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Ice Swimmers Brace Themselves for The Thaw

Published: April 4, 2006 (Issue # 1158)


The thaw began this week in St. Petersburg and the city seems ready to melt and disappear.

But for walruses, the name given to those people who like nothing better than to swim in holes cut into the frozen River Neva, rain and rising temperatures signal that the ice-swimming season is winding down.

April traditionally marks the end of ice-swimming fun. The frozen river flows again and soon after, beaches become crowded with fair-weather bathers.

Some walruses turn to cold showers, ice filled baths or punishing fitness regimes for consolation, but there is still time to catch them swimming or even to test the water oneself before the end of the season.

During the Epiphany celebrations in January, when temperatures plummeted to less than minus 30 degrees Celsius, nationalist politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky declared on television that This is why Americans cant understand what a Russian is! before plunging into a pool cut into the ice at Lake Bezdonnoye near Moscow.

Indeed, the idea of swimming outside in such extreme conditions is alien to foreigners of many nationalities. There is, however, method in the madness.

On a corner of the Peter and Paul Fortress, a sketch of a walrus marks the spot where enthusiasts meet to swim all year round in the River Neva.

Andrei Korotkov is one such swimmer. He is quick to reject the term walruses morzhi in Russian which is often used to describe winter swimmers, as it encourages an image of exclusivity.

This is not a club. We are all individuals and everyone is welcome here, Korotkov said as bystanders nodded in approval.

It is of no importance whether you are a Christian, a Jew or a Muslim it is just a question of the strength of your soul, Korotkov said as he gestured to the Sobornaya-Kafedralnaya Mechet, St. Petersburgs biggest mosque, nearby. Anyone can swim in the Neva as long as they are strong spirited.

The pastime is a great leveler and contrary to Zhirinovskys remark, Korotkov said it is certainly not exclusive to Russians.

Scots, Finns, Germans and Englishmen all swim here, he said.

When someone is half-naked at the edge of icy cold water their profession, religion and nationality seemingly become irrelevant.

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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Saturday, Nov. 1


The men and women who dedicate their lives to fitness get their chance to compete for the title of best body in Russia at todays Grand Prix Fitness House PRO, the nations premier bodybuilding competition. Not only will men and women be competing for thousands of dollars in prizes and a trip to represent their nation at Mr. Olympia but sporting goods and nutritional supplements will also be available for sale. Learn more about the culture of the Indian subcontinent during Diwali, the annual festival of lights that will be celebrated in St. Petersburg this weekend at the Culture Palace on Tambovskaya Ul. For 100 rubles ($2.40), festival-goers listen to Indian music, try on traditional Indian outfits and sample dishes highlighting the culinary diversity of the billion-plus people in the South Asian superpower.



Sunday, Nov. 2


Check out the latest video and interactive games at the Gaming Festival at the Mayakovsky Library ending today. Meet with the developers of the popular and learn more about their work, or learn how to play one of their creations with the opportunity to ask the creators themselves about the exact rules.



Monday, Nov. 3


Non-athletes can get feed their need for competition without breaking a sweat at the Rock-Paper-Scissors tournament this evening at the Cube Bar at Lomonosova 1. Referees will judge the validity of each matchup award points to winners while the citys elite fight for the chance to be called the best of the best. Those hoping to play must arrange a team beforehand and pay 200 rubles ($4.80) to enter.



Tuesday, Nov. 4


Attend the premiere of Canadian director Xavier Dolans latest film Mommy at the Avrora theater this evening. The fifth picture from the 25-year-old, it is the story of an unruly teenager but the most alluring (or unappealing) aspect is the way the film was shot: in a 1:1 format that is more reminiscent of Instagram videos than cinematic art. Tickets cost 400 rubles ($9.60) and snacks and drinks will be available.



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