Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Cold Water for Days

I moved into the apartment I’ll be renting for the summer on June 1. When I picked up the keys from the girl moving out, I made sure to ask one very specific question: “When is your hot water being turned off?” This might seem odd, but it’s part and parcel of a Russian summer.

Russia’s hot water system dates back to Soviet times, and serves as an annual reminder of Soviet inefficiency. For reasons that I still don’t fully understand, the pipes need to be serviced and tested every year, which can only be done by shutting off the hot water. Throughout the summer months, Moscow neighborhoods lose their hot water in ten-day waves—and it turned out mine was scheduled to go off just as I moved into my new place.

Cute infographics to distract me from the cold days ahead

When I told my friend Keary about my predicament, he offered up his shower, but I waved off his generosity and said, “No, I’m going to do this like a real Russian. Ten days of cold showers! It’ll build fortitude.”

“Are you kidding? Russians are smart enough to shower at friends’ houses or boil water for baths.”

Keary’s assertion was corroborated by a Russian friend—she just spent ten days commuting to her parents’ summer cottage for showers—but I insisted on freezing my way through this. I wasn’t as enthused about my plan when it came time for my first cold shower—even less so when the hallway light blew out, tripped the circuit breaker, and left my whole apartment in darkness. Nonetheless, I turned on my iPhone flashlight, propped it up outside the shower, and began spraying cold water and profanities around the bathroom.

My cold showers got less painful as I built up a tolerance over the next few days, but then the weather took an unpleasant turn. Sunday brought unrelenting rain, and I had to go to the banya to warm up. Yesterday I skipped showering altogether and made myself a pot of green borshch instead. But I couldn’t avoid a shower this morning, even with outside temperatures hovering around 45°F. I arrived at Russian classes wet, shivering, and grumbling about the water shut-off.

“I don’t know what you’re complaining about,” said my teacher. “They used to shut off the hot water for a whole month. Ten days is nothing!”

So much for building Russian fortitude—I’ve got nothing on Nina Vasilevna.


  1. Your blog is so cool! Hope to one day travel to Russia. Thanks for sharing. Cheers

  2. What is a Nina Vasilevna?

    No, I won't google it.