Monday, September 17, 2007

The Light's Off. . . but Everybody's Home

Attention engineers and inventors: We need a way to stockpile electricity for home use. We already squirrel away canisters of water for those hours or days when there’s no water, a regular occurrence around here. But when the electricity is off, a flashlight helps out although most folks have candles handy.

As I write this, we’ve got 2 hours until lights go off at 5:00 p.m. At least today I’ll not be surprised when everything goes dark.

But Sunday morning when I was in the midst of my getting-ready-for-church beauty-wanna-be regime, when my curling iron and I had almost persuaded my hair to curl, that’s when the big, fancy refrigerator six inches from my elbow shuddered, sighed and went silent. Not everybody does her hair next to a refrigerator, of course, but here where my living room is an extension of the kitchen – so the refrig is there– and my hallway is an extension of the bathroom – so the mirror is there near the outlet, that’s the set-up.

So with the curling iron cooling, by the time I had checked my electrical breaker box, it was on to Plan B for the hair. Knowing that if my electricity were out, the other 35 apartments in this stairwell were probably also in the dark. I figured that someone would have it all worked out by afternoon when I would be back from church. But alas and alack. Hours later when I unlocked the door, I was greeted by pitch black silence. No low hum of refrig. The place was quiet. Quieter than. . .than an early autumn breeze wafting ‘cross the steppe.

Russian folk express being without electricity as being without lights or bez svyeta. Svyet being light and the –a ending for genitive case because, according to the rules of Russian grammar, that which one lacks, she lacks in the genitive case. So here it was, a balmy autumn afternoon perfect for productivity and creativity and I was stuck in the genitive case.

* * * * *

After a nap, I went down to check with Galina on 1st floor. Those first floor folk are often good sources information. Sure enough, Galina had the scoop.

Maybe this evening we’ll have lights. But maybe not until day after tomorrow.

Oh nooo!

I was envisioning my stash of sweet peppers and pelmeni thawing and spoiling. I asked how she had all this information and I didn’t.

I read the notice posted by the door.

Oh. Ohhh! I get it – functional literacy! So I hurried outside to check the spot and sure enough – a notice was posted. (Note to self: Watch for notices, particularly those where either light or water is in the genitive.)

Around 5:00, I curled up in an armchair and read by a west window. I stewed about my stuff in the freezer: red and yellow peppers, packages of veggies, pelmeni, plum puree. . . I was thinking about calling a taxi to haul me and the semi-frozen stuff to the church building where there’s a freezer. Decisions, decisions.

Then I became very decisive when the vision of a Ritter Sport bar with almonds flashed through my mind. Heading downstairs toward the corner store, I passed two electricians working in the stairwell. Actually, one was working by the light of a cell phone held by his co-worker.

I have a flashlight if you’d like to use it.

Nyet, nyet, we’re fine, said Mr PhoneHolder.

Soon it was 8:00, past dusk and two more hours until bedtime. Didn’t Abraham Lincoln read at night by the light of . . . something?

Still considering my options: I wanted to work on my computer. I could take the laptop and walk 10 minutes to a café. But it's not a internet cafe, certainly not computer friendly. And besides, it would be noisy, smoky and uncomfortable. Or I could walk 25 minutes to the church building or pay like 100 rubles for a cab. . .but at 8:00 pm?

Mulling , mulling, mulling it over. . . what to do, what to do, pros and cons and not knowing if lights would come later in the evening or later in the week. What? What was that sound? I heard a low hum. Then I was heard the printer clank on in the next room. Oh yeah – those electricians came through and we had s-v-y-e-t!

Well, we had same dilemma the next day at 5:00 pm for three hours. And the following day as well. And they say we’re not outa the woods yet with repairs to the electricity.

So I was thinking that it comes down to two things, maybe three: decisions about food that could spoil. And decisions about having enough light for reading. And it would be nice to have the computer working during that time. So, there you have it, you inventors out there. What can you come up with for the rest of us?

Just to aid in your initial research: A quick Google search shows Online Consumer Reports with info about generators – looks as though a person could easily spend $2,000. Let me be more specific about the project: What could a person get for, say, for $100? That is, other than several very nice flashlights and lots of batteries?

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