I’ve always pictured Moscow as a perpetually cold place, snowy and frostbitten all the live long year. Of course, I knew better, having read how the summer months actually make the city thermally unbearable, but something just seemed off picturing the Russian capital this way. In my head, you aren’t imagining the right place if you envision green, sunshine, and summertime carousing, even if that is, as it seems, the more accurate depiction of Moscow in May.
Since the winter cracked, Emma and I have made the most of the outdoors, the park near our house, the collective public spaces around Moscow. We’ve walked. We’ve chatted. We’ve stopped at many a stall for a noonday beer. About two weeks ago, I finally relented and bought myself some hip Top Gun shades. Skirts, shorts, and t-shirts have taken over our off-work attire choices, and flip-flops have made a triumphant come back. Out on the streets, we’ve come to feel more at home.
As an unforeseen benefit, days have grown impossible long as the earth tilts in our favor. The sun rises long before we’re up, somewhere in the pre-five o’clock hours, and the last remnants of daylight hold out until after eleven. It’s incredible, and something I’ve never been privy to. For months, this place felt like a black hole, the sun rising in the late morning and disappearing by four. Now it seems like I’m not awake for the rise or the set, or at least not voluntarily.
At school, we are wrapping things up, working ahead of schedule to finish our report cards and poise ourselves for a smooth transition out of here. Classes have reached the final pages of their books and let out tiny rounds of applause as they close the covers one last time, preparing themselves for a week of review games and the final lessons of a long year. At home, we dream of dispersing, saying goodbye for the last time, and, ironically, leaving all this sunshine behind.
This past Sunday, getting home from work in the mid-afternoon, the weather was too perfect to ignore: The sun, still high in the sky, doused our park with light and warmth, filled the walkways with pedestrians, roller-bladers, joggers, and bikers, made the cold draft piva something irresistible. We fell off the wagon for a couple afternoon pints at a makeshift bbq joint set up about a ten-minute stroll from our house. The place was packed with like-minded revelers.
Then, strolling back, we bore witness to perhaps the oddest sight in our time here, enchanting in its uncustomary liveliness, bewitching in its absolute unexpectedness, and inspiring in its defiance of both age and culture: The babushkas had gone wild. A group of maybe fifty or so had set up a sound system at a flat spot in the park, turned up what-can-only-be-called techno music, and was freaking fox-trotting all over the sidewalk. Legs akimbo, hips a wiggle.
The Russian grandma, normally carrying some assortment of shopping bag, ambling stoutly and steadily along the sidewalks, through the metro stations, rather grumpy and unyielding, it turns out can put a little jazz in her step as well. We stood watching in giddy disbelief as the dance-floor pulsed with life, drawing a crowd every bit as bewildered as we were. If I didn’t know before, I definitely did in those moments: Something dramatic has shifted in the world.
Either I’m getting older, softer as the years go by, more appreciative of an effort not to slip into the adult world of bland, fiber-rich breakfasts and carefully adhered to mealtimes, or perhaps the winter here has dulled some portion of my edginess, the bit that has never willingly recognized old people dancing to be as revolutionary as repulsive, a sort of if-the-weather-permits-it reckoning. I must say I was amply impressed with the babushkas gone wild, my heart duly warmed over, feeling as though I’ve seen some of the best Russia has to offer.