Seeing Red

I come from a line of women with strong feelings about red… for or against it. By comparison, I’m quite moderate. While I do love a splash of red here and there, I would certainly not paint a bedroom wall this colour, the way my mother did, nor would I wear red from head to toe.

Provocative, often associated with anger or passion, it has raised controversy in my family back in the day. My grandmother never approved of a grown woman wearing red – it was perfectly fine for little girls, but any woman wearing it was instantly labelled a slut. She never failed to repeat this to my great-grandmother whenever she wore any piece of red clothing (her favourite colour, btw). So imagine my childish surprise when, as a punishment, I was asked to clean the wardrobe and tucked away at the back of a shelf was a skimpy red lace nighty. In my innocence, I actually asked if it was hers, I just couldn’t believe it… and certainly didn’t want to imagine it!

I could tell you stories about the enormous red bows I had to wear as a child, I hated them only slightly less than the pink ones. I could also tell you about my favourite dresses at that time, also red – I would have preferred blue, but my grandmother was convinced it wasn’t a good colour for little girls; plus red warned off the evil eye, she said. I could go on about the red leather bag and the burgundy leather jacket I offered my mother and how much she loved them. Or I could share with you why I enjoy wearing red trousers with a simple, elegant cut, or how at some point in my twenties I had a red “first date” top.

They’re all light pleasant stories, but what instantly came to my mind when I read Patti’s topic for this week’s Lens Artists Challenge (Find Something Red) was a post I wrote in my very early blogging days. It was about the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. One of my first posts, it was only read by a couple of people and I’ve unpublished it years ago, so it’s highly unlikely you came across it.

I do my best to avoid politics on my blog, that’s why I took it down… but I couldn’t bring myself to delete it. I keep thinking of it, and perhaps it’s not such a bad idea to share it again. You decide, if you have a few extra minutes – I know, it’s a bit lengthy. Anyway, thank you, Patti (and I apologize for not strictly adhering to the rules), for making me think “red” and remember how some things should never be swept under the rug. It’s a gorgeous colour… but it also has certain negative connotations for some of us, because it’s not only about fashion or interior design.

 

Much as I dislike the outcome of events, the losses and failures, all the pain my own or other people’s actions may have caused me, I can honestly say I wouldn’t change anything that might disturb all the intricate paths of my existence. Together will all those happy moments of success and fulfillment, of peace and satisfaction, regrets and adversities define and shape our identity as individuals. I am who I am, warts and all, and dreaming of some magic trip in the past which would provide me with an opportunity to alter my own choices would only mean I cannot accept and understand myself. You learn from your mistakes, you don’t let them change your identity.

But I cannot help mentioning one tiny regret irrelevant in the great scheme of things: having watched the opening gala of the Sochi Winter Olympics… I may as well not have. Given that I was born and raised in an former communist country and I don’t suffer from selective memory, I can only say I was left with a bitter aftertaste when I stopped watching what to me looked like a carefully and proudly conceived, yet not at all discrete ode to communism. While I’m not disputing the delicate beauty and artistic value of choreography, it can’t detract from the fact that most of it was disturbingly… red.

I got home on Friday evening and switched on the TV for a bit of background noise. Just like an individual, a country cannot and should not deny its past or try to sweep controversial times under the history rug; but flaunting, taking pride in and glamorizing an era which was nothing but oppression for so many people is something completely different. Although reminiscent of a complicated, not necessarily praiseworthy past, the show was still bearable, full of that well-known Russian eccentricity, until the floating sickle and hammer became central symbols. I suppose we occasionally surprise ourselves with the things and sensations we remember. I certainly did, because what I vividly remembered was that indescribable sensation a child feels when seeing the imprint of fear on adults’ faces.

I didn’t have to fully experience the communist way of life, luckily I was still a child when the regime collapsed and it was only later on that I understood most of the implications of what I saw and perceived those days. This much I did understand though – fear was a life controlling factor. But none of us, kindergarten children, knew why. We were constantly told not to repeat what we heard at home and we didn’t know why; adults constantly queued up for everything and anything, and we couldn’t understand why, the same way we couldn’t understand why there was never enough meat, butter, bread, sugar, hot water or electricity or why oranges, bananas, chocolate and all the other goodies we liked were sparse. But we knew that being an adult meant being constantly afraid, and our kindergarten teacher gave us a very good lesson on this particular matter.

I remember we were going to use a white wall as a screen and watch projected pictures of farm animals; we had to move to a different classroom, as the only white, almost empty wall in ours was the one with the dictator’s portrait and the country’s communist emblem. Quite innocently, one of us suggested we take down the two frames and just use the projector in our classroom – stupid teacher, she needed us to point out such a simple solution, right? But nobody dared utter another word when we saw her face turn white, while she was instinctively looking around to see if somebody else might have heard what one of her pupils suggested. With a low voice firmly urging us to never repeat such nonsense and never share the incident with anyone, we were ushered to another classroom. We quietly watched the pictures projected on a white wall, but our teacher left us on our own for most of the show; we didn’t flinch though. Fear of fear had been instilled in us, even if we didn’t understand it.

I started school in a theoretically democratic country, which all of the sudden was offering its free people things they had only seen on TV or read about in magazines. The nation’s communist scars were supposedly healing nicely. But the memory is still there, and even if it’s rarely painful, symbols like the enormous sickle and hammer floating proudly on a sea of red at an event such as the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games are bound to trigger certain forgotten sensations and burred anger in some of us.

Regrets go both ways – some still begrudge the years of fear and excessive restrictions, others forget to remember and wonder if life wasn’t better and easier back then. I may regret seeing a show that misrepresents the sins of an era, transforming them into a red utopia of exacerbated progress, but I don’t regret the change. That’s what made it possible to get here and become who we are. When you regret that the state doesn’t guarantee employment now, you should remember that even if you had money back then there was nothing to spend it on. When you regret that the state doesn’t provide you with a home, remember that you only got a decent apartment then if you were married and had several children; private property was unacceptable, that home you got for next to nothing was freezing cold in winter, and candles were a must, because of the almost daily power cuts. And next time you feel nostalgic about good, old, red days while you’re texting, looking for the key to your imported car, shopping online or even when you’re bitching about the dignitaries, remember there was a time when you weren’t allowed to have thoughts of your own, much less express them, unless you were keen on finding out what a communist prison looked like. And don’t forget that a few outdated Russian appliances were the peak of technology, and a pair of jeans smuggled from abroad was often considered high fashion…

But enough with the regrets for one day! The here and now and the future are so much more relevant, as long as we don’t forget to remember the mistakes of a gloomy past.

14 Replies to “Seeing Red”

  1. Thank you for sharing something so personal, Anna. It’s human nature I guess to remember the ‘good old days’ through a haze of time. It’s easier to deny the ugly events in our history than to admit to our part in them. The challenge of brave people like yourself is to make sure history isn’t rewritten to reflect that. Good job!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for reading, Wendy! That part about history being rewritten… I remember reading Orwell’s “1984” and thinking, this was exactly what happened here, the present was certainly being rewritten, edited and censored at that time. Let’s hope we don’t repeat that part of the past.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I was very moved by your post, Ana. Your response really resonated with me. It highlights the dangers of oppression, revisionist history, and group think. I especially love this: “… what I vividly remembered was that indescribable sensation a child feels when seeing the imprint of fear on adults’ faces.” I have experienced this in different contexts, but you remind me of the power and honesty of a child’s reading of the situation. Thank you for sharing this and joining us this week!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Children often notice and point out truths which we, as adults, refuse to perceive. Thank you for your feedback, Patti. I admit, I initially had some doubts about sharing this. But I no longer do. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Very interesting. “Fear of fear,” you say and I can feel it.

    In Yugoslavia, things were milder. We still couldn’t speak against Tito or risk forced labour at the Naked Island, but mostly we didn’t want to because we loved him. I feel that my childhood was very balanced: not too much of anything but a bit of everything, lots of culture, some from the east, some from the west, no materialism, no good coffee or chewing gum or jeans, no electricity often, and yet we were able to shop in Italy and Austria or ski there. A really good way to grow up.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That does sound milder. Forced labour was a thing here as well. Travelling to countries outside the communist block was only possible for those whose jobs absolutely required it… From that point of view I was lucky, I suppose, because my mother was such a person and so were some of her friends. It made for the occasional nicer toys and cosmetic products, sweet treats and of course, decent coffee for the adults. At that early age I wasn’t fully aware what I was missing out on, because I had no real term of comparison.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Wow Ana, that is a truly powerful piece and I am SO glad you shared it. How wonderful to be able to say or even think such things without fear of reprisal. Thanks so much for repeating it. And of course your red images are beautiful as always.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for taking the time to read it, Tina!
      Thirty years have passed and now it’s almost impossible to imagine a present where speaking one’s mind would be forbidden. Memories linger, though… and the selective ones can be dangerous.

      Like

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