In recent weeks Vladimir Putin has invented a new sort of Russian reversal. This is where you send troops to Crimea and take control of the government and media, then hold a vote on whether you should send in troops and take control of a region’s government and media. The notion of consent involved here – as in “Crimean voters consented to annexation” – is a little bit peculiar. But it turns out that this sort of behaviour is a Putin family tradition.
This morning I had the opportunity to conduct a metaphysical interview with Maria Ivanova Putina, Vladimir Putin’s mother.
The Putin family in 1985 (from www.kremlin.ru)
A metaphysical interview is just like a real interview, except instead of talking to the person you speculate about what they would say. It’s one of the key techniques of the philosophical journalist. You may never have heard of philosophical journalism, because for some reason the liberal media refuse to hire us.
I was surprised to find that although Ms. Putina’s son had been leader of Russia for almost twenty years, she still lived in the same Soviet-era apartment building in St. Petersburg. The corridor walls were bare concrete. I think there might have been brown carpet, but I couldn’t quite tell – the lights were mostly burnt out.
The woman who answered my knock wore a thin dress with a floral pattern that hung loosely off her. She must once have been stocky, but now she had to be at least ninety, or even a hundred. (I should probably have researched that before beginning the interview.) Despite her age, however, her eyes were bright and spirited.
“Ms. Putina?” I asked.
“Dr. Lipak?” she replied in a voice hardly at all like a vulture’s. Then she lunged forward and grabbed my tie – I’d worn a suit for the occasion, and even shaved – and yanked me into her apartment.
I coughed and tried to loosen the knot at my throat – her yank had cinched my tie to the point that I couldn’t breathe. She slammed the door shut behind me. “Won’t you come in?” she shrieked.
“What?” I gasped.
“Won’t you come in?”
“I think I just did.”
She snarled, baring her teeth, and leapt at me, grabbing my wrists and pulling them behind my back. I couldn’t believe that someone that old could be so strong, or maybe I really am that much of a wuss. Still, I managed to wriggle out of her grip. “Ms. Putina, please!” I cried.
The old lady grabbed a cane from the coatrack behind the door and cracked me in the back of the head. She pummeled me over and over, then stabbed the butt of the cane into my solar plexus. I collapsed onto my knees, coughing. She grabbed my coat and began peeling it off my shoulders.
“What the hell is going on?” I moaned.
“May I take your coat?” said Ms. Putina.
“What?” I said.
“May I” – she pulled my arms behind my back again so that she could strip my sleeves off them – “take your coat?”
“You beat me up so you could take my coat?” I struggled to my feet and felt my head – my hair was sticky and wet with blood.
“Beat you up?” she said with apparent shock. “No, no. You are my guest. When you came in the door I asked if I could take your coat. I couldn’t ask a guest to hang up his own coat, could I?”
“You beat me with a cane, took my coat, and then asked if you could take it.”
She frowned at me. “You worry too much about these details of when this happened and when that happened. You have to look at the big picture.”
“What big picture?”
“That you are a guest in my home, and I took your coat to hang it up.” And with a triumphant air, she hung my coat on the rack. Then she picked up the cane, took a handkerchief out of her pocket, and wiped clean the end she’d beaten me with.
“Seriously. My head is bleeding. Look.” I bent over so she could see.
“Dry weather,” she replied.
“Dry weather makes heads bleed.”
“That’s noses. Sometimes lips. Not the fucking back of your head.” I try to avoid using language like that around the elderly, but by this point I was getting a little annoyed.
“Western fascist plot,” she said.
I stared. “How exactly do you get from your beating me up to ‘Western fascist plot’?”
She motioned to my head. “Fake blood. So Western fascists can stain good Russian carpets.” She brandished the cane again. “Get out! Get out, fascist Russian-hating pig, before you ruin my carpet!”
At this point I basically lunged for the door. I managed to get it open and into the hall before she hit me again. Cowering against the far wall of the corridor, I squeaked, “Can I at least have my coat back?”
“Bigot!” she screamed. “You think Russians don’t deserve carpets, so you kick down my door and try to ruin mine!”
“Right,” I said. “Yeah. Just keep the coat.”