Allyson Johnson

Pieces of my Mind

To Russia with Mom – Day 3 (part 2) : Breakfast, Ballet, Brides, Bistro a la Russe

Bright and sunny morning.  Seating for our complimenatary breakfast was up a steep flight of stairs on a mezzanine above the buffet service counter – not a good way for Mom to start the day.  Our accomodating hostess made space for us at the side of the counter.   Breakfast very Russian: 2 kinds of porridge (neither one oatmeal), tomato omelet or hard-boiled eggs, white or rye bread, waffles, yogurt, apple/orange fruit salad, cucumber/tomato salad, cold cuts, cheese, and coffee strong enough to float the spoon. (This was standard fare for our Russian mornings).

Maxas picked us up promptly at 11:15 for the ballet performance at the Mariinsky theatre, a wonderfully baroque structure inside and out.  This matinee was a “graduation performance” of the Mariinsky Ballet Conservatory (known as the Kirov School of Ballet under the Soviets) – 3.5 hours of varied performance – everything from modern dance to Pierrette/Pierrot mime to pseudo-West Side Story to a court dance from a Glinka opera (Glinka is big in St. Petersburg). Mom had the aisle seat, which she held onto even after “the biggest man in all of Russia” sat in front of her.

The audience was almost as varied as the ballet, with lots of doting grandparent and parents,  adorable kid sisters in braids and ruffled dresses, younger ballet school classmates holding themselves very upright, as well as scruffy boy friends and girl friends of the graduates in tattoos, jacket and jeans.

Some bits were just wonderful – the first with the company in flowing slips or simple tights and just exploding like fireworks as the music and movement called for it.  Another bit which was comedic but required tremendous athletic elevation and extension from the cocky little bantam rooster balletomane.

Mom and Maxas

Maxas is a student of Soviet history and an aficionado of classic ballet and symphony, so he was a wellspring of information. I was so impressed not only by his depth of info but also his instant understanding or and consideration for Mom’s limitations – we did a lot of driving around points of interest after the ballet rather than walking as he originally planned; the restaurant where we had lunch/tea after the ballet was quiet with an English menu in large print, and he was careful to look directly at Mom and speak as clearly as possible. This helped a lot.

After tea we drove along the Neva River admiring the green lawns, the over-flowing flower boxes and plantings, the gilded domes and spires of the Admiralty Fortress and St Isaacs Cathedral.  We did some bride-spotting – at least six Saturday bridal parties emerging like butterflies from their BMW, Mercedes, and Hum-Vee stretch limo cocoons, getting their ritual pix taken. Fashion note: Russian bridal gowns a little more ruffly and top-of-the-wedding-cake-y than at the Stanford Chape;  I saw one with a bright red sash on cream, one with a white lace corset laced up the back, one with a 12-foot tulle veil/train fighting the wind.  I also noted Russian  bridesmaids’ gowns tending more to bright-colored chiffon rather than black satin.

In the evening Mom decided that she needed a drink before dinner even more than she needed dinner.  I had spotted a bar with nice outside seating the day before.  We set off sheltered from the rain by my faithful blue umbrella, by a wonderful long arcade around the shopping mall – and by a few side trips into the shopping mall.  We got to the place – no outside seating in the rain even if we had wanted. The place was full, but a kind young server lady took pity on our dampness, age and infirmity and found us a table.  It was only after we had placed our order  for a Jack Daniels with Ice, water mit gaz,  a Greek salad and some spicy chicken wings that I noticed a number of hookahs being employed at at least half the tables around us.   There we were, two little silver-haired Alices surrounded by puffing caterpillars blowing smoke rings.  Mom got a huge charge out of it once I had explained what was going on.

On the way home we got a bonus bride-spotting – In the Gostiny Dvor arcade a guy was shooting a lipstick commercial involving a “bride” in slogan  T-shirt and tulle, throwing her lipstick to the panting bridesmaids in pink slogan T-shirts.  Then he had them all jumping for the lipstick – bride included.  Cute!

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