Here, next to Jean-Paul Belmondo, in the film Borsalino, is Alain Fabien Maurice Marcel Delon, one of the biggest celebrities of modern-era world cinema — and almost certainly the brightest foreign movie star in old USSR circa the time of its protracted decline and slide into non-existence; the idol of two or three generations of Soviet women. 

Kind of ludicrously good-looking, no? Perhaps, had he been a smidgen less pretty, he might have been taken more seriously as an actor. But then, who knows. In any event, I don’t believe he’d need my commiseration, of all people, on any conceivable account.

One of the mega-hits of the late-Soviet era, “Gaze from the Silver Screen,” dedicated to the doleful destiny and ill-starred personal life of an ordinary Soviet young girl, had the lyrics featuring prominently this refrain: “Alain Delon speaks French. Alain Delon speaks French. Alain Delon, Alain Delon doesn’t drink cologne. Alain Delon, Alain Delon drinks double bourbon.”

Lots of men in the Soviet Union used to drink cologne, you see, to the distinct displeasure and perpetual heartbreak of Soviet women — and they continue to do so, with the same unflagging enthusiasm, even in the new, post-Soviet, capitalist Russia, where there is no shortage of alcohol beverages on ready offer to suit anyone’s purchasing ability.

Why drink cologne? Because it’s cheap, and because it gets one wasted off one’s ass (as they say in French) in super-hurry.

Alain Delon, instead, drinks double bourbon, apparently. For two reasons: because, in Russian, it rhymes with cologne, and also because, in the Soviet mind, this drink, bourbon, with its distinct old-royal overtones, represented the utmost degree of consumptive opulence and refinement. Many in the state of Kentucky, and beyond, would’ve been surprised to hear that; but there you have it.

I, too, on one occasion, back in my college-days of youth, took a hearty swig of cologne. It was a harrowing experience, and I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone.

Not proud of myself. Not one little bit.

But it does obliterate you in a hurry.

This was deep in the heart of Leningrad Region’s less civilized parts, during the cold month of October, spent, as the majority of Soviet college students were obligated to do, on the so-called “agricultural-assistance duty,” in a large and perfectly woebegone and booze-bedeviled potato-growing village some 300 kilometers due north from Leningrad, “helping” (quotation marks here meant to denote a high degree of irony) the permanently incapacitated local “kolkhozniks” to harvest the late-fall crop of tiny, mushy, sleaze-covered, thoroughly off-putting and barely edible potatoes.

The cologne in question was called “Russian Forest.” It was considered to be one of the tastier colognes in the country. I didn’t drink it straight from the bottle, but rather from my personal, multi-dented aluminum teacup. Before consuming the liquid, we — my fellow future engineers and I — did as we’d been told by the experienced hands from among the local populace: we “treated” it, by way of submerging in it a large red-hot nail, thus causing some of the innumerable chemical additives and aromatic oils therein to crystallize at once into a slew of bluish, oddly-shaped snowflakes and fall forlornly to the bottom of the cup in layers of poisonous sediment, leaving the main body of the drink relatively transparent and a little (not a lot) less awful to look at.

As for double bourbon, I’ve had it, too, and it is, admittedly, a serious drink, but it still is mere child’s play next to a large mouthful of good old Soviet cologne.