Monday, November 24, 2008

In Which Time Flies

On the one hand, I have absolutely nothing to report. It has snowed a few times in the past week, but nothing more serious than flurries, really. It seems to happen in the late afternoon/early evening, but any accumulation is gone by morning.

Yesterday was practically springlike: a balmy 10C, windy (in fact, I read/heard about signs and bricks crashing down on parked cars/pedestrians . . . the local news was, apparently, urging people to stay indoors). The radiators in our apartment were cold, which was fine while it was 10C. But when the temperature dropped to 0C in just an hour or so, I was starting to get nervous, wondering if the landlords had forgotten to pay something. This is a silly thought, since the heat is centrally managed. But one does wonder . . .

The other concern was the barometric pressure change sent Skittles to bed for a few hours with a sick headache. Since she got reading glasses this summer, the frequency of her headaches has dropped dramatically, which is definately a good thing. But she, like her parents, is still susceptible to dramatic weather changes.

Saturday morning Baboo announced she had an earache. Thankfully, she said this early in the morning, and I was able to get an appointment across the street. This being Moscow, I think I could have just walked into a pharmacy ("apteka") and asked for amoxicilin. But on the off-chance it was not an ear infection . . . and I don't know about dosages . . . it seemed prudent to ask a professional.

So we did. The Spouse took Skittles to her Saturday morning cooking class. I took Baboo to see the doctor. The doctor wrote us a script. I took Baboo back home, and then set out to deal with getting her Rx filled. First, I had to get cash. This meant a trip to the bank, which is across the street (gotta go uuuunder) and a block or so down. Walking out of the bank, I thought about stopping in the pharmacy that is right next door to the bank. But I've never been in that one. They don't know me. Best to stick with a tried and true shop, given my extensive linguistic talents.

So I walk back up the block, go uuuunder the street, continue past our building to find the pharmacy where they know us is CLOSED. The sign on the door lists their hours, and this includes Saturday mornings at 11:00. But, alas, there's no one there.

Okay. I retrace my steps back to the pharmacy by the bank. I step up to the window and greet the clerk. I put my hand in my coat pocket to pull out the prescription.


There's nothing in my pocket.

The clerk blinks at me.

I lose the ability to communicate in Russian. "I don't have the prescription!" I mutter.

She continues to stare. As well she should.

I exit the pharmacy, trying to decide if I left the paper on the table by the door at home or did I drop it on the street? It is possible I accidentally pulled it out of my pocket when I put on my gloves as I exited the bank. Do I go all the way home? Or just stop back in the doctor's office and hope she's still there so she can write me a new Rx. If I call the house, will phone-phobic Baboo even answer?

I decide to look in the bank first. No paper.

As I'm, dejectedly, walking back towards our building/the doctor's office, I see it: a folded piece of paper just lying on the sidewalk! Hurray!

Back to the pharmacy. I manage to complete the transaction and, with help from The Spouse, figure out how to dose the Baboo (it was one of those deals where the drug came in a bottle, but as a powder, and we had to add the right amount of water).

Later that afternoon, with the Baboo one resting quietly and The Spouse and Skittles amusing themselves, I went to buy nuts and honey from the guy with a little shop under the street. I manage to procure 300 grams each of almonds, pistachios, and Brazil nuts. I even get the honey I wanted. But I fumbled on the numbers part when he told me what I owed. I got 40 and 80 confused, and handed the guy 550 rubles when he wanted 580. Duh-oh! Figured it out, no harm done, but I just hate that. I know, I know: numbers are tough. But argh.

Yesterday afternoon, I screwed it up again. I went to the grocery store, but as I was leaving, I realized I forgot to get lemons. Grrr. But there, across the street from the Sedmoy Continent grocery store, is the fruit and veggie lady's permanently parked truck/stand.

"Lemons, please," I say. "Two pieces."

She says a number I interpret as 80. I have a 1000-ruble note, a 500-ruble note, and 4 or 5 10-ruble notes. Drat. She's not going to like this. I shuffle through the bills, hoping to show her I'm doing my best here, and offer the 500 rubles.

She shakes her head.

Sigh. Am I going to have to go buy cheese?

She reaches through her window and gently takes two tens. Duh-oh! She wants 18 rubles, not 80.

I shuffle home, muttering and dejected.

The Spouse, however, is more upbeat.

"Look," he says kindly. "We've been here almost a year now. Can you imagine this time last year if I had said to you, 'Go take Baboo to the doctor, get her prescription filled, and then go buy nuts from the guy under the street'?"

He's right. I would have cried. I haven't come very far, but I've come a long way.

I close with a Thanksgiving wish:

May your stuffing be tasty
May your turkey plump,
May your potatoes and gravy
Have never a lump.
May your yams be delicious
And your pies take the prize,
And may your Thanksgiving dinner
Stay off your thighs!

Friday, November 14, 2008

In Which I Suspect Winter Is Icumen In

The weather this week has been as lovely as any I’ve seen since moving to Moscow, dare I say it, almost a year ago. Cloudless, pale, blue skies. Thin, anemic, winter sunlight bathing everything in a golden glow. The temperatures are generally below 5C, but it hasn’t been unpleasant yet. What’s been odd is the length of the shadows at noon. And this is only early November.

But the inevitable is certainly coming. The double doors have started returning at the metro stations. (There are two sets of doors; one is taken down in the warmer months.) Most disconcerting, however, is the arrival of two big (Canadian!) snow-melting machines down at the end of Tsvetnoi Bulvar. I saw them last winter, but I didn’t think they were here when we arrived. I darkly suspect the Moscow version of Indian Summer is over.

Only “bits and bobs” to report as life is just sort of chugging along normally.

First, the Baboo Update. Tuesday afternoon she emerged from school in tears. “Deux garçons dans ma classe m’enervaient!” (I honestly can’t recall, but I think she said it in French, although she usually doesn’t speak French to me. At any rate, what she said was, “Two boys in my class were bothering me!”)

Seems Clément and Valentin dogged her the whole way from school (they have class in another building, but all walk back to the French school together at the end of the day). They stepped on the back of her shoes. They opened her backpack. They played Monkey In the Middle with her thermos. They pulled the belt on her coat.

“You know what this means,” I told her.

“Yeah!” she cried harder. “They. . . like . . . me!”

We found her teacher on the playground and explained the situation. “I’ll call them back to order,” he reassured her.

Fast forward two hours. Lo and behold, Valentin is in her fencing class. First match of the session: Baboo v Valentin.

There is justice in the world. Or at least in fencing class. She whips his funky butt, four points to two. He is overheard telling Tom, “Elle n’est pas nulle!” In other words, she’s something. Youpie!

New topic. Had a serious scare this week. Got a letter from Pani Babka, our 84-year-old neighbor in Bratislava. She's a sweetie and saved my life during the move because I would spend hours at the house dealing with it and forget to eat. Yes, it does happen. One night she found me outside, practically in tears because I was so tired and hungry and stressed. I don't know what I had done with the kids. Playdates, I guess. She dragged me inside and fed me, not just then, but on several occasions. Just real basic stuff, but real comfort food. And always plied me with homemade hootch. Even at breakfast.

Me: "I have to DRIVE!" (Slovakia has zero tolerance)

Her: "It's gentle! It has herbs!"

Anyhoo . . . this summer I sent her a postcard from Mackinac. And this week I open the mailbox and there’s a letter from her. It's all in Slovak (she speaks no English). I scan it, thinking I might get something. I do. I see "Pan Varga" (Mr. Varga, our landlord there), and the words for "windows open," "unusually warm," "plyn" (gas), and "43,000 crowns" (over $2,000). PANIC!

I can only describe that sinking sensation as being sure the top of my head is going to blow clean off. I hadn’t felt this stressed since the move, when every day I was sure I was going to die from a stroke or an aneurysm. Looking back on the move later, I have no idea why I got so worked up: everything went smoothly. But at the time . . . it was all coming back to me now.

We had been on the easy-payment-plan for gas there . . . like in the US: you pay a flat monthly amount and they settle up with you in August. We had overpaid, but the account was in Varga's name, so the refund check came to him. It was a couple grand, but we told him to keep it in lieu of paying to repaint the place when we moved out (that's negotiable, but usually the tenant leaving pays). He had made some noise, but we even moved out early, and he had a new tenant and could have had no break in income if he had chosen.

I was stressing because I thought there was some issue about us owing more money. I didn't know whether to ruin The Spouse's day by sharing the letter now (I scanned it and could email it). Or wait til he got home from work (at which point it would be too late to deal with it that day). We had had a bit of a tiff that morning . . . and I hadn't spoken to him since . . .

“Are you talking to me?” I decide to call.

“Of course.”

“Are you busy?”

“Not so busy.”

“Do you want to hear something that might be bad news but I can’t tell because I can’t read it but I guess I could get someone else to translate it for me but if it’s bad you will have to hear about it anyhow sooner or later . . .”

“For heaven’s sake! What is it?”

“I think we could owe Varga gas money.”

“Screw Varga,” he tells me.

Long story short, he forwarded Pani Babka’s letter to his former secretary in Slovakia who said the Babka was just gossiping about the tenants who followed us: they had parted with Varga on bad terms and, out of spite, had cranked the heat and opened all the windows and it had been several days before he realized and was now stuck with a big gas bill. She thinks he then realized what good eggs we were.

New topic. At 9:30 this morning, I finally got naked and ready to step in the shower because I had an English conversation date with Hairdresser to the Stars at 11:00. It was then I realized we had NO HOT WATER! I always feel a certain pressure to clean up my act before seeing HTTS because I don't want anyone to see me leaving his salon and think, "THIS is after?"

Moscow famously shuts off the hot water for three weeks in the summer. But I was in the US when our neighborhood's turn came around, so I did not have to invest in lobster pots for heating bath water. Once, more than 20 years ago, I had to wash in Taiwan with no hot water. But it was summer. One teakettle of hot water, cut with cold water, was enough to shampoo, rinse, condition, and rinse my hair while I stood in the bathtub. It took two teakettles' worth this morning, while I bent over the kitchen sink and dripped on the kitchen counter. The water was back later this afternoon. Life in the Big City.

I leave you to ponder winter in Moscow with the words of Ezra Pound:

Winter is icumen in,

Lhude sing Goddamm,

Raineth drop and staineth slop,

And how the wind doth ramm!

Sing: Goddamm.

Skiddeth bus and sloppeth us,

An ague hath my ham.

Freezeth river, turneth liver,

Damm you; Sing: Goddamm.

Goddamm, Goddamm, 'tis why I am, Goddamm,

So 'gainst the winter's balm.

Sing goddamm, damm, sing goddamm,

Sing goddamm, sing goddamm, DAMM.