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A chain reaction…

Justin Lifflander

(Interview with Maria Eliseeva, for April Issue of Aeroflot in-fligh magazine: on Beslan, and how to get bikers and ordinary people involved in charity)

The travel weary clown got in the front seat of my car, after I greeted him at Sheremetyevo, for the start of the November 2017 Russia clown trip.

I had already read David’s biographical statement:

‘I’m a French-Italian, teacher-actor-comedian. I've been traveling the world for the past year doing a documentary about laughter and being a volunteer.’

An interesting, but not necessarily unique description of a humanitarian clown.

I asked the usual question as we headed toward the city center.

 “What made you decide to clown in Russia?” 

“Several things came together,” he responded. “First, I was flying through Russia on Aeroflot last year, and I read an article about Maria, Patch and the Russian clown trip. It inspired me…”

At that moment, I experienced the thrill writers get when they realize they’ve touched someone, made a difference, hit their target…

David spent the next two weeks in Moscow and St. Petersburg, working his magic, bringing joy and creating material for his documentary. And I was inspired to pitch Aeroflot about another article: this one about Maria’s involvement with Beslan – the city in North Ossetia where a school was attacked by terrorists in 2004.

Gorbachev, Massie, and a Bit of Optimism

Justin Lifflander

Gorbachev, Justin, Palazhchenko and Ambassador Jon Huntsman
Photo: Marina Buligina, Vesmir Publishers

Gorbachev and Massie inspecting the Votkinsk “Trust But Verify” T-shirt.
Photo: Anatoly Kotov, Vesmir Publishers

 In a classroom at Cornell in the Spring of 1986 we discussed Gorbachev’s speech at the 27th congress of the Communist Party of the USSR, then taking place in Moscow.  I realized the style of the new General Secretary, Mikhail Sergeevich Gorbachev,  was going to be very different than his predecessors. And I had an inkling that the field of study in which I was getting a diploma – “Soviet Government,” aka Kremlinology – was about to become a whole lot more interesting.

 So, spending an afternoon this month with Gorbachev at his foundation in Moscow, along with other giants from the Cold War – Foreign Minister Alexander Bessmertnykh, General Vladimir Dvorkin, and historian and Ronald Reagan confidant Suzanne Massie – was a surreal culmination of a journey I began three decades earlier. The occasion was the publication in Russian of Massie’s recent memoir “Trust But Verify: Russian Lessons for Reagan.”

 The full article about the book launch you can read here.

 Before she headed back to her home in Maine for the holidays, I had breakfast with Suzanne. We commiserated over the sad state of global affairs and bonded over our love for Russia. When you’ve spent 35 years dedicated to a cause, and then meet someone  35 years your senior who has been working the same cause her whole life, hope easily rekindles.

…Give Till It Stops Hurting

Justin Lifflander

Volunteers from Maria’s Children art center joined Patch Adams and his band of visiting humanitarian clowns for a two week tour of orphanages and hospitals in Moscow and St. Petersburg.
Below you can view a report (in Russian) of their final stop, at the Albrecht Children’s Rehabilitation hospital in St. Petersburg, Russia.

An American Professor in Russia

Justin Lifflander

Moscow, 25 July 2017

There are at least 20 towns in the United States named Moscow. But towards the end of my visit to America in June, I took the appearance of this sign as a sign, and headed home. Then again, it could have been an attack by Russian hackers on the design computer of the road-sign factory. We’ll never know, and there will never be proof anyway.

I departed with a heavy heart, having fathomed – with help from the American media – the depth of the abyss into which US-Russian relations have sunk.

Hope had landed on my Moscow windowsill briefly in March. When I heard that Jon Huntsman Jr. was to be named ambassador to Russia, I read his biography and took heart at the possibility of an improvement in relations. To facilitate that, I immediately sent him a copy of my book. I have no idea if he’s read it, but if he has questions, I am ready to go to the airport and meet him at the bottom of the staircase when the plane lands. Then again, he might have other priorities.

Cornell University

Returning to Moscow on 10 June, I immersed myself in final preparations for the Russia lecture tour of Professor Glenn Altschuler. Professor Altschuler was my faculty advisor at Cornell University 34 years ago, and is my son’s advisor now. I pitched the idea of inviting Glenn to Russia to the US Embassy’s cultural affairs department in the spring. They agreed to sponsor his visit and be the main organizer. We settled on four topics that he could speak about here, based on his publications and experience: the origins of rock & roll; best practices of managing a major university; legal advocacy in the US, based on his recent book Ten Great American Trials; and the history of US presidential power.

Over the previous two months I had leveraged every friend I have in Russia in order to find host venues and appropriate audiences. My apprehension grew as show-time approached. We were coming up short. My contacts, as well as those of the embassy, were dealing with the usual bureaucracies. But there was also an unspoken undercurrent. Perhaps it was not the best time for an American academic to attempt to penetrate the walls of state institutions, not to mention the minds contained therein. 

If they only knew Glenn Altschuler, I thought, people would flock to his lectures. He is a teddy-bear with a PhD. His body is compact, but his head is full of stories. Stories resulting from a habit of reading not less than 100 pages a day for the last 41 years. (That’s approaching 1.5 million pages, if you are counting) Add to that a four-decade career as a senior member of Cornell University’s staff, and his adventures around the world— speaking about the books he’s written, fund raising for Cornell, or teaching classes on and off campus—and you can imagine what a fascinating person he is. And it is understandable that, with a head so full of stories, there is not much room left for hair. His bristly mustache, hovering above his sprightly smile, compensates for the hair deficit. His eyes twinkle in a big way, magnified by his thick glasses—a consequence of all that reading. 

Finally, it started to come together, much thanks to the charm and persistence of Kim Scrivner and her team at the US Embassy Moscow cultural affairs department, and some of the contacts my friends provided.

After a gentle ramp-up in St. Petersburg, where he did the trials lecture twice and rock & roll once, we readied to head south to the capital. On the eve of Saturday’s departure, we got the revised schedule for Moscow. Glenn's popularity was skyrocketing. He was set to give three lectures per day, for three days straight, interspersed with several press and PR moments. 

Glenn’s sprightly smile drooped a bit, and I think I heard a slight hiss, as I informed him of the revised schedule. “What? I’ve never done 3 lectures in one day in my entire life!” I took the blame, but gently scolded him for being too polite in our earlier exchanges when I tried to pin him down about the volume of work he would do here.  I also made a note to identify the location of the medical emergency kit at every venue, since Glenn does not smoke or drink.

Glenn, Marina and my friends from Beslan enjoying a white-night cruise on the Neva.

Glenn’s stamina had convinced me of his omnipotence. For example, he set off from Ithaca, in upstate New York, early Tuesday morning, took a bus to New York – a 400-kilometer trip — came into the city to give a lecture to a law firm, went to the airport and got on the transatlantic flight to Moscow, where I met him and we flew to St. P together, arriving Wednesday afternoon. We enjoyed a stroll, then dinner with some visiting Cornellians and my token native – a good clown-friend Marina Shusterman. Glenn knew he could not refuse when she invited us back to her apartment for tea and pie. I can confirm that Glenn’s normally brisk Brooklyn-native walking pace doubles when he is genuinely exhausted and wants to make it back to his hotel room to pass out.

The speaking tour was a success. He spoke to more than 350 people during 11 different lectures and a radio interview, many of which were live-streamed and garnered several thousand viewers.

Anyone who has ever given a public presentation knows the energy that goes into it, and how drained one feels afterwards—particularly if a passionate question and answer session follows. When the speaker successfully connects with his audience, there is an energy transfer – not unlike boxing or humanitarian clowning. And Glenn did connect. Muhammad Ali would have been proud.

Glenn connecting with St. Petersburg Lawyers

Jaws dropped and gasps of pleasant surprise were heard when this very American man mentioned that his father was born in Russia. Sometimes Glenn would single out a person in the audience worthy of an intellectual challenge or friendly rebuff. Glenn’s straight man was always well chosen and the other listeners benefited from their banter. And Glenn is the master of the dramatic pause: “When Dan White got out of prison, he killed again….this time, he killed himself.”

The one speaking tool that required a bit of honing was Glenn’s self-deprecation shtick. Glenn often says that he wants everyone to leave his lectures more depressed than when they came in (that is to say, to be thinking…). But his jests about his advanced age and avuncular appearance occasionally baffled audiences. Not something they expected from such a respected figure.

In fact, he often got a supportive backlash, with listeners grumbling in negation of his purported self -perception. 

At times, the wave of positive emotions he elicited from the crowds became hazardous. I had taken on the role of being his personal bodyguard, sans earpiece. I jokingly promised that, as long as he kept to the agreed topics, he would not wind up, as some opposition leaders here have, covered in green iodine. Glenn, being naturally conflict averse, very politically savvy, and also a small target, was at no time in any real danger. But there were two close calls.

Glenn connecting with Russian history

I sank into the big fluffy couch in the back of the living room at the home of the US Embassy deputy chief of mission in Moscow, while Glenn began to present to an enthralled group of mostly middle-aged female administrators from Moscow’s leading higher-education institutions. The intellectual pheromones began to fly. As I observed one lady educator in the front row, I realized my position in the room left me unable to defend him. The rapture on her face as he spoke; the gyrations of her hands as they stroked the air around his words which floated in her direction (she was overwhelmed with the joy that she had found someone who understood her plight); the wiggling of her hips on the chair…I took these as signs that she might, at any moment, leap up and hug him to death. I would be unable to make it to the front of the room and tackle her in time to save him.  Eventually, she calmed down, and so did I.

At one point during a lecture, Glenn made it clear he was available for marriage offers, and subsequently distributed his email address (the real one). I find it hard to believe he didn’t receive at least a few takers, though a Cornell ring was prominently displayed on his right ring finger— making it clear who his wife really is.

And there was the Friday evening lecture in St. Petersburg. A group of 40 or so young people between the ages of 14 and 18 had gathered to learn about the origins of rock & roll. I never knew that the term was slang from the 1950s for having sex. And I had no idea that Little Richard’s song Tutti Frutti was about homosexuality.  As Glenn described the sensuality of rock & roll, I suddenly remembered we have a law in Russia against promoting non-traditional sexual relations to minors. (I do not know if we have a law against promoting traditional sexual relations to minors). I had visions of a SWAT team softly traipsing up the carpeted marble steps and bursting into the room. Where to hide Glenn? Roll him up in the carpet? They’d likely notice the lump. Stuff him up the chimney? It had long been sealed.  Leap out the window together? I think the police troops sometimes repel down the sides of buildings they are storming.  By the time my paranoia subsided, he was safely on to the next topic. Something about Elvis’s hips.

The lecture on Ten Great Trials was well received by lawyers and the general public alike. The theme running through it was a paraphrased quote of Jorge Luis Borges: The future belongs to those who tell the best stories. In both court cases Glenn used in the lecture – O.J. Simpson and Dan White – it was clear that the defendant killed people, but was either acquitted or given a reduced sentence because his defense team did a better job at telling their version of the story than the prosecution did. Glenn reminded his audiences that “Facts do not speak for themselves.”

Beyond describing the nuts and bolts of legal advocacy, Glenn pointed out the essential strengths of the American justice system, as revealed in most of the cases he and coauthor Faust Rossi analyzed: it’s good to be lucky; it’s better to be smart and lucky; it’s best to be lucky, smart and rich. One young lawyer told me he was intrigued by what he had learned about the US legal system: much more room for creativity than in Russia.

The last lecture Glenn delivered was about the balance of power between the president of the United States and the other branches of government. An audience of about 40 people, undaunted by the security control necessary to enter, gathered at the American Center in Moscow, which is housed inside the embassy building on Novinsky Bulvar.

The listeners were impressively versed in the intricacies of American politics and government structure. Glenn still impressed them with his summary of challenges to the balance of power created by the executive branch. These include threats to the independence of the judiciary. He used Trump’s immigration ban and the court-imposed decrees around it as an example.

Glenn highlighted efforts to circumvent legislative authority—a trend which picked up steam under every U.S. president since Ronald Reagan. Case in point: Obama’s using executive orders and administrative procedures to ease tensions with Cuba. I learned that “signing statements” – documents a US president can issue to accompany a bill he signs into law which state his interpretation of the law and what he will and will not act on – are also an increasingly popular tool used by recent administrations to maximize their power.

The discussion turned to the administration of President Trump, how it came to exist, and what to expect moving forward. As far as the first question is concerned, Glenn had given me a simple illustration earlier. He described his grandmother’s approach to choosing between candidates. She would simply ask family members, “Do I vote for the Donkeys or the Elephants this year?”

Glenn reminded the audience that Americans have always been suspicious of the exercise of political power. He quoted Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis: “Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.” Sentiments appropriate for leaders of all persuasions and systems

When asked by a member of the audience what can be done to restore relations between our two great countries, Glenn added a final quote, from Italian Communist Antonio Gramsci: “I'm a pessimist because of intelligence, but an optimist because of will. The challenge of modernity is to live without illusions and without becoming disillusioned.” Then he said, with that twinkle in his eye, “We need to keep doing what we are doing right now: being in contact, talking, trying to understand each other…”

I consider myself lucky to have been able to spend seven days with Glenn, living in the same hotel suite, sharing meals, travel, and many hours in Moscow traffic jams. Our relationship evolved from being long-term acquaintances to good friends. I hope he returns.

Meanwhile, I wonder: does the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs have a similar program for sponsoring cultural figures to go on speaking engagements in the United States? Ok, Josef Kobzon wouldn’t make the list, and I wouldn’t recommend offering former Ambassador Kislyak, just yet. But it’s clear the people-to-people element is one of the few levels of cooperation still functioning. It would be great to see  genuine competition between the two countries in this format.

Zhorik the Journalist Clown Goes to Beslan

Justin Lifflander

8 April, 2017 (Beslan, Vladikavkaz, RF)  Zhorik the journalist clown joined 30 friends from Moscow and around the world for the annual trip of Maria’s Children to Beslan. They spent most of the week at school No.1, giving workshops in art and performance, but also visited two orphanages, and enjoyed some local sightseeing. Watch Zhorik's report. And making his clown debut was Maximo, a very dear friend of Zhorik. You may watch the highlights of Maximo’s meditation workshop.

A few memorable thoughts in honor of International Women’s Day

Justin Lifflander

In honor of the 8th of March Women’s Day holiday, a few selected quotes about women, and their effect on men…

The woman who follows the crowd will usually go no further than the crowd. The woman who walks alone is likely to find herself in places no one has ever been before.
— Albert Einstein
A woman is like a tea bag; you never know how strong it is until it’s in hot water.
— Eleanor Roosevelt
Freedom cannot be achieved unless women have been emancipated from all forms of oppression...
— Nelson Mandela
I don’t need a bedroom to prove my womanliness. I can convey just as much sex appeal picking apples off a tree or standing in the rain.
— Audrey Hepburn
American women expect to find in their husbands a perfection that English women only hope to find in their butlers.
— W. Somerset Maugham
I’m selfish, impatient, and a little insecure. I make mistakes, I am out of control, and at times hard to handle. But if you can’t handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don’t deserve me at my best.
— Marilyn Monroe
Being a woman is a terribly difficult task, since it consists principally in dealing with men...
— Joseph Conrad
The pursuit of knowledge has a pleasure in it like that of wrestling with a fine woman.
— Lord Halifax
Women and horses know when a man isn’t sure of himself. They can tell no matter how much he bluffs.
— John Steinbeck
Women are amazing. You can wait for months, travel thousands of kilometers, and build up ineffable desire. They just brush their hair.
— Justin Lifflander
What would men be without women? Scarce, sir…mighty scarce.
— Mark Twain

Four Centuries and Three Decades of Russian Thinking

Justin Lifflander

By Justin Lifflander

5 December

This article appears in the December 2016 edition of The Foreign Service Journal, dedicated to analyses and comment on the 25th anniversary of the breakup of the USSR. The journal is the flagship publication of the American Foreign Service Association – the professional association and labor union for America’s diplomats. The journal has a circulation of 18,000 and goes to diplomats, foreign embassies and key offices on Capitol Hill.

At first it seemed to me as if he was wearing X-ray glasses. Having purchased a fur hat from Sasha, the teenage fartsovshik (black marketeer) working the Oktyabrskaya subway station in Moscow that day in 1986, I earned the right to chat with him in my broken Russian. 

As he scanned the passersby in search of potential clientele, I couldn’t figure out how he was able to spot the foreigners. “Look carefully,” he explained. “The facial features, the shoes, the wrist watches, the eye glasses. …”  I began to understand how he chose to whom to offerhis znachki (pins) or money changing services. 

Thirty years later my fartsovhik is probably a successful oligarch. He and his countrymen no longer think they are “covered in chocolate” – a phrase going back to the Soviet era meaning “fortunate, lucky, living well” – as they build the socialist paradise while the West rots on the garbage heap of history. 

Living and working in Russia for the past three decades, I’ve become acquainted with people from a broad range of social strata—from government ministers to migrant workers. I turned to them to collect and distill their insights on how Russian thinking has changed since the end of the USSR.

Read more… 

Whatever it Takes to Remember the Holocaust, Even an Ice-Skating Routine

Justin Lifflander


By Justin Lifflander

The Moscow Times

1 December 2016

To me, most art is like music was to Louis Armstrong: it’s either good or bad. In Russia, ice dancing is an art-form no less respectable than others. Tatiana Navka’s courageous performance on Saturday commemorating the Holocaust via a tribute to the 1997 film “Life is Beautiful” was better than good. But what do I know?

(Read the full text)

Russia invaded by unarmed clowns

Justin Lifflander

By Justin Lifflander

11 November 2016

Photos: Natalia Lifflander

A platoon of amateur clowns descended on Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport Sunday to kick off the 32nd annual Patch Adams humanitarian clowning tour of Russia.

The group, consisting of volunteers ranging in age from 19 to 76 and representing 9 different countries, will be joined by a squad of Russian volunteers from the Moscow-based non-profit Maria’s Children Arts Center. The combined unit will spend two weeks seeking out and eliminating loneliness, sorrow and solemnity at a range of targets in Moscow and St. Petersburg — including orphanages, hospitals, veterans’ homes and homeless shelters.

(Read the full text)

The latest disarmament joke circulating on the Russian internet:

Justin Lifflander


Putin and Obama agreed on a new strategic disarmament treaty. Both sides eliminated all of their ICBMs.

A week after this amazing act which secured world peace was complete, Obama calls Putin in the Kremlin:

“Hey, Vova, it turns out I’ve got 7 missiles left. So now Russia will become a vassal of the United States!”

While Putin scratches his noggin and contemplates the situation, the Minister of Defense, unaware of the latest development, charges into his office: “Vladimir Vladimirovich! We have a problem…It seems that at a base outside Saratov one drunken lieutenant forgot to hand over the missiles. We have 40 SS-25’s left! What to do?”

Putin says, “Well, first of all, he’s no longer a lieutenant, he's a general. And second of all, when Russia drinks, she is unconquerable!”


BTW: the motto of the Strategic Rocket Forces of the Russian Federation is most pragmatic: “After us…silence.”

Interview with Maria Eliseeva, for October Issue of Aeroflot inflight magazine, about the upcoming clown trip to Russia

Justin Lifflander

By Justin Lifflander

1 October 2016

A Funny Story

The founder of non-profit Maria’s Children Arts Center MARIA ELISEEVA on clowns that stay behind

Every November I see Sheremetyevo Airport transformed: strange people in bright costumes and funny hats appear, surrounded by clouds of soap bubbles. In their midst a tall oddity sporting a blue mustache stands out. He marches about the airport with his friends, dressed in giant underpants. This is Patch Adams. “What are you celebrating? The circus left town and the clowns stayed behind?” –Such questions are heard everywhere we go in Moscow and St. Petersburg...

(Read the full text)

Lamborghini Love

Justin Lifflander

By Justin Lifflander

28 August 2016

Frankfurt, GERMANY— What was I thinking? That's the question I posed to myself Thursday afternoon as Baldur shifted gears and pressed the pedal of his salad-green 1969 12-cylinder Lamborghini Espada. We rocketed away from Frankfurt, heading eastward on the autobahn. I don’t enjoy fast driving.

He had just met me at the airport. I had agree to join him at the LCCG (Lamborghini Classic Club Germany) rally taking place for the next 3 days in Poppenhausen – a quiet (until our arrival) hamlet in the Rhon countryside. For Baldur, this was serious fun. To prove it, he wore matching green pants and sported a briefcase and wallet of a similar hue.

Exactly what is a “Baldur” you ask? 

I have described him as an Italian trapped in the body of a German. He is a man of much passion, who gets the most out of life – in a well-organized manner. For this event he was able to stuff his not-so-small German body into the not-so-big driver’s seat of his Italian sports car. His sister Barbara, who had served as Ferruccio Lamborghini’s personal secretary in his final years, is an honored member of the car club. She was brave enough to ride shotgun. I cowered in the back seat behind her.

I first met Baldur in 1990. He was standing in the kitchenette of the Hewlett-Packard office in Moscow with a portable humidor tucked under his left arm, waving his right index finger and explaining to the locals the nuances and joys of smoking cigars.

His knowledge was as broad as his belly, and his enthusiasm infectious. We termed the portable humidor his “grandfather,” since one observer noted the reverence he had for the little box, and said it was as if he was carrying around a deceased relative’s ashes.

Baldur and his “grandfather” in Moscow, 1990.

I had hoped that the driving lesson he got from a Cuban cow during our 1996 trip to that island would have remained in his consciousness…but it didn’t.  We were travelling in a rent-a-car, along with our friend Vova.  At first I was behind the wheel. The quality and speed of my work was not satisfactory to Baldur, which he let me know through a barrage of criticism and finger waving from the back seat. For the sake of harmony, I pulled over and we switched seats. Baldur gleefully began to pick up speed as he continued to explain to me the inadequacy of my driving skills. 
Though the pavement quality was miraculously satisfactory despite decades of neglect, the bushes in the median hadn’t been trimmed since the revolution. Unbeknownst to us they concealed a cow with no road-crossing inhibitions – understandable since Cuban highways are generally deserted.  In the heat of lecturing me Baldur failed to notice the blundering bovine. 
Luckily, all we lost a side mirror. The cow didn’t even lose its temper. It ambled on its way and, fortunately for our friendship, there was no more bragging from Baldur about his driving skills. At least not on that trip.

Rohn Mountain cows warily watch the road as Baldur drives by.

On future occasions when I had found myself in his passenger seat, I would express my dissatisfaction with his speeding—either in words or via a gently nostalgic “moo.” But he had developed a logical maxim I could find no counter for: “The faster I drive, the less time I spend on the road, so the less likely I am to get in an accident.”
Now, as we sped across the German countryside, I realized it made no sense to complain. In fact, it was dangerous to distract him. If he turned his head to address his sister in the passenger seat – for example, to criticize her directions — he took his eyes off the road for about 4 or 5 seconds. If he turned further to denigrate my whimpering from the back seat, it would double the time of his distraction.

I sought solace by trying to make a calculation, but the result was as scary as I expected: we were travelling at between 140 and 200 km per hour, maintaining a distance of 5 to 10 meters from the car in front of us. If that car in front of us should suddenly slow down or stop while Baldur was looking elsewhere then it would only be a few milliseconds before….

Better not to think about it. Sanity was now an exercise in mind control and free will. I had managed to stop looking for the seat belt after the first few minutes. Even if there had been one it would not have preserved any part of my body in the event of impact at that speed. I stopped looking at the dashboard, too.
Of course Baldur didn’t want to be so close to the car in front of him. He wanted the road in front of us to be devoid of any other vehicles. But he had no choice, since there was a car in front of him, and no amount of cursing would change that. He demonstrated a variety of multi-lingual, quasi-jocular road rage, insulting the drivers ahead until they got out of his way—in a mixture of German, Italian and a version of English of his own devising: "Why are you in my way you country pumpkin?” he would exclaim as he turned his head toward the driver of the car which recently retreated to the middle lane. “The world is only for the brave, not the cowarding!” he would shout, passing another. His insane cackle could actually be heard above the clamor of the engine. A particularly slow driver would get the finger wave — which meant another terrifying few seconds of eyes-off-the-road and one hand off the wheel. At least he never took the time to glance in the right side view mirror. The car doesn’t have one.
To distract myself from thoughts of premature death I tried taking in the sights. I did my best to record what was visible through the window, practicing “high-speed” photography. I think I saw windmills and some quaint villages pass by, but mostly it was all a blur.
After we got off the autobahn, curves and towns compelled a reduction in speed and the features of the countryside came into focus.  Solar-powered homes, castles, apple trees and, rather oddly, 


porto-potties placed randomly in the middle of fields—for the comfort of shepherds? or as a form of avant-garde advertising?

A pause to refill the twin fuel tanks helped ease my tension further. The backseat of the car is inundated by gasoline fumes when the twin tanks are full—providing the scent of classic-car legitimacy that acts like an anesthetic. By the time we rolled into the hotel parking lot I was quite sedate. 

By evening about 18 Lamborghinis had assembled, along with another half dozen classics—allowed under club rules if the driver now or in the past has owned a Lamborghini. These included a Bentley, a Cobra and an Audi speedster. Even one Ferrari was permitted—despite the antipathy between the two legendary car makers. Total value of the collection was between 5 million and 10 million euros, depending on whose opinion of the market you listened to. 

Most of the product line was present. Ferruccio Lamborghini’s passion for bull fighting—he was a Taurus himself— was evidenced by the model names he gave most of his vehicles: Miura—a Spanish breed of fighting bull; Islero—a bull that killed a famous bullfighter; Espada—Spanish for sword, and sometimes used to refer to the bullfighter himself; Jarama—the region in Spain; Jalpa –another bull breed; several Diablos—the name of famous and ferocious bull; Aventador—named for a bull that fought and died heroically. The only car present whose name deviated from that tradition was the Countach – pronounced “Kun-Tash!”, an exclamation of astonishment used by the men of Piedmont, Italy, upon sighting a beautiful woman.

Walter parking and getting peace-of-mind.

An eclectic bunch of German men crave such bulls. In the middle-aged category there was Michael, a Ford motor executive who started out in life as a mechanic-apprentice and moved up the chain through crash-engineer to service manager; Olaf with a ponytail, who spoke some Russian—he would have come in his red Espada, but he had been rear-ended by a star struck driver at a gas station the previous day, so for this rally he was merely a copilot. Marcus, a classic car dealer from nearby Rupboden, was there with his wife Krisitina.

The retirees were a breed of their own. Each seemed to own several Lamborghinis and other classic vehicles as well. Ziggy from Bavaria owned a collection of 70 tanks. Walter, a 78 year old former real-estate mogul from Freiberg arrived in his Countach, but promptly parked it in the hotel garage for the duration of the event. “I’m feeling a bit anxious,” he said, and admitted that a couple of years ago one of his cars had been stolen from a hotel lot.

Club president Peter Wolf was comfortable with the Prokofiev association. He functions as chief organizer, evening MC, sommelier and car parking assistant (Lamborghinis rarely have more than one side mirror, and sometimes none.)

Peter Wolf helping a club member park.

In case you are wondering how one becomes president of a Lamborghini club the answer is simple. You are born into it…At the age of 6 he got his first Matchbox Lamborghini and knew then it would be a relationship for life. At 7 he camped out next to an Espada he found on a Nuremburg street and waited all night for the owner to show up so he could hear the sound of the engine starting. “It’s the same sound as Ferruccio’s voice…” Peter said with misty eyes as he remembered his conversations with the late industrialist. Sixteen-year-old Peter got on his moped, crossed the Alps, and pitched a tent not far from the Lamborghini factory in Bologna. After his request for a tour was rejected by the director and then the chief designer, Lamborghini himself came out and invited the boy inside. It was the beginning of a lifelong friendship.

On the first day of the rally we roared through the countryside at relatively low speeds and headed for Fulda, a medieval town close to the former East German border, famous for its Baroque architecture. 

A vehicle and driver not participating in the rally.

But the pace was too slow for Baldur, so we exited the procession and paused for coffee.

This allowed for the accumulation of enough distance in front for us to achieve hair-raising speeds and still pull into the garage of the hotel where we were lunching at about the same time everyone else did. 

Your dog won’t mind if there is a line to check out at the Fulda hotel.

After lunch and a city tour, all the Lamborghinis in the garage ignited their engines at the same time, setting off the smoke alarm. We then headed to Marcus’s show room for cake and coffee in the lounge which he has lovingly turned into a 1950s American diner, complete with Wurlitzer. 

Back at the hotel, dinner was augmented by Lamborghini wine supplied by Peter. Ferruccio Lamborghini retired from business in 1974 and moved to Umbria to tend to his estate, hotel, golf course, vineyard and private museum. This phrase, with its double entendre, used to adorn every bottle of his wine: “I have always tried to do the best in my field. This is my wine.”  

The tower of the abbey next to the cathedral in Fulda.

The following morning, we set out for Meiningen castle, where a “lineup” (photo op for cars) was planned. About 10 minutes out, as we started up a hill, I could feel a vibration coming from the bottom of the rear of the car which seemed out of place. It was accompanied by a clanking sound. I considered warning Baldur, but I could see from the concerned expression on his face that he had felt it too. Shortly, after the next downshift, a sharp noise from below was followed by a loss of power to the wheels. Baldur managed to pull the car as far to the right as possible without going into the ditch.  Smoke bellowing from behind the rear tires helped convince us to exit the vehicle.

Having endured much unsolicited consultation from club members as they passed us by, Baldur, Kristina and I stayed with the stricken vehicle while Marcus drove to his shop to get a towing trailer. In the course of the 90 minutes that we stood by the side of the road about 30% of cars and motorcycles passing by stopped to ask if ‘all is gut.’ Yet I couldn’t help suspecting a glint of Schadenfreude in their glances as they realized it was not a Trabant fanatic but a Lamborghini owner that was in distress. 

The sun beat down, the birds sang in the trees and Baldur remained impressively unruffled, except for minor grumbling about his mechanic’s inability to resolve a problem with the differential he had suspected for some time.
“I heard the noise before we left the parking lot this morning,” Baldur commented philosophically.
“So why didn’t you check it out?” I asked.
“Akh,” he said, with a dismissing wave of his hand, “Some classic car owners pull over to check out every strange sound they think they hear. But what can they do about it if they don’t see anything out of the ordinary? It’s pointless. So I keep driving until something happens.”
Baldurian logic prevailed once again. He always got the most out of life — today it was an extra 10 minutes of driving before our brake down.
As the winch sucked the ailing Espada into the trailer, Baldur sat in the driver’s seat and kept the wheel straight. Through the open window he offered his humble estimate: “Now we are moving along at a top speed of 30 meters per hour.”  No finger waving accompanied the statement.

Speaking of Souvenirs…. The CPSU fire-sale.

Justin Lifflander

One of my favorite souvenirs from the Votkinsk “Galenteria” (haberdashery) was a communist party card-holder. I found the attractive red wallets with gold KPSS lettering in a box on the counter. As if Gosplan had taken a page from the Sy Syms playbook, the card-holders had been marked down over time. The original price of 37 kopecks had been reduced on 7 July 1989 to 5 kopecks. On December 23 (just in time for the Christmas rush?) they had been reduced to 1 kopeck each. Talk about writing on the wall! I purchased all 100 of them and began to mail them to friends as gifts.

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My Champ Muhammad Ali

Justin Lifflander

I remember two brown men moving across the screen of the Trinitron in my father’s den. I remember Joe Frazier’s green shorts. And I remember the grace with which Muhammad Ali danced around his opponent— at least in the first few rounds of the Fight of the Century. I was five in in the spring of 1971 and was seeing my first boxing match.

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There Were Giants In Those Days: Wristwatches and Other Artifacts From A Business That Never Was.

Justin Lifflander

While young men like Bernie Sucher and Peter Gerwe were wandering the streets of Moscow in the wild 90s of post-Soviet Russia, taking action on the “What this country needs…” phrase (Bernie co-founded the first American diner and first western-standard health club in Moscow; Peter helped build the country’s first independent TV channel), I was absorbed in my career at Hewlett-Packard and dabbling in less adventurous opportunities.

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Shakespeare Would Have Appreciated “How Not to Become a Spy”

Justin Lifflander

The historical memoir How Not to Become a Spy continues to suffer from an identity crisis. As author Justin Lifflander has commented, the book is a memoir and all events and characters are a part of history. But many people who read it find this hard to believe and claim it is a romantic novel. At the same time, Justin likes to say the story serves as an urgently needed textbook for diplomats and politicians that provides a proven model for how relations between the United States and Russia can be built (rebuilt) and maintained.

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