It's not rational...

Sunday, May 25, 2014

It feels like a hundred yeas ago, and it's hard to believe that I've only been back in the UK full time for about a month.  I’m busily at work on a new show, and my diet actually includes fruits and vegetables at most meals, and I’m running or cycling every day and everything kind of feels… normal.  It’s delicious.  On the other hand, there are a few anecdotes I just have to tell you about Russia, so here goes:

On the fickle nature of hotel laundry:

I've said it before, but that gig was HARD.  The hours were long, we were way behind schedule, and, as I mentioned before, the living conditions were not ideal.  There was one good thing about our hotel though - they did laundry, and they did it cheaply.  The fantastic posh hotel in Moscow also did laundry, but given that it cost about £6 to get a pair of running shorts washed I didn't use that service often.  At the good old Ekodom Hotel in Adler, getting a normal load of laundry washed, dried and folded cost about 70 roubles (£1.25). This was a godsend. Except, of course, there was a catch.  In Russia it seems there's ALWAYS a catch, though this one applied only to women.  I noticed it after I got my first batch of laundry back.

Ekodom Hotel
The Ekodom...

Everything seemed normal, but for one small oddity.  All of my underpants had been separated from the rest of the laundry, secured in their own plastic bag (knotted shut) and tucked in with the rest of the load.  I thought this was a bit odd, but at that stage I’d been in Russia long enough that this quirk was barely enough to register on the Russian Weird-o-Meter, so I took them out of the bag, shoved them in the closet, and got on with life.

Later that week I pulled out a pair of underwear and noticed that it wasn't clean.  “Odd," I thought.  "That one must not have made it into the laundry bag."  The next week I sent another bag of laundry in, including underwear.  Again, it came back with all underwear neatly sequestered, and this time I confirmed that NONE of it had, in fact, been laundered.  I marched down to the front desk with my bag of dirty underwear and asked them to please send it back because when I sent my clothes in to be cleaned I naively assumed that the people I was paying for the service would actually clean ALL of them.

The next night I stopped back to pick up my clean underwear.  And it's worth noting here that this was probably at about one o'clock in the morning, after a fourteen-ish hour day, so my nerves were slightly raw.  And then... then the truth came out.  Once again my underwear was not clean, but now there was an explanation (or what passes for an explanation in Russia). They simply didn't do women's underpants.  At all.  No exceptions.  Men's underwear was no problem.  Other women's undergarments were ok too.  But women's underpants?  No way.

As I stood at the front desk, mouth gaping, trying to think of something to say, a female colleague who was also staying at the hotel said something to the effect of, "Oh yeah. The No Underwear Thing.  Didn't anyone tell you?"  Well, no.  No they didn't.  And what kind of a ridiculous freaking rule is that?  I trudged back up to my little orange shoebox of a room clutching my plastic bag full of dirty underwear and sat on the edge of my bed and tried hard not to cry.  "Typical," I thought.  "I'm working on the biggest show on earth, under huge time pressure in bizarre circumstances, and the thing that almost pushes me over the edge is the fact that they won't wash my knickers."  And then I snapped myself out of it, probably with the help of a drink.  And the next morning I filled the bathroom sink with hot water and dish soap and I hand-washed my underwear and hung it to dry in the shower.  And I did that every three days for the next ten weeks.

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The bathroom sink and shower in question

I can't remember whether we were talking about this exact little quirk of life, or some other equally odd happening, but I was having a conversation with a colleague about this sort of thing and he said one of his suppliers had coined a term for when he was confronted by the sheer bloody-minded, unbelievable frustration of it all.  "It's not rational," he'd say.  "It's Russian-al".

Truer words were never spoken.


On overcoming obstacles:

I've already mentioned the problems we had with food on the Olympic Park site. (But I didn’t mention this… one day in the canteen one of the dinner options included LIVER FRITTERS. Seriously?  How is that even a thing?)  And I mentioned my successful method for smuggling in food stuffs to help me survive.  It also happens that I had a reasonable stash of that most Canadian soul food imaginable - Kraft Dinner.  At some point along the way I realised that there were microwave instructions on the KD box, which was a revelation.  While I didn't have a microwave in the hotel room (they were forbidden, of course) we did have them in the office.  So I decided that I'd risk trying to smuggle in a box of Kraft Dinner.  I had enough boxes that if I lost one it wouldn’t be an unmitigated tragedy, and the idea that I might be able to stop for a few minutes and have a bowl of KD in the middle of the maelstrom was a powerful draw.  So I opened up the box and poured the macaroni into a ziploc bag (also imported from Canada) and shoved it into the toe of one of my big fuzzy socks.  The envelope of cheese powder went into the other sock, and both got twisted and turned inside out so that it looked like I was simply carrying two pairs of big fuzzy socks through the security checkpoint.  Perfectly normal, or at least normal-ish.

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One of a number of exceptionally long queues to get through security.  We're heading for the small square white building.  The wacky castle is... well, we just called it Wacky Castle.  It seemed to be associated with an amusement park right outside the Olympics Park gates.

No matter, I got in.  (As I've mentioned before, the Big Fuzzy Sock Method was one hundred percent successful.  The only time I had food confiscated was when I forgot I had a Snickers bar in my jacket pocket, which really doesn’t count.)  Later that day, after a really tough afternoon, I finally found time to sit down and contemplate how to assemble my contraband KD.  I had a fairly large plastic tupperware sort of bowl (but a Russian one, so the lid didn’t actually stay on).  And we had water coolers that dispensed really hot water, so I was able to fill the bowl with the right amount of water and then pour in the macaroni in preparation for the microwave.

Of course this was the point of not return.  Once the macaroni hits the water there’s no going back.  No chance that I could change my mind and postpone.  It was now or never for that Kraft Dinner.  So I turned around to put my plastic bowl of happiness in the microwave. Except… the microwave was GONE.  Both machines that had been sitting on the table next to my desk for weeks had vanished.  I stood there, stricken.  A colleague noticed my expression and asked what was wrong.  (Or perhaps I just might have attracted some attention by exclaiming, rather more loudly than might have been appropriate, “Are you fucking KIDDING ME????”)  Whatever it was, I soon found out that the Russian catering department had decided to start feeding the cast hot meals and to that end had commandeered every microwave in the building and taken them to the rehearsal site to heat up food.  Of course.

So let's review:  I’d managed to get this Kraft Dinner all the way from Canada.  I’d smuggled it in my socks to get it on site.  I had the time, the bowl, the hot water… and yet still Russia had managed to thwart this tiny bit of homey happiness.  Once again, just like with UnderwearGate, I almost cried.  It really is the little things that kill you sometimes.

But wait!  This story has a happy ending.  It turned out that one lone microwave had survived the cull.  So I carried my precious bowl across the compound to the canteen, where I found the skankiest microwave I’ve ever encountered.  And I put that bowl in and watched it boil over.  And I cleaned up the boiled over sticky pasta water with a thousand paper napkins. And it boiled over again.  And I cleaned it up again.  And then I carried the burning hot bowl back to my desk and mixed in the cheese stuff and a bit of milk and mayonnaise (because I didn’t have butter) and damn, it was GOOD.

And actually, that’s kind of what it was like a lot of the time.  You’d expend a massive, ridiculous, disproportionate amount of effort to make something happen.  And then just when you thought it was sorted out, six other things would get in the way.  And you’d just have to put your head down and keep plugging, and eventually something pretty ok happened.

winter-olympics-opening-ceremony-photos.jpg
Like this.  These light-up spinning head-dress things were props, and despite numerous ridiculous obstacles, they ended up looking really cool.

1 Comment:

Michael Fleischer said...

"Russian-al". Love it. Will drop it occasionally in conversations with your permission.

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