Chernivtsi University in early January. Photo by Snow Rabbit.
“We loved winter in the city, especially in the gardens that skirted our street. And particularly the heart of winter, January, which brought Christmas, according to the reckoning of the Orthodox Church. We loved its dryness and severity, its veiled light in the frost, when the snow that had blanketed the entire landscape and erased all shapes finally subsided, and the contours emerged crisp and clear out of the immaculate white—no longer tinged with gray or yellow like on the days weighted with snow clouds—and were finally covered with a brittle, icy down like a tender mildew, lending a fragility to the hard surfaces and muting the colors that still shone through here and there—such as the dark brick red of the neighboring home, which we could now see, as if through a filter that simultaneously softened shapes and heightened them. Things then spoke to us with a more serious purpose, they gained deeper meaning, acquired a timeless symbolism. Nothing captured winter’s adamantine quality better than the beautiful Christmas carol that Miss Rappaport taught us: “… earth stood hard as iron, / water like a stone.” It was as if the world’s breath had stopped, and this rigidity struck us as a foretaste of eternity, when nothing would move or breathe anymore—only frightening at first glance, and festive as death at the second. We were completely taken by the white splendor, so full of promise, so powerful that it could turn any drop of water into a frozen star, that we asked ourselves whether a Christian who had never known winter would be capable of understanding why the Lord was born at this time of year and not in spring. Because in winter the world clearly became wider and freer; the horizons burst open. Bushes, trees, and shrubs that when in leaf merely simulated the depth of the landscape, like a forest backdrop on a stage, now turned transparent, while the gossamer branches and twigs, as spare as those inked on a Japanese brush-drawing, preserved the intact forms—just like the delicate spiderweb ribs of the maple leaf—and indeed it was this bareness that first brought the forms to light, by opening a view to the distance, from where, tinted orange as if in an eternal dawn, the heavens ascended.”
From An Ermine in Czernopol by Gregor von Rezzori, out January 10, 2012.
[A note on the name: Rezzori was born in Czernowitz, then part of Austro-Hungarian Empire. The city is now known by its Ukranian name, Chernivtsi. He set many of his books in his hometown, which he fictionalized as Czernopol.]