It’s almost February, and I would like to share a childhood story with you about February in Moscow and my amazing Uncle Gena. The story comes from my book Twelve Months of the Soviet Childhood. You can read the story below the image. I hope you like it!
February: Sunshine above the Clouds
Moscow has long, cold winters with temperatures of below 14 degrees Fahrenheit. Winter lasts from early November to late March. Snow covers the ground for three to five months each year.
Summers start in mid-May and last till early September. Summer temperatures vary widely. A typical temperature is around 73 degrees Fahrenheit, but heat waves can raise the temperatures up to 90 degrees Fahrenheit for a week at a time. Often, sunny summer days are followed by endless rains and cold spells. Moscow gets an average of 1500 hours of sunshine annually, and an average of 100 rainy days per year.
The highest summer temperature on record, 100.8 °F, was on July 29, 2010. The lowest recorded temperature was −44.0 °F in January 1940.
Soon, the excitement and the festive mood that the holidays always brought were over. Colorful lights were gone from the streets of Moscow until next year. My parents and I put away the tree and all the ornaments, and our apartment suddenly became empty. Winter break was over, but there was still no end in sight for the long and dreary Moscow winter. The days were still short and dim, and the nights cold and snowy.
One dreary Sunday morning, I sat in my room looking at the street below. It was covered with snow brown from the sand and the salt sprinkled by the janitors. Thick grey clouds shrouded the sky. Once again, there was not even a hint of sunshine. The outside did not look inviting at all, so I tried to think of things to do inside. My best friend Julia was visiting her grandparents for the weekend, and even my books, dolls, and toys seemed dull on that winter morning. My parents were busy with a home improvement project in the kitchen. I was bored.
Then, the doorbell rang, and I heard my mom talking to Uncle Gena. Immediately, my mood changed. Uncle Gena always found fun things to do, even in the gloomy winter weather. I ran to the hallway to greet him.
“A new exhibit just opened by the university, but your parents are too busy to go.” Uncle Gena waved towards the kitchen. “Want to come?”
Without even asking what the exhibit was, I pulled on an extra sweater, put on heavy boots, my coat, hat, and mittens. I had complete trust in Uncle Gena. He had never suggested anything boring. I was excited and did not mind the dark winter day anymore.
Outside, my mood changed. Cold wind made snow twirl up in the air and get under my collar. It melted on my neck and made me shiver. The road was slippery, and it took us a long time to get to the metro. Despite Uncle Gena’s attempts to cheer me up, I felt miserable. I wished it were summer.
Getting inside the metro was a relief. It was warm and dry, and no snow was in sight. But after a short ride, we had to get out again. Luckily, the exhibit that Uncle Gena was taking me to was right across the street. “Colorful Tropical Fish from Southern Seas” a sign above a one-storied building announced. We followed the narrow path between high snow drifts to the building.
It was a different world inside. Pictures of palm trees and white sandy beaches covered the walls. Bright and warm overhead lights shone from above. A large aquarium occupied the middle of the room. Blue, yellow, and purple fish swam in slow circles around green seaweed and pink corals. Sea horses gracefully floated by the walls of the aquarium. I gently put my finger on the glass. A purple fish with yellow stripes glided right by my hand. The bright colors reminded me of butterflies and flowers at our summer cottage, my beloved dacha. I thought of the summer that was just a few months away and smiled.
“Do you want to have a cup of tea in the café upstairs?” Uncle Gena asked after we had looked at all the fish.
“Can we come back here afterwards?”
We climbed up the steep stairs to the small café and took a table by the window. The exhibit building stood on the top of a hill, and all of Moscow was below us. I saw bundled-up people hurrying along snow-covered streets. Did they even know that there was this amazing tropical exhibit, right in the middle of the Moscow winter?
The golden domes of old Kremlin churches were right below us. They seemed to sparkle in the light.
“Look up!” Uncle Gena said.
Above us, the clouds had parted, and the bright rays of the sun played on the domes making them feel warm and inviting.
“The sun is finally shining!” I said.
“The sun is always shining, especially above the clouds,” Uncle Gena said. “You just need to get high enough to see it.”
For the rest of February, when the grey and cold weather descended on Moscow, I kept reminding myself of Uncle Gena’s words. And they made the winter go by faster.