Borders, part 2

We went to the Ballet last night.

We, in this instance, is Austin, Isaac – both are from Nigeria – and myself. And much like that time long ago in Budapest, we scored some $5 tickets in the second-to-last balcony for a performance of Tchaichovsky’s The Snow Queen. It was easily twice as good as I thought it would be.

This was my first time seeing anything Tchaichovsky live – including the Nutcracker – and it was goddamned magical. The goddamned precision with which these artists perform is nothing short of wild, and everything else – the costumes, the music, the general ambiance including the scores of little girls all decked out for the occasion – was intoxicating. 

I’m headed to Lviv on Wednesday, and, having been filled with the performance art Kool Aid I’ve already bought a ticket to the Opera there. And I’m still considering seeing a ballet the night before, too.

I was in the school band when I was a kid – I played the flute – and every once in a while we would be gifted tickets to a performance at the Seattle Opera House, either a classic opera or a performance by the Pacific Northwest Ballet. These were usually a dress rehearsal, but not exclusively: sometimes, we’d show up in our Chuck Taylors to find scores of “grown ups” dripping in gold, decked in furs and cashmere the way wealthy Seattleites used to display their wealth before the zeitgeist changed in the late 90s and early 2000s.

And here’s the thing that really strikes me: 

I’m not saying that I’m the definitive authority on travel media, but I am a travel writer. I encounter a lot of travel media on a regular basis, definitely more than a layperson. And in all the blogs, all the carefully-edited, drone-footage-filled YouTube videos of Budapest and Kiev and Moscow and Odessa and Prague, none of them seem to make more than a passing mention about how you can see an opera or a ballet for between $3 and $5, sometimes even less.

Like. For real?

It’s all I can do to not go every single night. Because why the fuck not?

Do you know how much it costs to see a fucking premier ballet performance in the United States? An opera in Vienna?

Are you people fucking lunatics?

How in the world could you pass this up?

Obviously, people visiting Ukraine and not going to the ballet aren’t lunatics. In fact, there’s a pretty strong case to be made that anyone here right now is a lunatic.

And it’s weird because for someone who went to Iraq just last year, this still might be the most dangerous combination of time and place that I have yet dared. Because every day I wake up and check the news only to find the eastern front more fortified, the nebulous threat of war creeping ever closer. 

But the thing is: if war in fact erupts, this may be my last opportunity to be here for…who knows how long. 

Just a couple of weeks ago I wrote about going to Florence, how all of those spectacles that I didn’t get to see the last time I was there, some 20 years ago, were still waiting for me to return. And maybe for people like me, from relatively “comfortable” western countries with strong passports and currencies, the pandemic has been a huge wake-up call to the dynamic nature of borders and the weight and reason of nationhood as a concept.


Though it looks like I will likely be perfectly fine here for some time still, especially out here in Lviv, I have some plans that are coming together as I type.

So for now, I spend my mornings hoping for a brief steadfastness to those ever-dynamic pandemic borders because I’m quite sure that I will seek to cross a few very soon.


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