22 October 2009

Authenticity Revisited

St Petersburg - 134

On our final night in Russia we decided to go all out - dinner somewhere classically Russian followed by a night at the ballet. We ended up at the Palace Theater, deemed “the tourist theater” by our sales agent. “Fortunately,” I told her, “we’re tourists.”

St Petersburg - 180

Our dinner plan was to dine at a “traditionally Russian restaurant where the waitresses where traditionally Russian outfits while serving traditionally Russian food.” This is all code for “touristy, kitsch, hilarious and over the top.” On our way there a man in a giant silver robot costume handed us a flyer for a new restaurant called “Trans Force.” It told us we could enjoy “delicious food while surrounded on all sides by a 3D space adventure.” The best the other place could do is “a plastic rainforest topped by a stuffed rooster.” We decided to pop our heads in to both and then decide.

St Petersburg - 182

The “traditional” restaurant was exactly what we had envisioned - plastic trees, stuffed roosters and milk maid-laden waitresses serving up overpriced “traditional” food. Trans Force, however, seemed more of a life experience. We were seated at our “control pod” right in the middle of a 270-degree space odyssey that was soaring over St. Petersburg, Antarctica, Mars and Disneyland. The menus was displayed on our “control panel” and we ordered by clicking through pictures and selecting and favorites. After swiping our “warp speed” card the order was confirmed and twenty minutes later a man dressed as a Storm Trooper delivered my soup and Matt’s pasta to our table just as our space ship reached Shanghai, China. It was the most ridiculous eating experience I have ever had.

Afterward, we went to our “touristy” theater and watched the St. Petersburg Ballet Company and St, Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra perform the most incredible rendition of Swan Lake I have ever seen. It was an all-star Russian evening.

St Petersburg - 183

The whole situation raises that same question of authenticity yet again. What was more authentic for dinner - an over-the-top fake Russian restaurant with fake plastic trees and fake stuffed roosters or a new-age, sci-fi, modern approach to eating (or just being awesome) complete with a virtual reality space odyssey? I’m going to have to say the latter. As for the ballet, I am indeed an authentic tourist so while it may not have been the Mariinskiy, I owned my identity and had a great time. Stick that in your authenticity pipe and smoke it. Even better - do it while soaring thousands of miles above the earth through astroid belts and newly invented planets.


Kyle Taylor

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