Tuesday, January 31, 2006

A Russian Winter to Write Home About

Today is a tropical 20 degrees F in comparison to last week’s severe cold of –20 here in Rostov-on-Don. The cold snap was the coldest weather in a generation for Russia and Eastern Europe. Weathering the bitter cold requires some adjustment and for me, that includes cutting back on iced tea. I pooh-pooh the local notion that drinking anything cold is an invitation to getting sick.

There’s no arguing that Russians know how to winter. They’ve won wars with their wintering skills. They froze out Napoleon and out-wintered Hitler. The Russian proverb, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing,” reflects their philosophy that if one is dressed right, weather can be managed. And so now on the street we see magnificent full-length fur coats and beaver skin hats which have been stuffed into closets during recent warmer winters.

My own coat, a sleeping-bag style in cardinal red, is a marvel of apparel functionality thanks to Eddie Bauer and Co. It’s guaranteed good to -40 F, weighs kilograms less than a heavy fur and is not a coat likely to be stolen from a coat rack. So I’m plenty toasty outdoors but keeping warm indoors has been quite another story. I’ve finally figured out that wearing not one but two layers of thermals makes a difference, as does wearing a knit hat and fingerless gloves.

Granted, my place has been colder than most. In mid-December when I returned from a 12-week furlough, I was more interested in unpacking than in weather-stripping and rationalized about the merits of not sealing off my two balconies, just this once. I figured that the north balcony would be a great walk-in refrigerator-freezer, ideal for cooling off the big batches of soup that I make regularly and then leaving the south balcony unsealed would allow me to shake my throw rugs over the railing rather than lugging them down the elevator to shake them at ground level. Besides that, I was out of the foamy lengths of weather-stripping.

Frost Inside My Kitchen Window

Suffice it to say, it got a little nippy in this apartment with cold air sneaking in from both the north and south, converging around my favorite easy chair. It’s lots warmer now since our brother Nickolai came over with weather stripping and heavy plastic sheeting which he tacked around the outside of the balcony doors and windows. But in the meantime I got an upper respiratory infection that kept me home several days.

Russian folk have their ways of coping with the cold. Electric space heaters are common as is keeping gas burners on the stovetop going. And then there’s the drinking of hard liquor. Alcohol consumption surged in Moscow last week and in a town further north, an elephant went bezerk and ripped his cage apart after zookeepers fed it a bucket of vodka to help it feel warmer, according to Fred Weir of The Christian Science Monitor.

As for me, with the temperatures for the next five days surging above 0 degrees F, I’m back to enjoying my home-brewed iced tea with plenty of ice. Cheers!

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