In Russia there are many variations of medieval torture still used today. One of the worst is the annual icy water treatment from which very few in Moscow are spared…
Every summer, starting in May and ending in September, the city’s waterworks shuts off the hot water in a planned schedule that covers the entire city. Each week there is a lucky Moscow district that falls victim to the waterworks company for 10 days. They just shut off the hot water. It doesn’t matter if it’s an apartment complex, hospital or a restaurant. When it’s your time, it’s just shut off.
Think about this though for a minute. Moscow is the largest city in Europe with its unofficial population standing at some 14 million. I can just imagine if someone turned the hot water off in New York, London, Paris or any other large city for that long. I’m sure they would overthrow the government and heads would roll. Imagine: 14 million people being tortured every year. It just doesn’t get any better!
There are actually several ways to cope with this annual torture.
The simplest way is you can plan your vacation so that you are gone when they shut off your hot water. That’s pretty unfair though to the rest of us. We should all stick together and be a team!
The second option is to plan visits with your friends at their apartment when it’s “your time.” In doing this, you need to have friends scattered throughout Moscow in different districts. You don’t really want to go to someone’s house every day or every other day to take over their bathroom, especially if you have a family. It is good to see your friends, but they all know what you’re up to because you only show up at their place once a year….all the other times you meet in a bar or restaurant. Be reminded, however, that this is reciprocal, meaning while your hot water is on, you’ll have a string of guests visiting you almost every day and this needs to be planned out ahead of time so that not all of your friends show up on the same day and that you are home and not busy so as to entertain.
Others turn to heating water on the stove in buckets, pots, pans and any other crockery. This is the most time consuming as you rotate pots and pans on the stove and try to not spill boiling water on yourself while walking down the hall to the bathroom. This doesn’t necessarily mean “bath” because you’d take half the day filling the tub. There is a complete scientific approach to taking sponge baths, surrounding yourself with large bowls of boiling water and cooling it down to the appropriate temperature using the cold water that is readily handy in the faucet, mixing and measuring. Then there is always the problem of not having boiled enough water for your head dunk. This is not really something you want to stop in the middle of to heat more water and go back to the intimate process again and again. This is also something you don’t want to do when you have to go to work in the morning. For example, if I have to leave my house for work at 6:30 to be there by 8:00, that would mean I would have to get up around 4:00 to prepare my bath. Plus you have to squeeze in a shave here or there, which is unbearable using icy cold water.
Some of the bravest do it the old-fashioned way. Just jump in and deal with the freezing water. Hose yourself down, soap up, and then hose yourself down again. OK, I admit it, I’m a total wimp and can’t do that. I have truly tried, but it ends in a lot of screaming, cursing, tears and spasms, let alone some obvious and painful shrinkage. But the neighbors in your apartment block are also screaming the same tune. If we all timed our icy water treatment at the same time, I’m sure all the windows would blow out of the apartment complex. A word to the innovative: wearing a mink hat and scarf in the shower has little or no effect at all. Trust me, I've tried everything.
The final and easiest way around this problem is to just not shower at all for the entire time. You will of course be spotted easily, actually sniffed out in the crowd in an instant, especially on public transportation. I’m one of those lucky guys because I’m 6’3” tall, so my nose is never at armpit level. But sometimes it is even unbearable for me in the hot subway after everyone has been sweating all day long and especially if the person next to you hasn’t showered the entire time his or her hot water was turned off. This is by far the worst option.
What the employees in the waterworks company do exactly is beyond anyone. They used to shut the hot water off for two or three weeks, but have decided to make us suffer for only 10 days now. I’m assuming that they are scraping off the gunk that has built up in the boilers over the year and perhaps checking the thermometers and heating elements. Does that really take 10 days, let alone the previous two weeks? How much gunk could possibly build up in that time? Which brings me to another question: How much gunk is in the New York hot water supply? I don’t think anyone in the West actually turns the hot water off on purpose. They only do that if there is an emergency and it’s back on in usually just a few hours.
So, if you’re making plans to visit Moscow during the summer, do yourself a favor and ask your hotel when their hot water is shut off. Or just risk it and join the rest of us for a splendidly frigid time.
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