Russia is on my mind. Well, it always is, but the recent cold spell in New York has brought back a new flurry of memories.
Just how DID I survive those four Moscow winters? It wasn’t easy. Moscow, like Paris, is prone to gray skies, with none of New York’s diamantine brilliance. And then there’s the infamous слякоть, the pools of slush at every street corner, expanding and contracting like a primordial-ooze Star Trek villain.
And yet despite a few February weekends when I slept in until 4 pm, most of the time I was out braving the elements: headed to the theater, the Philharmonic, underground clubs, friends’ homes. Particularly friends’ homes. Snow is shaken off coats and scarves, boots are exchanged for guest slippers. The tea kettle is put on, a box of candies placed ceremoniously on the table. Maybe a hunk of halva emerges from somewhere, maybe some poppy-seed rolls, definitely a jar of homemade raspberry jam. You sit, you talk. The hours pass. The world is put to rights.
Going out to go in is an art form, one that the Soviets perfected over the course of the 20th century. It’s at its finest in winter, of course, and achieves its platonic ideal on New Year’s Eve, a holiday traditionally celebrated at home with one’s nearest and dearest. (For a particularly poignant elegy on the late-Brezhnev-era New Year’s Eve, read this.)
Growing up, nothing sounded worse to me than staying at home on New Year’s Eve. What I wanted, more than anything, was to attend those magical parties in When Harry Met Sally, in all their sumptuous, downtown-Manhattan-loft glory. If that party exists, I haven’t been lucky enough to find it. After many, many, MANY bad New Year’s Eve parties—bad, mostly, because I didn’t know the hosts very well, or the other guests—I decided to ring in the New Year at home, by myself, sipping Champagne and writing in my journal. It was delightful. And suddenly I understood that Garik and Sanya had been right all along, and Harry and Sally were wrong. New Year’s Eve is the ultimate night for going out to go in, for feeling that deep sense of connection and celebration that only comes when you surround yourself with your favorite people, when you deliberately keep it small. Anders may lose the battle against jet lag and fall asleep over the Peking duck; Jen may take a bite of my zucchini tian and end up with a piece of wooden spoon in her mouth. But we are together, braving the dark and the cold.