Tues 2nd– 9am to Shadow Puppet Theatre with Sergei’s wife Helen because Sergei is sick. Also Will, Susan, Hannah, and Andy are getting sick with colds & fevers. The show must go on, and the Cabells are real professionals, sickness be damned. Daytime show, back to hotel to clean up, then to Anglo American School for the evening show. 100 people came, good performance, home 10pm, to find out David and I had to move from room 1030 on the 10th floor (where we had been for three weeks) to room 323 on the 3rd floor (the floor where the other six have lived since we arrived.) What a funny trip this has been.
Wed 3rd– Sergei back with us again– With David to musical instrument store downtown. Very odd! Andy is sick, so logistics on babysitting are difficult. Most of us went to the Pioneer Palace to drop off and set-up equipment, then back to get Susan, Andy, and Hannah, back to Palace where we saw the Soviet mini-shows first, then our group performed our show in Russian (Susan taking the lead of course!). Home 10pm. We will all sleep well tonight!
Thursday 4th– We all met at the Georgian Restaurant on Arbat Street for lunch of cheese dreams, then David went off to American Embassy, Deborah, Ash, and I went to an English after-school club. Deb was with the little ones from 4:-5:30pm, and Ash with 14 year olds from 5:30-7pm. (He asked them “If you ruled the world for a week, what do you think it would be like?” and one child responded, “oh so much paperwork…”) Hurried to Georgian Restaurant opposite the Central Puppet Theatre (with the help of 2 frustrated policemen getting us a taxi!). Our entire group reassembled there with Dmitri, where we were serenaded by violinist & piano. Food was fine, champagne & wine, many toasts. To Dmitri’s home, where we met his wife & son. We could see the Kremlin star from his window. Home by taxi after seeing the Puppet Theatre clock strike midnight like an advent calendar come alive.
Friday 5th– Took bus to non-existent ethnography museum (at this point nothing is a surprise), Susan and Will walked around the Kremlin (which is not a building as many Americans think, but is actually a complex of several palaces, cathedrals, and walled parkland between them all), Hannah, Andy and I rested in the bus for an hour outside Red Square. Back to hotel for lunch, and made up word sheet handouts for the evening’s singing/performance.
To University Concert Hall 4:30pm- Will discovered the electrical transformer (which is needed to operate the show’s lights from backstage) had somehow gotten fried, and panic set in. The show’s lighting is integral to its success, with spotlights changing from one side of the stage to the other at crucial moments in the script. The control room for the auditorium
was way behind the balcony, and there was no way Will would be able to run the lights from there and be on stage at the same time.
“I can run the lights.” That quiet, confident voice was me. Will said, “Really? Are you positive?” Well, no, I wasn’t, but I had been at so many rehearsals, with so much fine-tuning of the script that I suspected I had memorized it by accident.
Will and I walked with the stage manager to the back of the auditorium, up the stairs, and into the control room. The manager spoke to the handsome blond lighting man, another ‘Sergei’ (the name must be like ‘Bob’ in the States), and his response was, “da, da,” a clear assumption that he would do the lights for us. Will knew much more Russian than I did, but I interrupted both of them saying, “Nyet, nyet! Pozhalsta. Ya!” (“No, no, please, me!” pointing at myself insistently.) It was the worst international sign language that had ever been fabricated on the spot, but I guess I looked sincere and determined, and after a few more gestures from me, Sergei showed me all I needed to know. Three spotlights, left, center, and right, on, off, fade up, fade out. There were no headphones to hear instructions from the stage; it was just me, my memory, and a boatload of adrenaline. My blond ‘assistant’ stayed with me for backup, smoking cigarettes and drinking ‘tea’ from a flask. I was surprised I did so well—amazed and proud. After the show we went to another part of the University building with another Sergei, and two other Russian friends. The Cabells packed up and brought all the stage sets and equipment back to the hotel. There we were again “tea-ed and sugared, bread and cheesed” until 12:30pm. Home tired.
Sat 6th– Up and sunny! After Deborah had made all the protocol arrangements, we headed out to Red Square on taxi and bus to take promo pictures in front of St Basil’s Cathedral in our full theatre costumes.
Deborah and I went back to the Arbat on the Metro where I left her and went on alone to the Monastery to buy more paintings.
The artist spoke English quite well, and we had a very moving talk about friendship and peace. Then back to hotel to pack. I went up to the 10th floor to give a present to Natasha, the keylady and we hugged and cried goodbye. Dmitri and Sasha came and went with goodbye hugs & tears. We had a cake party in our room until midnight.
Sunday 7th- Departure Day– Up at 5am, bath/ shower, vinegar-washed hair to get a comb through it. All trunks and suitcases to sidewalk by 6:30am. Shockingly we were all on time— first time on the whole trip! There was a great sunrise at 6am- clear morning, easy drive on our bus to airport with Sergei— customs & baggage went fast, but there was a small hold-up deciding whether we will have to pay extra rubles or dollars for excess pieces and weight on Aeroflot. Finally we got through okay, thanks to Sergei. Goodbyes were tearful with Sergei, our constant companion for the last month, then through final passport customs with that severe stare and harsh light inspection. Don’t smile. They made a special security phone call about Ash’s passport— he thinks it was because of the El Salvador stamp on it. Then to a very small plane (feels like a bus!), and had to duck to get through the door by the cockpit! I cried when we took off— maybe because I doubt I will ever see any of those people ever again.
So there you have it. A simple story really, but that is what was so amazing. I easily recall sitting with the teachers, the long table spread out with sparkling tea cups, samovar, and mountains of delicate sweets, the sounds, the smells, everyone talking at once, laughter punctuating the conversations, stern looks followed by nods of understanding as some concept was finally made clear. You did not have to understand a word to know what was going on. They were all simply comrades, colleagues, taking a break from another hard day of work doing what they love. Mostly women, as is true in our own elementary and secondary school systems here. I can feel the gentle breeze in Ismailovo Park that first warm day in April where the daffodils were cautiously peaking out like Punxsutawney Phil, wondering if it really and truly had stopped being winter. Couples arm in arm, children running right to the edge of their parents’ patience. But most of all I remember the street musicians and artists, showing and selling their wares in a tiny sliver of outdoor freedom. If it is your passion, if it is all you can do and still be sane, you do music, you do art, you do theatre. It is a pre-existing condition, and if you fight it, you become ill, or sad, or a wretch to be around. I speak from experience.
The Russians we met were a cross-section of humanity, that is all, and that is so reassuring. Governments are merely the tip of an iceberg; they do not necessarily represent the whole, but they are oh so visible and loud, that they can be mistaken for the whole. I know this is not true. The soul resides beneath, alive and strong.