On my walk around the hotel in Moscow last night, I happened upon a couple of students who turned out to be women of surpassing beauty, strolling together, deep in conversation, passing groups of men as they went.
The men reacted not at all. Not so much as a raised eyebrow or a murmured comment.
In Manhattan, someone would have leaned out the cab, banged the door with the palm of his hand, and shouted his admiration at the sheer wonder of this aesthetic event. In upstate New York, beauty of this order might well move a small town to run riot for a week or two before burning itself to the ground.
But here, things play out differently. Spectacular beauty apparently goes unacknowledged. I do not have an answer and post this observation as a useful little conundrum.
Some interpretive possibilities.
1) The men of Moscow are creatures of deep discretion and delicacy. The North American stereotype, most probably driven by a long standing ideological hostility, likes to cast the citizens of Moscow as unsubtle and unsophisticated, trapped by a numbing ideology and a command economy. This was the first fatality of my last trip to Russia. There are subtleties and sophistications here I did not expect.
2) There are so many sensationally beautiful women in this city that these two were really not all that very remarkable. Roll up the window. Put down the torch.
3) The men of Moscow are having a harder time adjusting to the demands of the new Russia, as a result of which the supposed ratio of women to marriageable men is 25 to 1. It is hard to imagine that this figure is accurate, but it is argued that many men have been made unmarriageable by drink, an inclination to domestic violence, and the stress of an existence less scrutable and less tractable. From this point of view, non-responsive men (non responsive at least by the standards of voluble New York taxi drivers) is perhaps in fact a message well formed and well sent. It says, "We’re the attractive ones, not you."
4) Perhaps this is an accomplishment of Communism, the one that insists on gender equality and a non objectifying view of women. Maybe, but this great objective of North American feminism failed, as we know, utterly. A change was accomplished. Something like equity was put in place. But we managed this not by relinquishing the notion that women are sexual objects, but by insists that men were too. Perhaps Communism accomplished what feminism could not. I don’t know but I find this implausible. After all, in the syllogistic language of everyday speech, "guys will be guys," and "all men are dogs," therefore all guys are dogs.
5) Men are noticing and gratefully so, but there are general prohibitions on the public expression of inward sentiments of all kinds or those of a sexual kind. These are private matters not to be advertised. No banging the door of your taxi. No shouting your appreciation.
The women of Moscow are beautiful beyond any North American standard, and the men of Moscow by North American standard utterly unforthcoming with acknowledgment. Go figure.