If I use the word ‘snow’, what image does it conjure in your mind’s eye?
Is it a Christmas scene of rosy faced children playing in a glowing white landscape, or perhaps a high altitude mountain trek requiring the expert use of ice axe and crampons, or sitting inside beside a roaring fire while great fat flakes settle in cushioned mounds outside, or skiing and sledding, or a bit of city traffic chaos and closed airports, or maybe an igloo?
They say that in some languages of peoples who live in cold countries there is a multiplicity of words for snow, and mountaineers say they can identify different types, which, they say, helps them determine the level of risk in each step. Even a city dweller unused to severe cold can distinguish the crunchy stuff that will afford some traction, from the compressed slippy- slidy stuff that’s going to rob you of your dignity and send you flying.
But back to the original question, if all I do is write ‘snow’ what do you imagine I mean?
Whatever has come into your head, it’s white, isn’t it?
Maybe it was wearing my Moscow hat for the first time in 10 years (it has to be properly cold otherwise my head near explodes with the heat of it; it is like walking around with a cat on my head after all), or maybe it was the icy air and the slipperiness of the pavements, but being in Paris reminded me of the time I had forgotten that snow was white.
I forgot about the whiteness because, in the depths of winter, snow in the centre of Moscow always seemed to look like this: a grey black mush mounded in piles at the side of the pavement and lurking in the gutters and the curb’s edge. Sometimes it was solid and you could risk stepping onto it to start the walk across the road, but, most frequently, it was but a crushed ice topping to a deep puddle underneath, ready to wash over the top of your boot if you made the mistake of stepping in it; and sometimes there was no avoiding it. It was taking that one huge stride to get over it at the pedestrian crossing at the bottom of the Champs Elysees on Saturday that reminded me where I had learned the skill of distinguishing one type of grey slush from another.
So next time you use the word ‘snow’ remember, it’s not always white.