Old Saint Basil's Cathedral in MoscowJohnson's Russia List title and scenes of Saint Petersburg
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#18 - JRL 7167
St. Petersburg Times (Florida)
May 5, 2003
An old Russian city looks to Florida for modern, innovative ideas
Note: This is made up, pretty much.
By HOWARD TROXLER, Times Columnist

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia - Officials of this historic and beautiful city announced Sunday that, after meeting with a delegation from their younger namesake city in Florida, they realized they were not so great after all.

A 43-member delegation from St. Petersburg, Fla., is taking a goodwill tour of Russia in connection with the 100th anniversary of its own incorporation and the 300th anniversary of its older Russian counterpart.

"As we share the spirit of kinship with our friends from the other St. Petersburg, we now realize our many failings," declared Jury M. Luzhkov, mayor of the Russian city.

"It's not enough just to be filled with fabulous treasures and a rich culture. We are losing valuable publicity to other cities, particularly Tampagrad, and we have got to get ourselves back on the map.

"It's a great day for the city of St. Petersburg," Luzhkov declared.

Flanked by members of the St. Petersburg (Russia) City Council, the mayor announced that from now on the city would be "open for business" for special attractions such as automobile races, huckster exhibitions and visits from tall ships. "All we have to do is break the ice to get 'em up the river," he said.

"What's more, there's a gambling ship being retrofitted somewhere in the United States - we can't say exactly where, of course - that will begin operations here any day now. We have agreed to turn over our city's port to it for many years without, of course, checking anything out. We are learning fast."

The Russians announced a massive redevelopment program for their downtown, based on a series of tall, lookalike condominium towers, each sitting atop its own coffee shop or boutique. Some historic buildings will be torn down for the conversion.

"No more tired old stereotypes about all those bulby things on top of our buildings," a city official said. "Out with the old."

Last but not least, St. Petersburg will build a $140-million arena with tax dollars in hopes of luring a professional ice-fishing franchise, which is a popular competitive sport in northern latitudes. Several ice-fishing teams are threatening to leave their current cities unless they get better facilities.

"We believe our bid for an ice-fishing team is far, far better than Tampagrad's," the mayor explained. "When we build it, furthermore, we will make it as inconvenient as possible for them to come over."

Overall, the goodwill mission has proceeded smoothly. But a diplomatic incident was narrowly avoided when a member of the Florida city's delegation, Bill Foster, attempted to ban the drinking of vodka - by both sides - during the visit. The Americans were able to convince the Russians he was only joking in time to prevent his arrest.

In turn, the Americans were briefly offended at being invited to sit on a set of green benches in Red Square, until the Russians explained they had to be green to stand out in the snow. "We thought they were laughing at us for a second," explained Florida Mayor Rick "Sergei" Baker, "and, of course, that is the one thing we will not tolerate."

Some of the most valuable exchanges have involved education. The Russians are experimenting with the idea of taking a little money from all citizens and creating a system of so-called "public" schools. The Americans said this sounded like an interesting idea and they would recommend it to Florida officials.

The Americans heard a presentation by Ivan "Carl" Kuttlervich, the administrator of the city's local community college. During the meeting Kuttlervich announced that he had kidnapped the president of the University of St. Petersburg and was going to begin awarding four-year degrees at once. Later in the meeting, he annexed Estonia.

Despite their cultural differences, the Americans and Russians often have found common ground to bring them together, as when Luzhkov was reminiscing about the city's colorful past under the old Soviet Union.

"Sometimes we miss the good old days, when we could just take the editors of our newspaper, the St. Petersburg Times, out and have them shot," Luzhkov said.

"So do we," Baker said.

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