It's Getting Hot in Here

Photo by Fotolia/PhotoXPress.ru

Photo by Fotolia/PhotoXPress.ru

Radiators have begun to sputter, hiss and clank all over Russia as the central heating is switched on from one very evil central command center. The heat is full throttle for the next eight months, offering my own permanent sauna.
For many years I tried to turn down the radiator with various implements of destruction, including the heel of a boot, a hammer and a copy of “Das Kapital,” all to no avail. The knobs, into which the German prisoners of war who built the house clearly poured their resentment, remained unyielding.

Then, this past summer, grim radiators were replaced with more flashy models with shiny red knobs that…moved.

HRH (my Handsome Russian Husband) made it clear to me that, though the radiators were new, the heating system was not. “Our Soviet heating,” he explained, remained something I had no business tinkering with. So of course I turned them off.

The result, while it lasted, was amazing. It was cool in the flat. It was like the sweet relief of a desert night after the sun has gone down, or the rush of fresh air when you step out of a trans-Atlantic flight onto the jetway. 

The Big Chill lasted about a week. One mid-morning, impatient rings at the doorbell shattered my peace, so I simply ignored them: nothing good ever comes from unexpected rings at the door. The rings were replaced by loud thumps on the door and shouts to open up for the ZHEK, the custodians of the building complex.

“Open up, woman,” they ordered.

“I’m not really dressed for it,” I responded through the metal door.

“Woman, there is a problem with your heating. We need to see your radiator.”

“The radiator is fine,” I assured them. “It works beautifully.”

“Woman, it is not fine. Your neighbors are complaining. Open the door or we will return with the police.”

These officials are, of course, deeply capable of bringing the police around. They love to flex a bit of official muscle and play a minor, if not responsible part in a local drama. Bonus points for nabbing a foreigner.

 So I opened up, resplendent in a neon blue masque. They seemed completely unfazed.

“I have,” I told them softly, “a degree in Russian Studies from the same university Barack Obama attended.”

“You are not allowed to turn off your radiator,” said one.

“But it is so hot in here,” I pleaded.

 “You have turned off the heat for the entire building. Your neighbors have complained to the police, and it will go very badly for you if you turn the radiator off again.”

“But how can I make it cooler here?” I pleaded. “You must be able to do something!”

They looked at one another and sighed deeply.

“This isn’t Paris, you know,” the other guy finally said.

And on that, we could all agree.

Jennifer Eremeeva is a longtime resident of Moscow; she blogs at www.rbth.ru/blogs/ and www.dividingmytime.typepad.com. She is currently working on her first book.

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