Wednesday, February 3, 2010

In Which I Pay It Forward

With temperatures soaring in Moscow this week (we are hovering right below freezing as I type) the hot debate among the expat crowd here is whether (geez, I can't stop the puns) we prefer last week's bitter cold (super cold = sun, blue skies, and relatively clean sidewalks, such as Moscow sidewalks are) to this week's tropical climes.

Warmer Weather = Sidewalk Hell

Honestly, I am sure there are plows in Moscow, but the streets I walk on sure haven't seen any. And this heavy, wet snow, while, um, heavy, is easy to shovel off the sidewalks.

Where are all our hardworking Tajiks?

And didn't our Mayor promise to divert all of Moscow's snow? What's up with that?

It is a mess out there. So much so that yesterday I finally put on my Yak Trax (again, no money changed hands here between me and the good people at Yak Trax except when I purchased four pairs of their product).

Mine look like this pair. Except I have lived in Moscow long enough not to be caught dead in shoes this boring. Even my Very Practical Winter Boots have some style. They just have day-glo green Yak Trax on them now.

The Verdict: Both The Spouse and I concur that our ability to navigate the city streets yesterday, while still difficult, was MUCH IMPROVED once we donned our Yak Trax. I did have to pop mine off to enter the Metro (they don't seem the thing to wear on a slipper, marble-esque floor), but it was easy enough to do.

I did not break out my pair until later in the day when I went to collect the children from school. Earlier in the day I went without, and let me tell you, it was rough going. Even the supposedly clean surfaces in the perehods/street underpasses were treacherously slippery.

Which is why when I passed an old woman, inching her way along the perehod, WITH A CANE, making weeping/whimpering noises, I had to turn around and go help her.

I cannot count the number of times total strangers here have helped us. Not just in my grocery store (where they refuse to sell me anything they deem is not fresh), but on the street, too. More than once we have had to ask for directions and when folks don't know they often go find out for us. It's quite sweet and very moving.

So I had to at least offer to help this woman.

She was old, but dressed well enough: good solid shoes, a fur hat, a thick sheep-skin coat. She had her wits about her. She just could not find any purchase on the floor surface. Since my Russian is virtually non-existent, I couldn't understand the outpouring of chatter when I first offered her my arm. I don't know if she had fallen (she didn't have any telltale wet and smudgy spots on her coat) or just went out to run an errand having misjudged the severity of the street surfaces.

She was happy to have me help her, however. I linked arms with her and held her hand and slowly, slowly we made our way through the perehod and up the stairs to street level. There is no way she could have done this on her own.

Once we reached street level, she seemed unsure exactly which way she wanted to go. She knew the address, however, and in typical Muscovite fashion, she asked several passersby until she got what she needed.

A young Russian man asked if we needed help. If I could have spoken to him, I would have said, "Yes! I have no idea how far this woman needs to go!" But my companion told him, "No, no, we're doing fine," much to my disappointment.

She had a small plastic bag that she held in the same hand with her cane. It seemed to contain one of those local newspapers and an open can of Coca Cola, among other things. She was very concerned that the Coke would spill out of the can and onto the contents of the bag. I was wondering why she didn't just discard the can (we passed several trash cans), but at one point she stopped, got the can out of her bag (with great difficulty), and had a swig.

I can't say I wasn't ever-so-slightly tickled to see her enjoying one of my favorite American products.

"Are you French?" she asked me.

Nope. American.

That seemed to please her. Oh, this was one of those times that I desperately wished I spoke better Russian. It would have been so interesting to have a real conversation with her.

Once up on the sidewalk, we began inching down the street. I know this section of sidewalk, and there is a point in front of an office building where the surface stone changes (for aesthetic purposes) to something I nearly killed myself on earlier that day. I was not about to let her navigate that by herself.

Thankfully, we stopped just as we reached that point.

"I don't know what number this is," she kept saying. "What number is this?"

I couldn't see an address, but while we were standing there, the Concierge Dude for the building saw us and came out. He was able to tell her that we had passed her destination, but only just.

So back we went while younger, speedier Moscow flowed like water all around us.

I got her to the door she declared was her destination, and held it for her so she could go inside.

"Beautiful! Beautiful!" she kept telling me, and gave me big kisses on my cheeks.

I don't know how she got home, but I hope she had a little help.

In Moving News: I guess we are T-12 Days since we leave Moscow February 15. Although the movers will handle all the packing, there are a million and one details left to sort out. Remember to have the water people come and take their cooler back. Sort out interim health/life insurance coverage until new kicks in. What on earth are the cats going to travel in? And what am I going to do with them (and the children) next Wednesday when the movers are here (short day at school that day, The Spouse will be out of town, and we won't have a temporary apartment in Moscow until the following day)?

In the Good News Column, we will have a rental car waiting for us in Luxembourg when we arrive, as well as temporary digs. We can go there directly from the airport. The question is, how long do we think it will take us to find a permanent place to rent? Two weeks? Four?


The mind reels.


Dina said...

Peter thinks I'm moaning because I'm jealous you are moving to Moscow, yes, there is that, but I am going to miss having you here, lighting the way. Great post, as usual.

Dina said...

from Moscow, I meant, of course

katbat said...

I second Dina! who else can I bemoan the missing applicator with? Thanks for the shoes by the way - I would like a pair of the orange ones for myself! If I curl my toes, they fit! :-)

I vote for extreme cold, but clear skies and clean sidewalks.

But it is a tough call. . . .

Anonymous said...

hey, you are now No 9 on babble

Tina in CT said...

You did your good deal for the week helping the elderly lady and scored good points for Americans. I know how trecherous the Russian sidewalks are.

I kept wondering where the snow plows and snowblowers were when I was there for Xmas. If they used a snowblower on sidewalks when it snowed, there would not be the ice build-up.

I just came in from shoveling and clearing the car as we got several inches of light, powdery snow during the night.

My suggestion is to get a hotel room for the last night if your beds are packed up.

As for the cats the days the packers and movers are there, crate them.

I have a similar pair of the ice grippers that go over boots as I used to need them sometimes on the work parking lot. Since we moved to a different work location, it's not the same in that parking lot.

Anonymous said...

I flew four cats out of Russia last fall, and it turns out to be pretty easy to arrange. Call Yuri & Valeria at 8 916 044 6333 for the required paperwork, and get soft carriers for cabin travel (400R for the smallest size at Auchan)or hard "Clipper" carriers (much pricier, but also avail. at Khimki, at the pet store near IKEA). We paid 150euro per cat on Swissair. Good luck! Congrats! Carmen N.

Susan said...

Nice story. Lovely deed you did for the lady. I wish you the best with your move and hope Luxembourg is a dream come true for you all!

kate said...

Cold and CLEAR gets my vote. Up here our sunny days are dreadfully few and very far between.

I always wish I could chat more with those "temporary friends" you make on the streets.

Car and housing waiting sounds GREAT! I'll just comment on that part...

valentina said...

Hi Sis, Good work with the old woman! And for Americans too...

I am hoping the tips for the cats by "Anonymous" will help you to sort it out... Otherwise I would ask your upstairs vet if s/he would take them overnight? And I'd stay in a hotel with the girls and Ron and collect the cat the following morning... I really hope the cat flight with Swiss Air can help... Once again, many problems are solved by throwing money at them... Amazing how much it can cost to care for a couple of strays isn't it???

Orlando walked on my keyboard last night and turned on the Voice Over command which I had to put up with for 2 hours while I tried to figure out how to turn it off... The university computer help line was off for the night and finally a friend came through with the solution... But meanwhile I was going berzerk and we are, at least I am, so computer dependent, alas...

I have an old friend coming to visit who while she has only lived over in Cincinnati, 4 hours away, I have scarcely seen over the years. I have seen you far more often!! That is saying something...I am very excited to be seeing her... She is moving to NC and these long distance friendships are so difficult aren't they? All I can say is that it is a good thing that love is transcendental!

Good luck with all the tedious tasks... Think of what fabulous adventures await in Luxembourg! xov

The Expatresse said...

Yuri & Valeria ARE my vets. They live in my building. The problem is whether to trust them when they say Cat-O won't get weighed (and therefore he can travel in a soft-sided bag) or he WILL get weighed and therefore needs to be checked (in a hard cage).

He doesn't fit in the cage he came here in.

We're going on Air France, which they recommend.

Carmen said...

Just wanted to add -- our cats were never weighed. Not even glanced at. Come up with an optimistic number for the chubby one, put it in writing on the vet certificate/pet passport, and you're probably fine. If Y&V are seeing you off at the airport (they often do this for expats), they can bring along a hard carrier as back-up (they have many) in case Cat-O is unlucky and gets weighed... Also wanted to mention, we stayed at the Aerotel Domodedovo the night before departing WITH all four beasts, no extra charges and no questions asked... again, good luck. Cheers, CN

Jojo, Julz, Julianne said...

OH NOooo, you are leaving so soon. I am wrecked..I will miss your posts from Moscow. I have grown so attached to your approach to the city. You make me think I can make it there, if I ever got there. You also make me want to order a fur coat. and a hat. and some ceramics. And possibly wear hooker shoes!!
I am going to miss you being there!! And lordy, your hubbie moves fast!!

valentina said...

Oh this Blog is worth the price of your patience if only for the superb vet/travel advice you are getting!

And it has been a delight hearing about and seeing Moscow through your eyes for the past couple of years. Certainly it is the closest I'll ever get, being a bad friend and never coming there to see you, although with you here in the summer and Xmas it hardly would have made any sense...

I'll be certain to come to Luxembourg though!

I would offer to come and help you unpack during spring break but I know you would rather do it yourself wouldn't you? And I suspect you may be living in cramped quarters, although I certainly hope not!!

Anyhow things seem to be progressing rapidly thanks to your formidable organizational skills and energy...not to mention the patience of Job! xov

Tina in CT said...

Hope yesterday and today are much better.

Anonymous said...

Very charitable of you indeed. My business idea is already in the market - damn those Yak trax people. I shall have to find another way to make my millions...