Saturday, November 17, 2018

A visit to the opera, a fashion show, a boxing match and the circus - just a normal week in Russia

So far, life in Russia has been an unexpected whirlwind of foreign receptions and travel. While there are only a handful of foreign missions represented in Yekaterinburg, all of them decided to have their national day (or equivalent) celebrations in the past two months, which made for a very fun if hectic life. At the same time, I fly to Moscow almost every weekend both for work and to see the Diplomat, Son and Fat Cat (collectively,  the “Bachelor Pad”), which certainly adds to the dynamic routine. But once the receptions were over, I finally had the chance to soak in a little of the rich cultural life Russia has to offer. In the span of one week, I managed to watch Swan Lake in the Yekaterinburg Opera, attend a boxing match, a runway show during Yekaterinburg’s Fashion Week (front row seat!!) and go to the Moscow Circus, all four of which were fabulous!

I love the opera and so to my delight, the Yekat opera house is very close to my house, and the tickets are not very expensive. So, for my first visit there, I decided to treat myself to the type of seat I always thought fancy since it was too expensive anywhere else I have been. And so, I bought a ticket in a side box on the ground floor for a grand total of $17, feeling quite smug about myself. Once I arrived there, I discovered that I am not able to see ⅓ of the stage and the seating was old wooden chairs. Next time - plush orchestra seats it is. The ballet was great except for Prince Siegfried who was a bit on the heavy side and every time he landed after a jump, the crystal chandeliers shook gently. 

The next night, I went to watch boxing - after a string of local boxers, came the star fight of the night between a Russian and an American boxer. After a pretty intense 10 rounds, the American ended up winning. My loud cheers were met with icy stares from folks around me.

A couple of days later, I got invited to the annual Yekaterinburg Fashion Show, where I was treated to a front row seat. I have to say that some of the designers were quite amazing, and I am currently working with one of them to get some of her clothes.

The cultural week ended appropriately with an astonishing show at the Great Moscow State Circus, where for three straight hours we were all mesmerized by incredible acrobats and animal acts. The show was called “The Center of the Universe” and was centered along the theme of the recent World Cup. There is a reason the Russian circus is a legend - they even had a black bear walking on a tightrope on its hands. The week ended with a splendid dinner in an Italian restaurant behind the Red Square.

First impressions after two months in Russia:

1.      Russians are obsessed with coat check (called “garderob”). They check their coats obsessively in restaurants, museums, stores, shopping malls, even supermarkets. If you don’t check your coat, they will chase you and force you to check it. They will get scandalized if you refuse and go sulk in the garderob section.
2.      Russians smoke more than Bulgarians. I did not think it was possible but apparently it is. They particularly enjoy smoking in their cars with the windows closed, so that they can really soak in the smoke.
  1. Taxi drivers are suicidal (i.e., they think they are really good drivers). I especially love riding in a taxi in which the driver has just smoked, so I can enjoy both the saturated cigarette smell at a neck-breaking speed.
4.      I am yet to see a Russian woman with naturally curly hair. Thus, hairdressers have no idea how to style a person with such hair (e.g., me). The first time I went to a salon and asked for a blowout with large curls, the hairdresser spent 10 minutes oohing and aahing about my hair texture, and was clearly puzzled as to what to do with it. After emphasizing several times that I do not my hair ironed straight and looking limp, she did precisely that, leaving me to look like a sad spaniel with dangling ears. My second time, this time in Moscow, fared no better. I am afraid to try again.
5.      Doing manicure is a 2.5-hr (minimum!) affair, during which the “master” will tell you sternly what is classy and what is not (what I wanted was apparently NOT), and will proceed to do just that. Take it or leave it.
6.      Massages are fabulous and cheap.
7.      Hats are a religion - even if it is well above 0, everyone will wear a hat.
8.      This is a smoked salmon paradise - my local supermarket smokes its own and there are about 15 different varieties. I am addicted!  
9.      Public transportation in Moscow is a dream.
10.  Service in restaurants while incredibly polite, takes hours. Do not go to a restaurant hungry. Also, make sure you do NOT order all the food at the same time, or you will end up eating the main course first, then perhaps an appetizer and then possibly a soup.
11.  Russian women go to the gym in the most surprising outfits (albeit not all of them surprise in a good way).
12.  Russian people are truly very, very nice people.

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