Friday, March 14, 2014

Masters and Slaves

There are ten of us here and, as far as I can tell, our rank breaks down based on where we’re staying in the house: upstairs, downstairs, or servants’ quarters. Obviously, the Oligarch and Elena are upstairs, as are the ghostwriter and his daughter. Downstairs, but in equally swanky bedrooms, are Vanya, Nikita 1, and I. Nikita 2, Anatoly, and Olya are relegated to the remaining downstairs wing, which is accessible through a side entrance and was clearly designed for servants. I find the divisions strange, particularly because the Oligarch treats all of the males listed above alternately as best friend or footman, depending on his mood.

The Oligarch decided he wanted to go ice skating on Wednesday, so he had his staff transform the front yard into a veritable Siberian ice disco. Once the sun had tucked itself in for the night, Nikita 2 lined the perimeter of the rink with lights, Vanya set up outdoor speakers and started mixing, and Nikita 1 fired up the BBQ. Work done, they shifted into friend mode and joined the oligarch on the ice. I grabbed my skates, failing to think about the fact that there is a serious difference between a homemade ice rink and the Zambonied works of art I am used to. When I realized that the Oligarch’s rink was the kind of affair an impoverished Oksana Baiul would have trained on in Ukraine circa 1994, I realized I was way out of my league. The Russians, meanwhile, were gliding over the cracked surface like swans.

The ice rink by dusk
The Oligarch noticed me hobbling onto the ice and waved Vanya over to help. I insisted I was fine, but my protests fell on deaf ears. Pretty soon Vanya was holding my wrist-guard clad hand and skating me around the rink like I was in seventh grade and it was a Friday night at the Bellingham Sportsplex. I don’t know if the Oligarch was trying to play matchmaker or if everyone tired of skating that quickly, but the ice mysteriously cleared, leaving Vanya and I holding hands in the moonlight with “We found love in a hopeless place” blaring from the speakers. I hope the absurdity of the situation wasn’t lost on Vanya.

Eventually, Nikita and Nikita returned with some sausages to grill, so I suggested we join them. They greeted us with a bottle of vodka, and since I didn’t want to be unfriendly, I quickly succumbed to peer pressure and a shot. But that led to them teaching me the phrase, “Между первой и второй — перерывчик небольшой" (very liberally translated to maintain the rhyme scheme: “Between the first and second shot, a long break is for naught”). I kind of loved the saying, so I joined them in a second round. But as should now be obvious, vodka drinking in Russia is a slippery slope, and before I knew it, we were taking another shot for “our parents.” But even after three shots, the Nikitas and Vanya were still unsure of my allegiances and asked, “So are you a master or a slave?” I’d like to think I fall into neither category, but the downstairs posse is decidedly more fun. That said, I did abandon the Nikitas and Vanya at midnight so I could rest up for my 8am gym appointment the following day with the Oligarch. No need to anger the man who holds my return ticket to civilization.


  1. The Sportsplex! Sounds like they have their recruitment strategies nailed.

  2. This trip is just getting better by the day.