A peculiarly Russian insight lies in a turn-of-the-century poem in which a baby asks not to be born, “because I am warm enough here.” The cold really is as crazy as they say (even for a hot weather-phobe like myself). Today was completely bright and sunny—there are statistically only 30 such days each year in St. Petersburg—and it was still only between -4 and 5 degrees Fahrenheit. This makes is easier to understand why one of the old words for warmth, “bogat’ia,” was once synonymous with wealth, and why PETA doesn’t have much of a following here. Even a lifelong bunny/ermine/beaver/fox advocate would be hard-pressed not to renege in the face of a cold that can bond contact lenses to the surface of your eyeballs. As cold as January in Boston gets, and enormous fur hat would be considered over-the-top. Not so in St. Petersburg.
Everyone looks like they’re smoking, and the breath condensation quickly freezes in little beads onto any hair hanging near your face. And it’s definitely a dry cold—the snow is basically a stinging dust (completely unsuitable for snow-craftsmanship), and the weather could best be described in a word as “bitter.” Over the centuries, Russians developed some interesting tactics and inventions to stave off frostbite, the most noticeable of which is state-controlled heating.
Rather than let everyone continue the enormous struggle against the cold individually, the Soviet state took it upon itself to install uniform, centrally-controlled heating systems for both air and water. The system comes on in October, and shuts off in April. In true Soviet style, the heat can’t be adjusted, unless you want to open a window for a bit. As a result, most buildings have sauna-like interiors, and hot water is nearly boiling (my roommate has a first degree burn from the shower because she turned the cold tap off before the hot tap). Layering your clothes is not an option, it’s a necessity.
Another innovation I’d like to import to New England is the towel-warmer. Based on my other experiences in Eastern Europe, I can see how this concept evolved accidentally. Some unfinished pipes were exposed in a bathroom or kitchen, and the hot-water pipes were the perfect thing to quick-dry clothes and towels before actual dryers became prevalent. In many Russian bathrooms, the hot-water pipe is now intentionally extended into an S-coil and left exposed for this specific purpose. Aside from a blatant child-safety violation, WHY DO WE NOT HAVE THIS? Explain, Massachusetts, EXPLAIN.