Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Night of the Small Swiss Knife

By Kelly Raftery

I held back tears when saying an unexpected good-bye to an old friend at the airport recently. We had been together for a very long time and had some amazing adventures. But, TSA says “no knives” on board flights so I reluctantly relinquished my battle-scarred and always trusty Swiss Army knife.

Even my husband said we should just mail it home, he knew how close we were – I had owned that knife longer than I have been married, after all. But, we have five or six of them now and the one that was confiscated by security was chipped on the outside and the tools almost impossible to use, it was that badly in need of a good oiling.     

As the knife left my possession, I could not help but think of all the times it had come in handy during my travels. I literally never traveled anywhere without a red-handled portable knife in my purse. Not that I used just the knife, oh no. Let’s review – there was a corkscrew and we used that for predictable purposes too many times to count. Red wine, white wine, you name it, we drank it. In the days prior to screw cap technology being used in Russia, we also used it to open vodka bottles, which had a sort of odd permanent metal covering to be breached before one could get at the clear fire inside.

Then there were the tweezers, which came in handy for splinters of all types and for getting at little things – most recently this tool was used to dig a CD out of a laptop’s drive that had been inserted improperly by little hands. There was a small knife that was mostly used as an emergency screwdriver when we needed it – I wear glasses, so it was always good for an emergency repair, or for getting into narrow spaces. 

The big knife, though, was truly my lifesaver. It was used to cut up cheese, sausage, bread, apples, oranges, and all manner of foods. The big knife made for impromptu picnics on grassy fields next to laughing brooks, cut fishing line for big catches from a local pond, or to reach down into holes or drains to retrieve lost items.
But, perhaps most memorably, the big knife saved me from a world of embarrassment. I was in Moscow, accompanying a governmental delegation for high level talks. The head of the delegation was a Presidential Cabinet member, so of course our Russian counterparts arranged for an evening at the Bolshoi. I had attended the Bolshoi before, but these were the best seats I had ever been in, and the treatment was certainly a level above what I had been afforded on my last visit to the gold-gilded theater. I excused myself at some point during the performance to go to the restroom, a rather blatant faux pas I am sure, but I simply had to go. The cool, white marble restroom was almost a respite from the intense pressure and multiple personalities I had dealt with thus far on this trip. 

The Bolshoi Theater, Moscow, Russia

As I steeled myself to return to our front and center seats in the theater, I was not hugely shocked to find I was locked into the stall, as Soviet engineering never did run to efficiency or human friendly construction. However, after a few jiggles of the door, a couple of attempts to get out, I was a little stunned that I was still standing in the stall, unable to free myself. And of course, only the rude foreign woman would leave a world-class performance mid-way through, so there was no one to ask for help, either. I looked down at the only dress outfit I had brought on this trip and my heels and swiftly decided that shimming under the door was out of the question. Trying to climb over the door that was about a foot over my head was also not an option. My heels tip tapped impatiently on the floor and just for a second I panicked and thought about how embarrassing it would be for me and the important person I was accompanying if I had to be rescued out of the bathroom.

I started pawing desperately through my tiny evening bag, surprised to find my Swiss Army knife in there. I quickly pulled out the big knife and began working at the jammed lock on the stall door. It took me a while, during which there were many more flashes of panic, but eventually, I freed myself from my beautiful white marble prison. I nonchalantly sauntered back into the theater, calmly nodded my head to the remainder of the delegation, relieved they could not see how fast my heart was beating, having spun humiliating scenario after humiliating scenario in my head for the last fifteen minutes. 

I am sure the Russian delegation thought I was a rude philistine for ducking out of the performance for so long, but no one but me knew that my knife had saved
me once again. Swiss Army knife - never, ever travel
                                                                                                             without it.


  1. Oh, I got locked in a bathroom stall once. It wasn't nearly as exotic as your experience. I was at work, so I waited until someone came in. They summoned our handyman, who was so embarrassed at coming into the women's room that he could never look me in the eye again. Wish I'd had my Swiss Army knife, but alas, I never took my purse to the rest room at work.

  2. Kelly, I have a great story idea for you. The same as the above except that you DO have to call for help! Would one of the ministers themselves come to your rescue?? Would it be splashed all over the tabloids, footage on the nightly news? Oh, the possibilities!

  3. OH Goodness! This just happened to me on my last trip to St. Petersburg... I can relate to the panic :) www.laceyejones.wordpress.com

  4. Lacey,

    Lovely pics of the big city, I look forward to learning more about life managing a rural dairy farm in Russia! Thanks for reading!


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