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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

In Prosperous Putin's Moscow, No Hot Water

He's boiling water on his STOVE so he can take a bath. In Russia's wealthiest metropolis!
Is that barbaric or what? Russia as Africa. Zaire with permafrost!
This country is in the G-8! What a cosmic joke.

The New York Times reports that in the prosperous Moscow of Vladimir Putin, you can't even get hot water to take a bath. Now is that pathetic, or what? Meanwhile, Russia's military budget expands exponentially and the population continues to dwindle by up to 1 million per year. No wonder Putin is so popular with Russians! What wise, thoughtful people they are!

The dour Moscow of cold war film strips is long gone, and this increasingly prosperous city fancies itself striding chest out into the future. But every summer, the people here get a taste of old-style deprivation, as if they were flung back to a time when they had to queue up at dawn to buy a few coils of mealy sausage.

In neighborhoods rich and poor, for as long as a month, most buildings have no running hot water, not a drop. [LR: This is Moscow we're talking about. Can you imagine what "life" is like in provincial areas?]

For all its new wealth and aspirations, spurred by a boom in oil and other natural resources, Moscow remains saddled with an often decrepit infrastructure. Around now, an apt symbol of its condition is the city’s hot water system, perhaps one of the more exasperating vestiges of Soviet centralized planning. Buildings in Moscow usually receive hot water from a series of plants throughout the city, not from basement boilers, as in the United States. By summer, the plants and the network of pipelines that transport hot water need maintenance. Off goes the hot water. And in homes across the city, out come the pots and sponges and grumbling.

The summer suspension of hot water is such a part of life that it has found its way into poems and songs, Russians being accomplished at turning privation into art. (There is also no shortage of jokes bemoaning the olfactory assault from the unwashed masses in the subways when the temperature sometimes reaches the 80s.) In fact, how people cope with the suspension seems to reflect the evolution of Russian attitudes. Younger Muscovites, who are less familiar with the hardships of the past and are as comfortable with Nokia and Pizza Hut as their peers in suburban New Jersey, seem far less forgiving.

The older generation certainly complains, but seems more willing to shrug it off. After all, what are a few weeks without hot water, given everything else that has been weathered over the decades? This view may be especially prevalent in Moscow, the largest city in Europe, whose population has surged with an influx of people from hardscrabble regions. “We are all basically country folk,” said Lidiya Artyomova, 52, a maid. “We are used to this sort of thing, so there’s nothing to be done.” Ms. Artyomova was working the other day at an apartment building without hot water on Sadovaya-Karetnaya Street, in one of the city’s better neighborhoods. Soon after she spoke, up drove a resident, Roman Berezin, 25, a student with a dog in the back seat and a harsher view. “It’s very unpleasant,” Mr. Berezin said. “I like to take a shower twice a day, and without hot water, you end up going back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, carrying the water from the kitchen to the bathroom.”

Of course, as under Communism, ways are devised to skirt the common misery. Some buildings, including hotels, install boilers, and some people put small water heaters in bathrooms — both are legal. But many cannot afford to do so, or live in dwellings whose plumbing and electricity cannot handle the equipment.

Moscow is not alone in its summertime water woes. St. Petersburg and other Russian cities have similar systems. But it galls some Muscovites that a city of such power and money cannot provide a basic necessity year-round. “We often think about why the city cannot fix all the pipes,” said Aleksandr Savin, 38, another resident of the building on Sadovaya-Karetnaya Street, who runs a package delivery company. “How come they have to do this every year? And then there are the accidents, so they have to turn off the cold water sometimes, too.”

Moscow officials acknowledge the system’s failings but note that they have been spending hundreds of millions of dollars in recent years on replacing pipes, some of which did not function all that well even when they were installed during Stalin’s rule. Irina Negazina, an official at the city agency that oversees the system, said she hoped that pipe replacements would be complete in as little as five years. At that point, the suspensions, which roll across Moscow as crews move from site to site, should be briefer, she said. They might last only a few days, she said, because only plants should require major repairs.

Still, the feeling of frustration when the faucets run dry is widespread, as was captured by a prominent poet, Tatyana Shcherbina:

They’ve turned off all the hot water,
My liquid of love, my stream of words.
I should complain to the people,
But a scarf’s been thrown over my mouth.
Like this, without moisture of life, I’ll dry out,
Along with the unwashed dishes,
I’ll gather moss, a stone unturned,
Or perhaps be forgotten, lost in the grass.

For now, with a respite a long way off, Russians, as always, find ways of getting by. “We pretend we are angry and complain about it mockingly, and sometimes we go to visit those friends who have hot water in their apartments,” said Dmitri Kuper, 39, a clothing designer with a fondness for tattoos and piercings who lives in the building on Sadovaya-Karetnaya Street. “I simply call my friends and tell them, ‘I am coming to see you, and I will have my towel with me!’ ”


Timothy said...

To be fair, one does grow used to the whole situation after a day or two - using a teapot or stove to boil water really isn't all that bad, but it is something that makes you want to go out and buy a point-of-use water heater (which, of course, they do sell fairly cheaply).

La Russophobe said...

Cheap is a relative concept. The minimum wage in Russia is $0.25 per our, my friend.

Not that bad until you spill the boiling water on yourself or your kids.

Not that bad until you live like a real Russian, as you obviously never have done, and face their exhausting series of hardships. Then carrying water back and forth over and over just to take a bath gets to be a bit irksome.

To be fair, some people think the Jews "got used" to the concentration camps and that slavery wasn't really so bad.

Timothy said...

You must not understand - I lived in Russia for a year and a half. I boiled water myself, without mishap. I've earned Russian wages, and even by them, a point-of-use heater is relatively cheap.

You really need to relax - I absolutely despise the situation in Russia, and think it's slowly backsliding; but carrying on about the plumbing only distracts attention to the more serious issues that aren't mere quality of life problems, like the abusive detention of Larisa Arap.

Timothy said...

By the way, are you seriously drawing parralels between having year-round access to hot water (and we did in Irkutsk for over 50 weeks of the year) and living in a concentration camp?

The former is an uncessecary legacy of the centralized Soviet system of management. The latter was a bit more than a blunder, no?

La Russophobe said...

Your suggestion that someone earning $0.25 per hour can afford to have a water heater installed in his house in order to avoid the task of boiling it himself is just plain crazy.

Your suggestion that you are committed to stopping the rise of dictatorship in Russia is even crazier. Have you ever submitted content designed to achieve that to this blog, or a comment attacking Putin?

If you please, try to make room for the possibility that we know a little better than you what types of issues will register for effect, given that we operate the most powerful Russia blog on the planet and you . . . well, don't. Rather than relying on your own advice, we suggest you ask for ours as to how you can help.

And yes, we're drawing such parallels. People can get used to lots of things that they shouldn't have to. Some people think women should "relax and enjoy" rape. There's no doubt that it's an extreme analogy, but SOME people can only be made to see the error of their ways that way. Granted, it's unfortunate.

PS: This story was on the front page of the New York Times website. We're not the only ones who think it's important. And if we're right, the first think a NASHI propagandist would do is try to get us to think otherwise, telling us it's a "distraction." Think about it.