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.”
We 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.