Cars were backed up for miles this afternoon. Traffic had come to a complete halt. People were getting out of their cars to see what all the fuss was about. Helicopters buzzed in the sky and news people crowded the sidewalks. Indeed it was a commotion. Indeed Vladimir Putin had come to town.
But my story really begins about an hour before. I had set out to eat some tacos. The best in the city as far as I know. I was walking from Hornstull, towards La Neta which is deep in the realms of Drottninggatan. On my way across the bridge I noticed some official looking fuss going on outside one of those old, fancy buildings you see everywhere here. I made it a point to pass by.
At this time it was mostly cops. There were a few young girls sitting across the street and one forlorn looking photographer, lugging about 15 cameras over his shoulder, who stood enviously near the police tape. What was going on? Next I saw the bulletproof limos and then, looking up I saw the flag. The colors breezed casually in the wind. The old Red, White and Blue. The flag of Mother Russia in all its glory.
I checked my watch. I was meeting Johanna at the taco place and I had about 5 minutes to get there. As much as I lust for seeing motorcades and famous people and heads of state in general, my hunger for tacos was more. I left the scene and hoofed it up the road.
“There’s something going on down by the water,” I told her as we dug into our meal. “And I think it has to do with Russia. There may even be spies.”
“Ohff Vollof oof oof.” She had just taken a big bite of the taco and I couldn’t understand a word she said.
“What?” I said. “Chew your food!”
She chewed. “Yeah. Putin’s in town. I saw it in the newspaper.”
“You don’t say!” I said. “Putin… he’s the one who sings “Blueberry Hill” on YouTube, isn’t he?”
“Yeah,” she said. “I was watching that earlier this morning at work.”
“Well that’s a shame I missed him. I like to see those type of people. IRL you know. Add it to the list.”
“I’ve seen Clinton twice, Sarkozy, the Pope… Nancy Pelosi and Coolio’s house, respectively… the royal family.”
“I know,” she said.
“I’ve also seen a beaver, foxes, marmots, a bear and a rare Japanese seagull that had made it’s way to San Francisco one time.”
“Interesting,” she said. She took a long gulp of her soda. We finished our food.
Well I was walking back, quite full and content with the tacos and sort of thinking about it all. Celebrities and politicians. They’re only people you know. The same as everyone else. But for some reason it’s very exciting to see them. Gives you the old rush. Makes you feel, in this strange way, very small but also very alive. I was pretty sure I had missed Vlad and crew and now that I’d been fed I was a little disappointed. Fame and the media and postmodernism and those things, it’s quite bizarre stuff if you think about it.
Anyways, I was walking and suddenly I had stopped. Or had been stopped rather. The street was roped off. It turned out Putin was lingering a little longer than I expected and he was, in fact, about to leave at just that moment.
I went a little further down the block to an intersection crowded with tourists and construction workers and other looky loos such as myself. An anticipation hung in the air. Down the narrow street, some 50 meters away, was that old building now surrounded by about a thousand burly looking Russian men in suits. I overheard some people speaking English.
“I wonder if he brought his dog,” they said. “He likes to bring the dog to these things and scare everybody with her.”
I turned and saw that photographer I had seen before. He was looking worse than ever. Obviously unable to talk his way behind the line, he paced nervously back and forth with us common folk. Weighed down by the giant cameras that he would now have no use for, he started to fidget with his phone. I tried to guess which newspaper he worked for. Perhaps he was working for the New York Times.
I was watching him, feeling a little sorry, and just as he gave up and had started to walk down the street, there was a murmur throughout the audience. A group of men, mostly bald and all in dark suits had come out of the building. “Putin,” whispered the crowd. Some people pointed vaguely in his direction. There he was, somewhere in the sea of men, dogless and, unfortunately, not in the midst of song. Getting into the car, he was driven off down the street and a few minutes later people went back to their ordinary lives.