I’ve been informed that this is (and is projected to continue to be) Russia’s coldest winter in the last 20 years. Lucky me: not only do I get the joy of experiencing a Siberian winter, I get to boast that I am living through the coldest Siberian winter since Mr. Gorbachev tore down that wall!
The thing about cold is it makes one insatiably hungry all the time. Allow me to illustrate this hunger with an example of an afternoon in the life of Arielle the Very Hungry Caterpillar. On Wednesday, I ate lunch in the Academy cafeteria—cheap meat that I don’t have to cook myself. Then I went home. As soon as I walked in the door, I noticed that I was starving. So I ate an orange. And a cookie. After spending some time in my cocoon of blankets, sweaters, and snow pants, trying to convince myself that I couldn’t possibly still be hungry, I made myself some toast—followed by some pumpkin seeds to take the edge off my hunger. Then I made dinner. Then back to my cocoon. This is pretty much a typical day for me now—a constant battle against the chill and a constant battle against the bottomless pit that is my stomach. [That's an exaggeration: I do other things too]
The other thing about cold is that it breeds colds. This may be common knowledge to most people—it’s certainly considered to be the holy gospel of truth in these parts—but I never really believed it. I was always under the impression that it was an old wives’ tale. Wrong. I’m now on my second Siberian cold, and both have promptly appeared directly after having spent too much time out in the cold and being thoroughly frozen. I’m now a believer: cold causes colds.
Of course the other obvious culprit in causing my cold is the soup that I don’t eat for lunch. In the US, soup is a relatively beloved dish that makes a good lunch and is commonly enjoyed before meals at restaurants. In Russia, soup is a mandatory component of your meal. It is your first line of defense against the cold. Sometimes I feel like someone (namely, me) not getting soup with lunch is equally strange as if a bear were to walk into the cafeteria and get in line for food.
Here is a true account of a scene in the cafeteria: WHERE IS YOUR TEA? A babushka behind me in line asked. I explained that there were no more mugs for the tea. I realize I could just ask for another mug, but I like juice too, so it’s really not a big deal if I miss my tea at lunch. YOU CAN’T HAVE JUICE! IT’S COLD. YOU MUST DRINK TEA! She ordered the devushka to bring more mugs and poured me some tea. Later, during the meal, upon noticing that I hadn’t taken a “first course.” YOU DON’T HAVE SOUP? YOU MUST ALWAYS EAT HOT SOUP WITH LUNCH SO YOU DON’T GET COLD. LET ME ORDER YOU SOME SOUP. [I should note that the babushka was not yelling at me. My choice to use caps-lock is no indication of the volume or tone of her voice. Rather, it is an indication of the role of the babushka as the head of the Russian family and the backbone of society. I feel like anything any babushka ever says is in caps-lock.]
I’ve taken to contemplating the value of my feet. Are my toes worth the lives of two reindeer? The animal-loving American in me answers with a resounding, “No!” But I fear that her voice is becoming more and more muffled as the Siberian winter slowly beats her to death with an icy club. The boots I bought here are not proving to be as warm as my poor toes would desire—and the logical solution to this problem is MORE FUR. I’ve seriously considered buying a pair of унты (“unty”), which I like to refer to as “hairy boots,” but which Wikipedia not so accurately likens to “mukluks.” Unty are very popular here in Ulan-Ude– almost as popular as the Cruella de Vil-esque shuba. Originating from the indigenous Siberian/Mongol peoples, they’re traditionally made of reindeer leg hides. When I first started seeing them, I found them rather hideous and tacky. However, they are supposed to be the warmest of boots, and they’re becoming more attractive to me with each passing day. At this point, if they weren’t the most expensive thing on the planet, I’d buy them in a heartbeat—dead reindeer and all. Judge me all you want. Fortunately for the reindeer, unty appear to cost around $500.
In other news, I went with some of my students to see The Hobbit this week. In Russian, Bilbo goes off on this journey with a bunch of gnomes.
And finally, I now know the single greatest wrong-answer to an essay question on a test. If you’re not going to write the assigned essay/report, “P.S. I love you” is the way to go!