Yesterday Summer suggested that we all go on a practice tour with her. She had just gone through the long and arduous process of acquiring a freelancer’s visa in order to work for a company that gives English-speaking tours of Berlin, and she wanted to try out her spiel on us (in German, “spiel” means “play” or “game,” in Yiddish I can only assume it means exactly what we all think it means in this context). We met at Pariser Platz in front of the Brandenburg Gate, and proceeded to move swiftly towards the Jewish Memorial and the old Luftwaffe headquarters, while Summer gave us a fascinating history lesson and a good part of art and architectural criticism, all presented in that sardonic, distinctly Summer-y way. We started out having a good time, but about half an hour into it, our gazes wandered away from Summer and towards the nearest indoor shelter. Forty-five minutes into it, we simply couldn’t take it anymore. We made a beeline for the nearest döner shop, and spent the second hour of the tour listening to Summer give her speeches as best she could without the actual sites in front of her while greasy lamb and onion dripped from our fingers on its way to our mouths.
All of this is to say: it’s really cold here right now. It may not be Norway, but still I’ve found myself, if not quite giving into the cold, then at least embracing it in a way I never have before. In New York my coat was always too thin, I never really committed to wearing the scarf/hat/gloves combination all the time, and I was always traipsing around in boots that probably would have disintegrated in real snow. I hated winter fashions, I hated the heft of extra layers, and I somehow acted as though if I only dressed as if it were late-fall, then it would be. Now, as I mentioned in my last post, I have the biggest, thickest scarf imaginable, which I spotted in a New York store around Christmastime and bought specifically for the purpose of bringing it here. I envisioned myself wrapping it around my head twice and covering my mouth and nose with its layers, and it has worked wonderfully in this capacity, just as I had expected. I have gloves that go up to the elbows and a big fur hat. I have lined boots with grooved soles that cling to the ice instead of gliding across it, and more sweaters than I had previously realized I owned.
A few people have introduced me to the miraculous hot water bottle, which I had previously regarded as an object that belonged squarely in the realm of old ladies and Victorian-era children’s books. Before I wouldn’t have even cared, but now I listened entranced, interjecting with little oohs and aahs and other expressions of pleasure as it was described to me how one fills these huge, cartoon-like rubber bottles with boiling water and places them in different areas of ones bed, so as to warm up one’s sheets for later. I went out promptly and bought two, and now I don’t know how I ever survived without them.
For the first time in my life, I have begun to contemplate getting a pair of woolen booties just for wearing in doors; the thought of something warm and fuzzy on my feet gives me a childlike, Christmas-morning thrill. Right now I’m absolutely fixated on Valenki, the traditional Russian boots that, at least according to a recent article in the New York Times, are making a comeback in Moscow right now. The adorable, elfin wool boots come in multiple colors and have unique knit designs on their toes, and right now they seem like the ultimate winter luxury to me, although just looking at a picture of them, I know that at any other time in my life I would have found them silly and not at all attractive. I was at the Turkish Market on the Maybachufer today, and I caught myself gazing longingly at a big fluffy pair of cloud-like white wool boots with suede soles. Really, it is only a matter of time.
Simon pointed out this morning that, although it may be really cold, it is not Russian-winter cold, and in that it is a bit…disappointing. Still, it is far colder than I remember it being in New York, and for a longer continuous period of time. And it is grayer, and it is darker. The sun comes up at around 8:30 and sets at around 16:00, and there’s something kind of boring about that. If you’re going to be in a place this far North in winter, you almost masochistically want it to be like the Artic circle. I agree with Simon: it should be so dark that the sun is only a blink-and-you-miss-it memory; it should be so cold your eyes begin to tear up when you leave the house and then the tears freeze a mere seconds later. That is the kind of cold that causes camaraderie, instead of the dull, dreary capitulation you see around here lately. Everything and everyone ends earlier now. Instead of everyone staying out until four or five in the morning all the time, now when you go out to meet friends at ten or eleven, you have to expect the night to end by twelve when they (and you) all admit to being exhausted and decide to head home. Everyone would rather hunker down with a big bowl of soup then go joy-riding around town from one warm enclave to the next, and it isn’t hard to see why. Still, I think we will feel a sense of accomplishment when we come out at the other end of this, and I am convinced that in the first warm days, a few months from now, there will be a burst of activity to rival my first memorable week here in September.