Click to enlarge the cartoon. Drawing by Olga Markovich
Russian winter — it's a “Russian idea” and a “tourist brand,” as well as an integrator of every conceivable, inconceivable, simple or hogwash concept of Russian “identity.”
For one thing, it's very cool, even for someone who has vacationed in Jamaica, Goa, the Maldives and Jordan, in China and in Venice, in Italy and France. The buzz of a snowy winter isn't less, but much, much more. If the latest “warmth technologies” are factored in — thermal underwear, compact room-heaters, ski-jackets that keep you warm all day — there are no downsides at all.
The second plus of a snowy winter is that it's amazingly beautiful. None of the woeful kitsch ideas from Russian architects, wannabe designers, fans of “a la Russe” or faux-European projects can mess up the magnificence of snow-dusted cities, hills or fields.
The third selling point for Russian winters is their healthy side. Your cheeks are flushed with vigor and freshness, velocity and thrills. Meanwhile, in the heat, there is idleness, lethargy and torpor. Mt. Ivan near Perm, for example, can compete with the most advanced aqua park in its variety of sports and activities — and all with minimum investment expenses. The main material necessary, snow, is already there by the ton.
Russian winters lay outside politics, on the one hand; but, on the other hand, it fought on Russia’s side against the French and in the World War II. This makes it a very acceptable patriotic brand that can also be worked in with other “distinctly Russian” concepts. What's Russian vodka for? It warms you up. Where do you jump after sweating it out in the Russian bathhouses? Straight into a snowdrift. You get the idea: Russian snow, blushing Russian cheeks, Russian sledging, Russian forests, Russian winter games.
Snowy winters could be for Russia what the Mediterranean is for Turkey or what classical ruins are for Italy — a bright and attractive concept that projects a unique niche in world tourism. Russia has to learn how to sell snow: it has a lot more than just oil and gas. At Lake Baikal in Siberia, local bigwigs moan about the tourist season being so short — just July and August. Meanwhile, the different nature preserves in the area would be much more interesting to visit during the four months of winter. This is where Russia is ahead of its competitors. With its wide open spaces and diverse natural environment, even the Finns can't keep in front of Russia.
Russian science could even pick up a few tips from winter. There are huge domestic markets for energy-efficient building technology, as well as textile technology. Warm clothing from Russia! Not “valenki” felt boots (although they might be in there too, if only as souvenirs). No, the opening is for contemporary high-tech and attractive clothing.
Overall, no other Russian concept, Russian brand or Russian project would be capable of succeeding except for “Russian Winter.” All the rest are left on the drawing-board. On the way back, humanity can stop in Perm, stop in at the Perm Museum of Contemporary Art or enjoy the opera. It can stop over in St. Petersburg, get stuck in Moscow traffic-jams, or head for the Buddhist temples of Ulan-Ude.
First published in Russian in Vzglyad newspaper.