The unpredictability of the elements makes Petersburg a profoundly expressive city. It has the ability to change its countenance unexpectedly, compelling us to see its beauty in a new light. It is as if the city senses the mood of its inhabitants and seeks to share with them both their joy and melancholy, but the famous White Nights seem almost to compensate for the frequent rains, clammy mists, short winter days and long autumn nights.
The best part of the year is widely considered to be the period from May to June known as the “White Nights”, when as many people are out and about during the night as during the day, with an even greater number than usual strolling along the embankments. Music and laughter are heard everywhere as people while away the hours in countless restaurants and cafes, go for boat rides along the rivers and canals, or simply enjoy the spectacle of the bridges – for the sight of the steel spans rearing up to allow ships to pass through is a truly unforgettable spectacle. City residents have to put up with a certain amount of inconvenience, adjusting their movements across the Neva to the bridge-opening timetable; yet they also traditionally take pride in this uniquely Petersburgian phenomenon. The White Nights are also the season of special cultural events: arts festivals including classical music, jazz, rock music and cinema; and the school-leaving balls that for generations have marked young people’s coming of age.
“A multitude of poets have extolled and described our northern nights, but to express their beauty in words is as impossible as describing the scent of a rose and the tremor of a string fading into air. No poet can convey the inexpressible, mysterious silence, pregnant with thoughts and life, that rests on the heavily respiring Neva after the heat of day in the phosphorescent light of the frail clouds and crimson west. No painter can capture the wondrous shades and hues that play in the sky and are reflected in the rivers as on the skin of a chameleon, in the facets of crystal or the polarisation of light. No musician can transpose into earthly tongues the sounds, permeated with feeling, that rise up from the earth to the skies only to fall back to earth once more reflected by the heavens” (Apollon Grigoriev)