spotlights caught the face of the Tsarina staring down at us, the marble statues of her face endlessly repeating, all detail washed out in the glare.