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A CONTRAST IN EMBASSIES

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Within a short span of time, I attended two events in Moscow that merit consideration and comment. They were both embassy functions. The first was the signing of the joint venture agreement between Aeroflot, the Marriott Corp. and the Huntsman Chemical Corp. This event was held at the commercial annex next to the U.S. Embassy.

The second affair was the signing of a protocol agreement between the Soviet Socialist Republic of Armenia and the American-Armenian Bridge of Friendship. This ceremony was conducted at the Armenian Embassy.The two events differed significantly in both the atmosphere and manner in which they were conducted. I found it to be a very interesting study in somewhat subtle contrasts.

The American Embassy has, of course, a certain gargolye charm about it. Its grim condition is such that I am reasonably sure if a spring ram auction were held there it would add significantly to the building's character.

By all accounts, the interior of the embassy is a hopeless warren of small rooms and narrow passageways, made all the more confusing by security procedures. Most doors have electronic locks. And in order to descend from certain areas, one must first ascend to an express elevator stop. Embassy employees told me that the place is honeycombed with thousands of old wires, the Soviets' as well as ours. It appears to be not just a firetrap but a disaster waiting to happen.

Fortunately, I learned the joint venture signing ceremony and press conference was to be held in the "auditorium" of the commercial annex immediately south of the embassy building.

It was a curious "auditorium" by any standard. It was a large room shaped like a reverse "L." Tall curtained windows ran the full outside length and breadth of the room. Near the front of the "auditorium" a full panel of glass had been removed and replaced by a large piece of unpainted plywood. There were some 14 rows of metal chairs on a beige vinyl tile floor. The "auditorium" had all the warmth and charm of a Laramie bus terminal waiting room.

Near the front was a rectangular, draped table with small models of an Aeroflot jet aircraft and a Marriott in-flight food service truck. Next to the two models was a Huntsman Chemical Corp. hexagon-shaped logo. A speaker's podium stood to the right of the table.

At a few minutes after twelve noon, the press conference began. Jon Huntsman of the Huntsman Chemical Corp., Dick Marriott of the Marriott Corp., and Vladimir Nacharov of Aeroflot represented the three entities that would constitute this new American-Soviet venture. All three gentlemen spoke. Though Huntsman and Marriott both remarked that they welcomed the opportunity to work with Aeroflot on this new joint venture, no one commented on the fact that Aeroflot presently enjoyed a worldwide reputation for extremely mediocre in-flight food.

Several questions from the press were then answered. While hundreds of pictures were being taken, the joint venture agreement was signed by each of the three gentlemen.

The embassy staff were kind enough to offer everyone a light buffet lunch and soft drinks. I noticed that several of them apologized for the condition of the "auditorium," but no one ventured any explanation about the missing panel of glass.

The Armenian Embassy was some distance from its American counterpart. It was on a small side street in a largely residential area of a Moscow suburb. The neighborhood appeared to have been, in its time, very exclusive and elegant.

At some distance beyond the tall stucco-and-iron fence that borders the street stood the Armenian Embassy. There were grass and flowers and a rather large fountain in the garden area between the front gate and the embassy. The fountain was not functioning and the grass and flowers did not suggest that they were well-maintained, either. There was not a circular driveway as one would expect, but only a wide stone path that passed from the front gate through the garden and around the fountain to the stairway leading to the second floor main entrance of the embassy.

Jim Kimball is a Salt Lake travel consultant.