Huong Chieu

September offers a brief and cherished glimpse of summer’s return in Russia.

Russia in late September is endowed with a brief period of warmth and sunshine before the chill of winter descends. The phenomenon of Indian summer shimmers in the midst of autumn, fleeting and ephemeral like a whirlwind romance. No one can predict exactly when it will come or how long it will last, but it is one of the most beloved periods of the year.

The Russian term for this late summer is babie leto, or “old woman’s summer.” The Vietnamese poet Bang Viet called it “dropped summer” in his translation of an ageless poem by Olga Berggoltz.

This “dropped” summer is hardly unique to Russia. It is known as “Indian summer” in the US, “old woman’s summer” in numerous central and northern European countries, “Saint Martin’s summer” in Italy and France,
“poor man’s summer” in Bulgaria and “little summer” in parts of South America.

However, it is in Russia that summer’s brief reappearance is perhaps most keenly awaited, given the five or six months or wintry cold that await. Hence, the lingering arrival of the dropped summer is even more celebrated. People flock to parks, forests and botanical gardens to savor every single bit of summer’s warmth. They jog, stroll, cycle or listen to music and read a book on wooden benches in a leafy glade as children play on carpets of fallen gold leaves.

It is also a great time for visitors to admire the golden autumn of Russia and its splendid architectural landmarks. A brief trip to major cities such as Moscow and Saint Petersburg or smaller old towns reveals countless charming sights. A notable example is lovely Suzdal, which spans only nine square kilometers and hosts over 200 intact constructions dating from the 13th to the 19th centuries. Tutaev, an outdoor museum town, dubbed the “pearl on the Volga River,” Nizhny Novgorod with its old stone houses, or delightful quiet streets at misty dawn in Kostroma are all enhanced by the autumnal atmosphere. Local marketplaces bustle as shoppers savor freshly harvested strawberries, mushrooms and vegetables of autumn. This last glimpse of summer is glorious, but ephemeral, making it all the more precious — so make sure to cherish it to the fullest.