Yes Spring is here! That is I am back in the Land of Winter. Unfortunately the war against the Snow Queen is not yet over.
As for The Kingdom of Tea & Biscuits (KTB), where I was hiding out these past cold months, lovely weather reigns freely.
Russia does seem to be frozen in time. Snow and ice are still around, people still resemble walking duvets, and the same old techno music plays in the shops. I feel like I never left.
But April has brought some hope of the winter spell breaking – the temperature has risen to above freezing so it’s cheerio to the supersonic thermals! Days are much longer, and the snow is finally melting away leaving huge dirty puddles. Aren’t we lucky (ahem!).
It looks like The Land of Winter has been stood up. As my friend pointed out “The clocks have gone forward for summer! So what happened to spring??”
Well, I did pop back for a week at the beginning of March, and of course Russia was delighted to see me, the whole country actually threw a party! Ok so they weren’t celebrating the return of this Little Spring but they were heralding my coming season.
This traditional festival is called Maslenitsa and is all about letting loose and stuffing ones face before the 40-day Lenten detox.
A merge between its pagan origins and the Russian Orthodox religion, it is a week full of pancakes, mulled wine, carnivals, bonfires with burning of scarecrows representing Lady Maslenitsa, and even traditional fist-fighting.
The pancake (blini in Russian) is the festival’s signature dish due to its circular shape, golden colour, and being fried in sunflower oil, all of which symbolise the sun – the heart of the warm season and pagan belief. The ingredients are equally important, not only would flour and milk be what most had left in their cupboards after the harsh weather but diary and eggs, among other things, are forbidden during the religious fast. The name Maslenitsa itself is taken from the Russian ‘malso’ meaning butter.
To join the celebrations, I went down to Vasilievski Spusk located behind Saint Basil’s Cathedral.
As you approach, the sound of drums resonate out and a massive queue of people comes into view.
Performers dressed in traditional clothing waiting to go on stage chat in the parking lot, and the smell of barbecues and warm drinks fills the air.
We bought some pancakes with the choice of unusual toppings such as caviar, sour cream and salmon. Mulled wine and the Old Slavonic drink Stavlenniy (known as Mead in KTB) were also available.
It felt like Christmas, Pancake Day and Bonfire Night all combined together.
But the sunny celebrations throughout the land, even with the burning of Lady Malenitsa, haven’t scared off the Snow Queen’s army (it’s snowing as I write!).
Having waited for months and months to shed their winter layers, the wintry people are worn out.
Indeed the battle has been tough this year. Moscow’s darkest chilliest days were at -30C! (Crikey!) Though not as cold as the winter before which saw -35C! (Double crikey!!) But this past December in Russia’s Far East Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) temperatures plummeted 12 degrees below the norm to -60C! (OH MY LIFE!!!).
I haven’t lived through anything colder than – 15C, so I might scream for help when I’m faced with -35C and will just drop dead at -60C!
Sick and tired of fighting the cold, everyone’s in need of revival. Come on Russia! Let the best season of the year spread its magic! It’s time your white canvas was painted beautiful spring colours!