Monday, September 18, 2006

I've been granted a closer look at what it takes to fix a hot water pipe here: we had a minor flood at the kitchen Saturday morning.

The timing was terrific. I woke up around 8 am because the phone was ringing in the kitchen, but I couldn't get myself up because Marta had been noisy that night and I needed to recover some more. But since I was awake, I decided to call Mishah from my cell - he had just arrived from Moscow and was buying food and stuff for us at the store. We talked, the phone kept ringing, but I thought these were the landlady's relatives calling from Portugal or Italy, so why bother. I took another nap, and then it was time for Mishah to be here, so I got up and set out for the kitchen. I opened the bedroom door, expecting it to be freezing in the hallway, as I keep the windows open (not windows, but fortochka, how do you say that in English?). But the air that hit me was humid and hot, and I heard the water running, and I suddenly had this horrible image of water up to my knees in the kitchen, even though the floor beneath my feet was dry as I rushed there.

The kitchen was flooded, yes, but it wasn't too bad - the hot water didn't reach outside yet. The landlady's daughter had shown us how to turn it off in case of emergency when we just moved in, but that was three months ago, and the valves (?) were hidden behind all their shit inside the kitchen drawer, so I had no idea what to do right away. I dialled Mishah up, hysterically, but the number was busy - and then a moment later, he was ringing on the door. Perfect timing.

Poor Mishah had flowers for me, in addition to a bag full of diapers and food, but he had to drop it all and run to the kitchen to look for the stupid valve (?). His glasses soon became useless from all that steam, and we couldn't reach the landlady to give us directions, but then her daughter picked up the damn phone, and some five minutes later, the water was turned off.

Mishah's shoes were dying as a result; I was so distressed I was useless; Marta couldn't be left alone; so Mishah changed into slippers and was off to clean the mess. The flood killed many of the ants, and the remote corner of the floor finally got some washing, but other than this, there was nothing positive in the situation.

The landlady showed up pretty soon, bringing us the really bad news: it was the potato-digging season, and all the plumbers she knew were off to their gardens, storing up on food for the winter.

When I got into the bathtub later that morning and poured the first cupful of boiled water onto my head - again - I felt homicidal. (To those who haven't been following this blog recently, we didn't have hot water here from early August till September 6, and, to those who haven't been following this blog for the past nine months or so, I have a 9-month-old kid and boiling water to wash her is a pain in the ass, and I'm not even talking about myself.)

Sometime around 1 pm, a plumber showed up, unearthed by the landlady somewhere in the sanatorium (where she works as a cook at a private restaurant owned by some German or something - not sure if I've ever mentioned this here). The plumber looked miserable - skinny, stinky, smelling of pee, shit and alcohol, dressed in blue overall and tall, black rubber boots, looking sober until he began to speak, looking like one of my dear physicist friends - if this friend had become an alcoholic plumber instead of a physicist, that is, and stayed to rot in this part of the world.

He found the pipe that burst pretty soon and mumbled that it's gonna cost us to replace it. Mishah said, Of course, we'll pay. I asked, How much? The plumber didn't respond right away, and I was expecting to hear something terrible, like, a hundred bucks.

Fifteen hryvnias, he said. Three dollars. That's for the pipe, and he also wanted to be paid for his work. Sure, Mishah and I said simultaneously.

But he didn't have a new pipe with him, in that funny bag with instruments, on a strap that seemed too long and made the bag look inappropriately hip, teenagerish. He had to walk 1 km to the warehouse and then back, so it'd be awhile, he said. We'll be waiting, we both said happily, do come back!

Then we waited a few hours and he never showed up. Turned out he talked to the landlady and she didn't bother to call us: he didn't have the pipe. Her husband was to go to the market and buy it, and then he'd come Sunday morning and fix everything.

The landlady's husband is a useless prick, a burden trying to look and sound like he's the boss here - only we've never seen him not tipsy and we've never dealt with him when it came to the rent money.

The landlady called in the morning and was upset to hear he hadn't arrived with the pipe yet. She accompanied him all the way to the tram's last stop, two blocks from here, and couldn't believe he ended up staying behind for a drink after she was gone. She was at work.

He did show up, looked at the damaged pipe, said the one he had was too short, and left, promising to buy another one and come back tomorrow. I didn't talk to him, but Mishah said he was drunk.

I was unspeakably upset to have to boil water for the morning wash again. I was terribly mad at the landlady's husband for coming here drunk, and I was as mad at her for trusting him. We asked her why she didn't get yesterday's plumber to finish what he started, or why they didn't ask about the pipe's length, but she didn't have an answer. I asked Mishah to tell her I wouldn't let her husband in tomorrow if I smell he'd been drinking, and only then did she promise to send a plumber instead.

We'll see what happens tomorrow. This zooming in onto how things really work here has been bad and I hope I'll be allowed to zoom out soon, to return to my sort of touristy distance, to my slightly cushioned-up position. If they keep coming back drunk and doing nothing, I'm moving back to Bessarabka next weekend, early. Fuck them. And yes, W., I am drained now, despite all the wonderful fresh air I've been getting here for the past three months. A good thing is that Marta isn't aware of any of it.


A brief note on the local prices:

Our monthly rent here is only $100 less than what we paid for a wonderful apartment in St. Pete in 2003-2004. Really hard to believe. We used to have a dishwasher there, even. Here, I'm totally grateful for a washing machine: if we lived in the sanatorium across the lake, we would have to handwash all our stuff - and pay at least $800 for 24 days there. Multiply that by four, at least. They feed you there, though, and clean your room, make your bed and all that. And you could swim in their swimming pool for free, before it closed for repairs. A "luxe" room at the sanatorium costs a lot more, I've been told by a woman whose son is about Marta's age. She stayed there all summer, used a $1,000 cell phone - and didn't mind handwashing all her and her kid's stuff.


  1. Well, that just sucks. Sounds like it's time to return to a semi-functional urban environment.

    Marta is such a big, beautiful girl, though! She looks unstoppable...

  2. >>(not windows, but fortochka, how do you say that in English?)

    The ever-helpful provides "fortochka; small, opening window pane; window leaf".

    I'm not sure I've ever heard it called a "window leaf" in english, but they're really not as prevalent here. I think I would just call it opening the window, really.

    >>and the valves (?) were hidden

    Are you asking if valve is the correct word in English? I'll vouch for it.

    >>and I'm not even talking about myself.

    As long as I'm proofreading your post, I might as well add that the expression I would use here is "not to mention".

  3. It seems again and again that Puscha Vodytsa is "Soviet Union", but with some "capitalist" touch: tenants with $1,000 mobile phones and German owners of some property.

    When working for NGO in Kyiv, we used to organize a few conferences and seminars in Puscha Vodytsa. Sometimes I felt myself helpless against "sovok" mentality of the management of some sanatoriums. They were so slow and beaurocratic (requesting the letter from Presidential Administration to host the event in Presidential sanatorium, located at the end of tram line). We were paying people money for their services, but they didn't seem eager to earn them.

  4. R.Smith, I found some other translations of "fortochka": ventilating window (makes some sense) and another one - quarterwindow ;)