Thanks to the power of hard currency, I lived on the edges of this elite for more tan two years. My apartment, officially a typical worker’s quarters, was in reality unavailable to anyone bereft of power or influence. It possessed 12-foot ceilings, oak parquet floor, uplifting views of the Moscow River on one side and the whole panorama of the city on the other. Its staircase did not stink, as those of normal blocks, did, of urine and cabbage. My neighbors included the Brezhnev family and several senior KGB officials. It exuded power.
One night shortly before the beginning of the first Gulf War, I had been to a late press conference given by Tareq Aziz, then Saddam Hussein’s Foreign Minister. Because of the midnight hour, I had gone there in my car, a Volvo with special yellow license plates which marked me out as a foreign correspondent. I normally used the Metro, hating the angry , ruthless Moscow traffic and the endless attempts of the GAI traffic police to extort extrabig bribes from the rich foreigner, claiming that I had jumped red lights or broken speed limits when I hadn’t. That night, the GAI cops tried to wave me down, 200 yards from my buildings. I was doing nothing wrong and I ignored them, which sometimes worked because they were lazy as well as corrupt. This time it didn’t. Unusually diligent, they gave chase and followed me into the courtyard.
They were angry and perhaps drunk. ‘Your papers!’ demanded the slovenly officer. I gave them to him. He tossed them into the slush at my feet, yelling, ‘How dare you drive past our checkpoint when ordered to stop. And what are you doing here anyway?’ He gestured in the general direction of the Brezhnev’s vast apartment. He plainly thought I had tried to hide from him, and was preparing to demand an unusually large bribe, until I said quietly, ‘I live here’. He stiffened and looked suddenly afraid. He picked up my papers. He looked again at my passport, with its residence permit for that address. He stepped back, saluted smartly, mumbled an apology for bothering me, and drove away without another word. This sort of privilege was unavailable at home in England, where even members of the Royal Family were pulled in for speeding. Yet here I was in a society devoted to equality, asserting real rank over and agent of the state.
Funny to think that modern atheists think they are being bold and dangerous when they attack religion. But if you want to experience a 21st century heresy hunt, it’s man-made global warming, addiction or egalitarianism you have to dissent from. These are the orthodoxies of our time.
(Lo sé y, en cierta forma, lo siento: abuso de las referencias y citas al gran Peter Hitchens. Sin embargo creo, si sirve de disculpa, que merece la pena: el buen hombre dice cosas interesantes que sólo él dice. La de arriba, por ejemplo.)
“He [Christopher Hitchens] didn’t want to be told things, or for people to make references which suggested that he might die. I [Peter Hitchens] knew that. The times when I went to see him – when I knew he was dying but he wasn’t admitting it – I managed to contrive them all to be visits for other purposes. Otherwise, I felt, it would be like the bloody angel of death flapping onto your windowsill. There was always an assignment, or a speaking engagement. I never went with the specific purpose of seeing him because I felt that, if I did that, he would feel dispirited.”
He gestures to the copy of Mortality on the table.
“And then I read in this that that’s exactly how he did feel.”