“Here is the dacha garden where we were happy…” V. Nabokov

Summer passed very quickly, as it usually does in Central Russia.  Fall brought yellow and red leaves, a few scattered rains, shorter and colder days and nostalgia for the Summer – the season that for many Russians is inseparable from their dachas.

Dictionaries usually translate ‘dacha’ as a second home or a summer retreat. I think this is true only partially. Yes, dachas are houses used predominantly in the summer. But to me dacha, like living in the country, is a concept, especially since it may or may not have a livable house at all.

First dachas in Russia were country mansions, they were initially privileges of the aristocracy. But by the end of the 19th century dacha was a popular summer retreat for many. Upper and middle classes would usually rent dachas for the Summer.  For these citizens of Tula’s region cedar forests along Oka River (a tributary of the Volga) were – and still are – popular for their air.

Although the cultural phenomenon of dacha in Russia is rooted in the rise of bourgeoisie in the 19th and 20th century, dacha, as we know it today, reached its unique place in life and culture of people in the Soviet Union. If in the 1930s dachas were allocated to high Communist party officials and “art intelligentsia” and were a sign of their status, as previously the case with the aristocracy, then dachas distributed by the government in the 1960s and 1970s were, as A. Nikitin writes in Kommesrant, outside of the class frames, so to say. (http://www.kommersant.ru/doc/2469702).

Very far from luxury these dachas were but small lots of land supposed to be used by people to grow additional produce. This is the image of dacha familiar to those who watched a famous Soviet Oscar-winning movie Moscow Does Not Believe In Tears.  This is the image of any typical dacha of my childhood that was, at least originally, small land with a vegetable garden, several fruit trees and a shack.

Here is the picture from the Life in the USSR blog:

 

Today dachas are very different, ranging from big opulent summer cottages to the still existing shacks, remnants of the Soviet times. For many who spend their summers at their dachas life is often centered on the dacha during the whole year. You start to think about your dacha during winter months, you start planning your flower (vegetables) beds early in spring, you buy and plant seeds — in other words you indulge in activities that true gardeners find important and even essential. There exist many studies on the profitability of dacha’s life (non-profitable) — studies that are usually debunked by the dacha proponents in such anti-scientific sentences as “I don’t care” and “But it’s organic!” Some even suggest that for Russian people dacha is a certain wonderland as opposed to the reality. (http://www.kommersant.ru/doc/2469702) But no matter what one thinks dacha, in a way, is an image of life itself, tightly compressed between short cycles of sprouting and withering.

The actual work at a dacha in Tula starts usually in May, depending on the weather.

Small hothouses (teplitsy) are covered with plastic.

New stylish hothouses of any design can now be built to order.

However, many “true” dachniki still prefer to make these hothouses by themselves. Now, with the overwhelming popularity of new and improved windows everywhere in cities and villages alike old glass window panes find their new life at the dacha.

The dacha cycle quickly rolls into June with its peonies…

… buzzing bumblebees …

… and nascent fruit.

July brings proliferation of flowers and berries and first fruit of your hard labor.

Dacha changes swiftly with the progression of summer and if you don’t concentrate too much on cycles of gardening you can enjoy the immense beauty of the nature around:

Some people buy old houses in villages and go there for the summer.  If your dacha happen to be in such a place then you might, casting aside your urban life, lead a farm-like existence.  Villages in Tula, at least those that are neighboring the city, undergo a building boom recently.  So such staples of village life in 1970s and even in 1980s as carts pulled by horses, cows and even goats are supplanted by modern cars and supermarket-bought bottled milk.

August celebrates the end of summer with the abundance of apples.

Probably because of the warming climate but you can grow grapes now in Tula…

… watermelons and pumpkins.

Russian pumpkins

 

Fall this year was exceptionally mild and that wonderful time called Indian Summer stretched well into October. First cold days of Fall at the dacha were filled with soft sounds – the wind blowing golden leaves off trees, thumps of uncollected apples falling down – punctuated by occasional shrieks of a couple of ravens.

Fall colors in Central Russia are more subdued compared to the bright festivity of the foliage in New England. No flamboyant hues, no deep reds, ochre, no vivid orange.

Just all shades of yellow, soft purples of trees, brown and coal of the ground. Boris Pasternak’s poem Indian Summer (Bab’e leto) comes to mind:

Лист смородины груб и матерчат.

The currant leaf is coarse like burlap

В доме хохот, и стекла звенят,

The house is filled with laughter and clinking of the jars

В нем шинкуют, и квасят, и перчат,

There’s chopping, and pickling, and peppering,

И гвоздики кладут в маринад.

And cloves are being put into the marinade.

 

Лес забрасывает, как насмешник,

The forest, like a scoffer, throws that noise

Этот шум на обрывистый склон,

Over to the precipitous slope,

Где сгоревший на солнце орешник

Where the sun-burnt hazel grove,

Словно жаром костра опален.

Looks as if being singed by the bonfire.

 

Здесь дорога спускается в балку,

Here the road descends to the gully

Здесь и высохших старых коряг

Here you feel pity for the old dried-out snags

И лоскутницы-осени жалко,

And for the motley rag-picker Autumn

Все сметающей в этот овраг.

Who sweeps everything down into this ravine.

 

И того, что вселенная проще,

You feel sorry that the universe is simpler

Чем иной полагает хитрец,

Than some wise-man might believe,

Что, как в воду, опущена роща,

That the grove looks crestfallen,*

Что приходит всему свой конец.

You feel sad that everything has its end.

 

Что глазами бессмысленно хлопать,

That it is senseless to stand blinking

Когда все пред тобой сожжено.

When everything before you is burnt down.

И осенняя белая копоть

And the white spider web of autumnal soot

Паутиною тянет в окно.

Flows to the window.

 

Ход из сада в заборе проломан

There’s a way from the garden through the broken fence,

И теряется в березняке.

And it loses itself in the birch grove.

В доме смех и хозяйственный гомон,

There’s laughter and the noise of chores in the house,

Тот же гомон и смех вдалеке.

And the same noise and laughter is far away.

* The literal translation of the Russian “kak v vodu opushchena”  “as if lowered into the water” which is an idiom “to (look, feel) crestfallen, dejected” can also mean a more vivid image of water if we see the grove against the (blue, presumably) of the sky.

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