MOSCOW -- Halloween is here, the days are gray, and so are the pumpkins.
Why are the pumpkins so very gray? Might as well ask why Muscovites drive on the darkest of nights with only their parking lights on (and flash their headlights furiously at you if, in an attempt to see, you drive with your headlights on).
Might as well ask why it costs about 50 cents to see a three-hour opera at the Bolshoi -- with a cast of thousands -- and it can cost about $2 for a Pepsi.
Might as well ask . . . well, it is enough to know, and to accept. They have gray pumpkins here, but that doesn't mean Americans living in Moscow can't celebrate Halloween.
The gray pumpkins will be carved. After initial disappointment at their color, the children have decided they can be painted pumpkin orange, though we argue that a gray pumpkin may be the ultimate spooky pumpkin.
It looked spooky enough when we experimented with cooking one, thinking pumpkin pie. As it steamed, the skin slowly turned into something resembling elephant flesh. But it didn't taste at all bad.
At least we didn't have to stand in line to buy it. It came from a farmers' market.
There was a parade Saturday attended by about 70 children and their parents, and there will be a party tonight at the U.S. Embassy for all American children, along with a haunted house. (You might think a tour of the bugged unused embassy office building would prove more than sufficient.)
When we moved here, we brought patterns and fabric for future costumes. We'll have one awfully cute bat and a beaming harem girl (why do the daughters of good-role-model career mothers always want to be brides and harem girls?).
It doesn't take Halloween to provide adventure in the Soviet Union. Try going out to dinner.
When friends visited recently, we decided we would try to have dinner at a Georgian cooperative in our neighborhood.
You can't just turn up at a Moscow restaurant and expect to be served, no matter how hungry you are, no matter how empty they are. There is never room. This restaurant has a permanent sign hanging in the lobby saying, "No places."
After hours of calling, we were able to get through to make the reservation. We were instructed to visit the morning of the dinner to make a deposit. You'd think we were buying a car.
The morning came, and we pounded for some time at the restaurant door. Finally, a waitress who had been standing in the middle of the restaurant manipulating her hair with a curling iron irritably let us in and showed us to a small office behind the kitchen.
Inside the kitchen, we noticed a man advancing with a blowtorch on a pale, thin pig stretched out on top of very large pieces of cattle.
When we arrived that evening, a waitress with neatly curled hair scolded us for showing up without ordering in advance.
The pork was fine.
That was more than could be said for the chicken served on a recent flight on Aeroflot, the Soviet airline. Flying Aeroflot is an unusual experience.
There is no safety card in the seat pocket because there are no safety features -- no oxygen above, no flotation jackets below. No one cares if you wear a seat belt or not. Some flights take off with passengers standing in the aisles.
As if to discourage long flights, Aeroflot insists on serving food on any trip over four hours long.
On such a recent flight, passengers were presented with a bony chicken wing on a faintly dirty-gray plastic plate. A steward came down the aisle passing out rusty 6-ounce cans of apple juice. The passengers could drink from a jagged metal slash on top.
When the plane landed, passengers were sternly ordered to stay in their seats -- so the pilot and crew could rush off the plane first.
Their haste in --ing off left the passenger with the uneasy feeling that something was about to blow up or fall apart.
Come to think of it, much of Moscow gives that impression. And yet, somehow, it all keeps holding together, gray pumpkins and all. No one knows why.