26 August 2010

Got Into Hot Water

I never ceased to be amazed - or rather surprised - by building design in Moscow.  A tale of hot water will illustrate the story.
Surreal Building Design:  Keep Reading

I live in a decent apartment building in a decent neighborhood in downtown Moscow.  So, it came as a shock when my family and I discovered in June that the hot water to the building had been disconnected because a vacationing neighbor on the fifth floor had sprung a leak in his hot water line.  Because there were no per-apartment water valves, the hot water to the whole building had to be cut off.

Mind you, in June Moscow is still a cool place (the heatwave hit in late July).  The pipes in the ground were rather cold.  This made taking showers an endurance test of some sort.  The cold transformed the skin into an inverse golfball with all the goose bumps. I comforted myself by swearing that the cold water was somehow good for the soul and focused on that during the brief showers.
Cold Water:  Tough on Body, Good for Soul

After three weeks, the vacationer came home.  A plumber summarily fixed the leak.  Hot water was thus restored to the building ... for a short while.

Russian cities have a summer ritual.  Part of the Soviet design was to distribute heat centrally in cities.  Every house has a host of heat radiators powered by the hot water pumped throughout the city by municipal governments.  To service these mains, the city shuts off the hot water for about two weeks every summer.  Luckily, the second outage corresponded with the heatwave, thus making the cold showers (actually lukewarm as the ground burying the pipes had heated up to some degree) rather pleasant.

Given this history, you will understand my utter surprise when I returned home on Wednesday to find nothing but hot water running through the pipes - both cold and hot.  Washing hands became a speed challenge:  The question was just how clean hands could get before there were totally disinfected by the scalding water.  My daughters - to their delight - gave up brushing their teeth.  And showers had to be taken at the gym.

I could not figure out this mystery until a mysterious (and drunk) utility man came by last night, knocked on the door, and asked to inspect our pipes to resolve the new hot water problem.  He claimed that he had inspected every apartment in the building and had narrowed the problem to our quarters.  I was now sure that he was both drunk and insane, but I let him in anyway with a hope for solution.

He asked for the main water valve in our apartment.  I showed it to him and explained that I was sure that neither I nor my family had touched it because it was buried deep in a closet.  After a hiccup, he put on his thinking hat, traced a pipe to the nearest bathroom, and asked if anyone had taken a shower there.  I attested that I had.  He then adjusted the hot water valve in the shower, let the water flow, and disappeared for few minutes.

I presumed that he had gone away for another shot of vodka or perhaps something even more psychotropic given his bizarre behavior. I was proven wrong.  He returned with a "eureka" look on his face.  He said that the problem was solved and that he had verified it in other apartments.  Then he admonished me never to touch the hot water valve in my shower again because, somehow, that little valve controls the hot water for the entire apartment building.
Little Valve, Big Consequence

As I said, I never cease to be amazed by building design in Moscow.  And I still think that the drunk utility man is insane.

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