On Monday, the radiators came on in Volgograd. All of them. At the same time. When the Russians do central heating, they really emphasise the “central.” It is a strange system to a Western observer used to paying through the nose for heating bills, with memories of being told to “turn the heating down” from cost-conscious parents. But as far as I can gather, central heating in Volgograd is a service provided freely by the city, but only from 17th October to, presumably, some fixed date in March or April. Alessandro will be delighted as his flat lacks the air conditioning I’ve taken for granted in both my flats. However there is a strange metallic smell in most of the buildings as pipes, systems and oily moving parts idle for 6 months suddenly creak back into action.
Yesterday I came home to find my stairwell covered in paint and plaster from the walls. This morning when I left there was a sole elderly woman scraping at the walls. I presume this is a prelude to redecoration or repainting, but I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if they are demolishing it.
So far my schedule for the week is still only for lessons at two venues, not counting my Russian lessons or a seminar with Mikhail at the centre. Today we had the first of four seminars for the new foreign teachers, and Peter once more made the journey from Volshky to join us. Stephen tried to join us by Skype but while we could hear vague noises from his end of the connection, I’m not convinced he heard a word Mikhail said, and he cut out halfway through the lesson. The content of the seminar was mostly the same sort of good practice points I was taught on my TEFL course, but it is good to be reminded of the little professional details that sometimes slip your mind in the heat of teaching real people in real lessons. Something as simple as teaching standing up during lessons, especially with large groups. I need to start doing that.
When The Chips Are Down
Also on Monday, I set myself a challenge of buying a chip pan, or at least a wire basket I can use to make chips. Not having a microwave or a working oven, I decided I was justified in looking to extend my dietary options. You can’t buy chips anywhere in Volgograd, so far as I can tell, at least not cooked. Yes, there’s a Macdonalds and a KFC and they sell fries, but I’m not talking about fries, I’m talking about proper sized chips! I have seen frozen chips in supermarkets, so they are being bought and cooked somewhere. My first stop was the little Korean household goods shop where I finally found my ice-cube trays. It has so much stuff there may have been a wire basket in there somewhere, but I scanned the shelves for ten or fifteen minutes and couldn’t find one. The lady again asked if she could help, but while I can mime ice, I had no idea how to mime wire basket. I had a mind to come back with a picture of one on my tablet.
I had a brief look in the supermarket again but I already knew I wouldn’t find it. I found some wire grills (for holding fish on barbecues) which I thought I could repurpose at a pinch, but thought better of it. I decided to try the posh kitchenware store on Pr. Lenina. I’ve walked past it a few times, but it looks too high class and expensive for me. This time I went in. The shop assistant seemed to view me with suspicion, even when I gave her a friendly “zdrastwitzye” and made sure I was never outside her sightline. It didn’t matter, they did not have what I wanted. And I had to get to my lessons.
After my lessons, I popped into the Voroshilovskiy mall – the one I explored a few blog posts back. It turns out my explorations were incomplete as I spotted staircase next to the supermarket (my intended destination) which I had not noticed before, with signs that suggests to me homeware (“Dom” – “home” is one of the few words I have already learned!). So I popped down to take a look. And there it was – the Russian equivalent of Homebase or Wilkinsons.
They had wire baskets, but mainly for steaming – not with the long handle you want when you are dipping metal into boiling oil. But my mind was made up, I was making chips however challenging it was going to be. Next I needed a pan that the basket would fit into – not just the right diameter, but the right depth. Russian pans for some reason seem to be all depth and no width. I need my chips to be in the oil, not hovering 2cm above it. I had some fun trying to fit the basket into all the different pans, many of which were also ridiculously expensive. In the end I found a decent fit for about 300 roubles, again with no long handle but that’s the Russian way.
On the way out I nipped into the supermarket for some frozen chips and a bottle of oil, and went back home to try and cook something tasty, hopefully without burning down the block. It was not ideal but the set up worked, the basket didn’t melt, the pan didn’t overheat, the oil didn’t spit, the chips cooked nicely in the oil, and a pair of regular gloves were sufficient to lift and shake the basket without burning my hands. My first proper chips in 6 weeks were very tasty. And the Heinz beans here taste just like home also.
Before I get addicted to chips again, I made myself another chicken-onions-and-pepper-in-a-wrap meal this evening. This time I left out the tomato and the curry powder (the curry version will go better with chips). Of course it doesn’t taste very Mexican without the fajita spice mix I usually use with it, but it’s still perfectly edible, and will do as a simple meal to get me through most of the week. I do still have two fajita spice sachets left, but I am going to save them for special occasions. I am adapting, I am surviving, I am finding my own way to live here.
I should add one further addendum, I finally got a response from KLM and they have agreed to refund me for my excess baggage fees. It isn’t exactly praiseworthy that they have done the minimum to at least set me right financially after putting me in an unpleasant situation and making an already stressful and difficult journey even more so, but in fairness their customer service section reviewed the information I gave them and accepted they had been at fault without any fuss. Credit where it is due.