Friday, April 2, 2010

Can I get the vegetarian chicken?

Ask a Russian to what religious sect they belong, and the majority will answer Russian Orthodoxy. There is, of course, a wide spectrum of what that means to all of those different individuals. Some don’t go to church. Some go on high holy days. Some buy the threshing brush that Briullov identified for me but which I still can’t remember. Some kiss icons.

Some fast for Lent (the 40 days before Easter, which doesn't always correspond to Western Easter, although this year both Orthodox and Western Easters are on April 4th). It’s called the Great Fast [Velikii Post] in Russian, to differentiate from the other fasts that occur throughout the ecclesiastic calendar (for example, during Advent). Their fasting is also different than the kind that developed in Western Europe under Catholicism. I’m not even sure what all of the rules are – I know there’s a vegetarian element, and other restrictions apply.

That knowledge informs this story.

I went to the closest thing to a “diner” there is in Moscow for a quick lunch around 3 pm (this is at one of my archives, which is located about a mile away from the metro. I bring a banana or something light to snack on, and then get something more substantial when I’m center-bound). I ordered some borshch [hearty beet soup] and grechka [short for grechnevaia kasha, or buckwheat] when I heard this conversation behind me:
Scary Old Babushka: Do you have any Lenten goluptsy? [Meat wrapped in a rice-crepe]

Worker: No.

S.O.B.: Grex na vas! [lit. “Sin on you!” Figuratively, then: “Shame on you.”]
But there’s another way to say “shame on you” - Kak vam ne stydno? - which is much less severe, especially when we take into account the shock and rage that was in the S.O.B.’s voice. (I’m having too much fun with that abbreviation.)

The best part is that the S.O.B. didn’t end up ordering something else on the menu, like the vegetable soup, or the grechka, both of which automatically qualify as “kosher” on the Lenten menu. She got the non-Lenten goluptsy.

Because it wasn’t her job to figure out creative ways to follow the Great Fast. It was the restaurant’s duty to provide her with an easy way to follow the rule set up for her by some patriarchs long ago. There was – and this is, of course, all [rather mean] speculation on my part – no critical thought process as to the whole philosophy of sacrifice and deprivation that is the basis for the Great Fast’s existence.

What an S.O.B.



Miriam said...

It might sound like a mean speculation, but I see where you're coming from. There's a lot of following rules for rules sake around here...or for the sake of habitual terror, in some cases.

Stacey said...

Heehee. Your title is calling the S.O.B. (well played, btw) an old lady chicken girl, isn't it?

Also - not to riff off Briullov too much, but I'd like to note my captcha at present, "ovensess." In which to cook the taters, precious?

Andrew said...

Miriam: Most def. And where there may be place for innovation, I see more rules being made, simply for the sake of rule-making, because that's more comfortable than change would be. At all levels of society.

Stacey: OH YES. And she can just wait in line like EVERYBODY ELSE!

Also. That. is. FANTASTIC! Do you think they would go well with my fish, so juicy SWEEEEEEEEEEET?