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Snippets of Postcards from Moscow


MOSCOW – Valia brought over her special mushroom-shaped glass jars the other day. I watched while she wrapped the end of a pencil in a vodka-soaked cotton ball and set it afire. She held the burning stick inside each container for a minute, pulled it out and slapped the hot jars, one by one, down on my bare back.

As I lay there on my stomach, she brought a mirror so I could see red welts of my skin being sucked inside the jars. This was not a comforting sight.

"But it will warm your lungs and pull that cough right out," she assured me.

Ask a Russian, any Russian, about folk medicine and the result is something like lifting the floodgates on a rushing river. Enthusiastic belief in these remedies seems to unite all strata of society. A member of the intelligentsia here launched into a discussion that stretched into two hours when I asked her about home remedies. Another acquaintance, an elderly retiree, responded with equal eagerness and returned the next day bearing a homemade version of something like Crisco. She promised that regularly eating as much of it as I could stand would keep my system "clean."

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