Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Most Uncomfortable Seat in the House and Other Tales from Teatralnaya

Friday evening I had made plans to go see a ballet at the Bolshoi Theatre with a couple other students from our program.   I was instructed to get there early as we had to wait in line for student tickets, so I did, which was a good thing because I obviously don't understand the system.  There is apparently some type of understanding between the theater and Russian students and an informal handwritten list, prepared a day in advance, which saves your place in line for the next day (the day of the actual performance).  Luckily my friend knew about this and had put my name on the list for me.  Some Spanish tourists, however, were not so fortunate.  The Spanish couple had gotten to the theater early and were first in line, which makes sense in theory.  However, they made the grave mistake of thinking that things in Russia are done in a reasonable way.  One of the Russian students in charge of orchestrating the secret list/theater-student agreement got into a shouting match with them, and during the grand finale of this exchange Marina basically told the Spaniards that they had no rights in Russia.

While this was playing out, those whose names were on the list were engaging in the Russian tradition of standing in line while not actually standing in line.  In Russia, it is perfectly acceptable to go join someone that you know at their place in line, regardless of how long the line is or how long anyone else has been waiting (in the US, we call this "cutting"), and it doesn't create the same animosity among the other line-standers that it would in the US.  I myself stepped out of the line for a while to grab some ice cream and get some personal space (Russians don't have the same perception of personal space that Americans do.  I've been doing okay with this so far, but it is harder to deal with when I'm tired).  But people milled around, struck up conversations, left and came back, and some girl offered me ham.  Finally, we filed into the box office.  I presented my studienchisky billet (student ID) and 100 rubles to the unsmiling lady and was rewarded with a ticket.  Sergei, a fellow line-stander with whom I'd been speaking until my words ran out looked at our tickets and laughed.  "Do you understand that?" he asked, pointing to the seating information.  Indeed I did.  It read неудобное место, literally 'uncomfortable space'. 

"How bad could that be?" I thought to myself.  Well, it was pretty bad.  Our seats were at the top on the far left side, and it was impossible to see the stage.  Right as the show was about to start, the usher told us that we could go stand in a spot with a sightly better view.  As the show progressed, however, people filtered out of the theater, so we kept inching gradually over, and by the third act we had decent comfy seats that allowed us to see almost the whole stage.  I have zero complaints though.  For about three bucks I got to go into the Bolshoi (which is an experience in itself), and enjoy most of a ballet performed by incredible dancers with sumptuous costumes.

Afterwards, we walked around the Alexander Gardens for a little bit and then went to a cafe with Sergei and his friend, Sergei*.  It looked like a grubby Japanese restaurant from the street but was actually a sort of converted basement space, kind of industrial and modern and really cool, and something you would never find unless you were with Muscovites. 
It's Bolshoi!

*There is very little variation in Russian first names.  Since I've been here, I've only met one person with a name I didn't recognize.

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