Sasha Tastes the High Life

In America, the name Sasha bears only a fleeting resemblance to Allie or Alexandra. But in Russia, it’s a nickname for Alexandra in the complex, endlessly-confusing diminutive name system. On any given day, I could be Sasha, Sashenka, Sashka, Sash, Shura, or Shurochka. So in honor of my amorphous identity, I tried the Russian oligarch lifestyle this week. Here’s the scorecard of my success and failures:

1. Trip to the Opera

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After three consecutive Russian classes and no coffee, I headed to the Tatar State Opera & Ballet Theatre. My jeans and assorted fruits were crammed into a plastic bag, swinging limply at my side as I tried to avoid the judgment of other theatre patrons (next time, I won’t forget my six-inch Manolo Blahniks and Alexander McQueen gown. Rookie mistake.) The opera was Puccini’s Turandot, the hall was ornate, and the vocal vibrato plentiful. Assuming the opera language was Russian, I was slightly disquieted by the fact that I couldn’t understand a single word. Was there a version of Russia reserved for opera that only the intelligentsia could understand? Was my Russian really just that horrid? Halfway through the second act, a helpful person clued me in: the language was Italian.

In summary: wore sandals to the opera, was confused, fell asleep

Score: 5/10

2. Bird’s Eye View

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On Saturday, the host brother of my American friend took us on a tour of Kazan. We wanted to see unique spots that only a born and bred Kazani would know about, and Artur delivered. Our first stop was the helicopter pad atop the Grand Hotel Kazan, where we gracefully leapt out of our chartered helicopter to begin a day of conspicuous consumption on the town. I’ll attribute my wind-blown hair to the helicopter rotors.

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In summary: I could almost see Alaska!, no helicopter, found a Turkish restaurant with delicious and cheap baklava

Score: 9/10

3. Eschewing Public Transportation

Saturday night, I went downtown to watch the Germany versus Ghana World Cup game. Bauman Street is the main pedestrian thoroughfare in Kazan: cobblestoned and flanked by Soviet-era behemoths and imperial buildings with tiny cafes. At dusk, it comes to life. I happened across a string trio on the way to meet my friend. I had no intention of stopping, but there was something irresistible and mesmerizing in their music. They played in the shadow of a 16th century church. Time seemed to halt, just for song, just long enough for me to forget Russian and English and my obligations in Kazan and at home. And then a potbellied Russian man jaunted across the circle, time snapped back out of its slow molasses drip, and I continued down Bauman.

Germany and Ghana played to a 2-2 draw, the game stretching well after midnight. My public transportation options were out. I called Taxi Tatarstan, only to be told that my Russian was incomprehensible and no taxi would be coming, thank you very much. It started to rain; anything less would have been disappointing in my string of private transportation fails. Blessedly, there were Taxi Tatarstan cabs waiting at a busy cross-street, so I hopped in and made the acquaintance of Sasha (male version). He only proposed marriage four times in our five minute ride. I politely declined, but the prospect of Sasha Squared was tempting.

In summary: Taxi Tatarstan is no luxury transportation service, marriage proposal

Score: 7/10

Final Conclusion: I’m not cut out for the oligarch lifestyle. I’ll be returning to my existence as a poor college student with no holdings in Gazprom or friends in the Kremlin.

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