Monday, July 26, 2010

Bathing Beauties

It's time to turn the camera lens on Russian men. And I've gotta say, it's not a pretty time to do it.

The heat has persisted and so it's not unusual to see men in speedos, or often more accurately: their skivvies. I wish I could say that the average age of the men in this apparel was under 50.

And the skivvy-sightings aren't just from this beach in the center of Novgorod...

(I escaped to Novgorod from Moscow for a few days, well actually for 2 weeks).

Before leaving Moscow I managed to snap a shot of a not-infrequent sight: fountain-bathing.

You can't really tell from this picture, but there was a musical fountain show going on when this guy stripped, dove in, and cooled off in the spray.

But I can't say that I blame them right now. It's still really f@#$@ing hot.

I've felt my will to live partially return after arriving in Novgorod. Moscow's heat and city-ness were driving me a bit batty, which I didn't fully realize until the night train from Moscow dropped me off at 6 AM in Novgorod. While it's still really hot and humid here, I'm at least getting some relief from traffic and concrete in a beautiful historical city. The cool monuments and buildings also help (more on these later).

Sunday, July 18, 2010

I'm melting! Melting!

Russian summers usually aren't this hot. The temperature's been over 30 degrees Celsius for a couple of weeks now (something like over 85 degrees Fahrenheit). It got even worse this last week: 90 to 95 Fahrenheit every day. And it's humid. And I'm in the middle of a lot of concrete and blacktop. All of Europe is boiling, apparently. I might be complaining even more if I were still in Germany, where the temps have been as high as 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Hrmph.

This is my favorite quote about the heat wave:

"Russians sweltered yesterday in the hottest weather since the Stalin era as droughts caused crop devastation across the country and hundreds drowned in bathing accidents often influenced by alcohol."

Meanwhile, we don't have hot water. Moscow has the tradition of shutting off hot water in each region of the city, one after the other, for two-week-at-a-time intervals during the summer (actually it might not be just Moscow, but all Russian cities that do this...). I'm not sure why they do it. To conserve or to clean the pipes or something like that. We actually have a little heater thing in the shower that the water runs through to heat it up and then drizzle it back out in a very weak stream. So we don't have to take cold showers, there's just very little water pressure. (And, actually, I sort of want to take cold showers in this weather).

Since it's too hot for me to form any more coherent prose right now, I'm going to pull the ol' Russian blogger trick and wow you with some onion domes.

Here's St. Basil's Cathedral on Red Square:

And here's a church on the Arkhangelskoe estate outside of Moscow where I went swimming on Friday:

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The High-Heeled Brigade

The women of Moscow, that is. They wear the highest of high-heeled shoes to work, out on dates, or, you know, on a leisurely stroll in the park or grocery shopping.

I've collected some sample specimens from the city. But I have to emphasize that these pictures hardly capture the scope - or the color palette - of what I've witnessed. My camera wasn't ready, for example, when Miss Matching Turquoise (4-inch) Heels and Hot Pants got on the metro. Or at other times I just felt sorta creepy aiming my camera at women's feet.

But hopefully these pics will give you some idea of what I see every day.

I mean, you never know when you might meet Prince Charming. Perhaps on Red Square...

Outside the library...

Or waiting for the metro...

Those are shoes I'd rather not walk a mile in. And trust me, she DOES walk miles in them!

Here's a few more for good measure:

Some other favorites that didn't make it onto my camera were the red heels with matching red sports socks (really?) and lots of metal spikes, which could surely double as a weapon in case of imminent danger.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Unexpecting the expected

I recently decided to blog once a week on Sundays. Now here I am on Sunday and I'm not sure what to write. It's not that I don't have anything to blog about. I'm just not sure that I have the right words today.

I actually came up with a gimmick for a fun entry last week (which is now postponed), but then came Friday. I went for a jog around 9 PM (it stays light until about 10:30 PM these summer days). I was planning on laying low for the evening. Reading. Maybe watching a movie. I made salad for dinner with the other American, Emma (who is living here until August). Yulya, my hostess, and the two kids - Tanya and Gosha - had already gone to bed.

Then Yulya woke up to use the bathroom and fainted. The subsequent events led to a call to the Moscow paramedics.

I don't want to go into too much detail because 1) it's an invasion of Yulya's privacy and 2) I really just don't feel like recounting the whole evening. But there are nevertheless a few bloggable details.

But first, I should say that Yulya is fine. Whatever happened was a combination of stress, fatigue, and either food poisoning or some kind of stomach bug. The combination of factors just didn't mesh well together Friday night.

I now have an interesting inside perspective on Russian paramedics and medical practices. In Russia you dial 03 for an ambulance or skoraya pomosch 'speedy help'. Well, the 'speedy help' isn't so speedy. They arrived about 40 minutes after receiving the phone call. And it isn't actually an ambulance in the sense we're familiar with, that is: a vehicle that transports sick people to the hospital. Instead people come to treat you in your home (and presumably take you to the hospital if it's severe).

So, about forty minutes after we called 'speedy help', two guys arrived who looked - I kid you not - like mechanics. They strutted in speaking gruff, slang-y Russian (from what I could understand, which is less than I care to admit...), wearing slightly tattered dark blue scrub-like uniforms and plopped down in my room where Yulya was laying on the couch. They proceeded to simultaneously ask questions about Yulya's condition and marvel at the strange Americans in the apartment. I really felt like a bear in a zoo the way they stared at us and asked questions and made inappropriate jokes while poking and prodding at Yulya. I managed to get some questions in myself amidst the barrage of questions directed at us Americans. I found out that Russian paramedics have training at a level between that of doctors and nurses. There's a special designation for them: feldsher, which is borrowed from German and translates as something like 'doctor's assistant' or 'male nurse' (which, in typical Russian fashion, ranks higher than a "female" nurse). The paramedics were here for maybe an hour and in the end prescribed Yulya a series of medications (out of which I only recognized one).

Yulya told us later that the service was stellar in comparison to what is typical for Russian paramedics. Apparently they were putting on a show for the Americans.

So, it wasn't the most pleasant Friday evening, but everything turned out OK, and now I know a bit more about what to expect if there's ever another emergency. Which I hope there's not.

My plan to have an "eyes wide open" frame of mind here in Russia is proving difficult... and necessary.