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The Road Taken : Cold
updated: Jan 08, 2011, 8:45 AM
Travels by McSeas
Where do we think we are, Russia? Hey, this is St. Babs-by-the-Sea and it's too darned cold! The cutting wind early this a.m. did remind me of our time in Russia, and that set me to thinking of other cold years, and wondering why I am complaining so much these days. (The answer is easy enough: It feels like winter here, and I'm not ready for it.)
I've spent five other winters in lands where it snowed, etc. Winter arrived sometime in November and it was as cold as ... as it was last winter. It happened in this order:
CHINA: We ran away from home to see the world in 1989, landing in Beijing on April 1, just in time to see the excitement building up and all hell breaking loose that summer in Tiananmen Square.
Worked at the China Daily, the English-language newspaper there, and I experienced my first snowy winter. Sharon, from Indiana and points east, was not impressed, and the snow was so light and dry that it hardly qualified. With silk long johns (I'm serious; those people know how to use silk!), and a down jacket, no problem. We had a lot of fun that winter, frost on the pumpkin and everything.
CZECH REPUBLIC: We were teaching English in Prague the winter ('92-‘93) when Czechoslovakia split in two, leaving Slovakia hanging down south. There was a fair amount of snow at mid-winter, but overall it wasn't much colder than northern China and almost fun at times. The people we lived with skied in the Carpathian Mountains while I carefully walked down dozens of icy steps to work and mostly avoided falling on my can.
Again, having been raised in Carpinteria and living in Santa Barbara, I wasn't in any great pain and even thought that the "white Christmas" thing was maybe over-rated. Or maybe you need to be a kid to get thrilled about it. And even Carp is way too cold when it gets frosty.
VERMONT: Uphill and downhill in Brattleboro ('95-'96) was a major nuisance because of the snow, and I could have been hurt when I miscalculated the slickness of a white country road and slid clear through an intersection at about10 mph. A more experienced driver came to a stop and cheerily waved to me as I slid by, red-faced. But it's a lovely place much of the time. It's an especially nice winter when you take the middle two months out while your spouse studies back on the West Coast.
Bugs in the spring were a bigger complaint than snow.
RUSSIA: We spent two years, '96 to '98, in Birobidjan, capital of the Jewish Autonomous Region of the Russian Far East (RFE). We were about an hour and a half from the Pacific Coast, and at almost exactly the same latitude as northern Minnesota. There was less snow than Minnesota is getting this year, but one week in our second year, the temp got as low as 30 degrees below zero (F). Ai, caramba, this was true winter and we learned what it's like in northern Russia, all the way across from Komsomolsk, a submarine base, through northern Siberia and across to Moscow and St. Petersburg. The Arctic Circle is up there!
I wanted to know what real cold felt like, so over Sharon's protests (she had experienced some of this in her youth), we took a short walk after lunch one day. I wore a thermometer around my neck even though she said I looked ridiculous, it dangling from a bright blue ribbon. But I noted with satisfaction that the temp dropped very soon to about -20F. I was NOT amused, however, as the chill soon penetrated my jeans and long johns, and then my undershirt, in spite of flannel shirt and excellent Chinese-made down jacket.
We could feel ourselves starting to shake and realized that we needed to get home soon, although there were some hardy folks a block away at the almost open-air market. Talk about layering your clothes . . . layer or die (as an occasional vodka victim did on winter nights).
I noticed that even the two women, who sold ice cream cones, not needing electricity throughout the winter, were no longer stomping around their fridges. They sold a lot of ice cream, snow or not.
From the safety of our somewhat over-heated apartment (the usual situation in this land, when things were working as they should) we thought of people without hot water pipes in their log cabins, little houses on the prairie sprinkled around the RFE. We later learned that they were ingeniously fitted out with chimney pipes leading from very efficient wood stoves and helping to heat the whole cabin. Heat meanwhile radiated out from tiles around the stoves, and we saw what Chekhov meant when he wrote about peasants "sleeping on the stove."
Well ... I still say Santa Barbara got COLD this winter! It certainly felt like it to me at times. Maybe next year I'll get some longjohns.
Do you have a cold travel story to tell? Share it in the comments section.
An eastern Russian babushka (grannie) stays warm in her fur hat, fur coat and felt boots.
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