Thursday, January 24, 2013

Memories of cold times…



Peredelkino, outside of Moscow. Photo shows the Church of the Transfiguration.

It’s c-o-l-d!  All the cold weather we’ve been having in New England has caused me to think back when I was really cold…. and Russia comes to mind.

Russia.  One day the Station Chief of our embassy in Moscow invited my son and me to join him and several other CIA people on a cross-country ski outing.  They chose the beautiful rolling hills at what used to be the dacha of  author Boris Pasternak.  Imagine, here we were, just 25 kilometers from the Kremlin, out skiing with a bunch of CIA guys.  It conjured up in my mind some kind of James Bond scene. 
            These guys were very athletic, and good at cross-country, and we flew across the fields like greased lightning.  One guy carried a flask of pepper vodka in his backpack, and when we’d stop, he’d offer everyone a swig. 
            Fortunately, the outing did not include any exotic Soviet female spies, a la Bond, nor even any of the grungy kind of real KGB agents who usually tailed us.

            But I remember it being really COLD.

             I was assigned as Naval Attaché in Moscow, 1981-83.  Most of our work consisted of traveling to other cities where we could observe the USSR in all its glory.  As a naval officer, I led a group of two naval officers and one Marine officer and some of us were on the road nearly all the time. 
            Most of our trips consisted of catching the midnight train from Leningrad Station en route Leningrad (now St. Petersburg).  We would arrive in that far northern city about 8 a.m.  and a driver would pick us up and take us to the American Consulate.  We kept a small four-wheel drive vehicle, a Soviet Niva, at the Consulate for our business.  As soon as we dropped our bags at the Consulate, we would get in the Niva and start our travel around the city. 
            Our job was to observe as much as possible of the construction of new warships at the many shipyards in and around Leningrad We would also observe what ships were in the harbor, and in the Neva River, including barges and ships, which traveled back and forth in the Soviet canal system.
            Some of the time, we would park our Niva and get out and walk, often in heavy snow, to get the best look at a particular intelligence target. 
            The KGB knew when we had filed to travel to Leningrad, and they generally followed us wherever we went.  Sometimes they followed us closely; sometimes they kept their distance. 
            Usually our routine included a walk along Lieutenant Schmidt’s Embankment of the Neva, where we could see a lot of ships tied up all along the embankment.   The KGB assigned a crew of “goons” to keep an eye on us there.  The head goon was a fellow we called “Fats.”  He had followed generations of western attachés.
            Slogging in that snow along Schmidt’s Bank was a cold exercise. 
            Sometimes we would be driving to view various shipyards, and stop for a lunch break at Harry’s Pie Shop.  Its real name, in typical Soviet fashion, was probably “Lunch Shop No. 237” or such.  Harry’s was a place that turned out really greasy pirozhki,  little pastries, stuffed with shredded cabbage or meat.  And if it were meat, you didn’t want to know any more about the meat.   They served these little pies with glasses of hot tea, loaded with sugar.  Or, you could walk outside the shop and find a little man with a portable tank, selling kvass or beer.  Kvass is a lightly-fermented drink made from stale bread.  The beer was watery and fairly tasteless.     If you decided to buy a glass of kvass or beer, it would set you back about ten cents U.S., and you got to drink out of the same glass the previous customer had used. 
            So, out of the cold we would come, to stand at the high tables in Harry’s, and eat a couple of pastries and drink sugary tea.  Then, back we would go to the snowy world of Leningrad
            Russians wear marvelous fur hats, which are quite comfortable in cold weather.  However, there is an ethic that they observe:  Real men don’t put the flaps down until it is “Minus dvadsat gradusov” or –20° C., which equates to –4° F. Russians say that only drunks and students put the flaps down in warmer temperatures. 
            Moscow traffic policemen are recruited from Siberia, I am told.  You see them, in their long gray coats, standing in the middle of the road, directing traffic for hours, in the bitterest weather.  These guys must have a layer of fat on them like a walrus, to withstand that cold. 
And now we live on Cape Ann in Massachusetts.

.Winter swimmer in the Neva

USS Sablefish

            Submarines.  Life in a diesel submarine on patrol could be very cold.  We were assigned to patrol a barrier up off Iceland.  This was peacetime (1961-62) but we were always practicing for the time when the whole Soviet submarine force would pour out of Murmansk, Arkhangelsk and other northern ports and head for the coast of the United States. 
            We would patrol at best sonar listening depth—maybe 150 feet—for several hours, and then, when it was dark, we’d come to periscope depth, and if the coast was clear, we’d put up our snorkel and light off our diesel engines and charge the batteries. 
In the North Atlantic it is usually pretty rough, so the snorkel valve would open and shut as the waves hit it.  If the valve would stay shut for a minute or so, the engine, which required a lot of air to operate, would suck the air out of the submarine, and particularly out of your ears, until it got to such a vacuum that it would shut down the engines. (That may explain why I wear hearing aids today. That and the guns.)
            Difficulty charging meant that we tried to economize on that battery. In addition to proceeding at about three knots, we kept the heaters on only the bare minimum, and we didn’t use water except to drink.  It was really cold in that boat.  No showers, no shaving. 
            Soon it would come time to surface, and we’d race up to the bridge and set the watch.  In those waters, the heavy waves were usually crashing over the bridge, so you wore full immersion suits, and you strapped yourself on to your station so a wave wouldn’t wash you overboard.  There were just two lookouts and the officer of the deck up there, and it could be cold, and wet. 
            We made a long snorkel transit one time during the winter, from waters off Iceland to Massachusetts Bay. It was near zero degrees F. when we surfaced and motored on the surface toward Salem, MA, and ice was forming all over our decks.  I remember watching the fishermen I saw, out in this miserable weather, glad that I didn’t have their job. Shortly afterward, it was time to go back out to sea, and when we dove, we couldn’t submerge! All that ice on our decks made us very buoyant.   Soon, though, several tons of it broke loose, and we submerged, sinking like a rock!  We recovered, but it was scary.
            We’d been at sea for a couple of months, and since we were entering port the next day, and we’d eaten all the potatoes stored in the officers’ shower, we could take showers. Even though the shower was only 30 seconds long, it was hot and wonderful!

[Portions of the foregoing were originally published in my Blog of May 9th, 2011.]

Now, the Personal Navigator has books and papers to offer:

Seamen's and Boatmen's Manual, The; Original and Revised by J.K. Davis, Chaplain, Troy, N.Y. First Edition   1847    New York, NY: Robert Carter, 58 Canal Street. 179 pp.     9.5 x 15.7 cm.  Rare religious guidance for Seamen and Boatmen. Address on Profane Swearing; address to youths employed as drivers on the canals; The Coming of Christ; Jonah in the Ship; Jesus in the Ship; The Sailor's Last Letter; The Orphan Sailor Boy; more. Chaplain relates his experience in saving souls aboard ship.   Blindstamped cloth on board with gilt lettering on spine. Two cm. crack on front hinge on cover, some pages foxed, last 7 pages dogeared; good. (8131) $100.00. Religious/Nautical                                               

Household, The; Weekly Supplement to the Detroit Free Press, 1882--Bound volume for the whole year of 1882, 52 issues         1882     Detroit, MI: The Detroit Free Press        208 pp. 28 x 38 cm.       Bound volume collection of 52 issues of "The Household" for Year 1882. Interesting letters from readers, including Southern Plantation tale about Aunt Polly. Whose fingers were prone to stick to things that she fancied. Her mistress thought Aunt Polly had secreted some newly made sausage in a special place, but alas, it was a long black snake!  Interesting letter from a "Cherokee" from Indian Territory. Recipe for Mashed Salt Cod from Oleta in Sacramento, Cal. Oyster Pie from Mrs. S.M.C. in English, Ind. "Hellespont" in Michigan writes about "Woman--her Rights and Prerogatives". Mollie in Bismarck, Dakota Territory sends recipe for Cracknels and Irish Cabbage.  "Hums" in Tombstone, Arizona Territory writes about religious observances in the West, and how she has organized charity dinners and raised good money to build a local church. "Castle Dare" from Albany writes nearly two columns about her adventure on an overnight trip on a locomotive, arriving full of soot and grime home again. Ads for Sozodont, Dr. Price's Flavoring Extracts, Royal Baking Powder, Dobbins' Starch Polish, James Pyle's Pearline, Neilson's Secret for the Complexion, Drt. Gouraud's Oriental Cream or Magical Beautifier, Ridge's Food for Infants and Invalids, Madame Griswold's Patent Skirt-Supporting Corsets, more. Bound volume of four-page newspaper supplements, worn, good. (8182) $48.00. Women's

Guinea Gold, American Edition, Monday, January 1, 1945 Port Moresby, Papua-New Guinea: U.S. Army/Royal Australian Army. 4 pp. 26.2 x 39 cm.     This unique World War II newspaper, published in New Guinea and flown daily to U.S. and Australian troops all over South West Pacific command, often scooped the world, since General MacArthur released his communiqués to them 20 hours before they were released to the world press.  This issue's lead story, on first day of 1945:  "German Salient Shrinking: Berlin Says Patton's Attack Now ‘A Major Offensive’". Report from Moscow that two Russian envoys, carrying white flags were shot yesterday while carrying out negotiations for the surrender of the Germans and Hungarians in besieged Budapest"Must Occupy Japan to Win Peace, Says Nimitz." C-in-C Pacific Fleet Admiral Nimitz stated from Saipan Sunday that Japan will have to be occupied to win the peace. "Archbishop of Greece is Regent; Prime Minister Papandreou May Resign." Report from London: Nazi Seapower has been virtually destroyed by the Royal Navy in 1944.    Newspaper,  small tears in folds, fair.     (8208) $39.00. World War II     

Boston Courier  Semi-Weekly, Thursday, August 13, 1829 Boston, MA:  J.T. Buckingham, Editor and Proprietor. This is a lively Boston paper from the time when Andrew Jackson was President.  "Letters from a Boston Merchant"  recalls that in last chapter he said that Japan was "Paradise of Dogs"--- rambling discussion about hunting for dogs and dog-hospitals.   Refuge for Destitute Mosquitoes…  relates tale of a man on the Dorchester flats where the mosquitoes are as large and as hungry as in Turkey, and of man who bet he could strip bare and lie naked for five minutes with mosquitoes.  Japanese have taste for fine gardens. "Extinction of Egypt" dissertation on course of the Niger, speculation on physical extinction of Egypt.  Commentary on Boston Newspapers reports opinions of Mr. Ruffleshirt, Mr. Neverchange, Mr. Firebrand, Mr. Scrupulous and Mr. Sugarplum.  Adv. with illustration of Patent Sponge Boots for Horses' Feet.  See James Boyd, 27 Merchants' Row. 4 pp. 39 x 53 cm. Newspaper, worn, fair. Name "G. Wilkinson" written at top of front page. (8078) $30.00. Newspapers/History

Boston Courier  Semi-Weekly, Thursday, January 7, 1830  Boston, MA J.T. Buckingham, Editor and Proprietor. Editorial critical of discourse in Congress in Washington re debate about distributing proceeds  of the public lands by Mr. Polk. "Where words abound much fruit of solid sense is seldom found."  Commentary on the "Jacksonism" of Mr. Thomas D. Arnold of Tennessee. Report of proposal by DeWitt Clinton to build a railroad from New York to the state of Missouri.  Report from France notes that French journals continue their "harpings" suggesting that the days of the French monarchy are numbered. 4 pp. 39 x 53 cm. Newspaper, worn, fair. (8056) $24.00. Newspapers/History

 Travel Diary of Mrs. Harry Worcester, 1954 handwritten by Worcester, Mrs. Harry 1954. West Swanzey, NH: ephemera 28 pp. 10 x 16 cm. Leather "Travels Abroad" Diary: Mrs. Harry Worcester records trip she and husband took from Keene, NH to NYC, thence from Idlewild Airport via KLM Lockheed Constellation first to Gander, Nfld, then to London, then to Brighton by train; Banquet at Strand Hotel; met Mayor Dudley; back to London, tour, then by train to York, touring, visit The Shambles, on to Edinburgh; touring Scotland, then to Glasgow and steamer to Belfast, N. Ireland; train to Dublin; Dun Laoghaire then steamer to Holyhead, and train for  Caernarvon, Wales; Criccieth to Bristol, then London; flight to Chaumont, France; Harry visited places where he trained during World War I; Neuf Chateau, Verdun; Paris, Chalons-sur-Marne; sleeper train to Basel, CH, then Lucerne, Zurich, then another sleeper for Calais; rough crossing to Folkestone, then to London; flight home on KLM Connie to Shannon, Gander and Idlewild.  Green leather Travel Diary (only 28 pages of entries) with unused pencil in loop, very good. (7644) $30.00. Travel/Ephemera

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