Sep 02

Thirty-four 90+ degree days is 33 too many

Let me go on record as saying I despise the Three Hs: hazy, hot and humid. The terrible trio  Thermomonsidewalk combine to turn the average Manhattan workday into a hellish tempest of melting macadam, short-tempered tourists and gridlocked traffic.

The modern Manhattan Summer bears little resemblance to the kinder, gentler ones of my youth. It's replete with carbon monoxide, toxic ultra violet rays blasting through a depleted ozone layer and enough carcinogens to conjure up images of Chernobyl in Chelsea. And lest you think these are merely the rants of a middle-age meltdown, think again. Heat kills. The last great NYC heat wave killed 1,100 people in 1966.  And, that cannot be good for tourism.

According to The New York Times, the summer of 2010 went down in the National Weather Service's record books as the hottest ever in New York City. We've had six official heat waves, 34 days of 90+ degree temps and an average daytime temperature of 77.8 degrees.

Who needs Hades when you have Hell's Kitchen?

I've also had the misfortune to run headfirst into the hottest summers in recorded history for St. Petersburg and Moscow, Russia, respectively. And, as our Russian tour guide so eloquently put it, “Your Mr. Albert Gore was sure right about his world warming.”

Aside from a latter-day George Hamilton trolling the Westhampton beaches in search of some unsuspecting parvenu, an octogenarian suffering from poor circulation or a middle-aged Lolita sunning herself on the Jersey Shore in hopes of hooking-up with The Situation, I can't imagine anyone enjoying this horrific heat. As my business partner, Ed, so eloquently puts it, “This blows!”

As for me, I'm hunkering down, riding it out and waiting for that first crisp, cool day in October when Manhattan truly comes alive. When it does happen, and it will, I'll crank up one of the
most evocative tunes I know: Billie Holiday's 'Autumn in New York.'

Summer in the city? You can have it.

Jul 28

You don’t know how lucky you are, boy, back in the U.S.S.R.

Phoenix and its 116 degree heat and Manhattan with its hazy, hot and humid spell of six million
St-petersburg-russia straight, 90 degree days have nothing on St. Petersburg, Russia.

Having had the pleasure of touring the historic Czarist city the past few days, I can report on the following:

The Russians don't do air conditioning. Period. And, that's not a good thing. I thought London struggled with excessively high heat, but the Brits could learn a trick or two from the plucky Russians. Most merely shrug their shoulders, sigh and deal with it. As Pauline, our tour guide put it: “Your Mr. Albert Gore was sure right about his world warming theory, da?”

To begin with, there's St. Petersburg's overall miasma: daytime temperatures soar well in excess of 100 degrees (F). But, unlike Phoenix and it’s much heralded and over-hyped 'dry heat,' the humidity here is Vietnamese jungle-like in its intensity (courtesy of its proximity to the Baltic Sea).

Stir in absolutely no carbon dioxide emission standards whatsoever, never-ending road construction work which sears the air with a heady aroma of burning tar and a sun that, due to our extreme Northern exposure, doesn't set until 11pm and one gets hot, hot, hot to paraphrase another pop song.

But St. Petersburg's special charm is its cigarette-addicted populace. When it came to conquering the Russian population, Napoleon and Hitler should have studied Phillip Morris instead of Carl von Clausewitz. Nearly every uber attractive, scantily-clad Russian lass can be seen strolling the Neskiye Prospekt with a cigarette dangling from her lips. And, the men puff away just as enthusiastically. So, if you're an investor, hang onto your tobacco stocks- Phillip Morris is making a killing here, literally.

On the plus side, St. Petersburg has beautifully restored 17th and 18th century Russian Orthodox churches on virtually every street corner. They also have a subway system that is clean and cool. (Yes, I said, cool. I was actually thinking of bedding down in one for the night.) There are also lots of historic sites for the hyperactive tourist. (But, one morning of inhaling noxious fumes and sweating through my clothes many times over was enough to put a damper on any extended tours for this blogger.)
 
Another plus is the World War II memorabilia. The Russians proudly display many of the weapons used to fight back the Nazi siege of Leningrad (St. Petersburg's name during the Communist regime). And, there's even a brief tour of the Astoria Hotel (not to be confused with NYC's Waldorf-Astoria) where Hitler had already made plans to host a gala celebration of the fall of Leningrad. (As our guide, Pauline, beamed, “So, he did not have the chance for that, no? So, instead, Stalin came here and he give big, big celebration.”)

I found it curious that there were no statues or murals of Stalin to be found, but Lenin is everywhere. I guess those 30 million mass murders tended to dampen the Russians' pride in Uncle Joe.

Anyway, my climbing team leaves St. Petersburg this morning for a day-long flight South to Mineral Vody in the Caucasus Mountains, where we begin our assault on 18,840 foot Mt Elbrus. With cell service being as scarce as tobacco and nicotine are plentiful, this blogger doubts he'll be able to file an update until we reach Moscow midweek of next week. Here's hoping in advance that Moscow copes with the heat a little bit better than its neighbor to the North.

St. Petersburg was nice to visit, but here's one comrade who wouldn't want to live there. Dasvedanya, Amerikanskis.

Jul 23

And, now, it’s on to Mother Russia and let’s win there

This Sunday, Chris “Repman, Jr.”, Cody and I leave on a two-week trip to Russia. Our goal is to
Elbrus-map summit Mt. Elbrus in the Caucasus. If successful, it will enable us to lay claim to having bagged two of the world’s ‘Seven Summits.’ We celebrated New Year’s Eve 2007 on the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, East Africa, and hope to top out on Elbrus on August 3rd.

‘Kili’ was a beast, and Elbrus looks to be no easier. At 18,481 feet, it’s Europe’s highest point. It’s a double-coned volcano that is wrapped in ice and snow (which, if nothing else, will provide a welcomed break from this horrific hazy, hot and humid weather we’ve been experiencing for the last month or so).

In addition to the climb, we’ll be touring St. Petersburg and Moscow (and, possibly, ducking stray bullets and mortar shells from irate Chechnyan rebels).

As I’ve done on my previous trips abroad, I’ll be asking locals their views on the image and reputation of the U.S. (being careful not to offend any irate Chechnyan rebels in the process). This is my first big trip abroad since Obama assumed office, so it will be interesting to see if, as was the case with his predecessor, I hear the locals say something to the effect, “We love Americans. We just hate your President.” Most Tea Party members, Evangelicals and Glenn Beck fans would probably say the same thing.

I hope to file at least one blog from the former Soviet Union if the vagaries of wireless connection enable me to do so. If not, Repman readers will be blessed by content provided by a host of able and willing guest bloggers who have volunteered to fill the void (however miniscule said void may be).

And, so I end by paraphrasing the final, immortal words of Senator Robert F. Kennedy: “And, now, it’s on to Mother Russia and let’s win there.”