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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Black Days: The Price Paid For White Nights

The ethereal beauty of the White Nights season in June and July has always been a cherished, albeit somewhat battered, symbol of Leningrad/St. Petersburg. For millions of people the world over the season has been experienced vicariously through countless poems, novels, paintings and films.


But not many understand the yearly downside to the splendor of White Nights. Taking the most obvious linguistic route, what we have here in December and January should be called the Black Days. It sounds as ghastly and macabre as White Nights do romantic and poetic. But one has to pay for everything, and so we pay for our beautiful mid-summer: there is no sunshine for weeks and the daylight barely breaks through by 10 or 11 A.M. just to fade away at three in the afternoon.


Having grown up in a much milder and balanced climate in the Ukrainian south, I remember how terribly depressing my first Leningrad winters were. December always was the worst, simply unbearable. The nights stretch into infinity and the days shrink into a barely visible couple of hours until it reaches the absolute nadir on Dec. 22, the day of the winter solstice.


From that day on, anticipation and anxiety over approaching New Year celebrations, combined with knowing that the daylight is getting just a few minutes longer with every passing day, makes the winter a little easier to bear,although the progress is hardly visible until late January.


The wretched climate of this noble city, founded by Peter the Great on Europe's dampest and swampiest spot, suited the monotony of socialism and now suits the general feeling of dissipation. Nearly extinct are the proverbial Russian winters with cross-country skiing and ice skating on fresh winter mornings with the snow sparkling in the sunshine.


The days are dim, the sky is low, there is slush under your feet everywhere you go. And, boy, these winters are long! They start in early November and go into late March. A few years ago, when it began snowing in mid-April, I threatened my American diplomat friend that if it ever happened again I would apply for climatic asylum.


I know that my groaning over the Northern winter is as senseless as grumblings of the Leningrad dissident in an old joke who, coming outside on a gruesome, drizzling day, grumbles, "Here we go again!" but is just as unrelenting, on a sunny day, scowling, "Here we go, pulling out all the stops again!"


I know that no Gaidar or Yavlinsky, no market reform or miracle will ever turn my city into Miami Beach or New Orleans. Not that I want to, either. But I do hope that one day it will be as neat and clean and as bright and well-lit as, say, Oslo with its winter, where the climate can be no better than ours.