The water, in the Russian parlance, “ended” this morning as a result of a recent plunge in temperatures, putting a number of interesting developments in motion. First thing, Vadim, the master of the apartment, set up next to the toilet a bucket of water with a pot floating in it. How exactly this would counteract the temporarily out-of-service flushing mechanism remains unclear.
Later on, I went to “Planeta Fitness,” thinking to take a shower there after a nice workout and a spell in the sauna, as is my custom. All went according to plan at first; I knocked about the weight room, then sweated ten times more in half the time trying to outsit the burly Russians in the sauna. But soon word reached us through the shimmering-asphalt heat: “Goryachoy vodi net,” or, “There’s no hot water.”
I guess the old pipes throughout the city had given out like so many overridden nags under the freeze. It’s a real problem here in Petersburg, where everything’s old and under constant stress from the brutally damp, cold climate. And so the facilities at the health club had undoubtedly been overtaxed, putting me in an interesting sort of dire straits: Sweaty, between a Russian (read: insanely hot) sauna and a shower so cold it gave me an ice cream-cone headache within 30 seconds.
I might describe the sounds emanating from that sauna while we jumped between two temperature extremes as a celebrity deathmatch between Marilyn Manson and Ren and Stimpy, in Russian.
When I arrived home late tonight, water had been restored thanks to a jury-rigged hose running from a manhole on Fontanka street to the back of the apartment building. I asked Vadim if water often cut out during the winter (a clear yes), and why.
“The machine (water heater) is new, but the pipes are all old,” he said.
I asked why they didn’t renovate the local system. After all, they’ve been merrily tearing up Kazanskaya Street all this fall and winter, leaving me to step over discarded sewage pipes on my daily walk to class.
Vadim said the money just isn’t there. It turns out that it costs more to build a kilometer of road in Petersburg or Moscow than it does anywhere else in the world, as a result of the Russian-sized (i.e. huge) amounts of corruption and bureaucracy. So infrastructure projects don’t come easy, however desperately they’re needed.
If tomorrow’s this cold, looks like I’ll be taking a shower out of the teapot.