Sunday, 20 May 2012

Mayonnaise Label Collection: American Star (R1)

1997 Russian Advertisement

The Russian market for Mayonnaise in the summer of 1997 was - as many other things as well - utterly confused. Only one thing was clear: the country, recently escaped from the Soviet straightjacket and still fresh in the strangle­hold of capitalism, was looking to the West for its culinary redemp­tion as well. And as such thing usually go under the circumstances: it mis­took every overpriced imported luxury item as a priori better than its own, honest, home-grown pro­duct. We need not tell our jaded Western readers that this belief is nonsense - but such wisdom is only gained after 30 years of un­bridled, conti­nuous, tedious consumption of Too Much. And what else can one expect in a society where countless people did indeed believe that a new bank which appeared overnight would pay them a 100 % return on their savings? A lamentable state of affairs. One can only hope that the dark clouds of delusion have now been scattered by fresh gales of realism…

As for Russian Mayonnaise, one could of course buy it in shops and super­markets, but the best deal was often to acquire one's daily dose in the small kiosks that lined the sidewalks at the metro- and railway entrances, the way limestone sphinxes once lined the causeways to Egyptian temples. In the­se cheap, omnipresent glass & cardboard contraptions, the true trade of the new free marke­t economy was taking place, petty star­ting entrepreneurs selling at rock bottom prices such basics as cigarettes, booze, cheese, sandwiches, chocolate and yes: Mayonnaise as well! With opening hours of 24/7 and an immense variety of choice, the system worked brilliantly (for those who had money, that is). But, as such thing also inevitably go in a market trying to find its balance: quality differed immense­ly, supply was often illogical and prices fluctuated like the ocean in a typhoon. A state of things which brought forth as many pleasant surprises as instances of ludicrous fun. Of the latter, a good example is the story of my acquisition of

R1. American Star. Petersburg, July 1997. 
Rub 11.000 (roughly € 2) for 960 ml.

A kind if somewhat impulsive woman friend called Anna-Alisa Belous bought me this jar in a kiosk late one evening as we were headed to paint the town... Eh, no… Better not red; crimson, let's say! It was a very sweet gesture, but of course it implied that I had to drag a giant li­tre-bott­le of Mayonnaise through one White Saint Petersburg Night (bright daylight in which the whole world can see you till 3.30 a.m­.), two nightclubs, a hotdog res­taurant, four metro-stations and an illegal taxi. It was a miracle the Militia never stop­ped us to ask what we thought we were doing in the wee hours of the morning dragging a mam­moth jar of Mayo through town. Likewise, only Dame Fortune protected us from being mugged by a Mayonnaise addict of small pecuniary means, who understandably could not resist the temptation when so callously provoked by the sight of a foot-high Mayonnaise jar in the hands of a decadent dollar-carrying bloody foreigner. (I would have forgiven him his act of despair, reader!)

So a mortal risk we took! But it was well worth the trouble, for this jar kept me supplied all thro­ugh my weeklong visit (1), with a Mayonnaise whose quality wasn’t bad at all. At heart it turned out to be a very tasty, yet truly Yankee sauce; neutral and all-purpose (neit­her too sour nor too salty nor too sweet), and consequently one of those brands that everybody likes and that goes with everything, without inviting undue enthusiasm in an expert. Not­hing wrong with it therefore, except perhaps, the rather triumpha­list Stars ‘n’ Stripes plastered all over the la­bel. Modesty, gentle­men!, I would like to tell the New Jersey manufacturer. So you won the cold war; but please don't ruble it in!

(1) In fact the jar was so big that in the end I had to empty out a third of it by spoon the morning before departure, since one does not take open Mayonnaise jars through Russian customs, and one NEVER throws a decent Mayonnaise into the trashcan if one can help it. The flight back, in a bobbing Tupolev, was somewhat uncomfortable as a result…

Oh, and speaking of Russia: only 6 more days to go until that silly Eurovision Song Festival Event, where you absolute MUST

Vote the Buranova Babushkas!!

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