The big event yesterday was my dad's 60th birthday party. It was hosted at the Mukhina Art Academy downtown St. Petersburg, in a neo-Renaissance style hall with painted ceilings and vaulted arches. The guests included my dad's childhood friends, some of whom he knows from 6 and 7 years old, his coworkers and business partners, his more recent friends. We came from all over the world, the US, England, France, Israel, different parts of Russia like Taganrog, Ufa, Moscow.
My mom had been sick with cold all week, two days ago she had to spend a whole day in bed to try to get better. During the party, she kept drinking cognac as a "cure" and to keep warm (the neo-Renaissance hall had no heating). She and my brother and my cousin Masha and many friends and family members participated in the celebration by performing songs and poems in honor of the hero of the day. Usually, Russian (Soviet-style) parties like this are organized by a "tamada" -- a host whose job is to "create the atmosphere" and to pass the microphone from one guest to another as each of them gets up to say (or sing) a toast. "Tamada" is a Georgian word and concept, and there's a fascinating article on Wikipedia that explains the history and the Georgian tradition. Of course, the Russian (Soviet) take on this is somewhat different.
My dad's party didn't use a tamada -- they had to use a professional theatrical director. The guests were too creative for simple toasts, as each one composed a poem, a song or a brief theatrical performance. There was a sketch about the government officials trying to decide how much pension my dad deserved (60 is retirement age for men in Russia); my cousin Masha, my dad, and my brother sang opera and show tunes; my mom channeled a famous poet to read a humorous poem of her own composing; a group of architects from Ufa presented my dad an Australian didgeridoo -- an intricately made long horn -- and tried to play it. In between the toasts, there was an audio-video presentation, arranged from pictures and voice over of my mom and dad telling the stories about their first meeting and different parts of my dad's biography and their life together. On top of everything else, there was lots of food and some dancing.
For me, the event was very emotional. I got to see some of my parents friends whom I remember very well from my childhood but had not seen in ten or more years. Also, many of our relatives were there and even though I was able to exchange only a few words with each of them, I was trying to schedule follow up meetings for the rest of the week. I was also trying to translate the gist of some of the toasts to Dave -- I didn't do a very good job of it; I cannot pay attention to more than one thing at the same time. I did a bit better trying to help Dave to communicate with some of the guests who wanted to ask him about his trip to China or work in the US.
Neither Dave nor I really participated in any of the singing or speech making of the evening. We could've -- we had been given the opportunity to contribute, but we just weren't up to the task. In San Francisco, it was simply too hard to visualize what kind of material would be appropriate for the evening, and by the time we got here, it was already too late and we had too many other plans to come up with anything creative. I regret it, but only slightly -- I'm glad I didn't have to worry about performing and could be all there and make the most out of the brief conversations I had with everyone. I could lead the applause and yell Bravo after every performance. I got to see my dad enjoying every minute of it. That was probably the best part of it all.