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Horseradish Vodka



2014 was a busy year. Updating this website, reformatting three titles I got back from an old publisher, attending a conference on digital publishing in Moscow, and discovering horseradish vodka.

Most useful was the vodka, but most interesting was the conference, which was organized by the Moscow Higher School of Economics.  In Russia, the market for e-publishing is huge. The aim of the conference was to make sense of the emerging trends and help young publishers develop their business.

Russian media and literary figures discussed topics that included Dialogue with Pirates, Kind Robots and Eternal Books, and Tomorrow is Already Today, or How Did We Find Ourselves Here? (Good question.) There was a lot of talk about design and marketing strategy and the online environment and ‘krossplatformennost’. The title of my presentation was Author’s View on Self-Publishing: Innovation or Optimization.  I’m not sure I talked about either, but no one complained.

The weather in Moscow was not great: clouds above one’s head and mud under one’s feet. I got as far as Red Square, where they had a Christmas market and a skating rink, and bought a matrioshka for my elder grandson aged three, and a rattle for his brother aged one. GUM was beautifully decorated for the holidays, a real Armani/Versace fairyland, but I didn’t see much cash changing hands. Times are tough.

The highlight of the trip was the night they took me to a Soviet-themed restaurant called Petrovich. Genuine 1970s oilcloths on the tables, manual typewriters of the kind that were used to type samizdat on, antiquated radio sets of the type that were used to listen to Western radio stations (in their dachas where reception was better). It was a weird experience. After all those years of collating audience data at Radio Liberty, I was sitting next to the sets our audience might actually have used. Rather like Alice through the Microphone.

The food that night was authentically Russian: herrings, mushrooms, borshch, and so on, because of course Western food is in short supply these days – no more parmesan, no more serrano – though apparently there’s a thriving trade in repackaging going on in Belarus. Also authentic was the drink. Let’s have horseradish vodka, they said, had I ever had it before? Winter vodka! I was reticent, but it was wonderful stuff! It cleared my cold, settled my stomach, and drove away the winter chills. The taste was a little odd, but you got used to it by the third glass.


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