Life’s Lessons and Ballet

Pushkin is a town just outside St Petersburg and home to Catherine’s Palace. After a walk in the gardens, which are pretty impressive, and some free time to shop at the local market, we went into the very crowded palace for a tour of the interior. One of the ladies in the group couldn’t cope with the stairs and everything was a bit overwhelming for her. I managed to get her and her husband out and we sat on some comfortable sofas, waiting for the rest of the group to exit. Sadly I didn’t get to go into the palace, but I believe I gained a lot more from chatting with this lovely couple. We laughed, we giggled and we shared. I even got complimented on my legs! This experience highlighted for me how wonderful people really are. I did not have the pleasure or the privilege of grandparents, and maybe the Universe has conspired for me to be with this generation of mostly retired people. The experience is maybe intended for me to fill the gap…the gap in my life lessons, values and heritage that grandparents would’ve filled.

What has really stood out for me so far while working with this generation:

1. Geoffrey and Penny had a Russian neighbour in Australia 40 years ago. They were so intrigued by the language, the culture and the literature, that they both learned how to speak and read Russian. This was their first trip to Russia and as Geoffrey has Parkinson’s, this will be their last. Penny said she had wanted to bring her husband to Russia for many years. He is quite weak now and not able to dress himself and apparently often wonders off. But he is still able to eat without help and we communicate just fine, plus he has a wicked sense of humour with the warmest laugh! But when she said, “I think I have left it too late for Geoffrey to really enjoy it, we should’ve come yeas ago” I struggled to fight back the tears. This really is a lesson I have taken to heart. If you want to do something or go somewhere, don’t just talk about it. Just do it! We really don’t know what is around the corner and what is going to hold us back or prevent us from fulfilling a dream or a desire. How different the experience would’ve been for them both if they had not held off. I don’t want any regrets in my life! They had 40 years to come to Russian and now it is more of a chore for Penny trying to care for Geoffrey.

2. Colin and Sharon walked past me on the stairs and as Sharon struggles to walk, Colin let her go ahead so she could take her time. He stopped to ask me how I was and looked up at Sharon and said, “You know, Sharon is my hero. Her doctor told her that her medical condition would prevent her from having children and she had two boys. He said she would be in a wheelchair by 25 and it is 50 years later and she is still walking…with difficulty, but she is still walking. She walks 5km three times a week. She really is my hero!” I could feel the tears emerge and every time I see them now I just want to hug them. He is her carer, her best friend and her physical strength. They are always holding hands and you can see how very proud he is of her.

3. Every meal and on every excursion I sit with different people so I can get to meet as many of the guests as possible. I have met sailors, teachers, a librarian, a man who wrote the Bills to pass in the Australian parliament, pharmacists, an archeologist, gardeners, a sports physiologist… People are so interesting! And we all have a story too. There is a lady who is a carer for her husband who has dementia and her kids have sent her to come away for a break. There is a family of Australians from Russian parentage who have come to Russia for the last time together as the one brother has Alzheimer’s … and the list goes on. If we just take the time to chat to people, we are not only giving them an opportunity to feel someone is interested in them, but we may unlock something in ourselves!

Russia is of course famous for ballet. The high standard and intense competition has played a part in the politics of the profession, with stories of betrayal and passion (and most recently acid attacks) playing out like a ballet performance, but on a very different stage. To have the opportunity to go to a ballet in Russia is almost surreal, and in the Hermitage Theatre…wow!

All dressed up, we arrived by hydrofoil and entered the beautifully lit Hermitage theatre. The theatre is quite intimate for a ballet performance, with only about 300 seats. Styled like a Roman or Greek amphitheatre it was used by the royal family for private performances. The dominant chandelier, the niches with statues of the ancient world…all very impressive! We could all see directly into the orchestra pit and that I think makes the audience feel more part of the experience.

I had not seen Giselle before, and I must say I was a little disappointed by the first half of the first act. It just went on a bit, and although the music was incredible, it didn’t really inspire me. I felt a pang of disappointment. But as the second act approached, and more dancers appeared on stage, the energy picked up and before long I was entranced. The group choreography was incredible! St Petersburg is well known for a more traditional style of ballet and this was just beautiful! I was lost in a sea of music, dresses, patterns and talent. Looking around at the venue and taking it all in, I again welled up (thank god, as my contact lenses were getting a bit dry).

A day of emotion made falling asleep so very satisfying. Few experiences will equal what I had today!

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