Magazine article Russian Life

The General Zima Factor

Magazine article Russian Life

The General Zima Factor

Article excerpt

As I write these lines, Moscow is being assaulted by a brutal cold spell surrounding the date of Orthodox Epiphany (Krescheniye), a time of traditionally cold weather long known as [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (Epiphany frosts). This prompted a local humorist to rephrase Pushkin's famous winter line: [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] ("We are pleased with Mother Winter's mischief.") by adding a "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]" between [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] and [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], changing the meaning to "Are we really pleased ...?"

January's freeze would seem to indicate that global warming is far from imminent. Weather forecasters promised that the mercury would dip to -37[degrees] Celsius--apparently a low not hit since 1940. At such times, we writers cannot help but consider the role of winter in Russian history and culture.

Winter weather lasts a good six months here--from mid-October through early April. So perhaps it is not surprising that many Russians adore this season, tenderly calling winter (a feminine noun in Russian) [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (winter the pretty), or [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (little winter).

For the Germans and French, however, winter in Russia probably has less positive connotations. They came up with their own militaristic appellation of winter--[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]--who, as they claim, "fought" alongside Kutuzov against Napoleon, and beside Zhukov against Hitler. Certainly many give General Winter more than his due in these wars (at the expense of human factors), but it is unquestioned that he had a role in leading many thousands of German and French soldiers to their eternal [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (winter quarters) on the fields surrounding Moscow in 1941 and 1812.

Truth be told, not all Russians are huge fans of bitter cold. As the saying goes, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (the Russian bone likes warmth). But, then again, being winter-hardy ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) is largely a matter of preparation: [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (if you lay idle in summer, you will go crazy in winter). For what Russian does not know, deep in their warmth-loving bones, the axiomatic proverb, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (prepare your sled in summer and your cart in winter)? …

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