Over the years of these trips back to St. Petersburg, I've become an excellent observer of the workings of my own memory. I've been collecting a catalog of certain small things that make me flash to the world of my childhood--and beyond. Trips now remind me of previous trips. My past is never something that's literally behind me; I visualize it more as a reference library, from which I can pull out volumes at will. Certain volumes are more useful than others. Others catch my attention for no apparent reason. The library is cataloged neither based on a chronological order nor on any kind of the alphabet, using, for example, the names of the people my memories are associated with, but based on a complicated emotional signature of each individual memory.
The rain yesterday became ice today, and then midday it snowed again so that when I came out of the apartment building around 5 pm, most of the paths were iced over underneath the fresh layer of snow. Apparently, this pattern has been reoccurring for some days, because on some paths the ice was several inches deep and chunky. Most paths are strewn with sand and salt, but some are not. Walking is a rather slow and precarious business. Both sides of the path are walls of several feet of snow. In certain particularly narrow areas you might get stuck behind the more cautious walkers and need to slow down. Slowing down is good: I finally get off my cell phone and get a chance to look around. Immediately, I remember a ritual: eating several handfuls of fresh white snow on the way home from school. You get so hot running down these paths, bundled up as you are inside a padded coat, a sweater, a shirt and an undershirt. You're sweating even though it's below zero--a perfect recipe for a head cold.
But the heat is not why you eat snow. You eat snow the way you eat everything: you consume the world through its smell and taste and texture. You eat breakfast, dinner and supper, you drink tea and eat jam and biscuits. You eat fruit of the trees and you eat vegetables that grow in your garden. You eat green grass in the spring and acorns in the fall. You make whistles out of inedible acacia pods and you get your nose yellow in the pollen of dandelions. You chew on the bark of spruce twigs while playing card games with friends and you use pine needles as toothpicks. You poke holes in the birch tree with a knife and you suck on the juice of it. In the winter, you get your tongue stuck to the frozen metal railing outside of your apartment building because you are curious to see what white frost tastes like. In the summer, a mosquito flies into your mouth and you're disturbed by swallowing the thing that was so alive a moment ago but it doesn't really taste like anything. When it's windy, you open your mouth and try to taste the wind. When it's raining, you stick your tongue out and you try to catch raindrops with it.
I haven't felt the spring in the air yet (and don't talk to me about astronomical spring that starts only at the end of March--spring is a state of mind); but I have tasted the snow. There was some crisp in it even though it was heavy with water, a touch of sweetness and a clean smooth aftertaste. There was no sediment in it that comes from drinking boiled or filtered chlorinated water. The cleanliness is deceptive, of course: the snow has absorbed all kinds of pollution on its way down, it has absorbed even more as it was lying there in the yard by a very busy street. I wouldn't recommend city snow for a drink of choice, but it's very refreshing in small doses.