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            February 2004

National Geographic publishes around the world, so who better to point you to the most unusual, unique, and sometimes irreverent cultural traditions in their countries than the editors of our international editions? Each month a real insider reveals five favorites in this series.

Who runs the show: Andrei Doubrovski, Chief Editor

Name of the game: National Geographic Russia
When it all started: October 2003

Where it all happens:
Moscow, Russia
Who makes it happen: Six editorial staff plus the editor
What goes out: About 150,000 magazines a month
Upcoming GeoHappenings: National Geographic films showing every Saturday in January and February at 12:10 p.m. on Russian TV Channel 1.
What keeps everyone going: "We receive dozens of resumes every day from people wishing to work for the magazine. I have a nice collection of applications for editor in chief and art director. Believe me, that helps a lot to keep us going."  
Favorite office ritual: "When we receive a new issue from the printer, it is an old tradition to drop some red wine on the first copy. Thank God the cover is colorful enough to stand it."
Best office perk: "One of our staff members brings us good luck, but the name is top secret."
Favorite end-of-the-workweek activity:  "Among us we have 11 kids—enough for a football team or a future NGM-RU staff—plus five dogs, three cats, and two rats. We enjoy getting together with our families and traveling to the countryside outside Moscow for the weekend."
What's great about Russians: "It's impossible to say what single thing is best about the Russian people. There's this thing we call the mysterious Russian soul. Nobody understands it, but it exists."
What's great about Russia: "This is the biggest country in the world, with so many interesting people and places. There is a lot of adventure here, so we're taking advantage of that in the magazine by publishing a segment called "Russian Routes." One of the stories will be about people who still ride reindeer. We'll also run our version of zip code stories."

International Editions
FlagFive Cultural Bests
Cultural Bests
The world's biggest country has no small share of cultural traditions to experience. For Doubrovski's favorites, read on.

1. Maslenitsa
"This blend of pagan and Christian traditions is the Russian version of Mardi Gras. All over the country people celebrate the last period of merrymaking before the Great Fast preceding Easter. The festival starts February 5, and for the next four days Russians—many in traditional costumes—build bonfires, enjoy sled rides, try to avoid injury during mock fistfights, drink lots of vodka, and eat pancakes, which symbolize the sun. The best places to take part in maslenitsa are Moscow and to the northwest in the Golden Ring, a region of old Russian cities offering fine examples of Russian culture, traditions, and architecture dating back to the 12th century."

2. Ivana Kupala Night (Solstice)
"This celebration, based on ancient pagan agricultural rites, marks the summer solstice. People dressed in casual or traditional Russian attire take part in festivities that include singing, dancing, and jumping over bonfires. According to tradition, the higher you jump, the more luck you will have in the future. And if a man and woman jump together, they will be married soon. Girls and boys make straw dolls in their own gender that are ignited and set afloat in the water as a purification ritual. The most colorful and lively celebrations take place south of St. Petersburg in Velikiy Novgorod and Pskov, near Moscow in the towns of Suzdal and Vladimir, and in Kostroma, Smolensk, and Bryansk."

3. Moscow's City Day
"Almost all Russian cities and towns celebrate their own City Day. Then Secretary of the Moscow City Committee Boris Yeltsin introduced the tradition in 1986. Moscow's City Day, held this year on the first Sunday in September, is the most popular. The center of the city is closed to traffic for a mass open-air festival that includes contemporary and traditional music concerts, theatrical productions, sports competitions, food, dancing, and the unveiling of completed city improvement projects. The mayor hosts the event, which is attended by the president, regional governors, delegates from the Commonwealth of Independent States, and other dignitaries."

4. Moscow International Film Festival
 "This has come to be one of the biggest contemporary film festivals in the world and a source of national pride. This year from June 20 to 29 the city will host guests from the international movie industry, including Hollywood. A prestigious panel of judges will screen films and decide the winners among competitors in various categories. There are also a number of gala premieres during the festival. The basic beauty of the festival is that Russians get a sample of outstanding foreign films and international visitors get to witness the results of Russian filmmaking."

5. December Evenings
"Every evening throughout the month of December, the Moscow Pushkin Fine Arts Museum hosts live performances of classical music by the best Russian and international musicians. The museum, which is beautiful in its own right, creates a special atmosphere by exhibiting art and artifacts from the same period and place as the music. It's a real pleasure for classical music lovers."

—Cassandra Franklin-Barbajosa

Photographs by Gerd Ludwig,  Marc Garanger, CORBIS (center), and  Charles O'Rear CORBIS ( right)

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