Published in The
New Yorker, January 28, 1961
that more and more tourists are going to Russia, there rises the vital question
of what’s to be done if and when you are followed by the secret police. One
answer that has come to my attention is that of Mrs. Robert B. Meyner, the
Governor's wife, whose thought-provoking report appeared under the headline
"MRS. MEYNER ROUTED RED WITH SWEETNESS" in the New York Daily News
of July 25, 1959.
attractive wife of Gov. Robert B. Meyner of New Jersey gave a lesson
yesterday on how to handle suspicious characters who follow you in Moscow.
at International Airport after she and her husband returned from a
governors' tour of Russia, Mrs. Meyner said a man had followed her for about
20 minutes while she was shopping
might have been a security policeman," she said. "I stopped to buy
an ice-cream cone, suddenly turned and gave it to him, and he thanked me in
Russian and disappeared."
is the Russian word for thank you. With that in mind, a little imagination
can bring alive the whole heartening incident -- Mrs. Meyner elbowing down the
aisles of GUM, the Moscow department store, the Russian secret agent treading
behind her, Mrs. Meyner ordering him a double scoop of chocolate chip, the
Russian muttering "Spasibo," and, with a shy, apologetic
smile, disappearing through the door on Kuibysheva Street. We can also imagine
the presence of Meyner himself, tagging along at some distance and grumpily
picking up the bills. "Who the blazes was that?'' he asks her.
don’t know. He might have been a security policeman," Mrs. Meyner
seemed to set him at ease quickly enough."
I gave him an ice-cream cone, that's all."
ice-cream cone…clever! How did you think of that?"
the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach – Mother always said."
the same reassuring experience has been reported by other visitors to Moscow.
Memorable among them are Marvin L. Kalb, the correspondent there for CBS News
and author of Eastern Exposure, and Mr. X, an English scientist who
appears under that pseudonym in John Gunther’s Inside Russia Today. Let
me rehearse their adventures. Kalb’s occurred on January 29, 1956, while
taking the Kirovsko-Frunzenskaya line of Moscow’s subway from the Gorky Park
of Culture and Rest to the Sverdlov stop. It was in this subway car, he writes
in his book, that he first became suspicious of a man standing to his left,
dressed completely in black.
was not at all bad looking, rather young, and somewhat nervous (he kept
twitching his moustache). He stood not two feet from me, looking at me, not
smiling, dead serious.
the third stop, I got off, walked out to the street, and spotted the huge
and marvelously impressive Bolshoi Theater. I stood looking at it, but the
cold made me change my mind about too long an appreciation, and I darted
back quickly, only to bump into someone. The same man in black. I suspected
he was on my tail. I had heard in Washington that, though times have
changed, the Russians might put a tail on a newcomer to Moscow. By the time
we reached Red Square, I was certain. He was right behind me no more than 10
feet away, and no one would follow me around on this freezing afternoon who
wasn't assigned the job. I entered GUM's the fabulous, large Macy-ish
department store which fronts on Red Square, to get out of the cold and to
look around. My man was right behind me. I smiled to him. He did not smile
back, I approached a small stand where a woman was selling ice cream. I
asked her for two cones. I paid her, started to eat one and then, without
looking around but sensing he was right behind me, I simply extended one of
the ice cream cones back. To my amazement, he took it.
never came back again, according to Kalb.
X’s beguilement of the secret police occurred in 1956, Gunther reports, and it
seems to have followed a similar pattern in spite of X's rather pinch-fisted
behavior in going Dutch.
young Englishman whom I shall call Mr. X arrived in Russia early last year
to do some scientific research. He knew Russian perfectly. On his first
afternoon he took a walk. He noticed at once that a man who had been waiting
in the hotel lobby followed him. Mr. X walked hard and fast down one street
and up another; his shadow stuck close behind. Mr. X took a bus. His shadow
got on the same bus. Mr. X. went to GUM and wandered through its corridors,
but he could not separate himself from his friend. He left GUM, took a ride
in the subway, and walked back. His shadow never left him.
last, exhausted, he stepped into the elaborate ice-cream shop near the Red
Square and ordered some morozhenoye. His shadow sat down at the next
table, and ordered the identical dish. Mr. X then turned to him with
outstretched hand, grasped his warmly and exclaimed, "We might as well
be friends!" From that day he never saw the man again and, so far as he
knows, was never shadowed or followed a second time.
am citing these episodes for a reason. As fortune would have it, I myself was
sightseeing in Moscow not long ago and... More