Thursday, January 3, 2008

In Which I Describe Cabin What?

Temperature: -10C
Snow: None, but some windows are frosted over.

I realized this morning that we are still on Bratislava time. That is, we never adjusted to the two hour time difference between Moscow and Bratislava. The main reason for that, I believe, is the incredible lack of daylight. The apartment is equipped with curtains that effectively block out all light, but even with the curtains open, Baby It’s Dark Outside!

I woke up today about 8:15. Soon we will be all back to work and school and by 8:15, I shall have deposited Baboo at her school and be walking back home. Today, at 8:15, the sky was just beginning to lighten. It is a beautiful, clear, cloudless day, so the sun is brighter than normal.

By 3:30 p.m. it is solidly dusk. You start to feel like evening is upon you, and you go about your Evening Type Tasks and all sorts of time passes, and then you look at the clock and see that it is not even 6:00 p.m. In other words, not that late, but it feels like bedtime even though you haven’t yet had dinner.

A few years ago we went to the Isle of Mull, in Scotland, in June. Mull is roughly the same latitude as Moscow. It never seemed to get dark. At 11:00 p.m., the sky looked like 8:00 p.m. in Ohio in August. We had to close shutters and drapes to sleep. There was no need to turn on a light in the bathroom in the middle of the night because the window was right there, and you could read a book by the light that came in it from outside.

I’m told Moscow in the summer will be the same.

When the apartment was still in Indoor Camping mode, Skittles named it Cabin What? I think that was short for what one might abbreviate as WTF. We really didn’t have much here. The irony was, or is, that in supervising the packing up and moving of our already culled and purged Bratislava digs, I was feeling overly materialistic. “Who needs so many things?” I asked myself and several friends. We discussed the physical and psychological clutter of materialism, we resolved to embrace more monastic, Zen-like lifestyles, and, frankly, I was feeling all superior about my ability to Live with Less.

When the movers came to pack up the house on Letna Street, the girls, cat, and I moved, along with our suitcases, into a 35 m2 apartment in the center of Bratislava. We stayed there for two weeks. It seemed like good practice for our new, smaller, 110 m2 Moscow apartment.

In preparation for our arrival, the Spouse furnished the Moscow place with some essentials. It seemed unnecessary to buy too much because

1. We are now Zen monks and can make do with the sound of one hand clapping, and
2. Our stuff was due to arrive in two or three days. Okay, we knew the movers were lying, but we expected a week of austerity, at most.

This is what the Spouse bought:

1. A bunk bed for the girls, with mattresses and sheets. (I sent towels, pillows, and some blankets along with him in his suitcases a few times as he commuted back and forth between Bratislava and Moscow).
2. 4 plates, 2 coffee mugs, 4 bowls, 4 glasses (actually, he got 5 glasses as we needed one for bacon grease . . . we eat a lot of bacon).
3. 4 knives, 4 forks, 4 spoons
4. One set of knives: big knife, paring knife, bread knife
5. One heavy skillet
6. One set of three cooking pots, assorted sizes, with lids
7. Paper products: paper towels, toilet paper, tissues
8. Soap: dish soap, shampoo, laundry soap, shower gel
9. One cat box, cat gravel, poop scoop
10. One inflatable bed

And this is all we had, other than the clothes (and a corkscrew) in our six suitcases. This was fine for two or three days, even a week.

But we arrived on December 14, and the shipment did not arrive until December 30.

I’m all for Simplifying My Life, but here is what I started to miss:

1. Chairs. We had nothing to sit on. I used to sit on the kitchen counter and read in the afternoons.
2. Real coffee. We had instant coffee, but no coffee pot (it was in the shipment). The 7 Continents grocery store had French press pots just like ours, but they cost 1200 rubles (more than $50!).
3. A cutting board, a strainer, a dish drainer. Before the cat arrived, the Spouse used the new and pristine cat box for these tasks. After he arrived, the cat appropriated the cat box for his own use.
4. Okay, real wine glasses. I’m not Italian enough to drink my wine from an orange juice glass. It felt strange. Obviously, I soldiered through, but I was happy to open the box of real glasses, wine and otherwise.

The inflatable bed developed a slow leak. We used to add more air each night. With two bodies on it, there was a certain loft. But if the Spouse got up first in the morning, I would sink almost to the floor. While the inflatable bed was a lifesaver, and the most logical solution (it’s both modestly priced and easy to store), and beat the alternative of sleeping on the floor, it got old.

So the shipment finally arrived (this was a long and ugly story involving regret that we used the moving company we did, the exchange of many sharply worded emails, and a personal resolution never to use anyone but AGS ever again). We got word late in the afternoon on December 30. The girls and I were at an office-sponsored children’s holiday party (a wonderful, magical, incredible experience which I will have to describe another time), when the Spouse called to say that the movers would begin delivery in two hours.

So home we raced.

Of course, none of the things I really wanted (primarily our bed!) came that afternoon, but by the following day everything, including the piano, was off the trucks and up the seven flights of stairs and even mostly unwrapped. We have spent the three days since unpacking and organizing the kitchen, unpacking and organizing the closet (aka the Lieutenant’s Room . . . a throw back from when three single adults and one couple with a baby shared our apartment during the socialist period), and unpacking and organizing all the books.

Only the living room remains to be dealt with. It includes boxes of CDs and DVDs, and also what was our office (including the real computer). But we think we can handle that today. I’ve been cooking in my kitchen, we have been eating like civilized people in our dining room at our dining room table, and we’ve been sleeping on a proper bed.

Some things are better than in our last Bratislava house: the closet/Lieutenant’s Room is actually easier to use than the big walk-in, customized one we had on Letna Street. The kitchen has a big, American-sized oven and a matching refrigerator. It does not have a dishwasher, which eats into my counter space because you have to clear a space for the towel or dish drainer (which finally emerged, like a phoenix from the ashes, from a box late last night) . . . space you would otherwise use to work or to stack dirty dishes before putting them into a dishwasher.

But we have unlimited heat and hot water, high ceilings with crown molding, beautifully marked places for hanging light fixtures/chandeliers, and these funny parquet floors that are charming, if uneven. The apartment feels like something Parisian, and more and more it is feeling like home.


Anonymous said...

Hello :) I found your Bratislava Blog somehow (am still exploring) and am enjoying the tales of your new adventures! Your writing is so evocative and I love your positivity in spite of all.
Thank you very much from an Australian reader - I hope 2008 is a fab year for you and your family :)

Anonymous said...

and how did Markus, the slovak cat, cope? :)
I wish you all the best in 2008 and a lot of fascinating experiences in Moscow!

Penny Lane

Bob said...

Glad you finally got ensconced (I can use that word, right?)! Miami was as cold as Moscow last night, not quite, but 37 degrees is positively Russian for these parts. I slept under four blankets and a cat with a t-shirt wrapped around my (mostly) balding head. Good thing I got into real estate, huh? There's 82,000 (no kidding) houses for sale in Miami-Dade and Broward counties and last month guess how many sold? That's way too high. The actual number is TAHDAH 347. I'm feeling very much like the Maytag repairman lately. As always, good to hear from you. When I feel inspired again, I may put something up on my own blog.


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