Well, winter is upon us. And I’m not just saying that because it’s freaking cold (which it is). It’s actually winter here. In Russia, winter officially starts on December 1st (I think of it as one of the many ways that Russia likes to remind the world that, “I’m Russia. I do what I want”). In such conditions, hibernation may seem like the best survival tactic. But there’s more to life than sleeping and hiding from the cold.
How to go outside: I’ve prepared for you step-by-step instructions on how to leave your apartment when it’s -30 outside.
Step 1: Get dressed.
Step 1.5: Get more dressed. Seriously. In real life, it might only take you a couple minutes to get dressed. But this isn’t real life—this is Russia. You must wear at least three shirts at all times (at least one of which must qualify as теплый). Always remember to put your two to three pairs of woolen-fleecy-Mongolian socks on BEFORE your pants—otherwise, they’ll never fit. The key to outdoor survival, as far as I can tell, is wearing as many pants as possible. Thanks to my new pair of incredibly warm and incredibly comfortable oversized snow-pants, I am now capable of wearing up to FIVE pairs of pants at once (possibly more?). That’s skill right there.
(Then there’s that awkward moment when you’re wearing 5 pairs of pants and a couple bulky sweaters, and people keep telling you you’ve lost weight)
Step 2: Верхняя одежда. Put on those snow pants, cram your padded feet in those fur-lined boots. Don that parka, making sure to zip it up until your face is lined with fur. Wrap that scarf around your face. Put that hat on. As many mittens as you can manage.
Step 3: Blow your nose. Not to be crude, but few things in this world can compare with the discomfort that comes from a nose full of frozen snotcicles.
Step 4: Go outside. Can’t put your arms down? Feel like that kid from A Christmas Story? Good, you’re doing it right.
You are now free to roam about the country. Actually, after a day of -30, suddenly -18 doesn’t seem so bad. In fact, it’s downright warm. You can wander the streets for hours and explore the sights. For instance, Soviet Square is being transformed into a winter wonder land. Disapproving Lenin Head is now surrounded by a New Years tree and dozens of unfinished ice sculptures. In other news, they’ve constructed an ice rink in front of my apartment building, so now the voices in my head are telling me to buy some of those second-hand skates the Babushkas sell on the side of the road.
How to get your students to come to class: Speaking of Babushkas, I have discovered the cure for truancy. A woman from my department has taken it upon herself to ругать and verbally thrash and rage against my students for their poor attendance. Hell hath no fury like a babushka scorned… Alternately, a less threatening tactic is to entice your students with sing-alongs. Never have I ever seen a livelier, happier classroom than when I asked my students to sing Bare Naked Ladies’ “If I had a Million Dollars.”
How to Eat: Thanksgiving leftovers have come and gone, so it’s back to the frying pan for me. Hard to believe that someone who generally doesn’t like her foods to be on the same plate let alone be all mixed together is now a master of one-pot meals. Not sure what you want to eat? Throw everything in the pan and fry it up. It really works. For example, this week, I made potato-cheese-onion-cabbage-egg hash, and it was delicious.
In other news, I discovered this week that my favorite dish from the Academy cafeteria is not some kind of delicious, tender beef but liver. Go figure. Moral of the story: don’t judge a book by its detoxification, protein synthesis, and digestive function properties.
How to Love Life: Buy chocolate, drink tea, play telepictionary and Mafia with your students, learn random silly Chinese or Buryat words, jam to the Trans-Siberian Orchestra in Siberia, and watch the Hunger Games in Russian on TV. After last week’s Irkutsk adventures (and next week’s impending Irkutsk дубль два), I was in great need of some down time—not to mention my mile-long to-do list (some components of which are actually practical and need to be taken care of pronto). It’s easy to forget that real life exists outside of this year in Siberia, but that doesn’t change the fact that grad school applications must be submitted and monstrous student loans must be repaid. I’m also trying to make plans for my winter break. But I have so many options and desires and so little plan-making capabilities.