International Women’s Day

March 8 is International Women’s Day, a day that used to be marked in red on our Soviet calendars, a day when branches of pussy willows sprouting little balls of fuzz – the first puffs of spring – migrated from kiosks scattered all over the city to the hands of men, who carefully carried awkward bunches on the tram and the metro back home to their wives.  In schools, the last period on March 7 was canceled, so that the boys could clumsily produce pencil sharpeners and pocket combs out of their bags and hand them to the girls, the future international women.

At home, the day was devoted to chopping, baking, and stewing, with heavenly aromas of food floating out of kitchens onto apartment building landings.  Women in aprons raced between refrigerators and stoves, as men in slippers lounged on divans with a Pravda article and a glass of beer next to the pussy willows they had brought a few hours earlier.  At night, when zakuski and the stews were ready and arranged on dishes allowed out of the cupboard only on major holidays, beer glasses were replaced with vodka shots to toast the beauty, talent, and endurance of women.  The women, in the meantime, raced between the kitchen and the divan, which now served as a bench for the table brimming with food.  Men made toasts and told jokes.  “What is the difference between the East and the West?  In the West, there is everything in the store and nothing on the table.  In the East, there is nothing in the store and everything on the table.”  We knew nothing about the West back then, but the part about the East was staring us in the face.  At the end of the night, after bending over a bathtub full of dirty plates, women could finally stop racing and drink to the day devoted entirely to them.