Fragments from a War Diary, Part #108
This evening I went to the ballet. I like ballet, just as I like going to Church. The performance was splendiferous. It was an extraordinary display of Ukraine’s cultural patriotism, alive and well in Lviv, and I was overwhelmed by the power of the performance as well as the stout resilience of the patrons who attended Lviv Opera House early on a Sunday evening to demonstrate to the world, and to one-another, that Ukrainian culture will not be crushed by the Russian menace of totalitarian cultural domination. Ukrainian culture will survive this vociferous onslaught.
We duly filed into our seats for the performance, the theatre staff solemnly scanning our tickets and guiding us to our seats. I took my seat on the front row of the Stalls, traditionally reserved for the most distinguished yet discreet of guests in an opera house and with the most discerning taste for the music, as you can see the musicians’ sweat and spittle while you listen to their delicate chords in the most sublime ecstasy. The performance began with an announcement, in both Ukrainian and English, that in the event of an air raid siren all performers, musicians and guests would be required to descend into the air raid shelters underneath the Opera House; should the air raid siren last less than an hour, then the performance would resume thereafter. Then the conductor came out, to a round of applause. And then the orchestra played the Ukrainian national anthem. We all stood, and I held my arm across my chest as a sign of respect for Ukraine and her patriots. Tears flooded down my cheeks, and around those of the people adjacent to me, as we witnessed this solemn and noble moment in honour of Ukraine’s dead, injured and those who have suffered amidst this catastrophic and satanic war.
Then we took our seats to enjoy a light-hearted ballet of beautiful and athletic people promoting the virtues of Ukrainian agricultural life amidst romance, jealousy, authority and dissent. The beauty of ballet is that there are no lyrics, I suppose; therefore the plot transcends linguistic and cultural boundaries. What struck me most of all was the grandeur of the occasion; the high professionalism and training of the performers; the dignity of the occasion; intricacy of the set; the excellence of the musicians; the high turn-out of Lviv’s most educated and civilised classes.
I sat on one of the most expensive seats in the ring, centre front row of the Stalls, on my own, rather awkwardly, wearing my military camouflage jacket whereas the intelligentsia of Lviv had been bothered to dress themselves properly, in jackets, ties, shirts, high heels and elegant dresses. What sort of fool was I, sit straight and up front in this farcical front line garb, as though a rodent out of the trenches, with my essential supplies backpack held closely to my bosom. I am a ridiculous figure in cosmopolitan Lviv, where the cradle of Ukrainian civilisation is trying to maintain a semblance of normality and humanity amidst all the nightmares and horrors that are taking place on their doorsteps.
We were all taken aback by the grandeur of the occasion. I realised, as I watched these skilled dancers skittle across the stage, that Ukrainian high culture remains alive and well. I turned back from my privileged position at the front, and I saw a sea of education and civilisation, the backbone of Ukrainian culture, at work in absorbing and relishing the ballet and the exquisite music before us. The ballet dancers gave the performances of their lives. The curtain closed and opened between the Acts of the ballet with effortless grace. The musicians were perfect in every note, poised impeccably to play their parts in perfect harmony. The decor of the building, beautiful in every way and ornate in its Baroque frescoes, was impeccable for the occasion. The venue and its performers put London’s Covent Garden to shame.
The pride and perfection with which the performers entertained the enthralled audience glued us to our seats. After every scene and every Act, we were stunned into spontaneous applause. At the end of the ballet, the entire cast received a Standing Ovation. There were tears in the eyes of the entire audience.
I tramped out of the Opera House in my unusual clothing. If I am to stay much longer in Lviv, I need to buy some ordinary clothes. I cannot walk around like this, dressed as a preposterous goon as if an extra from a movie about the Somme in World War One. Lviv is a city of civilisation, and it has an educated and cultured class determined to maintain the principles of Ukrainian identity notwithstanding the mindless carnage and all its consequences with which we are faced on a daily basis. I need to buy that suit, that I have been avoiding in fear of it being emblematic of a return to the normal world. Am I stuck in this stasis of the strange and unusual forever? Surely not. My mind draws a blank.
At the end of the ballet, I felt exhilarated and uplifted. I hauled myself back to my usual bar, where a grungy band of well-intentioned youngsters are playing. The staff are getting a little over-excited by the fact that foreign aid workers have found respite in their premises. Nevertheless they are good-natured, and I do not mind giving a little bit of my money to them. Life is not easy for Ukrainians, and the best thing I can do to support Ukraine is to spend my money here.
Only one thing has really upset me today. As I walked to work this morning, a drunken oaf slumped into me and my British Army flag patch tore off my jacket. It is no easy feat to get a British Army flag patch in free Ukraine, because there are no British soldiers here, as I am sure you, dear reader, unequivocally understand. Therefore if someone were able to come to my usual bar one evening soon, and drop off one for me, in an anonymous envelope naturally, then I could redecorate my usual military fatigues in preparation for my next adventure to the Lviv Opera House, which I am sure will be soon. Slava Ukraini.