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Ineffable Light

Nikolai Roerich Apartment Museum

Balls Glittering and Raucous

History of St. Petersburg Museum


Head for the Woods, Russians

Published: August 20, 2014 (Issue # 1825)

: dense, virgin forest

Ah, August. August is usually thescary month inRussia, themonth when bad things happen, themonth ofmourning, themonth when political history is remade bytanks or peat fires. But this year, things have been so scary andso awful forso long, what difference could one month make?

-- (sound ofspitting over my shoulder three times toward off bad luck).

Since scary things will happen no matter what, it is much better tospend themonth out ofthe city heat, taking long walks inthe woods.

TheRussian language is rich onthe subject offorests. Thegeneric word fora forest is , but there are plenty ofmore specific terms. Forexample, you might choose theword todescribe adense, virgin forest if you know what avirgin forest looks like, that is. Themost famous one is , where theU.S.S.R. was officially dissolved, usually simply transliterated as Belovezhskaya Pushcha.

Afew trees are called (grove, copse), andthe most famous kind inRussia is (birch grove). Astand ofpine trees is called (pine grove). InMoscow themost famous one is (literally, Silver Pine Grove).

Animpenetrable part ofthe forest is called (thicket), or (deep inthe forest): , (Through my binoculars I saw him come out ofthe thicket).

Andif its areally old forest that has miraculously been untouched bycivilization, it is (primeval or old-growth forest). This is also adescription ofsomeones unknowable soul, as expressed insaying ࠗ (literally, apersons soul is adeep forest).

Folks who know their forests might refer toeither (coniferous forest) or (deciduous forest). Forexample: , , , - (I dont mean that coniferous forests are worse, but aspen forests are lovely, too, when they seem tobe lit bypale green light). is black () fora reason all those leafy trees block thelight: , (When we went intothe broad-leafed forest, thetrain car went dark.)

Andfolks who can tell one tree fromanother might be very specific, if old-fashioned, when they talk about thewoods: (oak forest); (aspen forest); (elm forest); (linden forest); (fir forest); (cedar forest); (pine forest).

Not surprisingly, theforest figures inseveral common Russian expressions. Ҹ (a dark forest) is theEnglish speakers Its Greek tome something incomprehensible.

Andwhere there are forests, there are wolves. , (literally, if youre scared ofwolves, dont go intothe woods). Inother words, if you cant stand theheat, get out ofthe kitchen. , (literally, work isnt awolf that will run away inthe woods). That is tosay: Work isnt going anywhere (so have some fun). Andfinally: , (literally, no matter how much you feed awolf, he keeps looking atthe woods). Today this is usually abbreviated to toyearn forsomething better.

Like anice, dark, cool forest ona hot day.

Michele A. Berdy, aMoscow-based translator andinterpreter, is the author ofThe Russian Words Worth (Glas), acollection ofher columns.



Friday, Jan. 30 through Wednesday, Feb. 4

A retrospective of the films of Roman Polanski starts today at Loft-Project Etagi, 74 Ligovsky Prospekt, with a screening of Repulsion at 7 p.m. and Rosemarys Baby at 9:15 p.m. The series runs through Feb. 4 and will include Polanski's eminently creepy The Tenant, the cult comedy The Fearless Vampire Killers and Cul-de-sac among others. Tickets are 150-200 rubles and the complete schedule is available at

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