a big beautiful mess

Russian Men

In case you hadn’t heard, yesterday was Defenders of the Fatherland Day here in Russia. The holiday was originally the Day of the Red Army and Navy, but the name was changed sometime after the end of the Soviet Union. These days, it’s celebrated more informally as a kind of “Men’s Day,” as a counterpart to International Women’s Day on March 8. But attitudes are mixed about this. When I mentioned that “Men’s Day” was coming up to my all-female class, several of them immediately corrected me–“Noooo, it’s only for men in the army!”

On the other hand, these posters appeared in the halls at the university the day before:

“To our dear boys, lads, guys, men and mAns!!!! We want to wish you a happy February 23 and say that we value and love you very much!!! –Your girls.”

[The last word for men, “muzkYki” is misspelled, with the wrong letter capitalized. I feel like I’m missing something.]

And then there was this one:

“Happy holiday, our dear defenders! To you happiness, robust health, and great victory in every undertaking!”

Ɓukasz received a text from a female colleague wishing him, and I quote, “valor and steadfastness.” Oh, and I got him a little cat figurine, because I know he’s obsessed with cats.

Grocery stores sold cards that entreated their recipients to be like rocks, real men, striving to live up to the example of the great defenders of the fatherland. I took the opportunity to endear myself to the night watchmen with chocolate. One of them, Valentin Ilich, is a Navy man (like my grandpa!) and remembers everything, and loves to tell you about it. When I went to present him with a bar of chocolate printed with St. George slaying the dragon, he was watching a ceremony of some sort on TV, which involved singing of patriotic songs and a woman saying things about the qualities of men in between each act. But Valentin Ilich immediately got to his feet and happily recounted to me his visit to the widow of his former captain, to commemorate the holiday. He and his wife brought her photographs and a book about the veterans that her husband appeared in, and chocolates and flowers. Half an hour later, I came back to my room edified and happy, but not any less bemused by this funny holiday.

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