In Russia, this March, spring begins four times.
Colloquially, March 1 is the first day of spring. As we all know from childhood, March-April-May are the “spring months.” Here, people take that even more seriously, and on the first of March many of my friends and colleagues announced with a twinkle of sadistic glee in their eyes that “this is spring!” …Can’t you tell?
The second beginning of spring is more practical than theoretical. This is the moment when you realize, “Wow, all that sand they sprinkled on the sidewalks didn’t disappear when more snow fell.” No, it was just planning its revenge, in the form of mud. And then you also remember how uneven the roads are, because your parking lot is not a parking lot but a water park.
The third beginning of spring is Maslenitsa. Maslenitsa is the Russian Orthodox version of Mardi Gras/Shrove Tuesday, and it mostly involves blini. Blini are somewhere between pancakes, crepes, and heaven. The idea is to eat as much butter/cheese/sugar as you can before Lent begins. Since Russian Orthodox Lent is about 400% as strict as Catholic Lent, you need a whole week instead of one day for this event. So blini blini blini as far as the eye can see and the stomach can stretch.
During the week, Vickie and I celebrated with not only blini in our favorite fast food spot, Matreshka, but also with syrniki in our own abode. On Saturday, we went to Natasha’s (my tutor) for more blini. Blini with egg, mayonnaise, kolbasa, chicken, cheese, salmon, pickles, potato, bacon, caviar, tvorog, berries, or some combination of any/most of the above.
Then on Sunday was “Deep Maslenitsa,” at which time Russians everywhere burn giant dolls/effigies of winter (thus we have the beginning of spring). There was a big celebration on the main square of the city, but it was so cold and windy that my hands were red with no functional nerves after half an hour, so we did not stick around for the doll-burning. We did, however, stick around to take pictures with huskies who were wandering the square. This may or may not be the only reason I went at all.
The fourth beginning of spring is still on its way… the Vernal Equinox doesn’t actually come till March 20. So all you East Coasters out sunbathing, remember: it’s still winter right now.
And I expect there will be many other heralds of spring among the four I listed. Today was Spring Forward day in America (friends, remember that: we don’t participate in such foolishness in Russia, so our time difference is now one hour less than it was previously). Today I also saw one of the Front Desk Ladies sorting flower seeds to grow in planters around the dorm. Someday I’ll see the first grass. Maybe we’ll even get a thunderstorm. And you can bet that at every one of these signs I’ll be trumpeting all over Ukhta, “Spring! Spring! Spring!” until everybody is tired of it and wishes it were winter again already.