Having finished a long detour into American history, I’m back to Russia and finally reading James Billington’s classic The Icon and the Axe. On page 86 Billington reports that vodka “appears to have reached Russia by way of a Genoese settlement on the Black Sea, whence it was brought north a century later by refugees fleeing the Mongol conquest of the Crimea.” He continues:
It was fateful for Russian morals that this deceptively innocuous-looking beverage gradually replaced the crude forms of mead and beer which had previously been the principal alcoholic fare of Muscovy. The tax on vodka became a major source of princely income and gave the civil authority a vested interest in the intoxication of its citizens. It is both sad and comical to find the transposed English phrase Gimi drenki okoviten (“Give me drink aqua vitae”: that is, vodka) in one of the early manuscript dictionaries of Russian.
(As you can see, my laptop and I made it to Santa Barbara. It’s not as warm as I expected, but it’s sunny.)