Written by David Tyrpak, a Clemson University Junior
Weather here has been no surprise: it's cold. In fact, from what our Russian hosts have told us, it has been colder than in recent memory. So for three Americans from the southeast, it's certainly a change from a typical southeastern winter, but again, it's no surprise that a Moscow winter is cold. With a fine coat and sufficient layers, you've really got nothing to worry about.
The only exception that comes to mind are complaints from the skin on my face when it gets really cold. The first few days here were like that.
Since then it's not been terribly bad, but perhaps we're becoming accustomed to the weather. What's more interesting than the expected cold winter weather is the Russians' reaction to it. They seem to enjoy enduring the hardships of the season, and the colder the weather the better. Vera, one of our language tutors, has repeatedly mentioned the health benefits of "a real Russian winter," and has repeatedly complained of the milder winters of recent memory as unhealthy.
When the temperatures creep over -2 °C, I'll often hear this sentiment echoed from other Russians. This isn't to say that Russians love winter so much as to be sad at its ending. In fact they welcome spring with absolute festivity, as well as pancakes. Maslenitsa is a weeklong festival celebrated in February, during which epic loads of blini (thin pancakes, think crepes) are eaten. As I understand it, the holiday has pagan roots and was a celebration of the end of winter and the coming spring. At some time later the Orthodox Church evolved the pagan holiday into a Christian one, taking place the week before Lent. Kind of like a last chance to live it up before the restrictions of Lent. For most present day Russians, I believe it's simply a fun time and an excuse to enjoy said epic loads of blini.
The city of Moscow sets up stands of these thin delicacies for its residents, and a section of Red Square is turned into a festival block, with free entry. On the last day of Maslenitsa, the celebration reaches a festive surge, ending with the burning of a scarecrow effigy, symbolizing the end of winter.
Also in this Issue...
- The Vodka Museum by Isaac Bredeson
"Despite the problems caused by vodka it remains a vital part of Russian culture..."
- Sports – A Universal Language by Joey Kingerski
"Figure skaters are national heroes here and I have seen Yevgenij Plujschenko, considered one of the best male figure skaters in the world, featured in a wide variety of commercials, magazines, and other advertisements..."
- Issue Photographer: Isaac Bredeson
Written by Isaac Bredeson, a Clemson University Junior
The first thing that comes to my mind when I think of Russia is, of course, bears playing hockey. But the second thing I think of is vodka. We recently got to visit a museum of vodka located in Moscow’s Izmailovsky Market. Vodka has been important to the historical and cultural development of Russia despite being usually considered merely a vice and a distraction by most.
We were given a short tour around the museum in English and then allowed to wander around and take photos.
The variety of bottles was impressive; there were bottles in the shape of guns, swords, people, a submarine, and even an entire model Kremlin with bottle for towers and shot glasses for walls. A bottle from Korea even included a dead snake inside. Vodka was introduced to the Grand Duchy of Moscow, which would later become Russia, in the late fourteenth century. Prior to vodka the only alcohol produced was a maximum of about eight percent alcohol by volume (APV). The process of distillation allowed weak alcohols to be concentrated to around 70% APV. Early vodka was unfiltered and retained a yellow color as well as an unpleasant odor. Filtration processes developed in the eighteenth century would remove these impurities to produce clean vodka. Today vodka is usually 40% APV and by law can have no distinct flavor or aroma.
The government has regulated and taxed vodka since it arrived in Russia.
This has preserved quality as well as provided tax revenue for the state, around 40%in Tsarist Russia. The government has historically been in favor of vodka because of this, though in 1914 it was prohibited until 1925. The ban resulted in more deaths due to the unregulated and impure moonshine. The loss of tax revenue was a major contributing factor to the downfall of the Tsarist state in 1917. Vodka remains the most-consumed alcohol in Russia at around 70% and still provides significant income to the government.
Vodka remains a major part of life in contemporary Russia. Food should always be eaten while drinking vodka, but if there is none, it is a tradition to sniff the inside of your cuff before beginning. Toasts are another requirement for drinking vodka, even if they are brief. It is also tradition to ‘clean’ important or expensive gifts, such as jewelry or keys to a new house or car, by dropping the item into a small glass of vodka and then drinking it all before using the gift. Since the time of Peter the Great it has been a Russian practice to give an extra-large ‘penalty shot’ to anyone who is late.
Despite the problems caused by vodka it remains a vital part of Russian culture. It was interesting to learn more of the history of the drink since it is important to understanding Russian culture and way of life.