Sunday, March 05, 2006

Pancake Week

When I went to visit my language tutor on Wednesday (see below), I made my usual left from the front door, toward the sitting room, only to be turned back around and shown to a seat in the kitchen. Here, I was served two thick bliny, one of which I ate with sour cream, the other with homemade jam. It was the first day of spring and, I learned, time to celebrate maslenitsa -- the week-long Orthodox version of the Roman Catholic Carnival.

Raisa Dmitrievna told me the holiday dates back to pre-Christian times, when people cooked bliny, or pancakes, as a way to celebrate the end of winter and the approach of spring. The round, gold pancake is the same shape and color of the sun, she said. I looked out the window, where a wall of white was coming down. It had been snowing for a day and wasn't scheduled to let up any through the writing of this on Sunday. Some first day of spring, I thought. My tutor must've seen this on my face. She said the weather followed the old calendar. It'd start warming up on the fourteenth, she said.

This weekend, someone else told me that Maslenitsa is the last chance for people to have much fun, because it represents the last week before the onset of the Great Lent -- or fast.

From the wikipedia:

During the Lent itself meat, fish, dairy products and eggs will be forbidden. Furthermore, the Lent also excludes parties, secular music, dancing and other distractions from the spiritual life. Thus, Maslenitsa represents the last chance to meet with the worldly delights.

Today on Svobody Square, President Victor Yushenko's Our Ukraine party was on display, handing out free bliny to all comers (picture above). I think political parties must rent out the square -- the Greens were there on Friday night (less expensive, I'm sure, than the last day of Maslenitsa Week).

After seeing plenty of people eating a complimentary bliny, and then kids getting pony rides and walking around with free balloons, I was reminded of that great American political tradition, the parking lot hot-dog give-away. "My name's Jim Williams and I'm running for mayor. Can I get you a hot dog? How you take that? Extra mustard? Yeah, that's what I like to hear. Have you a Pepsi. Vote for me. I'm pro-jobs and anti-crime."

The political rhetoric is really heating up around here -- or at least the visibility of the approaching parliamentary elections, which are at the end of the month. Billboards, TV spots, the rallies on Svobody Square -- it should be quite a spectacle, though sadly one I won't be able to watch backstage. I had meant to monitor the elections (an offer was made to people connected in some way with the Department of State, the monitoring to be done by a European NGO) but I forgot to get my request in by Friday. I've been writing a lot. Maybe I'll just stumble around town looking for flash riots or protests, the first hint of revolution, men arguing or drunk, women selling potatoes and carrots and panty-hose, because life doesn't stop just for this -- I don't know, I'll think of something.