Little Romance in Real Russian Winter, at Least Not at 4 a.m.
CAROL J. WILLIAMS
Jan. 12, 1987
MOSCOW (AP) _ The alarm goes off at 4 a.m. and you don't have to be at work until 9. You snuggle down under the warm blankets, trying to talk yourself into waiting a few more hours.
But when the temperature drops to minus 30 Fahrenheit, if you wait until morning to start the car the engine will be too cold and the oil too thick.
It won't start then, and you'll have to make the long walk to the subway to get to work. And you won't have a car that runs again until spring.
So you get up, put on your long underwear, your clothes, three or four pairs of wool socks, and your down-filled parka, which you hate because it's red, but that was the only color it came in.
Now you add the pink snow boots that looked like they would match the coat when you bought them on your last trip out of the country, but when you got them home they were quite a different color.
Add a fur hat, with the earflaps down and tied under your chin, two pairs of gloves, a wool scarf wound like a beehive from your shoulders to your nose, and you're ready.
Not exactly the fur-draped Lara in the sleighride scenes of ''Doctor Zhivago,'' the idealized movie image of Russian winter some of us found enchanting.
We often don't recognize each other when we pass in the courtyards of the mammoth apartment blocks that serve as housing and office space for foreigners in Moscow. With only the eyes to go by, it becomes a sort of contest to figure out who's coming your way.
It would be a better idea to hole up for the winter, but there are the problems of buying food and going to work.
Like many Muscovites, the diplomats, correspondents and businessmen from abroad react to adversity by heading for the food stores. The sole hard- currency grocery store for foreigners in the capital is miles from any of the foreign apartment complexes. Those who made the trek on Monday found the store was even out of bread.
What was available in Soviet shops, traditionally barren in winter, was being grabbed up by Muscovites preparing to stay inside as much as possible.
Even indoors, the heating leaves much to be desired. Thermostats are located in central control rooms for most apartment buildings, so the tenant can do little but gripe and reach for another sweater.
Journalists soon realize that it's impossible to type with gloves on, so to some degree you just have to get used to the cold.
Keeping the car running is the biggest challenge, and those of us who own Soviet-made Zhiguli compacts that sell for about $5,000 like to take this rare opportunity to snicker when friends with expensive imported cars have to ask for a jump-start.
One enterprising Soviet has rigged up a battery charger in the basement of the foreigners' building where he works and offers a sort of clinic for stranded motorists with dead car batteries.
Seasoned foreigners know to prepare for Moscow's winter well ahead by importing everything from canned food to windshield washer fluid that won't freeze.
But the idiosyncrasies of the Soviet system sometimes thwart even the best of plans.
This correspondent included 10 plastic, disposable cigarette lighters in a pre-winter order to be used for defrosting frozen car door locks when the key won't turn.
Soviet customs slapped a 50-ruble (the equivalent of $75) import duty on the lighters, which cost a total of $7 from mail-order store in Finland.