Indian Summer – Бабье Лето


For the traveler, tourist, or expat who has ever spent any time at all in Moscow, it is understood that weather is never just weather. Seasons here are ominous, and world changing, and to understand them is to hold the oracle; they are the deciding factor of one’s moods, fashion choices, downtime activities, and even routes to work.

I have always said that native Muscovites hold certain instincts that others lack. They bring their umbrella as they walk out the door when they feel that it will rain—and they are always right, and they are always prepared. They seem to somehow get the memo on the exact day that it is okay to start wearing a шуба (fur-coat), and the exact moment that it is acceptable to wear open-toed shoes again. They all decide on the same slushy afternoon that it is time to re-open the Dacha season, and somehow, something deep-down inside of them, in the midst of autumn, reminds them that Бабье Лето (Indian Summer) will soon arrive.

Indian Summer is a period of warm and dry weather, and it comes to visit Moscow every year without fail. Sometime between mid-September and the beginning of October arrives the perfect combination of autumnal change and welcoming warmth. Aspects of all seasons are delicately intertwined, transporting you to a new world, around which revolves all the perks of fall with none of the consequence. The air is forgiving during Indian Summer; the brisk bite in her wind has been postponed if only for one or two merciful weeks.
Observing your surroundings, all signs point to autumn—this clarification is brought on by the way the skies look, the crunchy to soggy ratio of the leaves you are stomping on, the smells. Brisk air, crisp breezes, and leaves not quite yellow, red or brown begin to plummet to their pre-mature death, their young corpses lying on the sidewalks. You go out of your way to step on the extra-crunchy ones. With childlike strides you wade your boots through the piles and piles with deliberate force to create that beautiful rustling sound. Swish. Swush. Swoosh.

Funny how death brings so much cheerfulness. I have always thought that the whole death/life/rebirth aspect of the seasons in Moscow is especially beautiful during this certain phase of fall. The Indian Summer phenomenon depicts all the stages at one time; different parts of a whole life. It is birth and death, and bad days and good days; it is new beginnings, and mistakes; it is traditions and promises, and those who let you down. This is the cycle that brings those extra crunchy leaves to your path.

Everything including your intuition tells you the season is autumn, however, as they say, “Умом Россию не понять”—“Russia cannot be understood with the mind alone”—and after five minutes outside you will be stripped of your common sense while Moscow’s Indian Summer friend scoffs at your long sleeves saying, “Didn’t you know? Fall is on hold; it has decided to take a little break.”

You frown back at her, perplexed; yet suddenly you comply. During this week you realize your body has forgotten that it knows how to feel cold. Your neck—out of nowhere—feels independent again without a scarf by its side, and your fingers forget that gloves will soon be their new best friends.

The sun that so recently started burrowing away comes back out! Indian Summer-sun shines through the trees quickly yet softly, playing a game of peek-a-boo behind each individual leaf.

Autumn truly has been interrupted by this strange, purgatory seasonette. Just as you put away your summer clothes, hopes, and saunters in the park, you can essentially bring them back out again.

It is in this very moment that everything pauses. Time stops like the long click of a snapshot, as young photographers impatiently wait for colours on the Polaroid to appear. It embodies the paradox of contentment and yet longing for the past. Just as young friends want nothing but to enjoy and remember this very moment, they also wish to move backwards, already distracted, smiling at their goofy faces looking back at them on the sticky film.
Moscow too, cannot make up her mind between this moment and the next; this season or the last. She is ready for the next season; in fact fall has already begun and matured, yet it halts—for she is unsure—nostalgically clinging to the warmth of the past. Abrupt revival creates the hybrid that is Indian Summer.

And today it has arrived. The leaves stop falling. The brisk winds turn toward another direction, and in these few ‘Indian’ days, the sun shines. Our noses do not turn red and we can hang our coats back up. For these few days, the seasons stop. It is a short time where we can wear a turtleneck or a tank top…we aren’t restricted by temperature or seasonal guidelines.

We have an opportunity to start over, to begin again…before the seasons catch up to us. Before it all starts changing too fast. This is our chance to take a moment to catch our breath, before we begin seeing it again.