Cold Grips Parts of Europe; 4 Die in Bulgaria

By VESELIN TOSHKOV Associated Press
SOFIA, Bulgaria January 29, 2014 (AP)  A cold spell and snowstorms are sweeping across parts of central and eastern Europe, disrupting power supplies, travel and schools. Four people have died in Bulgaria over the past few days, and Wednesday was the coldest day of the year in Moscow.

Brr-r! The Polar Vortex, reeling off-balance and whipping around the globe like a drunken cowboy. The weather isn’t always news, but we’ve had a spate of it. Here in Colorado we’ve been yanked back and forth, bitter cold snaps alternating with unseasonably warm days. Our friends and relatives back east have had their share of “coldest days of the year” with records being snapped like icicles by the frigid air.

My friend Deena, who lives in sunny Mexico these days, wrote recently about seeing a “wind chill warning” on the local TV channel. “Limit time outdoors and cover all exposed skin.” The temperature was 40° F (about 5° C) and we all had a good chuckle. Well, of course. Why, when I was a kid it was so cold the headlight beams froze and they’d bump into things before we got there, and my dad had to stop the car and knock them off with a hatchet. And cold, why, back when we were in Bulgaria…

“… in the winter, cold – did I mention how bone-chillingly cold it was? – the way our heater bravely managed to keep the living room warm, but that was all it could do. The bedroom with lacy frost on the windows…”

But that was different. We were prepared. We couldn’t avoid being prepared; it was something people lived and breathed all year round. The anticipation of winter, and preparing for winter survival, began in each yearly cycle when the first crops of fruits came in the spring. Preserving and canning continued through the summer and fall, progressing from berries to cherries to larger tree fruits, tomatoes, leafy vegetables and finally the plants whose roots we eat — all captured in their time and put up to make it through the winter. Buying wood in the cities, felling trees and chopping wood in the countryside — that was work that had to start in the summer too.

“Petko told me, in response to my inquiry, that the cost of wood was 30 leva per cubic meter, and it would cost 35 to 38 in the fall. ‘Like kissing your wife. Better to do it now; there can only be a loss in putting it off.’

“He would buy a load of coal pellets too, in the summer for the same reason. I asked him why he had both coal and wood. He said coal was better for producing an even amount of heat until it was all gone, and then it went out and you emptied it. Wood had a shorter burn time and you had to keep adding it to the fire. It was easier to control the heat with wood so it was better for cooking, and only sometimes would you use it to heat a room.”

Then with the first frost, up from basements or down from attics come the heating stoves, their bulky galvanized steel chimney sections reassembled and plugged into the big round holes in kitchen walls that had been covered up since spring.

“In many of the houses and apartments, when it got really cold families would close off most of the living space and leave rooms unheated, and just use the heated part – normally just the kitchen and maybe an adjoining room. Whenever the kitchen was larger than a bare minimum, there were day beds used as benches for seating at the kitchen table, that opened out or were made over for sleeping at night.”

Snowy DayWe all like to tell our stories. I can’t say a word about how things were when I was growing up, without one of my boys starting the recitation, “… had to walk six miles through the snow, uphill, to get to school. Six miles. Through the snow. Uphill both ways. Yeah, we know.”

But making it through the winter — now that’s a story, in so many places in the world. Even in places where winter touches only lightly, most of the time, a sudden drop in the temperature can be uncomfortable and even dangerous in homes built for sunny days. In neat houses made for tropical climes, winter holds nothing back when it decides to lash out and blow an icy blast. Leaky little kerosene and propane heaters emit their death vapors and start deadly fires as accessories to winter’s crimes, adding to the cold toll of misery. In refugee camps, in war-torn cities and in shacks and shanties, winter shows no mercy. To the homeless in my own city and around the world who have no options for shelter, or who cannot bring themselves to go into an offered shelter, no mercy. To the unprepared, no mercy.

I am grateful to have a warm place to live, and shelter from the storms that come. I am glad to have learned that it is not always easy.

14 thoughts on “Winter

  1. Snow and single digit temps have closed down the Norfolk, Va. metro area for two days. We are grateful that we are warm and dry, and sitting in front of a gas log instead of heating with wood. Stay warm.

    • The weather there by the water can really go through you when the wind comes at you from off the bay. Glad you get to stay home, warm and dry. Hope you can make the most of your forced time off, catching up on projects and maybe reading a good book. Thanks for reading and thanks for the comment, and I hope you stay warm too.

  2. Bruce! First, of all, I didn’t even know this blog existed! It’s great! Secondly, what a great post. We all experience winter in different ways. I will be the first to admit that after being in Mexico for the last 8 months, I have lost my Minnesota-strong tolerance for winter. School was canceled yesterday because it was 34 degrees in the morning. My school has heat, but many schools here, especially the public ones, do not. 34 degrees may seem like spring in the Midwest, but it’s awfully cold to be sitting in a classroom in that chill. I had heard about the deaths in Bulgaria… how tragic. I shiver when I remember how bone-chillingly cold those winters were… ice on the inside of the apartment. My toes have never been the same since then.

    • Quite a compliment coming from an accomplished blogger such as The Expatriate Runner. I’m so glad you found my occasional blog (feel free to subscribe), and glad that I didn’t miss the point in relating your experience with the cold weather down there. Wishing you all the best in your upcoming Austin Marathon, and may warmer memories visit you often.

  3. How amazingly similar we all are re weather….even re Mexico expatriates….Alabama, and Norfolk Va, and BULGARIA of course!!!!!! Thanks for your entries and your views…..
    Love us all!
    Maureen Underwood

  4. Amen!!! Bruce
    For all the whining and complaining about the unbelievably cold temperatures that have been hanging around for what seems a really extended visit, we do have shelter, too much food and a concerned society (mostly).
    When I observe how all sorts of records have been set, how bone chilling it seems here- just look up the weather in other parts of the country, the world and be thankful how warm I really am.
    When I get in my car to drive to the store- I am ecstatic I do not have to walk, get on a bus, or subway.
    Yes in all places when the weather changes dramatically whether too hot or too cold it is a problem for all but more for those that have no alternatives.
    Be warm, Be safe.

    • Hot or cold, you’re right. I remember a little ditty my mother recited one summer day when I was complaining about how hot it was. . .

              As a rule man’s a fool.
              When it’s hot he wants it cool.
              When it’s cool he wants it hot.
              He always wants it what it’s not.

      I was pretty small; I asked her if ladies didn’t feel that way too. After a moment she caught what I meant and told me that sometimes “when we say man, we mean everybody.” Of the two things she taught me that day, one of them is still true.

  5. So true how relative the temps are especially when people or places aren’t equipped to deal with drops in temp regardless of the starting point. I can still recall many more moments being uncomfortably cold in southern CA than in my 10 years living in Maine. When you expect it and have the resources to be prepared it makes a lot of difference! I like your mom’s saying. True far beyond the weather. Nice post.

  6. Great post, I can relate. Grew up in Wisconsin, but moved many places, after my marriage to a military guy. Now I drive a small pick up truck for my job, and with our crazy warm, then cold Colorado weather, I just bring two coats to work. A light jacket, and my warmer hooded coat. I wore both today! Our Bulgarian, Ivan, is doing great. He is so much more relaxed, after being with us for 2 weeks. He is trusting his English words, more and more.

  7. Nice to reread in Feb 2021 with the cold being experienced now and for many without adequate preparation and a pandemic going on as well.
    Thank you, Bruce

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