Monday, November 17, 2008

Novosibirsk November 16, 2008

11:19 pm

We ended the last installment with the chance (?) encounter with Ian. Coming back to the theme of disappointment vs. opportunity: money.

Everywhere I have gone, I have had no trouble exchanging US currency for that of the country I am in. Until here. You’ll recall that the bank on Friday wouldn’t accept perfectly good bills. The fact is that I need cash for some purchases, as well as for the transfers from and to the airport and hotel in Moscow. So I set out late afternoon today to use an ATM to get cash. I haven’t seen the small currency exchange booths here that I have seen in Moscow and Kiev. There is an ATM on the bottom floor of the University building. Five separate times, with two separate cards, I tried to get cash. The first time it rejected the request, saying “withdrawal limit exceeded, please request a smaller amount.” OK. So I did. Same message. Went to another card. This time, the message read “we have been instructed to return card, please contact your own bank.” It said one or the other three more times.

There is another ATM just inside the front door of the hotel. Same result. There is an ATM inside the trade center. Same result.

Knowing that I need to hoard cash, and use the credit card, I decided to go back to the hotel and eat at their restaurant. They took the credit card the last time. I ordered the same exact meal as the last time (I’m playing it safe on the food aspect of this. I don’t want to be in a restaurant with no English language menu, with no one who speaks English, and try to convey that I am a vegetarian - - I know how to say that in Russian - - and not understand their response). When it cam time to pay, I used the same credit card as before. The waitress took it, but came back a few minutes later saying “dollar?” She had my credit card, the bill, but no credit card slip. I said “what?” She said “dollar, no ruble?” I don’t remember what I said, other than “card, nyet?” She shook her head. I said “cash?” She nodded her head. So I paid with my dwindling wad of currency. Now I’m wondering how I am going to get out of this country if they won’t take my US dollars, they won’t take my ATM card, and they won’t take this credit card. A slight bit of anxiety is starting to creep in. I’m going to another bank tomorrow with these bills and see what they say.

Almira provided me with a ticket to a concert at the House of the Scientists. It’s at the end of Ilycha Street, a straight shot from the restaurant. Putting on the yaktrax, I was able to hurry down the icy sidewalk and make it in time.

The House of the Scientists is a concert hall. It is old and not at all ostentatious. It feels perfect for where we are. The stage was set up with eleven sheet music stands, a drum kit, and several large tom-toms ( I don’t know exactly what they are called, but they’re big). There were numbers on the ticket, but I couldn’t tell what was the row and what was the seat. I went to the row I thought my seat was in, and showed my ticket to a lady who was sitting two seats from where I thought mine was. She pointed towards the stage. I inferred from that she was indicating my seat was closer to the stage than this row. Then she pointed to an usher at the end of the row. I walked over to her and said the standard “Ya ne gavaryu pa rooskee.” Sometimes people don’t get it. If I am saying in Russian that I don’t speak Russian, is that to be taken as a sign that, because I said that one phrase in Russian, I CAN speak Russian? Her response was in Russian. But she patiently guided me to my seat: two seats away from the lady who told me my seat was several rows away. She got her comeuppance: just before the show began, the REAL holders of the seat she thought she would be able to claim by squatter’s right came over, and she was banished to some other part of the hall.

The sign that the concert was about to begin was a buzzer. The first one was singular. Then the second and third ones were two and three buzzes respectively.

The hall was about two thirds full. The crowd was as varied as I have ever seen. They ranged anywhere from 3 to 83. They dressed in the finest suits and dresses; and in the grubbiest jeans and t-shirts. I was unsure exactly what the program was going to be, but it looked like this crowd attended every cultural event at the House, which has a fantastic lineup coming in the future.

The house lights dimmed, and eleven men walked onstage. Each had a horn. There were trombones, a tuba, French horns, and trumpets. The musicians themselves varied in age from their twenties to middle age. There was a dead ringer for Chris Farley playing trombone, and a Kevin Bacon look-alike on the trumpet.

A lady walked out onstage just as the band members were taking their places. She would appear between numbers to announce the next piece. I picked up that the group was called the “Sibirski Brass.” They began with classical music, such as Bach, and the 1812 Overture. They played about six numbers in that style. Then there was an intermission, which I spent by walking around the lobby. Once again, not ostentatious.

The buzzers rang again, and the second set began. This time, they really stretched out. They played big band music, show music, the bossa nova, mambo, and salsa. The drummer took some solos, which were very much appreciated by his bandmates, as they hooted and hollered while he pounded away. It was very enjoyable. I often found myself tapping my toes, or bopping my head, or drumming with my fingers. It was an entertaining evening, one that I would never go to back home.

But how many people from South Florida can say that they went to a brass band concert in Sibera?

1 comment:

Luc said...

Sounds like a crazy day. Sorry about your problems! What a mess... The only thing you can do in those situations sometimes is this:


As for: "how many people from South Florida can say that they went to a brass band concert in Sibera?"

You're the only one I know from South Florida that can say this. :)