Anya’s pumpkin orange tights got me thinking.
Moscow is a far more colorful place than when I first visited, in September, 1991, in the dying days of the Soviet era.
For the recent opening of the Moscow Art Biennale, Anya, an art critic, wore orange tights. For second night, she wore electric yellow. For the opening of Art Moskva, she told me, she wore pink.
As bab’ye leto, the equivalent of the American Indian Summer, warms Moscow this weekend, there is color on the streets. And it is not just the golds, reds and oranges of fall foliage.
Moscow has been called ‘kamenii gorod’, or stone city. During the Soviet era, its people overwhelmingly dressed in gray or black, seeming to want to blend in with the granite and painted iron.
Moscow will never compete with the bright painted doors of Dublin, the pastel hues of coastal Brazil, or the zany murals of Kinshasa.
But color has lightened up the place in a way that would jolt a Rip Van Winkle, the New Englander who struggled to recognize his village after a 20-year snooze in the woods.
On a recent afternoon, two Rip van Winkles unexpectedly knocked on the VOA bureau door in Moscow.
They were Dusko Doder, the former Washington Post correspondent, and his wife Louise Branson, formerly of the Sunday Times of London. They had worked here in the 1980s, and not visited Moscow since 1992 – almost 20 years.
“It’s the color, the way people dress,” Louise marveled over coffee in the VOA kitchen. “Russians dress normally. They look better. We were just in Starbucks, and we could see it.”
Conjuring up an increasingly forgotten Soviet Moscow, she recalled: “If you dressed like a Westerner, people would move away from you. In the metro, they would create a ring around me. People didn’t dare get close.”
After strolling the Arbat pedestrian mall, Dusko concluded: “Muscovites walk with more energy. A dissident friend once told me: ‘You can see the way a Soviet man walks – aimless, no point to his existence.’ Well, people walk with purpose now.”
With that, Dusko and Louise marched on, urban archeologists on a weekend visit from Washington. Wearing a cherry red raincoat, Louise was soon lost in the crowd.