My nose hurts, my ears hurt, my toes are going numb and my lungs are shocked at the behaviour of what's coming in. It's been getting colder, ok, that's fine, but a couple of days ago it really dropped. From -7 to -15. Today, as I write this, it's -25. My body and my wardrobe are throwing me silent looks of 'what the hell man!'
I'm seriously under-prepared, materially and facially. Last night I had Miguel and Sara over for dinner. I cooked a cockle-warming pork/beer/apple stew thing with mushrooms and onions, a potato salad with bacon, peas and hard-boiled egg and some of that grechka. They arrived at about 8:20. Miguel rang me from downstairs. I could hear the discomfort in his voice. They bundled into my flat in Arctic clothing.
'Jesus Christ, it's -19 outside. The wine's basically frozen.' He removed his face protector 'This coat? 300 euros. It's what they use on the polar expeditions'
I had a few jumpers and a coat, some thin gloves from H&M, no boots, and a woolly hat. Shopping was a necessity now that I knew what I was up against. Cold, exciting pain. It's quite thrilling, and a little scary, when you breathe deep as you leave your flat and flood your lungs with subzero air, the little thermometer on the metro station showing you minus too much. After a couple of minutes you really feel it. When the wind flies in it makes the eyes water, the face burn and the lips dry out. Should you remove your glove to send a text you have about 15 seconds before it stings. People walk about with ruddy faces, mine ruddier still. Your nose drips and you pull your collar up to hide your bare cheeks. You swear to yourself in amazement.
Winter is like this though. It yo-yos about. If I tell you the BBC forecast for this week at the time of writing it goes as follows:
Wednesday: Clear, -25
Thursday: Clear, -15
Friday: Partly sunny, -11
Saturday: Snow, -3
It's all over the shop. The weather has been more variable this autumn/winter that anything I've experienced in the UK. It seems to do what it likes. And what it likes seems to be joyous punishment punctured by more tender respites. I never thought I would get into the mindset of 'oh good -7, it's warm today'.
I'm still toying with what's worse, the massive heat - 35 degrees and higher - of central and southern Spain, or the minus 15s and below of Russia. One tires you out and, depending on activity, offers a sweat coverage and stops you wanting to do anything. The other hurts and is dangerous and stops you actually doing anything. I still can't decide. They are both as awesome and terrible as each other.
The heat of Spain carried with it women in few clothes, people relaxing outside in cafes and parks and the possibility of a tan.
The cold of Moscow carries with it romance and excitement, cosiness inside cafes, and snow making the world look perfect.
I'll mull it over.
Speaking of mull...ed wine. It's the 1st of December and Christmas/New Year is on its way. Twinkling lights, tinsel, snowflakes and Christmas trees have started popping up in the foyers of offices and in the windows of shops and eateries. This is where Russia does well. Summer isn't Russia. Russia nails that snowy, Christmassy, festive feeling like nowhere else. I plan to buy an artificial tree and deck its branchy halls with all manner of shiny snakes and sparkling baubles, with or without the approval of Richard. We have yet to plunge the metaphysical and severely existential depths of the question: 'Do you like Christmas?'. He may be a Scrooge or he may be like me, a child refusing to grow up.
I love Christmas, deal with it. If you don't, shut up. My same answer to the similar Coldplay question...
It's just a shame that at the moment there's no white carpet outside. The mercury dropped but the snow has yet to. Bring on Friday.
Last Saturday I hosted a small gathering at my house. A few Spaniards and a few Russians. We drank, snacked and listened to music for a few hours. It was relaxed and cosy, just what they wanted. The majority had been to a concert the night before and didn't really want to party hard. At about 2:30am Jose looked at his watched with a concerned face.
'If we are going to go out, we need to go out soon'
The majority then left in a cavalcade of taxis. Some military operation. And four of us were left: Fernando, Chema (Jose Maria), Dmitry and myself. We decided to go to a club called Crisis. It was only a 15minute walk away, and it was a fairly tolerable -7 outside. I suggested walking there.
'No, a taxi man! It's so cold' was the response...from the Russian! I was shocked, but not bothered. We piled into the taxi, teeth chattering. Within a couple of minutes we were in a traffic jam. A big one. It was 3:00am and we were in a bloody traffic jam... 'That's Russia' I suppose. We wasted about 10 minutes in the taxi before I suggested we walked. The consensus was 'ok'.
'Next time we listen to you' they laughed
A further 15 minutes and we arrived at the club. Content, but frozen.
'How many are you?' said the bouncer
'Just us four'
'No, you can't come in'
And that was that.
So much for plan A. We had no plan B, but a sort of plan A(i) presented itself to us in the form of a girl seeing off her friend outside. She overheard us talking and decided to first try and get us in, a lame idea that didn't work, and then give us directions to another bar. She was a little drunk and tired and her directions were 'go straight and then left'. This didn't inspire much confidence. She was then joined by the other friend she was with who had been inside collecting the coats. We then all left together in search of 'Papa's Place'.
It was -9 and a thin layer of snow had dusted the promenade and pond that ran from Prokovka street to the Chistiy Prudi (Clean Ponds) area. I was walking with the friend, a Belorussian called Olga. It turned out she was studying Japanese and English. We chatted for a while and both came to the conclusion that at this point, about 4:00am in the morning, we didn't want to drink alcohol. It would be tea. On reaching the bar our plan didn't sit well with the boys who went straight downstairs to the dance floor. I drank tea with the two girls. The other girl, Irene, studied Urdu and Uzbek. Earl Grey and pizza. The boys later returned.
'Well this place is shit' said Dima
'I'll not be coming back here' added Chema
'What's the problem?' I asked 'Is it a sausage factory?'
'Yes, basically' he replied.
At around 5:00am we started to finish up. The evening was essentially another failure. But it was enjoyable in its own way. I walked home as slow snow fell like glitter and landed silently on the streets and cars. In the dark, but lit by the street lights, everything glinted and sparkled. It was, to definitely sound cheesy, magical. The soporific effects of both the atmospheric scene around me and the slight tang of still present alcohol allowed me to ignore the fact that I was strolling through -1o without a hat.
Off to the shops I think.
[Edit: -21 is absurd]