We at the eXile were on the phone last week when a funny thing happened. We were hard at work at the time, researching an in-depth story on what spring in Moscow was really all about. Unlike other newspapers and magazines, we’d decided to go straight to the source-the people-to get our story. Our first call was to the KGB Veterans’ Club. Surely, we thought, they of all people must know what spring is all about.
“What?” a voice answered. “I don’t understand your question.”
“Spring. We’re interested in knowing what it is. In what kind of changes take place here in Moscow during spring. We just want to be informed.”
“Wait a minute,” the voice snapped. “What spring are you talking about? Be clear!”
“You know, spring,” we said, twirling our fingers in the air. “The time of the year.”
A great sigh passed across the phone line.
“Oh,” our KGB friend said. “You mean the season. Because there’s a mafia gang called spring now. I thought that’s what you were asking about.” Our job, we realized, was going to be tougher than we’d thought it would be. Far from tracking down a gruppirovka called vesna, we wanted to pin down the season once and for all.
It’s an accepted aphorism that there is really no spring in Moscow, that summer begins when winter ends and vice versa. In other countries, we know spring as a long season of thawing and blooming. Not in Moscow. Here the changes are fast and violent. Spring in Moscow happens so fast that Ivan Turgenev was forced to set his classic Spring Torrents in Germany. The Moscow season, he later reported, simply wouldn’t support 250 pages.
It does, however, support 2000 words. The sudden thaw after the long, miserable winter has a radical effect on life in the capital, and the eXile considered it its duty to take note of the changes. So here they are- 35 useless facts about the Muscovite spring, gleaned from the people themselves, that will set the stage for big changes in your life in the upcoming month. We begin with a definition of what spring really is:
Most of us know that that scientists call March 21, the day at the end of the cold season when the equator is the closest spot on the earth to the sun, to be the start of spring. Few know, though, that Soviet scientists had a different definition for seasonal changes which placed the beginning of spring in Moscow in April. The Soviet encyclopedia for years held that spring actually began when the temperature in a region could safely be expected to stay above 0 degrees celsius- April 3 in the capital, according to temperature averages. Furthermore, spring ended on the day in which the average temperature for all 24 hours was 70% of the expected average temperature for the hottest month of the year. By this definition, spring ends in the capital at around May 25 each year, leaving Moscow with about a six-week spring.
More subjective traditional methods for determining the beginning of spring include awaiting the last ice-fisherman drowning on the River Oka; according to the Ministry of Extreme Situations (MChS), there are about a half dozen such drownings every year in and around the Moscow region; this year there were seven. Another, more easily identifiable sign of the outset spring is the day that the GAI first begins fining motorists for driving dirty cars. Dirty cars are always against GAI rules, despite the fact that city law is organized to make it nearly impossible to keep them clean (washing one’s car on state property is against the law for ecological reasons). However, the dirty-car law is tacitly ignored by sympathetic police in the winter-until one day in spring, when an untraceable Kafkaesque command from high in the GAI hierarchy sends word down that it’s okay to start pulling cars over again. Last year it happened in the second week of April; this year, on the heels of the announcement of a draconian new fine system (passed by the Duma on March 5, goes into effect Thursday, May 8) which will at least quadruple the fines for most moving violations, dirty cars were mercifully allowed on Moscow streets late into April.
None of these human definitions of the beginning of spring really matter, however, to members of Moscow’s animal kingdom, who know exactly when the season begins:
By the time this article hits the newsstands, there will be roughly one mosquito for every person within the city limits in Moscow; a period of hard-fought breeding in selected warm places, often in the basements of apartment buildings around the hot-water pipes, will have brought their population from almost nil in early April to about ten million. Once the weather turns the corner after the May Day holiday and miniskirt season sets in, they come out of their basements and dive into puddles and ponds to multiply. By the time the next issue of eXile comes out, their population will have doubled again; the two bugs flying around in your apartment will overnight have become four or five. Your own human life, which in spring has probably picked up a little speed, crawls along at a snail’s pace compared to the orgy of bloodsucking and breeding flying around your head at every turn. By late July, there are nearly 250 million mosquitoes in Moscow. “Eventually, by August,” said MGU entomology professor Ivan Senin, “there are 50 mosquitoes per person in Moscow. That’s five hundred million. If you live in a first floor apartment, the ratio may be tipped a little higher for you- about a hundred per person. It’s the warm weather. Mosquitoes love it.”
Insects aren’t the only creatures to get it on. According to Aleksander Miloslav, president of the Moscow Society of Dog Breeders, which claims over 4000 members, there are more puppies born in late April and early May than at any other time of the year.
“They’re like all animals,” he said. “It’s an instinctual thing. Bitches go into heat twice a year, most often in February and March. They mate most often at that time of year. Then, as soon as it gets warm, you get puppies. It must have something to do with the weather.”
Even people multiply faster in late April and early May. Olga Nikulina of the Moscow City Statistics Committee reports that April and May are traditionally the months with the most human births in the capital.
“The average number of births in Moscow for any month in recent years is 5500,” she said. “Last year, April was the highest over the average, with 5750. May was just behind, with just over 5700. I don’t know what the explanation is for it. I’m not a psychologist.”
Psychologists, of course, know better why Muscovites breed more in spring. In fact, they know a lot about seasonal behavior:
“Hormonal levels change around the equinoxes, in fall and spring,” said Vladimir Druzhkin, a professor at the Moscow Institute of Psychology and an expert on the influence of seasons on hormonal behavior. “There is a rise in endogyns in the human body which increase one’s sexual ambitions. People become more agitated around these times. Roughly nine months after the equinoxes, you can expect birth levels to increase.”
Now you know why you feel like partying more in spring. Internal and external factors both combine to cheat you, the Muscovite, of the relative mental and hormonal placidity you experienced in winter. Maybe it’s all those miniskirts or, from a womyn’s point of view, shirtless dessantniki that does it. But maybe you’re just going crazy. Spring fever, said Druzhkin, really does exist:
“The sun is out, there is a general livening of nature, people are more obviously involved with society in general,” said Druzhkin. “This is a positive state of affairs for the stable person, but for a person who is depressed or mentally unwell, the contrast between his own self-perception and the obvious brightening of life all around him is too much for him to handle. For this reason, we see more suicide attempts in spring, particularly in March and April, than in any other season. I think particularly in this city, with its extreme changes of weather, the pattern is most unbreakable.”
Druzhkin also said that hormonal changes in spring and fall account for a heightening of schizophrenia cases during those seasons. “Extreme hormonal and climatic changes produce many of the more extreme psychological reactions. We see a lot of schizophrenia and many of the odder psychological anomalies appear at these times. This is why April and May traditionally have the most recorded UFO sightings, the most ghost visitations, and so on. It points to a disturbance in our general mental equilibrium.”
Muscovites may experience a lot of mental unrest in spring, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they kill each other more often. According to sexopathologist/criminal psychiatrist Alexander Bukhanovsky, best known for his role in helping Rostov police catch serial killer Andrei Chikatilo, murderers- or serial murderers at least- don’t start getting the jones for blood until it gets really hot.
“There is no statistical correlation between spring and serial murder,” he said. “It certainly is true, however, that serial murders happen more often in summer. I don’t know what the reasons for that are. I haven’t looked into it yet.”
Bukhanovsky’s Moscow counterpart, Serbsky Institute director and serial murder expert Aleksander Tkachenko, was shocked by our call.
“It’s amazing. Komsomolskaya Pravda just called me five minutes ago with the same question. Are you working together?” he said.
“No,” we said.
“Well,” he laughed, “what’s gotten into you people? Has the weather got to your heads? Only a madman could think that spring could induce people to commit murder. Besides, most serial murders take place indoors.”
Still, some people get so crazy in spring that they don’t trust themselves to behave in the city. In fact, one of the main features of Moscow life in spring is Muscovites’ desire to avoid it. The exodus for the country usually begins around now, in the first week in May:
“Television ratings in Moscow drop between 25-50%, and in some cases by as much as 100%, in May and June,” said Alexei Kanakov, a media analyst for BBDO. “The reason is that elderly people, who generally watch a lot of television, leave the city en masse for their dachas right around this time of year.”
The exodus causes other problems. Mass defections of the population leave buildings in the city uncared for, and unusually susceptible to arson and accidental fires.
“May and April are the worst months for fires,” said Aleksander Yermilov, press spokesman for the Moscow fire department. “There is a lot of dry grass and un-cared for property, mostly the result of people leaving for their dachas. In the four-day May Day holiday, for instance, we had 50 fires in Moscow, and firemen answered more than 400 rescue calls.”
Other people leave Moscow in spring, but not for their dachas. The Moscow Brides introduction agency [See Vox Populi, page 21] reports that their most successful recruiting month for young women is almost always May.
“Young women sign up now, in the hopes of getting married by summer,” said Lucy, the agency head. “The weather makes people not want to be single anymore.”
Not all of us go that far, but we certainly do feel a little more hot and bothered this time of year. Maybe Tkachenko is right-maybe the weather has gotten to our heads. Anyway, that’s as much as we need to know. It’s time for us to go out and breed.
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