Color Comes to Moscow

Posted October 7th, 2011 at 3:20 pm (UTC+0)

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.

Anya wears orange to Moscow Biennale VOA Photo: James Brooke

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.

Art Critic Anya wears yellow to opening of Japanese manga show at Moscow Biennale. VOA Photo: James Brooke

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.

Jim Brooke, wearing navy blue, gets ambushed by color at Moscow Biennale

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.

Orange lion on the loose in Moscow Zoo VOA Photo: James Brooke

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.”

Alena makes a friend at the Moscow Zoo. VOA Photo: James Brooke

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.

A Tiger in Training -- Siberian Tiger Day at the Moscow Zoo. VOA Photo: James Brooke

James Brooke
James Brooke is the Russia/CIS bureau chief for Voice of America. A lifelong journalist, he covered West Africa, Brazil, the American Rocky Mountain States, Canada, and Japan/Korea for The New York Times. A resident of Moscow since 2006, he was first Bloomberg bureau chief for the region. In 2010, he joined VOA. In addition to writing Russia Watch, his weekly blog, he also does video, radio and web reports from Russia and the former USSR.

8 responses to “Color Comes to Moscow”

  1. Элла says:

    Foto are beautiful, Moscow is colorful, all is perfectly well.

  2. Gennady says:

    It’s a craze, immoral and a disgrace to have the feast amidst “plague” in Russia.
    According to the order established by ever-lasting President Putin all petro-dollars pour in Moscow’s coffers.
    Moscow robs all dying out country for its own excesses.
    Constitution suspended, human rights not respected, dozens journalists assassinated and maimed with no proper investigation and never found murders.
    You should watch gloomy and desolated places and people dressed cheap worn-out gray and black in provincial cities and towns all over Russia.

    • Allan says:

      I think you’re right Gennady. There is an almost fascist tendency these days to emphasise the shallow rich consumerism of the few when the vast majority of people are poor and suffering. It’s pretty sick.

  3. Элла says:

    Gennady I think it is not the catastrophe meanwhile. And I don’t see reasons to show only bad things in Russia. Author didn’t say anything about difficult political situation because nobody can telling only about that and nothing about other not less important things.

    • Gennady says:

      Highly regarded Элла!
      The author perfectly documented the feast amidst “plague” in Russia that exists in the context of the event.
      You don’t assume that all social events should be valued in existing context they chanced to come about, do you?
      Or you think that Moscow exists in some “seventh heaven” with no one knowing where Moscow riches and excesses have come from? And who Moscow robbed and is robbing?
      For all civilized God-respecting people
      it is a great sin, macabre and shame to have fun and get merry
      when their compatriots near by
      are mourning about their beloved ones being unlawfully murdered and perished in dozens catastrophes and assassinations of the last time,
      when they are jobless, go hungry and homeless,
      when there isn’t decent healthcare and public education.
      You lament that “your pearls aren’t large enough” at the time
      when 90% Russians grieve that “their soup is very thin”
      and 22% young Russians are aspiring to leave your lawless “paradise” called Russia and emigrate to anywhere.
      In nowadays existing Putin’s Russia with him and his oligarchs already 11 years in power and 12 more years power to come
      all provincial Russia hates Muscovites and Moscow.
      Moscow and all its Beau monde are parasites sucking out Russian nation’s blood and wealth and having fun in empoverished Russia.

  4. Pyotr says:

    Gennady’s right. Moskovia is another state. Russia should get rid of this region first. Even if it wouldn’t be called Russia after that. Let them call themselves Russia. But the fact is that provinces are populated mostly with uneducated, politically passive people, they walk just like James quoted “aimless, with no sense of their existence”. Meanwhile the Moscow spider continues to suck the life from its victim which is provincial Russia. This will stop only when the victim dies imho, I’ve lost hope in Russians.

  5. Roman says:

    Please.. do you think America is different.. Only big cities ‘live’…….go to central america.. you will see… same thing same thing…. But with some things I agree.. Russia, Ukraine, Belarus going back to Stalin Times….and we thought that when old communists die something will change.. not a chance…

  6. Allan says:

    The rich in both Russia and America are deluding themselves if they think glitzy ‘bread and circuses’ showpieces in the media will hide the fact that 90% of their populations are paying for their great wealth. The 90% who have so little. The rich hardly pay any taxes. The truth will emerge sooner or later, despite all the shallow glitzy marketing their media slaves broadcast.



James Brooke is VOA Moscow bureau chief, covering Russia and the former USSR. With The New York Times, he worked as a foreign correspondent in Africa, Latin America, Canada and Japan/Koreas. He studied Russian in college during the Brezhnev years, first visited Moscow as a reporter during the final months of Gorbachev, and then came back for reporting forays during the Yeltsin and early Putin years. In 2006, he moved to Moscow to report for Bloomberg. He joined VOA in Moscow in 2010. Follow Jim on Twitter @VOA_Moscow.



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