No Snow

It’s still shorts and tee shirts weather here. Some of my alarmist liberal colleagues call it a sure sign of global warming and it’s all Bush’s fault along with Dick Cheney and the gang at Halliburton. The world is full of comedians and people who are just plain wrong but they are certainly entitled to be wrong. Also the Kazak’s are trying to force the issue – to get snow on the ground NOW! They all have their children bundled up in warm jackets. It’s November 6th by God and there has to be snow…The little kids are sweating up a storm and its 65 degrees outside. I actually had a woman at Zeloni (Green) Bazaar come up to me today and scold me for not having Nadia dressed warm enough. I smiled and thanked her for her misplaced meddling.

Sophie’s back from Yekaterinburg tomorrow. She is loaded down with stuff from her family (good coffee beans for me, yum!) and a new fur hat. Sophie has always turned her head when I put on my old beaver skin hat I bought in Yekaterinburg 11 years ago. The traditional Russian hat is kind of a square, boxy thing that makes guys look like Fred Munster. My hat has some shape and panache as the Brits say; not unlike the old “commie-comrade” caps from the 1920’s but mine is made of politically incorrect fur. You will find many pictures of V.I. Lenin with this kind of cap – not that I’m trying to emulate this commie dirt bag that so unceremoniously died of syphilis, but the hat I always thought looked pretty cool. It is rounded and has a bill in the front. I remember when I wore it in Yekaterinburg I shocked people who looked closely as I had a “Sparky Pin” stuck on the from above the bill of the hat. Sophie had given me this pin. It was a relic from her days in the Young Pioneers (pre-commie training not unlike the Cub Scouts and Brownies but with a whole lot more political indoctrination). I called it the Sparky Pin as it had a picture of Lenin when he was a lad of 6. He was a cross dresser then, wearing a dress-like costume and with long curls; very normal cloths actually as he came from a very wealthy family and this was the uniform of the day when posing for photos. This was of course, before his baldness and syphilis set in. Sophie remembered that all the 6 year olds that memorized the right songs and generally survived summer camp got a red plastic pin with a photo of young Sparky Lenin in the center………cool! My sarcastic nick name comes from Lenin’s famous line that it only takes a spark to ignite a revolution………but I digress – I still love the hat.

On the home front in Almaty: We live in a Soviet era building; probably one of the last of the stamped out concrete ghetto buildings slapped up in Almaty. To reprise the wonderful words of humorist and political smart guy, P.J. O’Rourke:

Commies love concrete, but they don’t know how to make it. Concrete is a mixture of cement, gravel and straw? No? Gravel, water and wood pulp? Water, potatoes and lard? The concrete runway at Warsaw’s Miedzynarodowy airport is coming to pieces. From bumpy landing until bumpy take-off, you spend your time in Poland looking at bad concrete. Everything is made of it—streets, buildings, floors, walls, ceilings, roofs, window frames, lamp posts, statues, benches, plus some of the food, I think. The concrete that hasn’t cracked or flaked has crumbled completely. Generations of age and decay seem to be taking place before your eyes.

You can say the same about our building which we are estimating was erected in the mid-90’s. There are 35 flats in our building and there is one 3’ X 3’ elevator. It creaks and groans; Nadia and I want to install a “bless the elevator” shrine on the inside railing. We will install an area to light candles in hopes God hears us and grants us one more uneventful ride on this relic of Soviet crudeness. One of the bits of useless trivia I learned when I was about 14 years old was that elevators had the lowest fatality rate of any mode of people mover/transporter mechanisms – one fatality per 4 billion passenger miles. That’s excellent odds on survival. You have no idea how good an idea installing a shrine in our elevator really is.

The elevator is a mess. The flooring is ripped, people have tried burning the numbers off the buttons on the elevator control panel, common “F*** You” graffiti is not so prevalent, but political sloganeering is.                                                                                      

And there is the “7-6 ride”. The elevator sometimes misses our floor – the sixth floor. We figured out that the sensor when the elevator is going up does not “sense” the sixth floor; it goes all the way to 9. The trick is to push the button for floor 7 and then push for floor 6 once the elevator has landed on 7, you will make it to 6. The elevator only senses the 6th floor going down. Do you get the idea we need elevator maintenance?

We usually walk up and down six flights of stairs to avoid this death trap. My cardio conditioning has been augmented with this little necessity to avoid an elevator disaster. Our only real use of the elevator is if we are carrying large shopping bags from the grocery store.

My other cardio work out: My child serves as my alternate and most frequent cardio work out. Nadia is still small at about 30 pounds but she is the perfect “cargo” to carry and push up the old heart rate. Plus the child is lazy and now expects me to carry her on my shoulders wherever we go. We have this wonderful little work out routine most evenings. I pick Nadia off her bus, we walk a block home, change cloths and off we go for our walk – or my walk/cardio work out and Nadia’s ride high atop Papa’s shoulders. Thank you Nadia.

Since we don’t have a car, we walk most everywhere and if we have large loads we engage one of the many thousands of “independent” taxi operators for a lift home. Being without a car has really been a blessing. No car payments, insurance, etc. And no stress; gridlock is king in the morning and night; I smile all the way to work and often “beat” cars up Al Farabi Street walking toward Dostyk and my work.

Sophie and I are both within a 10 minute walk of our work; there is simply no need for a car. We will have to move from our flush little 9 story “Brezhneveski” flat at the end of March unless our landlady and her husband decide to stay another year in Astana. I hope they do. Our arrangement on transport (excepting for the elevator) and our general location is ideal.

You can only image how our lives have changed here. Most of you would cringe at where we live, but really, everything works and the cement is thick enough that we don’t hear our neighbors – only the traffic from the street can be a an unpleasant distraction. Other residents are cordial. They all know there are Americans in the building and seem OK with that.

Got to run. Pray for snow so the kids don’t dehydrate in their winter coats in this 65 degree weather and prayers for our elevator’s continued safe operation.


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