Thursday, March 30, 2006


A week ago Monday, I awoke to snow, fat white flakes that were relentless and depressing, speaking as they did to a post-Soviet weather cycle run amok, permanent revolution replaced by permanent winter. But then, inexplicably, a little after noon, the clouds parted and the sun appeared – the stuff of religious calendars, the stuff of May or June or July, with only the sound of a harp missing in the background – and like that the line was drawn and spring had arrived.

It’s been ten days without snow, and with the temperature now not falling below freezing, the white stuff that for so long was piled up along the sidewalks has thawed and melted and trickled away, with the pace of this process accelerated by the ladies who sweep the roads in the summer and throw sand in the winter and chip the ice to pieces in the spring. (What do they do in the fall? Sweep the leaves.)

Last Wednesday, writing as usual in the morning, I found myself pulled away from the keyboard around 10:30, drawn by the sun and the blue skies to the street outside. I walked for two hours, easily and freely, sticking to the sides of the street that got the sun all day, leaving winter for the shadows on the other side. Such a pleasure to be able to walk with sure feet, to be able to look up and around, to gaze absent-mindedly at this or that, the writer’s natural pose, without the threat of hitting a slick patch of black ice and tumbling, ass over ankles, in front of a sure-footed babushka. It had been months since I had wandered aimlessly. When it’s minus thirty, you think only in trips that start from Point A and end at Point B, the shortest distance a straight line.

But now it was different. The young ladies were already wearing short skirts and wide-gauged fish-net stockings. Outside the metro stations, people were willing to stand around and drink a slow beer, to mention Lukashenko’s name and discuss a quick point of politics. At McDonald’s, the one restaurant in town where I don’t feel uncomfortable eating alone, people sat at the tables outside, some of them enjoying the season’s first ice cream. The women no longer went about in jackets so thick with insulation they looked like walking rolls of carpet. White jackets appeared, bright scarves designed more for fashion than warmth. Spring shoes. Umbrellas (it's not summer). Men with jackets unzipped. Such optimism, such changes.

In olden times, there were celebrations that heralded the approach of spring. People got crazy on honey mead and ran into the fields, throwing clothes from their bodies, frolicking, fornicating, running to the hills and singing the death of winter. In California, the Indians may have done something like this. But I don’t think they got carried away. In Ukraine, up here away from the warming bubble of the Black Sea, I think people emptied the drinking barrel and warmed themselves en masse in ways that had nothing to do with the fireplace. They must’ve been crazy with joy – after three or four months of freezing, of staying close to hearth and home, at last they could brave the outdoors.

I see something of that in the people today. I spoke to an Australian yesterday who said he spent $200 on the internet during the coldest month of the winter, when it never got warmer than -10 below. To keep warm, he had to stay in bed, wearing three or four layers of clothes, huddled under his blankets, even the computer's warming purr a needed defense. But now he and everyone else is out and about, doing the plotting that comes with spring. Let’s go here, let’s do that, do you want to meet an American coming into town today to see about a mail-order bride?

Winter is dead. Long live spring.