Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Mysteries of Winter

I’ve lived in Boston for almost 5 years now. Originally from Texas, in the past having made myself at home in Australia and England and New York, it has still taken almost this entire time to make me feel relatively at home up here. There are many things about Boston that I love and will miss when I eventually leave. (Oh, I’ll be leaving, that’s for certain. I can’t believe I’ve stayed here this long. My traveling feet need to move on. To some place warmer and sunnier.)

What it comes down to is that I’ll always be a canker in the oyster that is Boston, and it would take many more decades to make me a local pearl than I’m willing to give to this place. My accent is different. I don’t like sugar in my cornbread. I think oysters are gross. But really, the biggest reason for my incurable foreign-ness can be summed up in one word: winter.

Winter usually seems to me to be almost offensively overdone up here. Like a thirteen-year-old who just doesn’t know when to stop. It just goes on and on and on and on… Really? We’re going to top out at a whopping 8 degrees today? You don’t think you made that point last week when we didn’t get above 15 degrees? Really? We need another 2 feet of snow? Are you sure those last 3 blizzards didn’t really convey the basic message???? Oh, here we go. A giant coating of ice. Like we didn’t all see the news this week. You did this in Oklahoma already!! Sigh. Eye roll. Geez.

Winter and I get along like a cat in a bath. Picture me: screeching, lost to reason, claws out, ears back, shoulders up, occasionally swearing, swiping at anything within reach, hissing and wailing like a banshee. That’s my inner self every single day that is below 40 degrees. I just don’t like being cold. And although it is irrational to feel this way, I take it personally. I resent being cold. Winters in Boston seem to go on for merciless ever. They start in November or sometimes a little earlier and don’t end until May. When the rest of the world is counting how many daffodils burst into bloom each sunny spring day, we’re still bound by cold grey skies, waiting for the day when our long-johns can be retired for a whole 3 months.

Long-johns. Sigh. Even the concept can make me weary. But if I didn’t wear long-johns all winter long I’d be a freeze-dried little mackerel, believe me. And it doesn’t matter that I’ve found the super thin kind, made of 100% silk. There is simply no way to feel even one speck of glamour while wearing long-johns. You may be walking along in your fab new boots, feeling all stride-y and America’s Next Top Model fierce, but you can’t walk fast enough to get away from that mentally-flannel layer you’re wearing next to your skin. They may not be bulky in actual fact, but in my mind I’ve just wrapped myself in a red flannel Union suit like you see in certain cartoons, then pulled jeans on over it. No one else may be aware of it, but I know, I know with a clarity greater than that of the Hubble telescope: because of long-johns, I waddle all winter long. There I go. Insulated and waddly, like a lost Antarctic penguin poking around the North Pole.

Okay, without being too Pollyanna about it, I will name two things I do like about winter: 1) The gorgeous white hush of a brand new snowfall. It’s breathtaking. If only the snow fairies would come out at night and scrape all the sidewalks clear. Then it would be perfect. 2) Soups and stews. I do love a good warm bowl of winter-defying yumminess. The contrast between the warm comfort of what I’m eating, and the iciness outside adds a delicious piquancy to the meal. Mmmm.

Despite my years of winter experience, however, there are still a few mysteries I have yet to solve. If you know the answer, please let me know. These questions pop up in November every year and I can only scratch my head and wonder. I’ve never yet figured them out.

1) Coats. Where on earth do the women of Boston find their coats? They’re so cute. And fashionable and flattering. My coats are huge, ugly, unflattering, usually the color and shape of a potato, and very, very warm. Every time I go coat shopping with the intention of finally buying a chic Boston coat I am hobbled by three things. First, I never trust that the coat I’m trying on in a warm store will actually keep me safe from frostbite once I step outdoors. I am deeply distrustful of all coats until I’ve tried them in actual winter conditions. Unfortunately, most stores are not keen on my inspired notion of rent-to-own winter coats. Second, coats cost like $385. I can’t help but laugh loud and long every time I see a tag like that on a coat. As if. Psha. And third, every time I go shopping I see the same three coats. The square black or grey wool number. Very basic. No personality. The puffy coat that looks like a ski jacket and has a fake fur collar. Always in some weird color like putty or puce. And the 80s throwback, with oddly short sleeves, quilted in a pattern that for some reason reminds me vividly of the 5th grade and usually comes in some shade of lavender. Where are the gorgeous little belted orange or green coats I see on the streets? I think there must be a secret coat depot somewhere. As a canker rather than a native, I may never know…

2) Noses. Apparently my little Texas nose reacts just as hysterically to winter conditions as does the rest of me. When I step outside on a cold day my nose instantly fires up the old boiler and shoots hot water up to the surface. Ten steps from my front door and I’ve got the sniffles. Twenty steps and I’m sorely in need of a Kleenex. Every. Single. Time. And as soon as I step inside some place warm, I need to blow my nose again. I know this is some sort of defense mechanism. But I do have to wonder, why doesn’t anyone else have this problem? I swear to you, in all the years I’ve been taking the T to work, I am the ONLY PERSON I ever see using a Kleenex. People don’t sniff or snort or blow their noses. Like, ever. I am utterly mystified. And convinced I have the world’s most active human nose.

3) Personal thermostats. Speaking of mystified. When I go outside on any day that is colder than 35 degrees, I spend a certain amount of time right before my grand exit going through a series of motions I call ‘rugging up.’ I put on my big coat. I put on my hat. I put on my gloves, making sure to tuck the sleeves of what I’m wearing inside the cuffs of the gloves, and the cuffs of the gloves inside the sleeves of my coat. Then I wrap a scarf around the place where my neck can usually be found, in case I need to hunker down like a turtle to protect my face from the wind. THEN I’m ready to head out. THEN is also usually when I remember something important like an address I need to write down or something I need to put away before I go. Then I get all hot and sweaty inside my coat because what I’m wearing is definitely over-the-top for indoor temperatures. Once I get to my destination (usually the subway station) I take it all off. Hat, scarf and gloves go in my bag. Coat gets unbuttoned. When I get on the train I take my coat off and hold it. Here’s the mystery: I AM THE ONLY PERSON WHO DOES THIS. Every single other person on my crowded train car every single morning – we’re talking several hundred people – keeps it all on. Oh, they may swipe off their hats and gloves, but they leave scarves around their necks, and rarely bother to unbutton their coats. I am bewildered. Aren’t they turning into disgusting sweat pigs in there? I would be. Maybe locals have fabulously fine-tuned personal thermostats that allow them to wear 4 inches of protective outerwear while inside and not get overheated. It sounds so improbable, doesn’t it?

Anyway. We are expecting winter to arrive on the express about midday today, the same howler that bowled through the middle of the country a few days ago, only slightly less fearsome. Gotta go get out my big ugly coat and a pocketful of Kleenex. I’m already wearing my long-johns.


Geekwif said...

1) I'm sorry to tell you this, but as a native Minnesotan (okay, I'm technically a native South Dakotan, but don't tell anyone) my experience has been that the cute little orange or green coats you see on the street? Not warm. You can have cute, or you can have warm, but never the twain shall meet.

2) If you figure this one out, please let me know. I have the same problem and have never found the trick to controlling an unruly nose.

3) The trick, I believe, is to let in just enough air to keep you from sweating. Just the top button, or a couple inches of zipper. Enough to let the air in without messing up the elaborate scarf wrapping too badly. You may still get a little warm, but the convenience of not having to completely re-wrap on the other end is worth it.

Olivia Ting said...

I know the dilemma when it comes to winters...I come from California where seasons don't exist and snow is the sparkly plastic stuff you see in department window displays.
I moved to New York and with woefully inadequate winter ammunition and nearly lost my extremities to frostbite and hypothermia.
but I gotta say, I've learned a few things about layering up...

Wool is useless. the fabric itself is innately full of little holes and you will be acupunctured with ice air pinpricks unless if you layer yourself with a wetsuit or Hefty garbage bag directly under the coat.
I've always gone with down and yes I do look like puffy. but hey we're talking not having to take all the layers off, right? not necessarily being the cutest button around town.

That said, the coat should be windproof and of a weight that will keep you warm but not boiling indoors at room temperature. Thing is, people think they have to bundle up enough to be warm and toasty outside but they forget they're not going outside to stand there like a snowman. You'll be walking as fast as your feet can carry you to your destination and your body will work up the heat to keep you warm.

get a wide enough scarf (just short of the size of a burka) that can form a nice cocoon of trapped air and fabric to cover the ears and the nose. This is where art history classes on the drapery comes in handy. Mind you don't wrap the thing around you like a turban. That's where you start to sweat like a pig. The key is to keep a barrier between you and the arctic air, not mummify yourself. Trust me, you need some give. You'll be moving too, and your body will keep the air on the inside of the scarf close to you warm.

Mittens and gloves, well you'll just have to live with either trying them your waist with a bungee cord if you're afraid of losing them. Or put up with baked hands. Or you can invest in a cool bag to stick your gloves in them. Heck, having to take off just one element out of the myriad of possibilities is not bad.

Oh right. hats... get ear muff and don't take them off or get a coat with a hood. Oh a VERY interesting thing I found about hoods, is that the furry edge (real or faux) DO actually serve a purpose. They keep the wind from sneaking into that gap on either sides of your face! It's miraculous! For the first time in my life I realized just how brilliantly the Eskimos adapted to cold weather.

Well that's my two cents, coming from a season virgin. Now I've got winter figured, summer's the next tackle...