The slow awakening of nature fascinates me. I've never experienced spring like this. For three, maybe even four weeks, it didn't freeze during the day. There is still snow in the ditches and along the Volga beaches. There, the sand is visible now, and the last bits of thick ice linger on shore. On some afternoons I can imagine how beautiful summer will be. The ice pieces are still large in some parts of the beach. They are too heavy for the water to move them. The small waves of the river, not yet open for ships, splash softly against the ice and create little cavelike cliffs. They form a surprisingly solid ice roof that reaches out daringly over the river.
The water level rises in spring and takes the remaining ice down the river, piece by piece. The locals say that over the next four weeks the water will rise far above the riverbank and will flush away all the dirt. A natural toilette. Since my first home visit is approaching fast (when and why another time), I have the unfounded fear that I might miss that moment. After all, you never know for sure what you will see and what you will miss. It would be a pity to miss the trees in the water and all the lovely reflections. Especially with the crystal-clear water of spring, presenting the Volga in her Sunday best and creating beautiful pastel coloured backgrounds. If I stand on shore in good weather (still too cold to sit), looking out over the quietly flowing river, I forget the bustling city behind me.
When I return home after a walk, my shoes are muddy and heavy even if I try to stay dry and avoid mud puddles. There is no escape. I am unskilled in the art of mud walking, not only are my shoes always dirty but my trousers, too. Once, I found mud on my hip and to this day I don't know how it got there. In addition to the work this dirt creates (so much cleaning), I find the whole thing fantastic. Exciting, even. It reminds me of country life, mostly horses and cow dung. Having it here, right in the city centre and thus evoking all sorts of memories, it's creating the most remarkable moments. With this feeling, I stand alone. The locals curse the snow and the dirt. They feel it is the burden of this season. There seems to be no greater challenge for them than evading the mud entirely. I have to restrain myself, not to start up and jump into the puddles. It seems that is what they were made for, weren't they? I've also learned to be careful since you never know how deep these puddles are - from a meter deep hole to two centimetres everything is possible. As always in Russia, I never know where I stand. Don't judge a book by its cover. I still fail every attempt at identifying dangerous situations, dangerous people or dangerous houses.
The city is mostly high rises, a lot of people and dust. After almost seven weeks, it's impossible for me to see the highrises as something other than hideousness. Unfortunately, I also know that it's a learned taste. I find European snobbism in every corner of my being. I don't want to shut it off entirely; it can be great fun. Also, it's a much bigger part of my identity than I am willing to admit. I understand that the aversion to highrise culture is not a position worth defending. The majority of people live well in them, and that isn't self-evident in Russia. Although the numerous old wooden houses are more beautiful than almost all the other buildings and their decay truly is one of the saddest things I have seen here, the preservation cannot be a priority. It's not a question of style, but of necessity. If one doesn't live in a highrise, or in one of the newly built houses of the upper class, one lives without connection to the sewers, etc. For people here, the question doesn't arise. Few would live voluntarily in these small wooden houses. Honestly, I find it hard to get rid of my contempt (for a small part of me is saying something along the lines of: "There surely is a solution for that!"), but I am glad I don't have to make that decision.
When one of my schoolgirls pulled out Dorian Gray, we read the first pages together and clarified vocabulary; it became apparent how different our experiences were. She had no idea of the smell of a flower shop where everything bloomed at the same time and different fragrances intermingled. When beauty suddenly turns into the opposite. It's a scent that is very familiar. When entering my Mum's garden, I have to pass through a wall of smells. Once inside, it's divine but from the outside, it's often a bit much. I smell it even before I turn into our street. These abundances of scents are so familiar that I long for it when I visit my parents. The same is true when I look out into the garden with the window or the door open. The idyll is perfect. This exact moment Wild describes on the first pages of Dorian Gray. For someone like my student, who meets nature predominantly in urban parks, the idea of looking at flowers and gardens from a sofa is alien, almost grotesque. Its almost as grotesque as eating pancakes with a knife and a fork.