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To expand on the quote about Vladivostok in the previous post (“the town everyone know here because it’s main ‘purpose’ in the planet is to be used as an attacking point to Alaska in ‘War’”), I actually hear this Brazil quite a bit. “War” is the Brazilian version of “Risk”. Don’t ask me why English “Risk” becomes “War” in Portuguese (note, not “Risco”, nor “Guerra”, but “War”). The point is that while in Risk that far North-Eastern part of Asia is called “Kamtchatka”, in “War” it is labeled “Vladivostok”.

This is about what a typical Brazilian knows about Vladivostok, and I get told this story quite often. Note that as my friend mentions, Vladivostok-the-city might not be the best place for attacking Alaska, since it’s actually quite far. (Instead, it happens to be a bus-ride-away from China.) On the other hand, the territory of Vladivostok corresponds quite closely to Russia’s Far Eastern Federal District:

(Alas, the small and utterly unimportant town of Khabarovsk was chosen as the administrative center of the District.)

Anyway, there is something deeply fascinating about the fact that one man’s home town is another man’s “attacking point to Alaska in ‘War’”. And guess what, we respond in kind. Ask any Russian the the first thing that comes to mind when they think of Rio de Janeiro, and they will say, “white pants”. Russian’s image of Rio seems to be almost exclusively shaped by a single Russian book, entitled The Little Golden Calf. The action takes place exclusively in Russia in 1930s and while Rio comes up quite often, it does so only because the main character is obsessed with the dream of going there. Of course, he draws his knowledge of Rio from a small clipping from the Small Soviet Encyclopedia:

“Why do you need so much money… and right away?”

“Really I need more.” said Ostap. “Five hundred thousand is my minimum, five hundred thousand full-strength approximate rubles. I want to go away, comrade Balaganov, go far away, to Rio de Janeiro.”

“Do you have relatives there?” asked Balaganov.

“Do I look like the kind of person who would have relatives?”

“No, but I…”

“I don’t have any relatives, comrade Shura. I am alone in this world. I had a father, a Turkish subject, but he died long ago in horrible convulsions. That’s not the point. Ever since I was a child I have wanted to go to Rio de Janeiro. You, of course, weren’t even aware that such a city existed.”

Balaganov nodded his head dejectedly. Of all the centers of world culture, other than Moscow he knew of only Kiev, Melitopol' and Zhmerinka. And anyway he was convinced that the Earth was flat.

Ostap tossed a page torn out of a book onto the table.

“Here is a clipping from the Small Soviet Encyclopedia. This is what they say about Rio de Janeiro: ‘1360 thousand inhabitants…’ Let’s see… ‘A significant number of mulattoes… by a wide bay on the Atlantic Ocean…” Here, here! “The city’s main streets are every bit the equal of the greatest cities in the world as far as the number of shops and the beauty of the architecture” “Can you imagine, Shura? Every bit the equal! Mulattoes, the bay, coffee exports – or coffee dumping, as they call it – a Charleston entitled ‘My little gal has a little thing’, and – what more is there to say? You can see for yourself what’s going on. One and a half million people, and every one of them dressed in white pants. I want to leave here. Over the last year some serious differences have arisen between me and the Soviet government. The Soviet government wants to build socialism, and I do not. I find building socialism tiresome. Now do you see why I want so much money?”

“Where will you get five hundred thousand rubles?” asked Balaganov quietly.


“How did you say it? They’ll bring the money on a little blue-bordered saucer?”

“Mine on a little saucer. Yours on a little plate”

“And what about Rio de Janeiro? I want to wear white pants, too!”

“Rio de Janeiro is the crystal dream of my childhood,” the great combinator replied sternly, “keep your paws off of it. Let’s get to the point. Send out troops under my command. Units are to arrive in the city of Chernomorsk as soon as humanly possible. Dress code is casual. Well, sound the march! I will lead the parade.

(from Chapter 2 of “The Golden Calf”, by Ilf and Petrov, translated by Maciej Ceglowski and Peter Gadjokov)

This passage summarizes what most Russians know about Rio. On the other hand, this chapter is one of the best known in the XX century Russian literature and gives rise to no less than a dozen of super popular catch phrases, including “the little saucer with a blue border.”