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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Black Tie, Wild Duck: The Olympians' Distress

It's lonely up there on Olympus, a point that kept hitting home last week as the Russian leadership fought off controversy generated by tuxes, ducks and unfamiliar traditions surrounding the presence of the Queen of England.


It all started when members of the Rossiisky Olimp, the Russian Olympus, invited to the Queen's ball Monday, realized to their horror what a black tie event entailed.


For years, blek tai was a concept that rang hollow in Russian ears: Almost none of the cabinet ministers and parliamentary leaders possessed a tuxedo, known in Russian as smoking, nor could many produce the $400 minimum needed to purchase one.


Alas, because the blek tai event is such a novelty here, Al's Formal Wear -- "We rent, so you don't have to rant" -- has not yet seen fit to open an outlet in Moscow.


Ultimately, the upper level officials were saved by the resourcefulness of the command-administrative system. Orders were given, and tuxedos were produced. Certain scribes who roam freely in the corridors of power recounted what happened next.


Sergei Parkhomenko of Segodnya, for example, graced Wednesday's issue with the insight that when the tuxedos arrived, the pants fit most poorly, prompting at least one deputy prime minister to send an armored Volga, its blue siren flashing, speeding across town to his secretary's mother, an accomplished seamstress. Lower level officials, Parkhomenko wrote, were forced to turn to the moth-bitten tuxedos lying in the wardrobe of the Operetta Theater.


It might have been humiliation suffered over this affair that led some official to leak a report to Ekho Moskvy radio that Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin -- who has his own formal wear wardrobe -- had asked to resign. The ensuing chaos subsided only after President Boris Yeltsin uttered the magic word: It was all an utka -- literally "a duck," but in this context, a "false report."


In dismissing the report, Yeltsin emphatically called it dikaya utka, "a wild duck," marking the third week in a row that he has been at the forefront of Russian linguistic creation -- the reader will recall that in recent weeks the silver-haired head of state has coined "No probLEM" and helped usher "Black Tuesday" into the lexicon.


How does a wild duck differ from an ordinary duck? One explanation is that the "wild" is for emphasis, and indicates Yeltsin's incredulity at the report, meaning that it was really far from the truth. The other explanation was that Yeltsin, hoping to unseat his prime minister, had planned the leak himself, but was surprised that it got out on its own, like a wild duck. Only Yeltsin knows which duck it was.