Friday, November 15, 2013

On the Government's Dime

Because I have no idea what I will be doing come June and because I don’t want to find myself uninsured when my Fulbright grant is over, I spent the morning filling out an application for ObamaCare. I am not technically employed (though I am getting paid), so the government algorithm wasn’t sure what to make of me. Thus, in addition to enrolling me for insurance, they also suggested I apply for food stamps. While I appreciate the government’s concern, I am not as hard up as I might seem on paper.

That said, I did avail myself of a free government meal last night. I was invited to a concert at Spaso House, the residence of the US Ambassador in Moscow, thanks to my Fulbrighter status. While the promise of free alcohol probably would have been enough to get me there, I was especially excited to see the mansion that inspired a scene in one of my favorite works of Russian literature. In 1935, the US Ambassador invited four hundred guests to a spring festival that was meant to eclipse all previous Embassy parties. Before the party wrapped up at dawn, a Marxist revolutionary had managed to get a baby bear drunk and a flock of zebra finches had gotten loose in the ballroom (because what party doesn’t include a menagerie?).  Not surprisingly, the party surpassed all other Moscow Embassy parties. One guest in attendance, Soviet writer Mikhail Bulgakov, found the evening so memorable that he based Satan’s Grand Ball in  The Master and Margarita on this evening.  Thus, with hopes high that I might get a wild animal wasted as well, I RSVPed in the affirmative.

Yan and I taking a break from our grueling Fulbright research

Despite the snowfall, I threw on a dress and tights and took a trolleybus over to Smolenskaya Square to meet my companions for the evening, a fellow Fulbrighter and an American friend. We had some wine, mingled in the Chandelier Room, and tried not to think about the fact that the appetizer spread alone probably cost more than our stipends. Forget writing, I need to become the Ambassador to Russia.  Even though the FSB has regularly bugged Spaso House, I could trade privacy for that sweet mansion.

The Spaso House terrace, with a view of one of Stalin’s Seven Sisters in the background

The concert was wonderful, and I have already been invited to another US Embassy event a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. This is definitely going to trump my last Russian Thanksgiving, which was spent at a T.G.I. Friday’s in Kiev with a boy from Estonia my friend Christine and I had decided to take on a weekend trip (worst idea ever). My American patriotism, which becomes especially zealous when I am abroad, may lead to this vegetarian eating an entire turkey for dinner.  One just never knows in Russia.