A Moscow Moment: Throwing away 200 euros for an unforgettable memory

I wanted a performance to remember for the rest of my life. But money cannot always buy unforgettable memories.

Photo by Dan Calderwood on Unsplash

Can you imagine missing the theater for which your paid nearly 200€?

This was one of my fortunate misfortunes..

I’m not surprised this happened to me. Should I be worried? Fortunately, it had a happy ending. I’ve had a bunch of unbelievable “fortunate misfortunes” in my life, but they always end happily.

Even if the happy side of the ending is not obvious at first, and appears totally hopeless and improbably unlucky, and I am filled with incredible anxiety, stress, even agony, deep inside I know that it will reward me with an unexpected, invaluable revelation — or at least a great laugh.

I was sure the play started at 8 pm. I checked the ticket. Printed it. Folded it carefully. Put it into my hand bag, making sure I wouldn’t forget it. It doesn’t happen often that I go to the theater.

But 200€ was way too expensive, don’t you think?

In Moscow’s Tabakerka. To see Vladimir Mashkov.

I wanted to feel the energy that only few people are capable of creating and radiating. I wanted to be close to that energy and absorb every detail of it. After all, some people save money for months and even years to see such extraordinary actors that can overwhelm them with the power of emotions and feelings. I didn’t have to save to buy the ticket but I had to dare to spend the amount of a small weekend trip to sit for two hours in a stuffy crowded room. I had to dare to pay someone to deliberately get me sad and even make me cry… Isn’t it better to keep this money for a trip to Greece and laze in a bright sun reflected from the crystal clear sea, which also causes tears, tears of joy? I felt I needed both — tears of thoughtful sadness (preferably not real but realistic), and tears of unbearable sun spikes — to keep the contrast sharp.

I still had plenty of time and was planning to go by subway. Taking a subway in Moscow can be compared to visiting museums.

It also allows me to observe people, who are ordinary to this city but different from the cities I’ve lived in, to capture fractions of the fragments of their lives in their expressions, movements, ways of dressing, detecting differences of their habits to the habits of people crowding the Parisian metro; people echoing my soul, having been raised and nurtured on the same culture and traditions.

I was planning to get off one station earlier and walk so I could spend 15 extra minutes outside, to observe Moscow’s architecture and street life.

At 18:42, I started to get dressed, taking off my pants first, but then decided to check the ticket, just in case, just in some strange misfortunate case … similar to those in the history of experiences gathered throughout my life.

At 18:43, I pull my carefully prepared ticket out from the hand bag… And I see “19:00” printed on it. I can’t believe my eyes. I fold it and unfold it, turning it around a few times. No way! There is only one time and the play starts in 17 minutes — 7 pm sharp! How could it be possible?!! It takes about 35 minutes to get to the theatre by subway…

Fortunately, they have a very efficient taxi system with a mobile application, a Russian equivalent to Uber (no, it cannot be Uber because everything has to be Russian in Russia). I frantically type the address of the theatre in the application and click “order now!” with one hand while pulling on my skirt with the other hand. I throw my top in the air, raise my arms, and it glides over my body, fitting me like a glove. I pull on my shoes, hang the scarf onto my neck, grab the coat — it’s snowing outside — but I don’t have time to close it. Holding the two halves of the coat with one hand, I jump out of the building with my phone, theater ticket, and gloves in my other hand.

I check the app. The taxi is waiting for me already but on the opposite side of the street. With small and very fast steps, I cross the slippery road covered by freshly melted and soiled snow, and jump into the taxi at 18:46…

I quickly realize that the taxi driver has read Zen and the Art of Taxi Driving, which lifts my anxiety to the next level.

“22 minutes?” I pitch with despair noticing his GPS and breathe in the air…

“Well, yes, and this is only a prediction…” he says calmly and doesn’t start the car before finishing his phrase. My anxiety flies like a rocket exploding somewhere far in the space. I lose all sense of reality. I feel my consciousness spread over 7 km from this cab to the theatre in the clouded sky above Moscow. I watch myself from that clouded space being stuck in a panic holding the halves of the coat with one hand and my phone, ticket, and gloves in another hand, in the cab with a Zen driver. I mumble something to myself, in Russian and also in different languages, “how is it possible”, “unbelievable”, “incroyable”,

The driver seems understand and changes the tone of his voice when I ask him to drop me off on the corner instead of at the steps of the theater to avoid an additional circle around the block. He agrees to stop where I ask, even though it’s not authorized.

But he misses the turn!

“There! There! Stop me here!” I scream, unbuckling the car belt and checking the ticket, the phone, the gloves… I jump out, cross the snow with small steps, the coat still held together by one hand. I cross the dirty wet road ignoring two rows of cars and climb the stairs of the theater in panic and …surely, I miss one step, fall, and stretch out on the stairs to the amusement of these two rows of cars waiting for their green light… I don’t mind if I look ridiculous in my flat clumsy pose, stretched over 5 rows of steps — at least I probably made them smile.

19:10. I get inside the front door of the theater! Mirrors, mirrors, mirrors everywhere! I can’t find the door! “Where is the door?!” I scream to myself reflected in the mirrors, which are reflected again and again in other mirrors… I find my way through the gaps in those reflections.

I’m totally desperate by now but still hopeful… Inside, I’m told that I should go up and hurry but I should leave my coat first… I vaguely remember leaving my coat on the mirrored bar for the elegant young men in grey sleeveless vests and starch-white shirts. I don’t know where I left my scarf. I bump into a mirrored pillar behind the coat check. I try to run carefully on the mirrored stairs and realize that I have a coatcheck number in my hand.

I’m lucky! Theaters start late in Moscow! After two attempts to find the right entrance to the hall, I succeed and land on my seat. And I am surprised to see the gloves in my hands… in addition to the ticket and my mobile phone. Now I sit and impossibly try to remember if I had closed the door of the apartment when leaving… Where did I leave my scarf? I notice looks at my hands, and I try to hide traces of dirt from the stairs on my hands by rubbing them against each other.

I can’t believe I made it!

I knew the play would be an incredibly heavy and sad drama and that the spectators would start weeping already during the first act. I hold my own tears back to spare my emotions for the second part and to keep my face fresh during the intermission, free from blemishing and blushing. The first part ends with great applause, very long, repeated as it is usually at the end of the plays… Because it is the end of the play! I can feel all the accumulated energy, emotions, and feelings left inside me, unreleased. I won’t be able to let them go because my extraordinary actors have finished their performance and want me to go home. I feel lost and confused, like I was running to the other side of the bridge towards a beautiful horizon but I didn’t see that the bridge was built only to the middle. Yet somehow everybody is already on the other side enjoying the splendor of that horizon but I am still half-way unable to reach them.

I wander between the mirrors of the theater, now enjoying their beauty, amusing myself, finding fractions of my reflections in different corners of the mirrored mosaics. I go on the mirrored stairs, up then down, looking at the mirrored ceilings, mirrored walls, mirrored drawings on them. The last to arrive, I am also the last to leave.

I walk slowly to the subway. There is an astonishing young musician playing in the underground passage. He captivates me by his interpretations of famous European pop melodies, played on the Russian balalaika. He is completely absorbed and seems to not even notice anyone around. He is wearing a light brown and white sweater with merging splashes of brown and white speckles. He is jumping with the music, dancing, his face shines from sweating. Some people pause to watch and get absorbed with him in that passion, which he expresses so virtuously using the three strings of his balalaika. Wonderful feeling and emotions catch me unexpectedly — and absolutely free

I sincerely wish to thank him for making this overwhelming gift to my evening but I have only my mobile phone, gloves, and a used 200-euro theater ticket. I don’t have my wallet… I feel disappointed, unable to thank an artist who has touched my soul with joy.

Next day we take the subway, transferring to another train, and taking a long underground passage in a different part of Moscow. What are the odds to see my “balalaika” young musician in the same brown and white sweater with merging splashes of brown and white speckles in that passage?! Amazed and amused, I pause and get absorbed for several minutes, watching him again dance and jump with his interpretation of foreign popular tunes. This time I send my son to put a money bill in his open balalaika case to thank him for his moving performance. I record a small video, and whenever I play it, my son jumps high with the music, imitating the musician — a priceless performance that I will keep dear in my heart.

Generally my fortunate misfortunes start by small unlucky happenings. I even found a pattern among the chain of events preceding my agonizing fortunate misfortunes. I now notice when the chain begins, leading me to have less fortunate misfortunes. It helps me stay alert and keeps me on my toes. However, I still cannot avoid them. And — I’m not sure I’d want to let them go completely.

An optimist, exploring the joy of writing thanks to the freedom to love

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