Specter

Specter

A weeklong electronic journal.
Jan. 7 1997 3:30 AM

Specter

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       If you are not the type of person who feels the need to leap out of bed at dawn and lash yourself to the StairMaster, move to Moscow. Particularly in winter. The sun rose today at 9 a.m. And it didn't really rise. It just sort of shuffled across the sky for a while--always obscured by grim, industrial-strength snow clouds. By lunch, it had already started to go back where it belongs.
       Because I am a reporter lucky enough to work for editors who are just going to bed when I wake up, winter mornings here are a vast, uninterrupted snowy gift. You can go cross-country skiing or snowshoeing or try to interview somebody (but nobody likes to get interviewed in Russia before lunch, one of the many, many reasons to love this place). You can also take your Russian lesson and listen for the 18th time as your teacher explains why you cannot exchange dollars into rubles if you don't use the dative case properly. Today, having plenty of cash, I pleaded "Diary" duty and dumped her on my wife.
       First, of course, I surfed the Web. I still find it surreal, but each morning I read the New York Times and glance at the Washington Post as well as a few of those online publications that all seem to have one semisalacious word in the title. I downloaded a Barbie or two and a couple of Little Mermaids for my daughter. I thought it was kind of cool--and that she would be grateful. I mean, how many Russian 3-year-olds get Garfield and Mickey Mouse pulled out of the ether on demand? My kid just looked at me, smiled condescendingly, and said, "Pop, you download too much stuff."
       Gimme a break. I live in RUSSIA. I have, in fact, lived here for three years now, and people always ask me how I handle the famous brutality of a Russian winter. I never understand the question--because for me, there is nothing better than getting up, seeing that it's 30 degrees below zero out there (that's Celsius--you insular, provincial, macchiatto-slurping Americans can do your own math), and then beginning the process of draping myself in gear.
       I have a pair of boots made for me by a woman in Montana named Mollie Strong. You can wear them comfortably without socks at the North Pole. I have. Two things about them are true: They work perfectly in any cold climate, and everyone who has ever seen me wear them acts afterward as if I belong in some new Oliver Sacks case study--one about men of a certain age who become clinically obsessed with fleece.
       I now have enough Gore-Tex to open a boutique in that fancy new REI in downtown Seattle. Except that I don't have any REI clothes, 'cause I think they suck. Instead, I lean toward Patagonia and Marmot--things that are warm, shockingly expensive, and make it pretty clear to most people on the street here that I am not your average guy looking for a bargain on a bottle of vodkalike rubbing alcohol.
       Nobody bothers with me, though. I don't even have a bodyguard--and in this town, if you don't have a bodyguard, nothing you have could possibly be worth stealing.

Michael Specter is Moscow bureau chief for the New York Times.