Reporters on the Job

Seasons of Shortages: Sometimes story ideas start at home. But in the case of today's story about the Russian salt shortage, correspondent Fred Weir only discovered his own household shortfall after he'd reported the story.

"I only noticed today, when I started seriously thinking about this issue, that we have hardly any salt in the house. I have high hopes the crisis will blow over before that becomes a problem," he says.

Fred remembers that during Soviet times, he routinely bought large quantities of stuff he didn't really need just because it was defitsitny - in scarce supply. "I once bought 30 rolls of toilet paper - always a big deficit item - which I found on sale in a shop near me. Other items like soap, shampoo, baby clothes, and even sometimes matches were chronically hard to find in those days," he says.

Sugar disappeared from Soviet shops after Mikhail Gorbachev started his anti-alcohol drive, Fred says, reportedly because bootleggers grabbed it all for making moonshine. "Ironically, I can't recall there ever being a Soviet-era shortage of salt. The advent of the market economy has put an end to all those scarcities. Russians joke that the only shortage that they really worry about these days is the lack of money."

Pre-intifada Shopping: Correspondent Josh Mitnick learned a bit of Qalqilya history on his reporting trip to the Hamas-run West Bank city. "Before the intifada, Israelis used to flock to the city for furniture. The main street, because of its second-hand shops, earned itself the Yiddish nickname 'Alte Zachen' - old things. If you asked for Alte Zachen, everyone knew where you wanted to go. Today, the street is mostly shuttered. Israeli shoppers have stopped coming," he says.

David Clark Scott
World editor

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