Owning Nothing; Nowhere To Spend Money

In 1990, I was the navigator of FS COLBERT (C611) as the US Navy officer on exchange with the French Navy (one of two of us, actually, and my buddy Vince got the gig as an instructor at the Naval Academy in Brest).

One day we got the call.

  1. The Trip (Toulon, France to Sevastopol via Bonifacio, Messina, Aegean, Dardanelles, Istanbul, Bosphorus, and Black Sea)
  2. Sevastopol, USSR, 1990
  3. Why We Love To Spend Money
  4. The Inspiration

The Trip

We’re going to do an historic visit to the port of Sevastopol in the then, still, Soviet Union, in the Black Sea.

As navigator of COLBERT, this was the fun. Toulon to Sevastopol.

Get out the charts and start drawing tracks and calculating various transit times. Open ocean is easy and standard, usually 12-15 knots (13-17 MPH). But…

  • The Strait of Bonifacio between Corsica and Sardinia (we did this all the time both ways, so the track is inked) was the first shortcut and no worries.
  • The Strait of Messina, between mainland Italy and Sicily. This is a mutherfucker. The highest currents I ever experienced, depending on everything you can count as variables. 12 knots broadside, sometimes (like landing an airplane in a strong crosswind). We did it lots of times, always different and crazy. At night, it’s especially precocious.
I said it
  • The Aegean Sea, that place from Greece to the east and Turkey to the west. It was always epic for me. While I’m sure storms rise up, I was fortunate to never see a single one. The seas can be as glass, such that your 12,000 ton Cruiser cuts through them with feminine grace. Add blue skies and the contrast of the desert islands with their white…well…
It’s more cool when you see it in real reality
  • We broached The Dardanelles or, Strait of Gallipoli, early morning for a sort of early afternoon anchorage off Istanbul once having traversed the Sea of Marmara. It’s a natural strait but pretty easy. My guys were all out in force because this was our first time through here. …How this works is that you have the chart on the…chart table…manned by an experienced quartermaster. He’s on headphones hooked in with a team in a few places, particularly the bridge wings. They look through telescopes of sorts and shoot true bearings to clear and unambiguous landmarks on the chart. Simple triangulation to fix position. While the natural channel is relatively narrow, it’s pretty deep so it was a cinch.
  • Remind me to write a story about Istanbul later, complete with a girlfriend climbing the walls out of boredom back home in Toulon. …That didn’t end well…
  • So, after a few days in Istanbul, it was on through the great and famous Bosphorus Straits and into the Black Sea. Not an easy navigation. We tackled it fresh off in the morning. 30 kilometers, mostly deep enough with some shallows to watch out for (our draft was 6.5 meters / 21′ 4″). The strait is 3.5 KM at its widest and just 700 meters at its narrowest. Uniformly just a gorgeous treat to navigate. The Suez Canal was a snooze-yawn for me the two passages. This one is a delight.

So now, after this long journey which I hope you enjoyed, we get to the point of my post.

Sevastopol, USSR

Whenever I refer to the Soviet Union, I always have to check myself because my sole visit to that country was as described above, and the French say URSS. Means the same thing, but as Steve Martin once lamented, “it’s like the French have a different word for everything!”

Sevastopol was a so-called special city on the Crimean Peninsula. As such, it was a closed city.

Many closed cities existed in the Soviet Union from the late 1940s until its dissolution in 1991. After 1991, a number of them still existed in the CIS countries, especially in Russia. In modern Russia, such places are officially known as “closed administrative-territorial formations” (закрытые административно-территориальные образования, zakrytye administrativno-territorial’nye obrazovaniya, or ЗАТО ZATO for short).


I had no awareness of this when I first set foot in the place. I didn’t even have knowledge of the Potemkin Village metaphor. What I saw with my own eyes was thoroughly clean, orderly, neat, and especially: well dressed. Impeccably dressed at all times—as though I was in 1930s to 1960s America where levels of personal pride still prevailed and people didn’t go to the mall in gym clothes and waffle foam sneakers.

I and my friends were approached by scores of well dressed, well spoken locals. Remarkably well spoken. So many were scientists, engineers, and professionals of all sorts.

Guess what they wanted, asked in very quiet tones?

They all wanted to hoard western currency. We did have French Francs as this was pre-Euro, but many of us also had US Dollars, thinking ahead. There were official exchange rates so we could have Rubles to spend, but these locals were offering us 20 times that official rate and more. Again, this was 1990.

Many of us took them up on offers and to this day I don’t regret it, but what we all found is that you almost nearly could not spend money. It’s not that it’s worthless; it’s that Sevastopol was a special place and everyone was taken care of anyway and money seemed as a sort of plaything, or token.

I began to realize this once I finally found a restaurant, by which I mean there was almost zero commercial activity at all. Every block looked the same. Then I see there’s this basement place and it looked like it had a little activity. So, I walked down in, ordered some food, and paid in rubles some equivalent in USD that was less than 5 cents.

Later, I just walked around to scout out if there where was any action anywhere at all, the streets being deserted by 7pm.

It was happenin’ where the long and wide walk adjacent to the main avenue borders the Black Sea. The weather was idyllic and the locals were out in force simply strolling along. It was lovely to watch—made even more so by the fact that all folks down to infants in strollers were impeccably dressed.

Perhaps that’s the sort of thing the Great Reset envisions for us all as they party it up in palaces. Just as the Nomenklatura wished for all of all those far less privileged than were the Sevastopolians.

The nomenklatura (Russian: номенклату́ра, IPA: [nəmʲɪnklɐˈturə]; from Latin: nomenclatura) were a category of people within the Soviet Union and other Eastern Bloc countries who held various key administrative positions in the bureaucracy, running all spheres of those countries’ activity: government, industry, agriculture, education, etc., whose positions were granted only with approval by the communist party of each country or region.

Virtually all members of the nomenklatura were members of a communist party. Critics of Stalin, such as Milovan Đilas, critically defined them as a “new class”. Richard Pipes, an anti-communist Harvard historian, claimed that the nomenklatura system mainly reflected a continuation of the old Tsarist regime, as many former Tsarist officials or “careerists” joined the Bolshevik government during and after the Russian Civil War of 1917–1922.

The nomenklatura formed a de facto elite of public powers in the former Eastern Bloc; one may compare them to the western establishment holding or controlling both private and public powers (for example, in media, finance, trade, industry, the state and institutions).


The next day I explored even more. …The previous day, I’d heard this sort of afternoon music off in distances but didn’t really investigate. This day, it dropped in my lap. I watched as fleets of Soviet ice-cream trucks were dispatched to fixed locations, as the citizens queued up to get their treats.

To this day, I have never seen a more pathetic spectacle…one that comes close to overshadowing Bread and Circuses.

…At times I amuse myself wondering how that might go over here and I conclude it wouldn’t, unless the ice cream was vegan, and soy. …And as for Bread and Circuses, well: gluten free, no animals in the shows…

It was that night, perhaps the next, that a bunch of us guys from the French ship got together with a bunch of the guys from their Soviet ships. (As an aside, one tour of one of the Russian frigates was enough for me…I had a 5th of vodka in me by the time I disembarked). I found the Soviet officers and sailors uniformly impeccable in grace, magnominity, and politesse—though, all seemingly in need of a bit of dental hygiene.

But they knew of a place. It was a very large dining hall in some building and we were well fed. In style, lots of pickled root vegetables. Lots of beer. OK food. Since I was bleeding rubles from having traded a lot of Francs and Dollars to those in need, I offered to pay the tab.

It didn’t even dent my stash. According to the official exchange rate, it came to the equivalent of $1.64. I’ll never forget that number. I’m talking full meal and drinks for a dozen people or more.

…Then the next day, still endeavoring to find some place, anyplace really, where I could spend some damn money, I see a long queue. Ah, well here’s my chance to get both the experience of standing in a famous line, plus spend some money. Actually, it turned out to be cool. It was a sort of general purpose store, but with also all the military uniform elements. I walked away with as much as I could carry. I had military hats, insignia, medals…even two military backpacks my French GF and I would later use on a 2-week Greek island experience. Also, a set of glassware. I had those for years and years. Sturdy and simple, like Italian milk glasses.


Why We Love To Spend Money

Between the extremes of spendthrift and tightwad, there exists most people who love trade. They think, maybe, that they love money; but what’s more fundamental is that in more ideal settings, you’re getting paid money to do something you love or can tolerate, and you get to use it to acquire things you love but have neither the means, ability, nor love to do for yourself.

Money greases the wheels of the love train.

It’s no more complicated than that. We love to get all sorts of things we can’t get for ourselves for myriad reasons and money is what gives us the access to all of it.

If you really loved money per se, you wouldn’t spend it on a down payment for that new house, car, or boat.

You love what it can get for you that you can’t get otherwise.

Those many folks I talked to in Sevastopol, they seemingly had plenty of money, in rubles, but as I soon found out, there just wasn’t many ways in which to spend it. In like 5 days, I had meals at two restaurants, never seeing any alternatives to choose from. I shopped at one market, the only one I ever saw, perhaps that’s why the line.

I suppose I could have stood in line for an ice cream treat for being a good citizen during that space of time.

I did not.

When I think back, which I don’t often do, I always remember the folks strolling along the avenue in the dusk and evening, squeezing just a bit out of human life, making the best of it, and putting on a good show by measure of their dress. I’ve always respected them for that.

It’s not that they were mizers or cheap skates.

There was nothing to buy.

The Inspiration

After I put out this post yesterday, I retired to watch a film (The Merchant of Venice, 2004, Pachino at his best) then did some business late, as offices opened on the west coast USA at 11pm my time.

I was a bit distraught, as I had no clear hardon for anything. I’d been so engrossed with the ins-n-outs of the public fear of a natural thing for so long I got a bit blinded that there was much otherwise to talk about.

Well there sure is, and that’s the aftermath of whatever it is that happened socially and economically, and how to recognize what it really leads to and what happens, which is a dead end.

I awoke this morning shortly after 6am feeling rather refreshed and without even taking the time to brew coffee, jumped in to seek inspiration.

Here’s what I found. I was sold.

I found something to buy.

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Richard Nikoley

I started writing Free The Animal in late 2003 as just a little thing to try. 20 years later, turns out I've written over 5,000 posts. I blog what I wish...from diet, health, lifestyle...to philosophy, politics, social antagonism, adventure travel, expat living, location and time independent—while you sleep— income by geoarbitrage, and food pics. I intended to travel the world "homeless," but the Covidiocy Panicdemic squashed that. I became an American expat living in Thailand. I celebrate the audacity and hubris to live by your own exclusive authority and take your own chances. ... I leave the toilet seat up. Read More


  1. Tim Steele on January 21, 2022 at 03:23

    Bring back the Cold War, I say. Good stories!

  2. Andrew Austin on January 21, 2022 at 06:27

    Jordan Peterson said it beautifully. Really enjoying your stuff on Covid Richard. Mass psychosis indeed. Can’t see much light at the end of the tunnel here in Australia. Hoping to see my 85 year old mother in Perth soon but they just shut the border again which was due to open on the 5th February. Fear rules the roost down under.

    • Richard Nikoley on January 21, 2022 at 06:48

      It’s joke world and crumbling, thanks to Omicron or whatever the fuck.

      Huge numbers getting the rona, including my dad a few days back. He’s 84 today. Had a fever of 102.5, felt shitty—for a day!. We3nt back to work on a big project yesterday and put in 8 hours from his home office.

      Also, many members of family and friends have got it last week or so.

      We used to say, “oh, looks like I’ve caught a cold.”

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