I don't know how many of you are familiar with the general day-to-day goings-on in the former Soviet Union as far as there are many of us so-called "return missionaries" who have served here and they may have "told you about" some of this "stuff", but I'll just assume that none of you know anything about anything and that I'm way more experienced than you at most things and for this reason you keep reading the random junk that I write. It makes me feel cool in any case.
So here in Russia, like 80% of the people live in big cities, and within the big cities, they live in HUGE apartment buildings as can be seen in this very high resolution panorama I took of the Cold Mountain when I lived there. Most of these apartment buildings were designed to be a mass-production answer to the cold reality of World War II in that the Germans had totally destroyed most of the buildings in and around the major cities in Russia with big bombs and no one had anywhere to live. So these huge cinder blocks are everywhere and we all live in them. Additionally, since people could so densely converge onto one spot at a time, you could stack what would be a huge suburban development in America into a tiny fraction of the space by building a handful of these apartment buildings all right next to each other, usually with a common courtyard area with some tables and playground equipment and stuff in between. Naturally, little grocery stores and schools and bars and such would start popping up in the immediate area as well, and what would result would be a tiny, essentially self-sufficient micro-neighborhood where a babushka could live and never leave the 1-square-mile area for the rest of her life. People buy specific apartments within a cinder block and dress them up as much as they please, or rent them out to Mormon missionaries or whatever. A good example of such a micro-neighborhood is the development called "Shiroki" which was in my greenie area in Donetsk, Ukraine which can be seen on Google maps here. You'll see what I mean.
Once an area becomes large enough, or is part of a city, they'll be connected to a kotelnaya, or a utilities center. These usually run pipes to the cinder blocks in order to facilitate the expansion of modern civilization, and when I say modern civilization, I'm of course talking about the one, main thing everyone accepts as the main criteria of modern civilization: hot showers.
I could make up a history of hot showers in Russia here and I'm sure I could make it very entertaining, but it would all be a lie and I never lie on the internet. Instead, I'll just assure you all that hot showers do exist in Russia. I have seen them. In fact, the only difference between hot showers here and hot showers in America is that every year, sometime in the summer for 2 to 3 weeks, the hot showers in Russia mysteriously disappear. It is a strange and mystical natural phenomenon akin to the aurora borealis, and no one really knows where they go. One day, you wake up and you think to yourself, "Thank goodness I live in an area that is civilized in a modern way which of course means I get to take a hot shower this morning before I eat a lot of carbohydrates and/or go to McDonalds for breakfast," and then you turn on your hot water to find that someone at the kotelnaya has certainly switched the hot water pipe labelled "You" from hot water to liquid nitrogen coolant. Your first clue is when fog pours into your bathtub and your faucet shatters.
In reality, some of the people I've asked say they shut the hot water off for a few weeks in order to conduct yearly maintenence on pipes and machinery and stuff. I have pondered often what they do in other countries that they do not do here since if people in America had their hot water shut off, they would hold begin to hold protests in front of Mormon temples until the government appointed a new "Hot Water Czar" in order to fix things. Regardless, the celebrated, annual Shutting-Off-Of-Modern-Civilization-For-A-Couple weeks is an accepted thing around here.
Now, they do this at different times in different areas of the city here, so it's not as if everyone in the city just walks around dirty and more angry than usual for a few weeks, and if you have a friend you can shower over at their place. Also, you can buy yourself a water heater especially for your apartment that will heat your liquid nitrogen to acceptable levels if you have the cash. If you have a little less cash, you can get an auto-igniting gas-powered "kolonka" water heater that sometimes goes out and explodes your eyebrows off when you try to relight the pilot light. These are all viable options. Except we don't have any of them.
And so, I reach my point after the usual 4 or 5 paragraphs of backstory and stupid jokes: I took my first cold shower this week. On my mission, we used to heat up water in huge pots to ladle onto ourselves as if we were soaked in boullion, and my other summer apartment had a water heater, but this time I decided to give it a go. You know what? I think really enjoy the Moscow Cold Shower Festival. Moscow is humid (at least compared to Utah), so after sweating all night or sweating all day, it feels really good to wash off with cold water that doesn't just make you sweat more. Also, you know that feeling when you first waddle into a cold pool past your waist and you're all like "ohsnap ohsnap ohsnap oh-- ok, this is fine now."? Well cold showers are like that only the "ohsnaps" just keep coming. It sure wakes me the crap up. Fifth (or whatever), when you take hot showers, you get out and you're bloody cold, but when you get out of a cold shower, all your blood is flowing and it all rushes around and you're really nice and warm right out of the shower. Our hot water's been gone for 2 days and I've taken 4 cold showers.
Now, I would not enjoy this at all if it were winter, and maybe it's only because Moscow is so humid, but for now I'm going to enjoy myself. I invite everyone to try it. It helps if you have one of those shower heads you can detatch and get just your legs first and your arms and stuff. I haven't been able to convince myself to just jump in all at once yet. But for now, I'm actually enjoying the experience of being forced to take cold showers. Paige, by the way, is sticking with the huge pot of water on the stove method. That's fine, she get's cold a lot.
In conclusion, and shifting gears without warning or explanation, it appears that anyone who says that there are theaters here that play movies in their original language with subtitles are LIARS who want to crush your most beloved dreams for their own sport and enjoyment. There's a couple, actually, but one is still playing only Angels and Demons (this seems to be this month's super blockbuster here for some reason, along with Night at the Museum 2), and the other isn't playing Up! at all. I'll probably have to go see it in a theater in Russian for the first time through and then buy the pirated DVD to watch it in English. So it goes here, I guess.
Anyway, I'll try to get some more pictures, and I'll definitely be explaining a little more of how life actually works around here now that things have settled in. Keep reading and keep commenting. It's fun for me, in any case.