Alessandra Stanley,

Alessandra Stanley,

A weeklong electronic journal.
Dec. 19 1997 3:30 AM

Alessandra Stanley,

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       I am exhausted from all this party reporting, so don't expect too much. Actually, the real reason I cannot diarize today in depth is that I am co-hosting a party tonight for colleagues who are leaving and I have to file a story tonight off an afternoon press conference. (Presciently, I made the lasagna and salmon mousse last night. Recipes off the Web.)
       I actually have a lot of work piling up, but I cannot resist this press conference, because it is to be given by Rufina, the fourth and final wife of British master spy "Kim" Philby (she's the much younger Russian woman he married after defecting to Moscow in 1963). She has just written her own memoir of the man, the latest in perhaps 10,000 books about the most famous mole of MI6.
       Like a lot of foreign correspondents in Moscow, I am fascinated by the Cambridge spies, and cannot hear enough about how they elaborately--and elegantly--betrayed their country. I just reread all John Le Carré's Smiley books. (Bill Haydon, as we all know, was modeled on Philby.)
       I am particularly intrigued by Philby for perhaps a myopic reason--for years, he worked as a foreign correspondent as his "cover" and managed to file copiously and brilliantly, in addition to all his spying duties. And he drank like a fish. I suspect that were he around today to compete in the Slate " Hackathlon," my other half, Michael Specter, would be typing in his dust.
       I doubt Rufina has much of anything new to say about Philby (we took a quick peek at her book last night to check--the journalistic equivalent of making lasagna the day ahead). Personally, I have only one question for her: Whatever happened to Philby's silver cocktail shaker?
       Rufina, like many Russian widows of famous men, put up a bunch of Philby memorabilia for auction at Sotheby's in London in 1994. A homburg hat; the shaker; and piles of books, photographs, and letters. I recently read that the sourpuss Tory government of John Major intervened and forbade Sotheby's from selling off the frivolous personal effects but let the manuscripts be sold. (I just called Sotheby's in London, and they said that, actually, the government didn't intervene, but "public disquiet" over auctioning off the belongings of a traitor caused them to hold back on a few items. Basically, Sotheby's doesn't remember what was sold and what wasn't.)
       So where is the cocktail shaker?
       I was never tempted by the auctions of celebrity memorabilia, Diana's dresses, Jacqueline Onassis' pincushions, or Judy Garland's pillboxes, but I have to say I would deeply love to own Philby's cocktail shaker. Imagine inviting the CIA station chief to dinner. "Care for a martini? Shaken, not stirred. And speaking of spies ..."
       I'd go on, but I have to write the b-matter for the Philby story so I can file, race home, and fret over the canapés. Are you wondering where my husband is during all these domestic crises? The 1997 Hackathlon champion is in Israel, reporting a story of global importance (or at least in a part of the globe where the weather is well above freezing). Which is bad news all around: If he were here, he could whip off the Philby story at Hackathlete speed, and maybe even buy me the shaker for Christmas.

Alessandra Stanley is a Moscow correspondent for the New York Times.