Visitors to the Christmas market on Red Square in Moscow.TASS
It is already mid December. But winter seems to be playing hide and seek here in the Russian capital. It is three degrees today and the snow on the streets has melted into wet puddles. I am yet to make my first snowman of the season. But nothing can dampen the spirit of the festive season that seems to be drenching the city.
New Year is among the most prominent of Russian festivals. Many shops are offering discounts. Some, like they are wont to do in India, have marked up the prices and are offering a “discount” to attract buyers. It’s a Russian tradition to give each other gifts and shop for new clothes during this time, so the streets of Moscow were packed with cars over the weekend. The traditional Russian Christmas falls on January 7 and New Year on 14h January, which is rather quaintly called ‘old New Year’. But more on that later. December 31 witnesses the largest new year celebrations and, as a run up to it, the city is bathed in lights and resplendent, bedecked Christmas trees.
I attended my first ‘New Year’ concert of the festive season yesterday in the concert hall of the Church of Christ the Saviour. It was a ‘happy’ concert by the philharmonic orchestra. Russian children are so amazingly well behaved. There were fairly young children at the concert, who sat quietly even as Strauss’ uplifting compositions made them want to dance.
The weekend queues outside museums and frequently sold out classical music concerts never cease to amaze me. Old people and toddlers alike can wait in long queues in the snow to get into a museum, when the entrance fees are reduced on special days. This cultural sensibility is another one of those things that makes me fall in love with Russia all over again. At least, in the northern part of India, the majority of us throng to cineplexes rather than to watch plays, or to art galleries and museums and classical concerts.
The conductor of the orchestra at the concert yesterday was a rather distinguished gentleman and perhaps the only one who had caught my attention apart from our very own Zubin Mehta. While the orchestra was still playing one of Strauss’ compositions, he turned around and said to us “etc etc etc”. In all the concerts that I have attended in India or in Europe, I have never witnessed the conductor turn and speak to the audience. Everyone started to laugh, of course, and it lifted the spirits higher still.
Even more than the children, it was a pleasure to watch the older generation surrender to the pleasures of the music and gently sway or tap. Reminded me of how we Indians back home lose ourselves in the music at classical or ‘ghazal’ concerts and it instantly warmed my heart.
It was the day of Saint Nicholas, “the miracle worker,” yesterday. In Russia, there are “Angel days”. The day is like a second birthday for Russians, so everyone named Nicholas gets congratulatory messages on Nicholas day. Like back home, where the lunar calendar affords us a second ‘birthday’.
Thank you for all your letters. In answer to your questions, yes, there are English medium courses in Russia, and tuition fee is less than it is in Europe. But rentals are forbidding. A single room set could cost upwards of US$600.
That’s all for now. I promise to write sooner this time and look forward to hearing from you.
With love from Moscow,
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