Gadžo at the opera

Operas are fascinating , not just for the performance, the emotional delight of the music, the exquisite singing, the costumes, the acting, the decor, but also for the audience. Observing your fellow ‘bums in seats’ can be amusing and can fill the time in the intervals.

On either side next to me the other evening sat couples. On my right, youngish, at least by the usual standards of opera audiences (who often seem twice as old as the singers and musicians). On my left, early fifties perhaps. She looked half interested, and had dressed up – somewhat. He looked around and stood up, clearly wondering what on earth he was doing there. He pouted, spluttered air out unintelligibly, then placing his hands on his kidneys, extended his ample belly across the heads of the people in the row in front. He dropped into his seat, heavily, and picked up the programme. He skimmed through the pages, not reading anything, probably wondering why there were not more pictures.

Then he stood up again, dropped the programme on his wife or partner, and resumed his belly extension exercises. He thrust his thumbs into the waistband of the back of his trousers and began to scratch or caress his ample buttocks with his fingers. The thumbs thrust downwards as he allowed gravity to carry his belly forward, threatening the hairstyle of the lady in front. His thumbs continued to push down, revealing the multicoloured polka dots of his underwear. As he leaned over his wife (or partner), his rear end swayed dangerously in my direction.

He sat down in time. ‘I bet they leave,’ I thought, as he fidgetted constantly and irritatingly during the first act. He kept picking up the programme, and dropping it on his wife (or partner) every few minutes. Thank goodness he didn’t snore, talk, or break wind. He was simply out of place and uncomfortable.

They did not return after the first interval.

‘Gadžo,’ Eva would have called him. ‘Philistine’ is the nearest translation for what Eva meant.

And yet I may be unfair. How often have I felt out of place? Uncomfortable? Frequently probably is the honest answer. Sometimes I’ve just smiled with inane appropriateness, laughed with no understanding, grunted in place of conversing. And it can work. But I’ve still felt out of place. But once I did as my opera neighbour. It was a gala dinner, and we were specially invited. We had not long been in the Netherlands and were trying, difficultly, to learn Dutch. The gala dinner was, however, entirely in dialect. And the dialect seemed to bear no relation to our minute understanding of Dutch. Our table partners only spoke dialect, swapping jokes among themselves. No one addressed us, no one explained. We got up and left. We had learned the language of exclusion. We were gadžos.

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