Of course though, I was wearing snow pants. As it was still -29 degrees. A truly fascinating aspect of the winter wonderland that is Moscow (for far too many months in my opinion) is watching how the Russians do/really don't change their attire depending on the weather. My dress is strictly regulated by the temperature outside, which means that the colder it gets the more I take my fashion cues from the Michelin man. As I am wandering around like an asexual lump, Russian woman are still managing ice in heeled boots, with skinny jeans and a nice slimming fur/down jacket. Snow boots? Please. Snow pants? I don't think so. Watching the girls get changed before/after my dance classes (because that doesn't sound creepy at all) is a truly jaw-dropping experience- as I put on three pairs of pants, most of them roll on some nice pantyhose and then slide into their daily skinny jeans, pop on some nice dainty boots and shimmy on out of there. The day of the tractor-vs-Lucy (Tractor: 1, Lucy: Snowbank) I also watched a woman hanging her clothes outside to dry. Hanging. Her Clothes. Outside. In -29.
This country truly fascinates and bamboozles me.
The bamboozlement continued when one of the Russian girls who works at the university asked me to model for her for a photo shoot. She works professionally as a photographer, and to add to her portfolio she often shoots friends or university classmates. Well. Suffice to say that growing up in a culture where we aren't incessantly photographing each other and practising poses did not prepare me well for my modelling day out. Quite early on in our photo-excursion Olga politely (but firmly) suggested that while I have a 'beautiful smile... perhaps it could be a little smaller?' Pretty comedic trying to smile but also keep my mouth closed, and I'm not surprised that in the end the photo she chose was the one where you can't really see my attempted smile/pout/little smile (it's the first one in the photo gallery attached to this entry).
Emotions run high in this city. It has been an occasionally rocky road recently, as I slowly come to the realisation that most of what I am proud of about myself Russian society deplores. And while in Australia I may be a little out of the box, it is one thing to be a little left of centre in a society that values independence of thought and breaking the trends and a total different thing to be that way in a country where standing out from the crowd is never, ever, a good thing. At work I am often asked about my children or my partner, and for the Russians I meet socially the idea that I have left a country like Australia to come and study here is so far-fetched we never really get past it. Being a foreigner is my only real appeal to potential Russian friends, and yet while they think my Australian-ness is 'cool' they still expect me to be a Russian woman, and have Russian values and behaviours. My Russian is still at the level where I lose all personality while communicating- yesterday in my dance class my favourite teacher complimented a series of moves I'd successfully pulled off, and while in English I could have found a witty comment that could have been the potential start of a friendship in Russian I could only thank him. Cultural differences run deep, and while they are fascinating to observe it can be quite overwhelming when you have to live amongst them.
As quickly as I am plunged into the depths of despair by rampant sexism or my inability to communicate on any level of sophistication, I am pulled out again by the everyday joy to be found in this city- a cafe advertising free hugs, a special New Year train running on the metro absolutely laden with fairy lights, its Tram of Joy counterpart patrolling the streets looking like a Christmas tree on the move, a man chasing his dog lamenting, 'heyyyy where are you running to??', ice skating with my Russian friend and realising we'd hung out for two hours and only spoken Russian and I hadn't even noticed, days of blue skies and ever-longer sunlight hours.
Sometimes, it's the little things.