Sunday, November 05, 2006
Texac! It's Like A Whole 'Nother Country!
For Valentine’s Day in Volgograd, the place to be is... Club Texac (Texas) !
The Strangers (or maybe the St. Rangers, I’m not sure...) a local combo were holding forth for the weekly “Country/Western” Night. Plus, for the holiday, there were silly contests between sets. The St. Rangers delivered reasonable sets of all your favorite Texas and C/W standards by James Brown, Dire Straits, Little Richard, Elvis, Credence and the Eagles.
“Best band in Volgograd!” says Katya, a stunning young blue eyed, shag blonde beauty. She works in the PR Department of a local grocery chain, that is my client. She is also is a former DJ for ”Echo of Moscow” Radio. She speaks excellent English and has invited me out for the evening. She’s friends with the band and their wives. She also sings “a little jazz” herself, she tells me.
We talk about music. She has been to Oregon and California, but “not to the South, Texas.” I tell her how difficult it is for musicians to make a living in Austin. Similarly, in Volgograd, bands often play just for “karasi,” literally “fish.” She seems familiar with the word for a person who doesn’t have a regular job, goes to lots of events for the free food and liquor, maybe a marginal musician or artist-type. The term is “slicker.”
Now, I have been to scores of “theme” bars in my travels,. Some work, some don’t, some work despite themselves. But this is a bar where the “theme” is a bit too far removed. Nobody here has even ever been to Texas. The idea for the bar came when a friend, visiting the Lone Star State sent some postcards home.
Literally, from the moment you push through the swinging bar doors, which are located knee high like a garden gate, you know that this is a close-but-no-cigar kinda’ place. Besides the fact many of the decorations are merely “American” icons; Harley, Elvis, Marilyn, Chicago Bulls, Marlboro, Coke, Wrangler...there are even displays from New York and London!
I realize now that your definition of “west” is based on just how far “east” you are...
The Texas flag hangs prominently on the landing...backwards. One nice touch, however, was a handpainted mural on the wall by the restrooms. It featured a drunken cowboy asleep against a cactus, “xxx” bottle still in hand. Kinda’ made me miss it when the Texas Legislature is in Austin.
The dance floor fills with scores of beautiful young girls, most dressed in attire that one would associate with the oldest profession back in the States. Everyone sings along to the lyrics, in English. I have always been amazed at how much American music has traveled the world making friends. The kids here, most of whom speak little or no English, can sing all the lyrics to “Californication,” “Hotel California” and “Heartbreak Hotel” and scores more songs...even the band!
Another of the young beauty, wearing a skin-tight Union Jack (“very Western”) sequin tank top, approaches me and asks in passable English, if this is “country music.” I respond, “It’s not even close, but then again we are not even close to Texas!” She smiles sweetly, but I’m sure doesn’t understand.
When Katya asks where else I have been in Russia, I say “just Tomsk, and of course, Moscow. Everything in Russia goes through Moscow, right?” With 11 million “official” Muscovites and another 4 million that the can’t seem to keep track off; Moscow is to New York, what Texas is to, say, the original 13 colonies. “Moscow is like a country,” observes Katya.
"So's Texas!" I respond.
Natalya, the club manager, is friendly and makes time for a “real Texan.” I shudder slightly at the reference, and begin my usual, “well, actually, I’m from Austin, and that’s not exactly the same as being from Texas...” spiel, but stop. It’s not gonna’ be worth the translation.
No one here recognizes the name “Willie,” let alone “Stevie Ray,” much less “Bob.” And a “Texas Playboy,” well, I didn’t even try. My toasts, (ya’ gotta’ be able to toast here...) includes “Don’t Mess With Texas!” and “The Armadillo Will Rise Again!” are well-received. But no one asks what an armadillo is. As the night wears on a creepy “Bizarro Texas” feeling tries to push in to my beer sodden consciousness. “It seems like a Texas bar, nyet...”
I present the manager with a bag full of cheesy Texas promotional items, including a “I went to Texas, and all I got was this coffee mug” coffee mug, that I never thought could be considered valuable. Plus, various Austin pens, magnets, keyrings, buttons, etc. and one of those big orange UT basketball pennants. (I found a box of 200 of them years ago and have been giving them out on overseas trips ever since.) The pennant seems to be considered a true Texas relic, like a recently unearthed artifact from the Alamo. It is immediately and prominently displayed right by the entrance. Just as quickly, my bar tab for the evening is halved. So instead of paying, say, about 16 bucks for two dinners, maybe a dozen beers, and, uh, I seem to have forgotten how many shots of tequila, I paid maybe eight dollars. I added a 50% tip. By the way, another thing that keeps Club Texac from being a real Texas bar, there are no tip jars!
So remember friends, treat Texac like a friend. Nobody understands her like we do.
jim ellinger Volgograd is for Valetines