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.
“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!
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.