AFTER the eight-month winter, spring comes reluctantly in Moscow. The first signs are unmistakable. Amazingly, the mercury begins to flirt with levels above the zero line. Trees, still devoid of foliage, seem to sway with a new abandon, sensing the promise of a breeze less harsh. The day dawns earlier, and suddenly there is still light when people go home in the evening. The streets, etched unchangingly through the frozen peace of winter begin to blur, succumbing to the slush and tumult of more bearable temperatures. Heavy overcoats and furs give way to lighter mackintoshes. I've often said to my Russian friends that a fundamental freedom they must inscribe in their Constitution is the opportunity to leave one's home without a palto (overcoat). But for all this, winter relaxes its white-fisted grip uneasily. And spring is like a woman at a long-awaited tryst, aware of the inevitable but unwilling to disrobe immediately.
The truth is that even in defeat, winter in Russia has a conquering smirk. For, it has been known to snow in Moscow in May, and even in June. The warmest day of summer treads warily here. It cannot cock a snook at winter which, like the polar bear, may have temporarily gone into hibernation but can unexpectedly stir if its sovereignty is challenged too blatantly.