My my my myyyy ushanka.


The photo (I will not use that bizarre “selfie” word, which always strikes me as sexually fetishistic) was taken during our brief snow episode in early December. When I posted the photo on Facebook, a few friends asked about the fur hat. It is an ushanka, and Wikipedia explains:

An ushanka (Russianуша́нкаIPA: [ʊˈʂankə], lit. “ear hat”), also called a shapka-ushanka (шапка-ушанка) or trooper hat, is a Russian fur cap with ear flaps that can be tied up to the crown of the cap, or tied at the chin to protect the ears, jaw and lower chin from the cold. The thick dense fur also offers some protection against blunt impacts to the head. While no match for a helmet, it offers protection far superior to that of a typical beanie cap should the wearer fall and hit his or her head against ice or packed snow. The word ushanka derives from ushi (у́ши), “ears” in Russian.

I bought the hat in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) USSR in 1985. It cost 25 American dollars in the hard currency shop, pricy by a normal Russian’s standards of the time, and has had a remarkable life span, helped in part by its infrequency of use here. It seldom gets cold enough in the Ohio Valley to wear it. Now after all these years, my ushanka is starting to shed. My aim is to augment it with a căciulă, a characteristic conical sheepskin cap native to Romania. That is, if I can find one.

Upon seeing the photo, a friend wrote: “For a second, I thought an elderly racoon nestled on top of your head and napped. Too much vodka?”

For me or the racoon?

Back in 1985, when I attempted to translate the label, it seemed to suggest the fur as being arctic squirrel, but I’ve decided this must have been mistaken. Rabbit makes more sense. As for the vodka, of course both racoon and Roger had too much. It’s Russia, for chrissakes.