Today I was watching the live feed of anti-Putin protests in the cold, 0° F Moscow night. While I watched people mill near the Kremlin, I thought back to a cold December night in the same spot. I only spent one New Year's Eve on Red Square with friends from the embassy and thousands of other revelers—a sea of mostly strangers drenched in cheap champagne, waiting for the fireworks to erupt at midnight. As crowded and chaotic as it was, it was definitely better than just watching the big blue clock face on Soviet TV as the old year died. In those years, the clock face ticked away the last minutes to the sound of Europe's "The Final Countdown." Cracked me up every time.
Some of you already know the following story, but hell, I've never been one to tell a story only once. So, here we go again. Heh.
I remember my first New Year's Eve in Moscow in 1989, spent in the tiny embassy bar across the street from my first apartment. I had on a slinky black dress (if you can believe that) and heels (even more unbelievable considering my current taste in comfy footwear), all completely inappropriate for the icy, cold evening, but second nature for a youngin' who had to walk about five steps from her front door to the bar on compound. I spent most of the night chatting and singing with a sweet young chick, one of the embassy's many nannies. Turned out both she and I knew our share of ABBA songs, including "Happy New Year," the 1979 tune that asked "what lies waiting down the line/in the end of '89..."
Well, there we were in '89, in a tiny bar on a secure compound, drinking god knows what, eating Thai spring rolls made by the wife of one of the security guys. In the middle of our profoundly loud rendition of the ABBA tune, sweet nanny and I got it in our heads that the mili-men (the Soviet police/uniformed KGB) who were on duty at the security post nearest the bar (opposite the Russian White House) needed champagne and cookies to ring in the new year. We went out into the frigid night with plastic flutes, a plate of cookies and half a bottle of champagne. Teeth chattering, we slipped and skated our way to the hilltop leading down to their post. In retrospect, this is crazy, but we both took off our heels and slid down the snowy hill in our good dresses to bring treats to the mili-men. They thought we were nuts. They laughed and howled, but after checking to see if anyone was watching them, they gladly took our offerings and wished us a happy new year in return.
We then used our heels like ice axes and climbed back up to the little street that ran through the compound. It was weird, it was fun, it was the kind of dumb thing you do when you're young and unafraid of cracking your tailbone on ice or coming down with pneumonia.
Man, that was a million years ago.
So, here I am now. It's New Year's Eve 2014. I'll turn 50 in this new year. So much done. So much yet to do. But for now, I'm just thinking about 1980s Moscow, 1990s Moscow—my old home—and the fireworks that lit up the sky from all directions on New Year's Eve. Bottle after bottle of cheap champagne chilling on my balcony... the neighborhood children shouting "URA!" with each burst of bright color that filled the darkness... the mili-men on security detail, smoking cigarettes to stay warm as the rest of the city celebrated... I made up care packages for the mili-men at my second apartment for New Year's my last year there. It was just things like dry milk, canned vegetables, and tinned tuna—a little like a food bank giveaway for them to take home to their families. (Side note: this did not ensure any additional attention to safety or security, says the woman whose car was broken into at that location shortly before she departed Russia.) As I thought about the mili-men and New Year's Eve and that first year, sliding down the hill with snow in my tights and a bottle clutched to my chest, this drawing formed in my head and fingers:
First it was just a guy in uniform, in that grey wool great coat, then, the fireworks rising into the sky, and finally, an explosion of color to welcome the new year.
I have many hopes and dreams for 2015. I hope you do, too. May you welcome it with optimism and an open heart.
Fabulous post, MJ! I've had 47 New Years now and I can't remember more than one being as memorable as the ones you often describe. (The Millennium Y2K celebration is the only one that stands out clearly in my mind.) Aside from being allowed to stay up and watch Carson on NYE, they've been mostly just another day.
Many warm wishes for the coming year for you! Much love. xoxo
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