John Kass

SOCHI, Russia -- There are two things I probably forgot to mention about my time here at the Winter Olympics in Russia.

But now that I'm wrapping up, I'll tell you.

One is that there are palm trees everywhere, the fronds wafting in the warm breezes off the Black Sea.

Palm trees just say "Winter Olympics" in Russia, don't they?

And the other thing involves the crazy Russian band with the whirling women and whistling and stamping of feet outside my hotel window.

Each morning I'd be treated to their singing and dancing, the women whistling through their fingers in the style of shepherds and savage herdsmen of the Caucasus.

And then there would be more whistling and stomping and plenty of "Hai!" and "Hah!" and always with the "Lai-Lai-Lai-la-la-la-la-la!" over and over and over, never-ending, as if I were trapped in a demonic accordion operated by a leering madman.

But they stopped playing the other day. And they haven't returned. The bandstand is empty. And it made the little row of vendors' booths before it a bit more sad than usual.

Not all the shops closed. The two honey shops selling medicinal honey stayed open, as did the Siberian cedar flour shop, flour guaranteed to make you strong. But the vendor of hand-embroidered purses was gone. The mead vendor closed, too, but then reopened. She sold good warm mead for only 50 rubles a cup, and much mead did I drink.

"No business," said a beekeeper, who like the rest paid a fee to set up shop, hoping guests at the hotel would enjoy their wares. His hopes were ruined.

Before him were his various untouched tubs of honey from different mountain flowers. Before each tub was a hand-lettered exhortation in oddly translated English. For example:

"Drone Blood! For chronic weariness, stress, thyroid diseases, male infertility, menopause, hormonal violations sphere!"

Hormonal violations sphere?

"No Englees," said the beekeeper with a sad shake of his head. "No business. No Englees."

Another honey vendor sold "Alpine Honey," with a card that read, "This time when gets old chestnut has bright bacterial properties!"

Unfortunately for the vendors, my hotel catered to journalists and Olympic technicians, and they weren't interested in Drone Blood.

But a strange thing happened the other day. A new shop opened, and it drew quite a crowd.

A whip shop.

Tatiana the whip merchant wore a gray fur hat. On the wall she pinned a blue T-shirt with a picture of a mountain lad and a horse, and she was ready for business. Reaching into her bag she heaped piles of leather-braided whips upon her shelf, some with handles carved as tiger heads.