Monday, October 16, 2006

Smell Like I Sound

Lately I have done two things that were just so delightful, that I couldn’t stop grinning the entire time. These are two completely unrelated events, but they were both under the heading of All-senses-full-alert-boy-am-I-glad-to-be-alive sort of experiences. They probably make for infinitely more boring reading, but I can’t go about complaining (or being perceived as complaining) all the time.

The first was dinner in Moscow. Two weekends ago I accompanied The Spouse there as he had a meeting, thought it would be fun to stay the weekend, and, further, thought it would be boring by himself (aww). Usually I deal with all travel arrangements, but Russia is complicated slightly by the bureaucracy and the language. I got the distinct impression that, since he is such a passionate Russophile (Is that a real word? My spell checker did not object), he wanted to share a little of his enthusiasm with me, and therefore went out of his way to make sure I had an especially nice time. Which paid off for him.

I had done only a little research since I knew we were going to be there only from Friday until Sunday, and I really had no grasp of the city. This was his second trip. He went the day before me, and when I caught up with him in his law firm’s Moscow office, he was chatting with the managing partner about places to eat dinner. Managing Partner mentioned Cafe Pushkin, and my little heart skipped a beat, because this was one of the places I had noticed in the guidebook and thought would be fun (the other was Yeliseev’s Food Hall, a pre-Revolutionary delicatessen, which I also got to see).

This fellow thought it was, as my guidebook said, a good place to take out of town guests, but also a classic Russian experience. And so it was. We called for a reservation, but they said they were not taking further reservations that night. However, that would not mean we could not get a table. So we elected to go early and let The Spouse charm the staff with his Russian skills.

This worked. We found the place, which, while beautiful, is rather unassuming from the outside. There is a small sign, in Cyrillic, and two Beefma types working the door. Having lived in Eastern Europe, we know that the hired muscle is not there to keep B-list clients out, but rather to keep those who might be packing heat out. We just breezed in, and, of course, they did not bat an eye at two middle-aged, American tourists.

The interior on the main floor is furnished as an 18th-century pharmacy, which it used to house. The young woman working as maitre d’ was attractive, charming, and hospitable. Sure, we could have a table. Just a few minutes, please. Would we like check our coats and then sit at the bar?

We hadn’t even finished ordering two glasses of wine when she returned to lead us to our table. As I was sort of casting about for a place to put my purse when the waiter produced, from under the table, the Purse Stool.

That’s when I started to giggle.

I had read about this feature in places like the Russian Tea Room in New York, but I had never actually experienced it myself. I knew what it was as soon as he pulled it out, so I didn’t look too bumbling, I hope, but that was the beginning of our shit-eating-grin evening . . . it was all so charming and cool, and we just couldn’t believe we were there.

The food was Russian and French. We had sampler platter-type dishes, both for the main course and for dessert. I won’t bore you with details, but it was all pretty and tasted nice, and was just so darn fun. The desserts were small, two- or three-bite jewels, each better than the last.

And we topped it off by strolling through Red Square (RED SQUARE!), past the glittering GUM Department Store (I had no idea it was PRETTY!), and down to the jewel box that is St. Basil’s. For a child of the Cold War, it was a synapse-tingling experience.

My second Big Grin Event was not nearly so cultural, although it did have a Russian connection. We are acquainted with an amusing couple here: J is English (although he spent a lot of time in the US) and L is Russian. We cross paths with them from time to time and complain to each other that we should arrange to do something together, but until Saturday, we just never got around to it.

They are funny people, in a good way. He’s got that English dignity and reserve, although tempered by years as an expat. She’s still got that passionate Russian femme fatale thing: perfect English, but a strong accent, lots of dark hair, dark eyes, and an ability to throw together a glamorous evening gown in an afternoon.

Whenever I see her, she says something outrageous, but usually with a grain of truth to it. For example, on Saturday, we went to their house, and were introduced to their kids (charming, precocious boys) and the family dog and cat. When later, after much drinking, I got out of them that they had paid a good amount of money for the cat, I chastised them: “NEVER pay money for a cat! You can pick one up off the street if you need a cat!”

“Bah!” L replied. “You get what you pay for.” In her languid accent, she continued, “You get a cat without a pedigree, it will pee in your shoes.”

Did I laugh? Yes. But, in her defense, the garden-variety cats here in Slovakia are puny: they have little pinheads and scraggly tails. Her cat not only had a glossy black fur coat, a cranium that looked like it held substantial brain, and a sturdy tail, he was also patient with four children who mauled him, carried him around the house, engaged him in hide-and-seek, and probably used him as home base, too. He is a quality cat.

When we had the discussion about arranging Saturday, J mentioned how he thought the four of us should go see Duran Duran on Sunday (yesterday). There are still huge billboards all over town advertising the concert, so after he mentioned it, the idea was in my head, and I spent a lot of time humming Rio. The Spouse and L both sort of deflected the topic whenever it came up, while J and I would wax nostalgic over song lyrics and our misspent youth. By Saturday night, it was clear that only two of us were going to the concert.

But we did it. And it was fun. We’re not as young as we once were, and our pre-concert preparations were undoubtedly different than those we might have made 20 years ago: J confessed that he had taken a nap that afternoon. I had made myself a cup of coffee before going out the door. We lamented the existence of the opening act, as this ensured the concert would end “well past our normal bedtimes.”

But all that aside, it was a great show. The house was packed, the sound was decent, and I had one of those duende experiences where I felt I was outside my body watching the action: a very European concert in Bratislava. People were smoking and taking photos (with their phones and with real digital cameras). Simon LeBon, now the James Spader of rock, looked better than I remembered, although he wore his shirts untucked and fussed with his portable mike system through the entire concert, giving him the appearance of someone whose boxers were, perhaps, riding up in an uncomfortable way.

The boys rocked, yet aside from the standing-room-only mosh pit, no one was dancing: they all sat politely, even in the VIP area, with their hands folded in their laps, just as The Spouse told me they would. J and I had front row seats, just behind the mosh pit (not bad, as he walked in and bought them yesterday afternoon). So I felt a bit inhibited about standing up because there was virtually no slope to the seats in this venue.

But when they came back for an encore, and did Girls On Film and, finally, Rio, I wanted my money’s worth, and I stood up and danced. The whole house finally stood up and danced.

J and I were joking on the way in about how, this being Bratislava, we would be seen and we would be talked about. We had both discussed this with our respective spouses that afternoon. During the show, we scanned the crowd for familiar faces, but because of our seats, it was difficult to see most of the audience. Sure enough, I was walking to the tram when my phone chirped, announcing I had received a text message from another expat woman I know. It read, “I c u r having a good boogie.”

Ah. Bratislava never disappoints.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

i really enjoy reading your blog...however, what i dont understand is that why do u keep complaining all the time? If you dont like Europe, than go back to America and dont bother the rest of the world with your presence and your annoying "Spouse" ...god bless your children, i hope they wont take after him! take care

1:11 PM  

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