Just back from Baku. I went for three days to write some pieces for a glossy magazine and flew there and back overnight from Rome via Doha. It was a nightmare journey. I live six hours away from Rome by train and I hate flying. So, there I was at midnight, quaking in my seat on the Qatar Air flight to Doha as the engines started to thunder. The bloke an empty seat away from me was leafing through the duty free brochure. He was elderly, in his 70s and overweight, very tanned with his shirt exposing his white chest hair and a sort of ethnic string of beads round his neck.
We started one of those nightmare conversations. ‘Going on holiday?’ ‘Ah, really, Dubai? And what do you do there?’ So, it turns out he’s a pilot, training pilots for private jets in Dubai. He kicked off his leather sandals and told me that flying commercial airlines was completely safe. ‘These things are easy to fly,’ he said, pointing towards the cockpit. It was some kind of Airbus. Reassured, and very quickly drunk once we got up there, I carried on chatting to him about his life and work. He got married when he was 19, his wife lives in Rome and his children have grown up and left home. They are both tax inspectors, which seemed odd.
He showed me photos on his i-Pad of Dubai, his wife sipping some vast cocktail out of a coconut shell and various fish that you can see scuba diving. I told him I was going to Baku and that I speak Russian, which is why I’d been commissioned. This seemed to excite him. ‘Why are Russian women so mysterious?’ he wanted to know. Oh Christ, here we go, I thought. But, he’d helped me with the flying stuff, so I thought I’d better answer. ‘Well,’ I said, ‘a lot of Russian women treat men as a different species. Their friends are women, the people to whom they speak normally are women, but with men they put on a strange act which is supposed to be seductive, I suppose, but is usually fairly pragmatically motivated.’ Or some crap like that. He was even more fascinated.
I told him a story about culture clash, when a Russian friend of mine couldn’t understand that an English man she was dating didn’t come round to her side of the car to open the door for her and didn’t ask her if she wanted anything from the petrol station when they stopped. I tried to explain to her that the man probably assumed that, at 43, she was able to open a door by herself, but it wasn’t going to be that simple.
The pilot leaned over. ‘Between you and me,’ he said, ‘I have had many young Russian women, and I never paid a penny.’ He grinned, delighted, as though he was waiting for congratulations. ‘That’s great,’ I said. He went on to tell me that one of them said it was the best sex of her life and asked him how he did it. ‘I may not be a young man,’ he told me, ‘but everything is still working.’ When we landed in Doha he said; ‘Will you come and visit me in Dubai?’ I said; ‘No.’
Okay, so creepy guys are all over the place. Hardly news. So, imagine my surprise when, on the way back from Baku to Doha I was sitting an empty seat away from someone else who had left his wife dealing with four young kids while he shagged Russian women (for free – this is something they like to stress) in Azerbaijan. He looked me in the eye and leaned over for his big confession too. As we traipsed backwards and forwards through a rope maze at Doha airport, he also got a bit glittery-eyed and excited by the amount of money the Russians can make prostituting themselves in the Arab world. Considering that these people were once little girls who went to school, had pets and drew pictures I just find it fucking depressing. But this time I was ready for him. ‘Either get a divorce or bring your wife and kids to live with you. You can’t go on like this,’ I told him.
What is it with men who travel for work and Russian women? Well, I suppose Russia is a big country so there are a lot of Russian women. Because of the Soviet legacy not many of them are religious, perhaps making them more sexually liberated? It’s possible. This seems to make men from more conservative countries think of Russian women as prostitutes whether or not they actually are offering sex for money. The idea of getting a freebie (when, in fact, these are presumably just ordinary sexual encounters) seems to delight these fools. The pilot said to me; ‘Whenever there is a mystery I have to get to the bottom of it. Russian women are so mysterious.’ This appallingly misogynistic idea that there is some mystery about women who don’t throw themselves at men’s feet and beg to have children with them is sickening. It is the fact that the Russian women they meet don’t seem to need them, big, self-important men with delusional fantasies, that they find baffling. Shocker.
Baku was fabulous.