Many of you have expressed your concerns about how I’ve been able to handle THE RUSSIAN WINTER. While the cold is certainly no joke, the mythical proportions the winter here seems to take on in the foreign mind (mine included) is a bit amusing. Are there places in Russia where temperatures drop to ungodly -50C, snow piles higher than an elephant’s eye, and the sun itself seems to go into prolonged hibernation? You betcha. Is Vladivostok one of them? Nope!
Situated on a little peninsula jutting out into the Pacific, Vladivostok soaks up all the brilliant summer sunlight in the winter months while the ocean freezes over and somehow thus keeps the grays at bay. It’s only after the temperatures really pick up in June and July that the cloud cover, fog, and general darkness come. (And hopefully, I’ll be back on a California beach before that happens!) So while the season’s temperatures are nothing to scoff at and the occasional winds are enough to inspire quite legitimate awe and fear, my “Russian winter” has also been drenched in an uncanny amount of golden sunshine and clear blue sky.
Today—another of those golden blue days—about a hundred foreign students and teachers gathered in FENU’s Russian School celebrate the Russian religious/folk holiday of Maslenitsa. The week-long festival commemorates both the beginning of Orthodox Lent and the pagan celebration of the sun and winter’s end. A colorful troupe of folk musicians danced and sang sheepish students from China, Japan, and Korea around the central foyer and out on the street for everyone’s favorite past time: burning effigies! All of this much to the bemusement of every local television station crew in Vladivostok—every one of which came out to report on the day’s “breaking news.” (I even got to make my television debut with some deeply insightful commentary comparing the properties of Russian and American pancakes…)
As the flames devoured Lady Maslenitsa (the colorful dummy representative of Winter who had been propped up in the hallway all week), we happily devoured the traditional sun-like blini (golden crepe-like pancakes) to welcome the spring and warm our tummies.
Considering how generous Lady Maslenitsa had been with the sunshine here the past few months, I can’t help but think the whole affair a bit unjust. But mm, those blini sure were good…