The word remont denotes a cross between fixing, repairing, servicing, reconstructing or simply patching up. As almost everything seems to need fixing fairly frequently in the Soviet Union, remonting has sneaked into the vocabulary of virtually every foreigner living here.
As a rule, the process of remont is long and complicated.
There are regular summer remonts, which means that people have no hot water from perhaps three to six weeks. Every summer a notice is placed by the komandant of our block near the elevator doors saying that hot water would be shut off because of "prophylactic pipe repairs." Other remonts come at irregular intervals, such as the replacement of gas pipes last fall, or the retiling of corridors the previous spring.
But we are having a winter remont that began last month on such an ambitious scale that it represents a real novelty, if for no other reason than its timing.
A decision presumably made by the komandant, or perhaps his bureaucratic superior, was to enlarge parking areas in our compound by pouring asphalt on a former children's playground which had acquired the characteristics of a beat-up back lot.
When this decision was made is a secret. But with the first snow, some rather expensive-looking machinery was delivered to our compound. It lay there unused until the winter set in in a big way. Then workers came bundled up in winter clothes and started preparing the frozen ground.
Given the fact that temperatures had dipped to -10 Fahrenheit, it was only natural that the work should proceed slowly and with frequent breaks. It was equally natural that the men should imbibe vodka to keep themselves warm.
The sight from our third-floor office windows was intriguing as the work proceeded like a huge quilt. One day it was clear that instead of seven hours, the crew effectively worked less than three.
Alarmingly, this was only a part of the grand plan. Since hot tar was around, it was decided that the long access roads and driveways to our apartment complex nearby should also be resurfaced and graced with new curbstones. The latter, when delivered by huge trucks, did not look like curbstones at all. They turned out to be so tall as to constitute a major impediment to walking and to prevent small children from negotiating them altogether.
WHETHER the komandant had been aware that a related remont inside our compound was going to take place during the same time as well is yet another imponderable. Observers here say he could not have failed to notice a huge quantity of pipes, cement blocks and bricks dumped behind our building long before the first snow.
The diplomats, journalists and other foreigners living in our ghetto speculated as to the meaning of all this material. Some thought that garages might be erected between the buildings.
Meanwhile, as the pipes got muddied some more pipes appeared, were cut into sections and seemingly abandoned.
Then one day the tree outside our window disappeared, depriving us of a shield and a distinction from the almost identical structure across the yard.
Finally, as the deep December freeze set in, workers appeared in a rush to start digging a huge hole. An enormous earthmover started work around 9 a.m., stopped by 11 and resumed at 1 p.m. The hole began to stretch across the yard as the frozen earth was being dislodged by mighty drills.
It turned out that this remont involved new central heating pipes and that it would have to interfere with the asphalt project.
With the resurfacing now almost completed, the workers will apparently have to cut through the fresh asphalt surface one more time to dig ditches for the new heating system. Pipes lying around suggest that work should be in progress, or that it is about to begin.
One only wonders why the coldest month of the year had been selected for such an enterprise. But then, driving around the city, it becomes clear that we have not been selected for special treatment. Several buildings are being remonted and their facades repainted at this point.
One redeeming feature about paint jobs is that they are usually done by women, who are dressed in what seems like winter combat fatigues and who are far more sober than their male counterparts. Their presence usually is interpreted as a sign that the job will be done quickly.