By Alexa Shearer
“And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had the familiar conviction that life was beginning over again…”— F. Scott Fitzgerald
Springtime in Moscow is better than springtime anywhere else in the world. Because everywhere else in the world you expect spring–there are four seasons and you know their order. You understand the concept of warm after cold, or grass after snow. But in Moscow you never expect spring. It’s not that you’re stupid or that the winter was so long that you forgot that other seasons exist, it’s just that, every year, without fail, the emergence of new life surprises you. It sneaks up on you like when you were playing as a kid and you got tagged to be ‘it’–you saw your classmate running towards you, you knew you’d get tagged, but still, you jump with surprise when his arm reaches out to tap your shoulder.
There are a few days, maybe a couple weeks of ‘pre-spring,’ where you naively get your hopes up for a split second, and then it snows. These are the days when you never know how to dress, or if the sun will be out for longer than an hour. But this is not spring. This is simply moody weather.
When real spring comes, it knocks you right off your feet–but then politely pulls you back up, kindly reaching out their hands to make sure you’re not hurt, and that you can stand on your own again. Spring’s very nice that way.
Moscow is tricky with this season though. You’ll look out your window one morning to again greet the day with grey skies, and barren branches; but the next, a bright green forest is suddenly staring back at you through the dust-spotted glass of your bedroom window. You blink, rub your eyes, and shake your head, because this is simply, scientifically not possible, but this double-take proves to be unnecessary as…obviously, the abruptness of Moscow spring does not follow any scientific rhyme or reason. Spring just magically appears on the branches, and on the bright green grounds, and in the breeze that doesn’t cause anyone to shiver–like it does every year.
For days, weeks, months, your view is exactly the same, and then one day, there’s color. This always reminds me of when you’re watching a movie and despite modern technology and editing skills, you can still catch when the cameraman quickly cuts to adjust something in the frame: a woman sits in her kitchen with a cup of coffee and her hair is falling in her face…and a second later it’s neatly brushed behind her ears and the mug is on the other side of the table, but nothing else in the scene has changed; the dialogue is the same, she is mid-sentence even. This morning was one of these poorly edited cuts, but nature–the director, doesn’t care, for he knows that we–the viewers, simply delight in these faults in composition.
It’s tricky because after five minutes outside you’ll be stripped of your common sense. It’s as if Moscow scoffs at you, saying, “Winter never happened, what are you talking about?” In the spring, Moscow appears to be the capital of a country that has never, in its existence, seen a snowflake. Your body forgets that it knows how to feel cold. Your neck out of nowhere feels independent without a scarf by its side, and your fingers forget that gloves were their best friends.
People walk and roll-on all forms of cycles, skates, and scooters throughout the city in massive herds. I’ve always said that native Muscovites have certain instincts that others lack. They bring their umbrella as they walk out the door when they feel that it will rain–and they’re always right, and they’re always prepared. They always seem to get the memo on the exact day that it’s okay to start wearing a шуба (fur-coat), and the exact moment that it’s acceptable to wear open-toed shoes again. And they all flock off to the many parks, or endless beautiful walking streets throughout the city, when their spring instincts report to them that it’s what they should be doing.
On May 1st I followed this instinct and flocked right along with them to one of my favorite streets. I had completely forgotten that it was Orthodox Easter until I passed by not one, not two, but three brightly colored churches in shades of oranges, reds and blues, each with shining golden domes. Each church’s bells ringing reminded me of this day’s importance.
The buildings along the wide sidewalks have suddenly been freshly painted with this year’s coat of light turquoise, yellows, and pastel pinks. While the metal fences around every neighborhood playground cling to a persistent layer of stripes of BRIGHT green and yellow. The walkways are smoothly paved, and the street musicians sound happy instead of distraught. Archways covered in flowers envelope the cafe’s outdoor verandas that have–once again–magically appeared overnight. Each corner of each intersection is sprinkled with giant eggs, curled vines, and little market houses selling jams and frosted cakes. It’s as if the Easter bunny littered the streets while everyone was sleeping.
Spring means the skies are now painted with light water colors instead of dark acrylics, each brush stroke separating the clouds more and more until only a thin flossy layer of cotton candy remains.
When it’s light out in the evening you actually feel the pace of the city slowly winding down. The city’s exhaled sighs of relief are almost audible as your legs now have the urge to walk a little slower, past the fountains that seem to have turned on somehow since the last time you passed by them.
Spring also means things like walking home to an orange reflection on the river, and all the birds chirping after leaving a club with your friends, not a single hint that the night ever happened.
Yesterday, I spent the morning in the park under the trees and beside the little patches of freshly blooming gardens. The simple breeze made me feel as if I were sitting on a back porch somewhere in the perfect middle of nowhere, white billowy curtains flowed in and out of the open windows.
I didn’t sit for long though, I decided it’d be best to take advantage of this alien season and go for a run…(…jog…/walk?) through Gorky Park, and along the river, watching the boats slowly pass by, bridge after bridge. With no shortage of trees to my left, I continued on my way speeding past countless delightful old couples resting on cozy скамейки (benches). The sudden incline in the path reminded me of Germany.
Passing Нескучный Cад,Пушкинская Набережная, and Sparrow Hills Park, and about an hour and a half later, I finally reached the destination I had been aiming for–a bright green hill just atop a damp sidewalk, where the river lapped over in a repeated rhythm. Two empty wooden chairs sat facing their own reflection, not even looking empty without two bodies to fill them.
I lay my head back into the mushy dirt that gets stuck to the roots of my hair and I close my eyes. The first song on ‘shuffle,’ fills my ears and I begin to laugh out loud while humming along, Basta un Giorno Così–how appropriate.
This moment reminds me of our infant days in Russia; the first few years when we looked at everything with glossy eyes and innocent wonder. When seeing a site would be an adventure or when ordering something was a scary task. And when VCR’s were still a thing.
I sit and contemplate why I’m suddenly brought back so far into the past when the collective smell of MOSCOW SPRING underlines it. Different moments make me nostalgic for different sections of my childhood, as if they’re each in separate tiny little boxes, and the smell of MOSCOW SPRING opens up a particular one. What are these smells? Nowhere in the world smells like this season. Perhaps an array of the most surprising combinations: Shashlik being roasted in the park, the seaweedy rivery smell of fresh grass (not like fresh grass in America but with a little bit more soil) the smoke of a cigarette here and there…
I would like to put this moment in a jar and label it ‘Content.’
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