Some amusement for your Wednesday.

1) From Anthony Lane’s “High and Low: Flying on the Really Cheap” in last week’s New Yorker:

At a recent lunch, I ment somebody who swore to the truth of a story from the nineteen-eighties. He was sitting in an Aeroflot plane at an Italian airport. In fact, he had been sitting there for four hours, on a warm day, with nothing to eat or drink. The plane, like many of its brothers and sisters in the Aeroflot fleet, was not in good shape, and any prospect of an imminent takeoff had long since receded. Finally, the man lost patience. He attracted the attention of the cabin staff and asked for a drink of water. Their reaction could not have been swifter. A sturdy Russian female flight attendant strode down the aisle and slapped him in the face.

I’ve flown Aeroflot, and I can tell you that if that isn’t true, it’s certainly plausible.

2) From molcha:
Если бы Пьера Менара не существовало, его надо было бы выдумать.
[If Pierre Menard didn’t exist, he would have had to be invented.]

(Via Avva.)


  1. Like you, I’ve flown Aeroflot–in the mid-80s.
    Liek you, I find this to be wholly believable.
    Thanks for the chuckle.

  2. er…
    “Liek” = “Like” I used to be able to t-y-p-e.

  3. In my experience, the staff of aeroflot were a lot of fun. I flew Aeroflot from Cotonou, Benin to Moscow in 1993. I had stayed up all night drinking heavily at a local buvette/disco with the alternate flight crew. They (the aeroflot stewards) had only one person among their group who could speak French well, so they started asking us (myself and a few other peace corps volunteers who happened to be in the bar) to order drinks for them after their French speaker left. They were generous with their vodka, and eventually we finished the evening with borscht, black bread, and beer at 3:00 in the morning at their compound.
    I had such a good impression of them, that I extended my layover in Moscow as long as I could so that I could see more of Russia.
    On the other hand, I can’t remember the actual in flight service. Perhaps they were in a bad mood and hungover.

  4. Ah, but when you were hanging out with them they weren’t on duty. A Russian on duty, with official powers, is a very different Russian from a Russian hanging out in a bar. But I envy you your experience — sounds great!

  5. Flying from Tashkent to London in 1988 on a sparsely filled Aeroflot 747, I was happily amazed that noone objected when I walked from side to side looking out of the window during the takeoff. {I was young and foolish, yes}
    I have a soft spot for Aeroflot incompetence.

  6. Love the Menard quote. Of course, I had already read it well before Borges was born…..

  7. ThePedanticPrick says

    A Mexican girl once told me “Si no hubieras existido, Walt Disney te hubiera dibujado” (If you hadn’t existed, Walt Disney would have drawn you)

  8. Forgive my ignorance, but can you tell me why it should be “would have had to be invented” and not “would have had to have been invented”? I’m certain you’re correct, but I’d like to hear an explanation, if you have a minute.

  9. I’m not certain I’m right (in traditional grammatical terms, which is what I assume you’re talking about); all I can tell you is that my version sounds natural to me, whereas yours sounds wordy and awkward. If yours sounds right to you, then it is right in your idiolect. This is the kind of thing where native speakers often differ.

  10. Yeah, mine is definitely wordy. Still curious to know which is considered grammatically “correct”, even if, as you say, that isn’t the final word.

  11. John Emerson says

    I like Derek’s version, but this kind of construction often gives me trouble.

  12. Anyone got Fowler to hand?

  13. I remember being told a story about how there was no beer in a Nizhni Novgorod hotel in 1987. Almost. Only vodka. There was some beer at the other end of town. Which got delivered. In half an hour. There was only one place that had beer in the whole city.

  14. Well, those were the times when from a twenty or thirty item menu, only one or two dishes would actually be available on any given day, and quite often the wait staff would let you guess until you happened upon the dish they had on offer.
    And beer was seen as a soft drink to wash down your vodka with, so not an essential item.

  15. The story may be true, but it doesn’t seem so plausible to me. Wherein was the offense?

  16. I see you haven’t had many dealings with the former Soviet bloc and its inhabitants. If the plane is sitting there, so should you, and we all wait until things change. You, a lowly passenger, have no business troubling the staff of the airplane and are dealt with accordingly. I tried complaining to the dezhurnaya in a Moscow hotel back in the day. Once.

  17. David Marjanović says

    [If Pierre Menard didn’t exist, he would have had to be invented.]

    Compare Jára Cimrman, the greatest Czech of all time and then some.

  18. That’s great — I hadn’t heard of him.

  19. Stu Clayton says

    I immediately thought of Zimmermann when I saw Cimrman. Czech patriots need to be on their toes 24/7:

    The son of Leopold Cimrman, a Czech tailor working in Vienna, and Marlén Cimrmanová, born Jelinková, an Austrian actress, Cimrman was said to have been born in either 1853 or 1859 (though sometimes other years have been cited as required).[3] Of possible Jewish heritage, Cimrman’s name was originally spelt “Zimrman”, like the German surname “Zimmermann”, and he changed it later on as a mark of his Czech patriotism.[3]

  20. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    He corresponded with George Bernard Shaw for many years, without response. I’m easy, but that made me chuckle.

  21. David Marjanović says

    Czech patriots need to be on their toes 24/7:

    It’s been observed that Czech politicians often have German names and Austrian politicians tend to have Czech names. That’s already parodied in the names and origins of Jára’s parents.

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