In 1988 – already perestroika but still USSR – I’d go to the underpass and buy a packet of bubble gum for a rouble. Just so you understand what a rouble was, my father made 110 roubles a month before taxes. It wasn’t easy for a kid to come across a whole rouble to spend on illegal underpass purchases.
I don’t like gum, so that isn’t why I bought it. The gum packets had inserts with pictures of Disney characters. But I didn’t know them, so this wasn’t the reason either.
I bought the gum because of the colors. The inserts were very bright, and I’d never seen such colors before. Looking at them was an escape from the drab Soviet reality to a world of color. I stored the inserts in a matchbox and spent hours contemplating them.
A couple of years later we were finally allowed to have “private cooperatives” (tiny proto-businesses), and they flooded the city with neon green and orange blouses and skirts. We all looked like road repair crews but we we were desperate not to look grey any more.
Women were also finally allowed to feel like women and not industrial cogs, and it all resulted in everybody dressing like neon-bright streetwalkers for a few years because we didn’t know how else to manifest our newfound womanness.
The private cooperatives started making shoelaces which had been impossible to find in the USSR. They colored the shoelaces in the same neon orange and green, and we wore them as hair ties, necklaces, and bracelets. It was as if suddenly the whole world had exploded in color.