One of the awesome things about living in Moscow was the opportunity to attend outstanding cultural events for very, very cheap. We went to operas at the Bolshoi theatre for $10 or $15 a ticket, and ballets at the Kremlin Palace for even cheaper. Classical music concerts were often only a dollar or two, or even free, as we found out one night when we showed up late for a performance of Mozart's Requiem at some 19th-century concert hall and the elderly usher lady dismissed our attempts to pay and shooed us toward our seats with a permissive, "Go, young ones."
Besides concerts, plays, ballets, and operas, we also went to a few sporting events. In October of 2002, Moscow hosted the Kremlin Cup. Some of the best tennis players from all over the world came to town for the tournament and tickets, as usual, were very inexpensive. So for a few dollars each, we got to see Lindsay Davenport, Amelie Mauresmo, and others duke it out on the tennis court.
A ticket to the Kremlin Cup. This ticket cost 70 rubles, or about $2.30.
The Kremlin Cup was held at the Olympic Stadium, left over from when Moscow hosted the Olympic Games in 1980 (the United States boycotted that year because of the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan). In the numerous concourses of the venue were all kinds of booths staffed by Russian models handing out free samples of various products.
I don't remember the details, but somehow we ended up with an inordinate amount of something called Smint. These were tiny, powerful breath mints in all kinds of funky flavors. Maybe this product existed in America, too. Maybe it still does. But at the time it seemed like quite the novelty and we got enough samples at the Kremlin Cup to last us for quite some time. Jeremy also got a bunch of free Nivea aftershave, which I completely forgot about until I found some in our bathroom cabinet last week while cleaning it out.
Some of the free swag at the Kremlin Cup included this Russian-English tennis dictionary.
Besides the tennis and the free sample giveaways, there was a large part of the indoor tennis area blocked off for a special VIP lounge area. From our seats, we could see that there were lots of important-looking people milling around, all with official identification hanging around their necks.
Also from our seats, we had seen, sitting diagonal from us across the arena, former president Boris Yeltsin as well as Anna Kournikova. We put two and two together and realized that if we could somehow sneak into the VIP area, we might run into Mr. Yeltsin or Miss Kournikova, or maybe even one of the players actually playing in the tournament. We didn't have any assurance of actually achieving either goal, but we decided to try it just for a lark.
We found our way to the VIP entrance, which of course was manned by a few huge Russian guys acting as bouncers/ID checkers. I think we first just tried to walk in, which was a common strategy in Russia - just act like you belong, and often people will assume you do belong. But that didn't work this time. One of the men stopped us and asked us for our VIP pass.
The photo ID part of our embassy badges.
Jeremy is a sharp one and he came up with the great idea to just show the bouncer our embassy ID badges. Written on our badges was the magic word карточка, which in this case meant something like "permit." That word, coupled with the notarized seal on the ID, was enough to convince the guard we were important people, and without any further hesitation, he let us into the VIP area.
The great disappointment was that all we found in the VIP area were other non-important people, like ourselves, looking for famous people, of whom there were none. So we all just kind of strolled around, pretending we belonged, surreptitiously scanning the crowd for Mr. Yeltsin or Miss Kournikova or whoever, and ultimately failing at said task.
Before long, being in the VIP area had lost its appeal and we left.
So although we didn't get to meet the first president of the Russian Federation, or a young Russian tennis starlet, at least we got to watch some great tennis and - most importantly - go home with a ton of free breathmints.