In 1996, I was a language student in St Petersburg, Russia. It was a period of cultural enlightenment for me, as I met a girl who introduced me to theatres and concerts, showed me how to enjoy them. Being a student in Russia came with many privileges, and local discounts on such entertainments was one of them. For only a fraction of fee, I could go and see performances of various opera and ballet, musical concerts featuring famous musicians and conductors, etc. The famous Hermitage (Ермитаж) the winter palace of Catherine the Great was free admittance.
I also endeavoured to learn the violin from a music student; my musical background was very poor, that I learned the piano for 12 months at the age of 10 and that was it. Given lessons in Russian was an added restraint. In the first lesson, she asked me to play any tune, and then gave me a sheet of music for me to play then and there. I was not able to sight-read music – felt so intimidated and humiliated in front of this muscular, sharp-eyed music student.
One last cultural endeavour was to act in a film as one of the extras. Imagine, you don’t speak or understand the language very well, and only know that you are going for a shoot. Instructions, detailed explanations about the film, etc. were beyond my language skills, but I just went along with the film crew and enjoyed the experience. All I ‘knew’ was that it was a historical document film, and the location of the shooting was in a real marine base near the city. (I was dressed in a mock military uinform, and put on a make-up to be an old man with lots of greys. The shooting took place in a live sumbarine, which was the main feature of the day.)
A decade later, I managed to watch it – I met a Russian ballet dancer in Tokyo, and he said he knew of the film. Later, he copied it on DVD and sent it to me. It turned out to be a comedy, and I appeared at the very last of the film, for about 4 seconds. Still, I had a few lines, and the figure in the film still maintains certain resemblance to me…
(of course, I don’t appear on the cover… Hmmm.)
The title reads something in the line of “Don’t play a trick on the fool…” I could be wrong in this, but what I know is this: its working title was “Не валяй дурака, Америка.” “America, don’t play the game you don’t know the rules of,” perhaps one could read something like this between the lines??? Presumably, in the delicate climate of international diplomacy, the “America” was dropped and replaced by the “…” .