Friday, March 6, 2009

Maslenitsa in Melikhovo

Last Saturday we spent the day in Melikhovo, a tiny village south of Moscow where Chekhov lived from 1892 to 1899. From the little we saw, the village hasn't changed all that much! His estate is there, now a museum. (There are even more pictures at this site). The picture of him on the left was taken on the grounds. 

The estate is simple and beautiful, a collection of buildings that housed him, his family, and servants. It is here that he wrote most of The Seagull. Perhaps he wasn't able to write more prolifically since he was never able to dedicate himself full-time to his writing: he was also a practicing physician, never refusing care to anyone, regardless of whether or not they could pay. Peasants often lined up outside his office before daybreak and he made long trips to visit the sick in their homes. (You can see the sign for his doctor's office in the sign below, a clinic that is still in operation). 

Here is a statue of him that stands at the entrance to the grounds.

This sign advertised the day's events, all in honor of Maslenitsa. Maslentitsa is the week before Lent begins, and it has both Christian and Pagan roots. It's also supposed to be the end of winter, thus the festival's symbol of the sun. Known as the week of blini, pancakes, people celebrate all week before the strict social and dietary restrictions (no parties and secular music/no meat, dairy, eggs -- and in some families also no fish, wine or olive oil, too) that last a month until Easter. 

This is a fantastic holiday to celebrate in families who have adopted from Russia... What kids wouldn't enjoy making and eating yummy blini? 

Here are pictures of the one of the homes where servants lived. I would have loved to see inside the other buildings, but the crowd was quite large and it just wasn't feasible this time.

Throughout the day there were traditional activities from the way the holiday would have been celebrated during the period when Chekhov lived there: 

People in traditional costumes sang Russian folk songs (you know, the kind with high wailing female voices).

There were troika (sleigh) rides, but the lines were too lengthy to do that, too. SOME TIME, though! You can't have lived in Russia this long without having done that!

Some "fencing" (?) with padded sticks...

Group jump rope... Katya's friend who invited us did it for twenty minutes! Katya was too afraid of making a mistake in front of the crowd. 

Then there was some pole-climbing to reach a prize at the top. No one ended up being able to do it! Many men took off their shirts to make it easier, but MAN OH MAN was it cold! This group tried to beat the system by working as a team, but even they didn't succeed...

Some more rope games... but the kids used balloons instead of balls. 

An ice slide, which is a wooden slide covered in ice to make it slick. Natalia LOVED it. 

All of the kids loved this maze made of snow. The climbed on (and collapsed) a good part of it... You can see Natalia, Katya and her friend as they balanced.

The Maslenitsa effigy, traditionally called "Kostroma," which is burned at the end of the holiday to signify the end of winter and the beginning of spring. All bad luck, hurt feelings, and bad luck are supposed to go up in smoke along with the straw. The ashes are then buried in the snow to fertilize the crops.

The whole reason we ended up in Melikhovo for Maslenitsa was that we were invited by Paulina, one of Katya's friends from school. This was how her family celebrated her birthday! Her mom arranged for a bus to drive us all (about 30 people) there, then for a private area behind one of the cottages where we had our own picnic table. The museum provided stacks of blini, hot tea and yummy pork shashliki (shishkabobs); the family brought hot mulled wine, fixings for the blini (sour cream, caviar, smoked salmon, jam and honey) and a birthday cake.

This is where our little area was. 

It was so cold outside that the food was extremely good and its warmth an absolute necessity. I hadn't understood the mom's invitation when she called; I thought we were going to be inside a museum for the day and none of us had dressed appropriately. Luckily I had a little time to run into the mall and buy some more outwear while we were waiting for the bus to leave that morning! But ohhhh, my feet! My boots were not waterproof and I was COLD! 

Being American, I think, it didn't even occur to me that we would spend four hours outside in the frigid snow for a party and meal! In the end, though, it worked out just fine and we had a fantastic time. 

There were, of course, MANY snowball fights. 

We knew some of the other guests from Paulina's party the previous year, mainly relatives and very old friends. It was quite an honor to be the only family from school that was included! I was particularly glad to see the parents of a student I had really liked at my previous job last year; it's too bad she wasn't able to come to the party along with her little brother.

Natalia, of course, made a four-legged friend... Three of them, in fact. She insisted that they were Asya's relatives and we needed to bring them back to Moscow for a family reunion. We didn't. 

In meantime, all the adults turned a blind eye while the kids shared some much-appreciated shashliki with the cat and kittens... 

The cats soon became the big attraction, much more interesting than even going to blow out birthday candles! We had to tear Paulina away from the cats' "door" when it was time for the cake!

All in all, a really super day! 

Winter will be over before we know it... It's nice to have some fun while there's still snow.


Rachael said...

How very Russian!

I would be the shivering American, chattering teeth, miserable in the corner! I take my outdoors in smaller chunks in the winter, if I can help it! :)

Tina in CT said...

Do the cats live under the building? Do they have someone to feed them daily?

Anonymous said...

Sounds like you had a great day!
Too bad you did not have better shoes - nice to be warm (or at least not have chattering teeth).
Do not feel sorry for the horse ride - they are overrated, unless you can have just 2 people in the sleigh and plenty of good snow to ride on. I only had this experience once as a child and had some fantastic memories of it. Couple of years ago, when we were in Vermont cross-country skiing,we were offered horse drawn sleigh ride as a part of the package. It cured me of any desire to do it ever again. It all looked beautiful, but poor horses had such a hard time dragging the carriage, I was so sorry for them, I could not enjoy the ride. Never did it again.
Eating blini is so much more satisfying!

Anonymous said...

nice to see pics of chris ; ) tell him we say hi!

miss you!

Chris said...

Thanks for sharing about Maslenitsa. I wasn't familiar with the holiday until just recently and will definitely celebrate it next year.