Thursday, January 15, 2009

Doesn't That Just Take the Cake?

You may be asking yourself just why a woman with a mink coat needs a new winter coat.

The Spouse asked the same thing.

He bought me a lovely mink coat in 2003 for Christmas or maybe it was my birthday. The dollar was strong against the Slovak crown. I had just finished a Year of Hell (complete with hate mail) as president of the Bratislava International Women's Club. Relatively speaking, it was a bargain. I loved it.

I still love it. However, I did not consider how the style might be more or less effective in different cultures. The coat has a loose, almost "swing" cut. Perfect for dramatic exits from taxis on the steps of the Opera House. Standing around at the Christmas market drinking mulled wine. Make-'Em-Jealous photo opps in front of Parisian Grands Magasins.

Oddly and in spite of the fact that it is fur, it is not designed for daily treks through Moscow streets. First, the loose cut and bell sleeves allow for a certain amount of air flow. The wind blows right up it. Brrrr! I can layer sweaters and fleeces under it. Makes me look like a mink Michelin Man, but I am warm. Second, it doesn't lend itself to having a purse or backpack worn across it: the fur industry people all say this will result in visible wear. Yikes. Finally, while fur can tolerate moisture, it isn't really suited for wet weather. A seriously soggy snow or rainy day with temperatures just above freezing, and this is not the garment. Moscow has a lot of cold and wet days.

I had two other winter coats. But one has a shredded lining. Not only is the hem falling (this I could, if truly forced, fix by hand), but the inside is in ribbons. And on extremely cold days, the sleeves, not as thick as the body of the coat, leave my arms like icicles. But it has great, deep pockets. And a very high neck. And it is stylish. I love this coat.

My other coat was a B.S. (Before Skittles) J.Jill purchase. I have photos of me wearing it while pregnant with her. I was a bigger gal then, so it, too, is too large. But it does support layer-wearing. It is not at all flattering. And the buttons have popped off three, THREE! times this winter alone. But it is a coat. And I can carry Baboo's fencing gear backpack while wearing it.

The Russian women wear such lovely winter coats. Okay. I confess. I wanted a new coat! I bought my ideal coat for Baboo on sale at Detsky Mir last spring: knee-length, down-filled, fur-trimmed. I started looking in a few shops in the city center, but was finding that the adult version ran frighteningly close to $1000. My mink didn't cost that much.

A fellow expatresse suggested I try an enclosed market called Konkovo. It's on the Yellow/6 metro line, about 30 minutes' ride from the center. I went once, by myself, but was so overwhelmed by the choices (and lack of visibly posted prices) that I returned home empty handed. (This weekend we returned to buy a coat for Skittles, and found a kid-sized version of exactly what I was looking for. It is a great coat.)

But there is an economic crisis going on. Even at the market, what I wanted cost a lot of money. And I do have a nice, mink coat. I couldn't justify an equally fancy coat. But the woman I consider my best girlfriend here and I concurred: I needed something. (After all, isn't that what best girlfriends are for?)

Girlfriend then appeared at school one day wearing a very simple version of what I had been hunting: knee-length and down-filled, but with no ornamentation at all. She'd found it at GUM, marked down to 1999 rubles (as I type, the ruble is trading at 31.5 to the dollar).

Since school ends early on Wednesdays, yesterday I took the girls along with me as fashion consultants, and headed for GUM. (GUM is now a posh mall in Red Square. Many expats assume that the upscale nature of the shops means GUM is priced out of their league. But the truth is there are bargains to be had at GUM. And not just during sale season. Read about it here, and see their website here.)

Normally, Wednesday is the day the girls and I have lunch out. But I bribed them with слойки (sloyki, plural of sloyka, are sweet and savory filled pastries available at street kiosks all over Moscow. This guy has some good photos and descriptions.)

In the end, I never made it to GUM. I ended up at Oxotny Ryad (Охотний Ряд). It's another big mall that is almost entirely underground in the park outside the Kremlin. There is an eponymous metro stop there, and I had once entered the mall by mistake, but had never really seen anything. When the girls and I exited the metro, I thought "What the heck. Let's see what's in this mall."

What followed was one of those moments where a piece of the geographic puzzle fell into place with a loud CLUNK. I had a completely different, and erroneous, idea of where and what that mall was. The poor girls had to suffer being dragged around with me while I searched, in vain, for the Sedmoy Kontinent grocery store (long story . . . my Sedmoy had no chickens in the morning, and I was bound and determined to have roast chicken for dinner). But they did reap some rewards when we found the kids' department at Zara (sort of a Spanish version of The Gap or The Limited): lots of nice kid items at normal prices.

I found a branch of the same shop where Girlfriend bought her coat. Found the exact same coat even. But it only came in brown (the color she had) and a size too small for me. We looked in lots of other shops, and finally I found a knee-length, down-filled, plain black coat that fits me for 2495 rubles.

The girls were tired and cranky. Chicken-less, we headed for home. On our way, we were walking down some steps leading under a busy street. The steps were clean (but not dry), and Baboo slipped and landed on her behind with a crash.

"I HATE MOSCOW! Why do we have to live in this stupid city," she sobbed. "A year is plenty."

Stupid Moscow!

Skittles and I comforted her. Skittles suggested that if Baboo had been walking right foot-left foot instead of left foot-right foot, the tragedy might have been averted. A flurry of flailing, swatting arms ensued. (This has been a long-running joke at our house, and Baboo just wasn't in a joking place right then.)

This underpass puts one out in front of the Lenin Library (or Lemon Library, as Skittles first understood it). While Baboo and I were trying to make light of the fall situation, Skittles suddenly announced, "Don't look in the park if you don't want to see something BAD!"

Well, of course we looked.

A man was pooping.

"Hey!" I told Baboo. "How often do you get to see someone pooping in public? This is the icing on the cake of your day."

She was not amused.

"Look," I said, summarizing the uniqueness of her day. "Maybe Moscow isn't so bad. I mean, today you had lunch at a слойка stand, you fell on your ass, and then you got to see a guy pooping in the park! Where else in the world can you do that?"


TRex said...

Regarding the public pooping. Congrats, you have arrived. Moscow has accepted you and presented a small gift. Haven't found any corpses yet have you?

The Expatresse said...

No. No corpses at all. And I had been told to expect them in the spring when the snow melts.

My children are pros at playing "Count the Drunks" on their walk to and from school. And they have seen no end of pant-less and urine-soaked individuals.

Luna said...

Congrats on the coat. Finally!!

And I thought I'd seen it all when someone's grandmother peed on the sidewalk outside our apartment building. Will wonders ever cease??

Poor Baboo. Hope she's regained her perspective.

Lemon Library! Priceless.

Tina in CT said...

I know my daughter has seen corpses in the city. I'm a suburb sort of girl so I would not fare well in the city with corpses, pooping and peeing in publci.

Glad you found a black down coat. I love fur (and wish I could fit into my coats and jackets) but with all the brown slop on the Moscow sidewalks and streets, they are not practical. A down coat can be machine washed and dried on an as need basis.

valentina said...

Great news about the new coat! And a great price! Hooray! And new threads for the girls! They should be happy! Despite Baboo's fall which may leave her butt sore tomorrow, poor rabbit.

As for the public pooping... alas...
Sounds like Moscow has more than it's share of homeless, unfortunate, and alcoholics, which given the weather is understandable...Vodka is nature's antifreeze...

I suspect a year is enough...but you are all troopers and brave and we all admire you.

I think you should wear your mink every chance you get. Don't worry about the wear on it. What are you saving it for? Who knows where you'll move to next? You could wind up somewhere too warm. Enjoy it while you can. Any day it's not too cold to have the wind rush up inside it... although I suspect there are not a whole lot of days like this...

The damp is dreadful when it's cold.

ugh, corpses. Truly dreadful. Don't the Russians plant any tulips?


MoscowMom said...

Wow, great price on that coat! You can tell that Russia really IS in an economic crisis; when we moved here nothing ever seemed to be on sale... ESPECIALLY at GUM and Okhotny Ryad...

As for the pooping, wow -- I've still not seen that! (You sure made me laugh!) But I HAVE seen four corpses, one a mom who was run over in the crosswalk near our home -- and LEFT THERE FOR HOURS while they processed the scene, uncovered, for all the terrified children to see on the way to the park!!!!! It took me hours to stop crying.

I can relate to how your girls felt... My kids have felt that way for years, especially before we bought a car -- and when their school location meant lots of time in traffic.

Avray said...

A fur coat would work very well here in colorado winter, it is so dry even the snow looks like dust to me. You had to work hard for your coat but it sounds worth it to wrapped up without the draughts. Thank you for the encouraging comments on my blog, life here in the suburbs does not have anywhere near the blog opportunities of moscow,

The Expatresse said...

Once I saw a babushka pee behind our building. She was rather discreet, so I took it to be one of those "Oooooh noooo! Not gonna make it home!" She was sort of tucked in between those garage/storage structures behind many Moscow apartment buildings. I averted my eyes, but when I came back from the grocery store, there was a big puddle there.

I confess, I, myself, have peed in public in Moscow. Once. After a reception. Drank too much and didn't feel like trying to find the loo in the crowded gallery. Made it half way home (I was no more than ten minutes away . . . but I just could NOT make it) and thought "Uh oh!" Went behind some parked cars . . . at least I was wearing a skirt! I felt one with the City after that.

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