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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

5:30 am is a lonely place in the middle of February

As I emerged from my house at 5:30 am this morning to start the car before going to crossfit, I once again was forced to reflect on how much I hate the winter. The car shared my sentiment by wheezing and telling me that -2F is clearly too cold to drive anywhere. I patted it, left it to warm up while I went inside and, since silly American temperature scale still has no meaning for me, I googled the conversion: it was roughly -21C in the normal, globally accepted scale.

I'm from Russia and that is a normal, abet a little bit cold, winter temperature. But here, in New Jersey, it just seems wrong. I got spoiled by warm-ish, snow-less winters I've mostly enjoyed, and the occasional snowfall used to bring nostalgia and joy. Not anymore. Nowadays, the winter means cold, cabin fever and school closures.

Our school system loves to close: oh, look, there is half an inch of snow on the ground: delayed opening! Oh, it's too cold, temperature dropped below 32F - let's close it down, because our precious little (and no so little) kids cannot possibly go 200 feet from the school bus to the heated school building. And to cancel the bus service and ask the parents to drop their kids off is sooooo much worse than to lose a whole day of school (insert a very, very dramatic eye roll).

I'm sure that the school district has their stupid valid reasons and any municipal official will mindlessly quote the approved policy if asked, but come on! Our kids missed at least 4 days of school in the past two weeks along, and that's not counting the holidays and the upcoming Spring break.

Along with snow and cold, this winter brought us the spectacle of Sochi winter Olympics. Oh, what a treat that is! I generally don't care about organized sports or sporting events and the athletic aspect of the games has no real pull for me. What I love, love to see is how the Westerners react to the post-Soviet reality. What seems normal and maybe slightly inconvenient for a Russian is, apparently, an unforgettable experience for a Westerner.

I myself have been excessively spoiled by my life in the States. On one of the return trips to Mother Russia I was traumatized by our hotel: the bathroom was missing the shower enclosure. It had a shower head, a toilet directly below it, a sink with an open drain and a hole in the floor, where all the water eventually drained to. I wish I photographed this pinnacle of space-saving ingenuity!

But aaanyway, back to the Olympics. Most things circulating in the Western media are easy to explain:
- orange peels in the closet: protection against clothes-eating moths and for pleasant scent
- outlets near the pillow: convenience
- mismatched windows: most buildings in Russia are built by untrained migrants under a loose supervision of an engineer, who works under tight deadlines and perpetual hangover. The governing building principle is "tyap-lyap", translated as "slapped together".
- yellow water from tap: annoying, I would not use it. That's why you can buy bottled water and use it to wash yourself. A no brainer, really!I once spent a summer at a camp that had a communal bathroom, no hot water and no showers for the children, so nothing really surprises me. You either used the cold water to splash yourself with or washed in the river. True story. At least everyone was equally sweaty.

Back to Sochi: What really made me giggle and I still have no explanation for is the photo of the two toilets next to each other with one (!) paper roll in the middle. WTF?

What does make me sad is that Russia seems to be regressing: in terms of human rights, corruption and economy it is falling farther and farther behind. We had a brief glimpse of hope in late 1990s-early 2000s that was swiftly snuffed out by the heavy boot of the former intelligence officer.

Someone recently asked me if I see myself living there in the future, and the answer was formed before the question was finished: no way! Why would I want my daughters to grow up in a place where laws are perfunctory at best, where being different is viewed with disgust and fear, and where three rebellious girls can be given very harsh sentences for performing, essentially, a prank? No way. Not worth it.

Plus, I don't have to anymore since the celebrated Russian winter seemed to follow me to New Jersey. Now we can all share the pleasure experienced by millions of my former comrades in the comfort of our own home.

5:30 in the morning is a a really lonely place to be in the middle of February. Especially if you long for summer days, warmth, ocean and running in your newly purchased Vibram Fivefinger KSO shoes... :)


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