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Dead Milkmaiden May 18, 2006

Posted by KG in Islamabad.

When it comes to fun on a Wednesday night, there are few better options in Islamabad than going to a Turkish ballet-slash-opera performance. There's sitting at home watching the Armed Forces Network, sitting in the American Club watching the Armed Forces Network, or sitting at your desk working, wishing you were watching the Armed Forces Network. Which makes a performance of Turk fine arts pretty darn appealing.

On driving to the Turkish Embassy, I noticed the building's similarities to the high schools of Northern Virginia, all light stone, sleek marble floors, and rich visitors. In contrast to the American Embassy, which is more like the high schools of Baltimore County — dark brick, non-descript brownish halls, and few visitors. The grounds were equally impressive, with expansive green lawns and a large stage for cultural performances. All of this unfortunately increases the count of my "Why I'm Jealous of the Turks" list to one. I would have been wowed more except that the performance that later took place was less aesthetically beautiful and more utterly hilarious.

We were treated, first, to three ballet performances in the "classical," "demi-classical," and "modern" forms. That middle one I'm pretty sure is not a real classification, but I may be wrong. My knowledge of ballet comes only from my old crazy roommate and my sister's recitals when she was six. Thus my appreciation of the form is limited to basic observations, such as the relative size of the dude's quads (huge) and the pliability of the women (bendtastic). The second piece had some sort of plot to it involving a man, his wife, some plowing or perhaps sledgehammering, a ballerina sized baby, an old wet nurse being punched in the breast and I think dying, and a man carrying the ballerina baby in ways that traditional babies should not be carried. Catch all that? Yeah, me neither. But it was pretty funny. The first ballet performance, btw, was supposedly Swan Lake, nondescript, pleasant, and innocuous. The last was odd and made absolutely no sense to me, though the synopsis read as if it were a ballet remake of "Midnight Cowboy." Or something.

The opera — or as the program put it, folklorama, was even more hilarious, though probably unintentionally. First, my basic observation about the looks of Turkish people by the ballet suffered from the inference fallacy. The dancers were all lithe and attractive. The singers? Definitely not lithe. After the ballet I had been regretting not bidding higher on that Ankara job, but after seeing the singers performances… Anyway, the folk songs were plagued with equipment malfunctions of the microphone variety, and the songs were slightly irritating. The costumes and dances, in contrast, were awesomely comical. I loved the men's silver jackets. There were three (singers and jackets, natch), each slightly different. They were like the Turkish version of the three tenors crossed with a boy band. The awkward Riverdance on a sprained ankle movements of the singers were also so bad they were deliciously good.

The highlights of the evening were the speeches after the performance, given by the Turkish Ambassador and one of the sponsors. Both kept repeating "tomorrow the performance will be much better, we promise," apparently failing to realize that we had already paid $500 a table and would only come back the next day if promised belly dancers. Well me, anyway. The sponsor lady also alluded to the fact that this was one of the first times this kind of thing had ever been done in Pakistan, and that they were really trying hard, and you can't expect perfection the first time can you? Basically, a litany of excuses that made one want to scream "turn the mic off!" The Ambassador's best line was of the "we once had an Empire" ilk, which is always fun to hear.

All this must make it seem like it wasn't a good time. If that's the case, well, no, it wasn't a good time. It was great. We laughed, sat outside, watched people jump around, ate mediocre food (yes, out of character that I don't mention the food, but it was just mediocre after all), laughed some more, and got to see the Turk's beautiful compound. This is the kind of place where one has to make their own fun, and I think ten of us from the Embassy succeeded in doing so. A winning night in Islamabad, all around.



1. suzanne - May 18, 2006

“natch”? I read your blog as a means of detoxing after Ted Casablanca. Thanks.

Oh and I sent you a package.

2. olieksjandier - August 9, 2006

Here are some links that I believe will be interested

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