Summer in the Park with Russians
Summer is over! Or so the calendar says if you are reading this in September. And since it is Russia, summer may have been over for a month now. And why is summer over by August? Because my Russian friends say, “you don’t go swimming in August!” Why? “Because the water is ‘too cold’ in August.” “Why?” I get a shrug in answer to my “Why?” and that’s when I usually give up this frustrating dialogue.
Back in the US, I hope that summer will start in May and extend through September if the weather holds out. August and September are great months for swimming since the lakes, and the oceans on the right and left coasts are sufficiently warm by then. Around Moscow, I would avoid swimming in May for the obvious reasons and in June the pukh has taken over any body of water that is near a cluster of poplar trees. And pukh on water looks a lot like beige pond scum to me. And July – with a busy office job and weekends that usually go cool and rainy, opportunities just don’t happen. So August is primetime for a dip in the Moscow river, preferably northwest of the city.
Recently, I had the chance to head off to a beautiful park for a picnic under the trees with a group of young and interesting Muscovites enjoying a Sunday in the country. A great selection of cold food was brought along. I’ve decided that Russian cuisine is perfect for picnics. Finger food at its best without the gloppy bowls of potato salad, egg salad or even kidney bean salad that turn up at picnics in the US. No fried chicken, of course, but also no raw hamburger or hotdogs to drag out and hope that you can get the charcoal grill working, especially when it rains. And it did rain on this picnic. But on our picnic, my hosts just dragged the blanket containing the neat plates of open faced salmon and salami sandwiches, radishes, cucumbers and pickles, little packets of cheese things, and other assorted finger foods, under the thick leafed trees, and we continued our meal.
The afternoon was quite warm in spite of the rain, and the river was nearby. I optimistically brought my bathing suit hoping for a chance to cool off in the water. I timidly asked if anyone else had brought their swimsuit and if they wanted to join me in the water. They looked at me as if I had asked them to swim across the Polar Ice Cap. “No,” they said, “after all, its August!” “ OK”, I said, “but why does that make any difference?” They all agreed that they didn’t know why, but “No one goes swimming in August.” “Why?” I asked. “We just don’t,” was the answer. Instead of continuing with this going-nowhere dialogue, I put away my bathing suit and hoped for a warmer July next year and another chance to go on a picnic with friends, near the river.