Washington area schoolchildren longing for snow days will not envy their Russian counterparts. I can’t find any record of school in Moscow being called off for snow, though the city gets an average of 50 inches a year. Crews are out cleaning up the snow and dumping it in the river as fast as it falls, and snow-closing announcements of any kind are unknown on television and radio.
Last weekend, Moscow had two big demonstrations — about 120,000 people marched and stood for about three hours to protest against Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, and another 20,000 stood outside to support him. The temperature hovered around zero. No one, it seemed, thought to stay home simply because of the weather.
Gennady Onishchenko, head of the Federal Service for Surveillance of Consumer Rights Protection and Human Well-Being, known as Rospotrebnadzor, did, however, warn demonstrators that they should get out their grandmothers’ felt boots, known as valenki, for the occasion.
Valenki were traditionally worn by peasants, and perhaps Onishchenko, a staunch Putin supporter, thought that he could scare off hipster marchers with the threat of a fashion faux pas. Ah, but duded-up valenki, trimmed in insouciant colors, can now be found in chic city stores. No need to look dowdy on the barricades.
If it gets cold — that would be 13 below here — primary schools are allowed to close. Generally in winter, kindergarten children are taken outside at least three times a day, for a total of four hours, although that can be shortened if the temperature is around zero and the wind is blowing at more than 18 miles an hour.
Of course, Russians have their own secret defenses in the war against cold, which I stumbled upon once during a visit to Archangel, a city just below the Arctic Circle.
The wind was whistling through my room because of a poorly insulated window, and I complained to the desk clerk, expecting him to issue me an extra blanket. He stared at me, contemptuous of my cluelessness.
“Drink some vodka,” he hissed.