08 July, 2007

Mississippi on the Volga

For the last couple of days, the mercury has been rising, rising, rising, so that yesterday it hit and likely surpassed the 35° mark. Yahoo's online weather predicted only 31°.

That won't sound hot to my fellow Americans unless I translate it to Fahrenheit: 95°. This, in a region of the world where the winters regularly dip into negative double digits, probably hitting -40° F/C every now and then. There is virtually no air conditioning in Kazan. My wife and I are staying a few days with her aunt in Old Kazan. We went for a walk yesterday afternoon, and the streets were deserted. When I asked her why, she replied, Everyone is in the villages. (It turns out that was incorrect. I'll write why later.)

Round about sundown yesterday evening, a wave of moist air rolled in, and things got sticky. Some thunderstorms rolled in early this morning and things have cooled down, but we're talking only a few degrees: today should reach "only" 27°. (Given Yahoo's prediction for yesterday, I'm going to add at least 5° to that.) This area needs a more serious chill.

Heat isn't Kazan's only problem right now. A couple of years ago they celebrated the thousandth anniversaryof the founding of the city. This was at least the second such celebration in twenty years, another such celebration having transpired during Soviet times. No one's really sure when the city was founded, so there will probably be another celebration in another ten or twenty years.

One of the signature developments of the 2005 celebration was a four-stop metro through Old Kazan, beginning near the old fortress and continuing through the historical commercial district. My wife's aunt, with whom we are staying, seems to know an engineer who helped design it. His comment on the metro appears to be, "If you want to live, avoid the Kazan metro." Something about too many shortcuts in construction: things that should have been done, weren't; and things that shouldn't have been done, were. Of course, I've heard this third-hand, but I've seen a photo in the paper showing how part of the pedestrian mall running above the metro floods whenever it rains (ул. Петербургская, Petersburg St.). They've had to use sandbags to protect a local shopping mall from the floods.

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