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.
I soon found out that the impending demise of the Party might not have been the only reason sales of this item had been slow. Though not made of leather per se, some kind of organic animal product had been used in the manufacturing process. They began to ripen of their own accord. I first noticed while driving on a hot summer day in Moscow. I was using my card holder to protect my driver’s license. It was in my breast pocket. I began to notice a smell – a mix of decay and mold – emanating from my body. Reassuring myself that I had bathed that morning, I began carefully targeted sniffing and discovered the culprit.
After several days of lying out in the sun on my balcony the stench was only partially reduced. One of the friends to whom I had mailed a card-holder removed his shoes at the same time he opened my letter. He left the envelope on the floor, having failed to notice the card-holder inside. He began to think he needed emergency sanitization of his feet, but eventually discovered the true source of the stink. NB: thirty years later the smell has finally dissipated — at least from mine.