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Breathing the right air

Nothing brings more comfort than a bag of good things to cook, swinging under your arm as you make your way home. Somehow it blots out the rest of the world. In these moments, the entire universe consists of a late afternoon sun, a stray dog and a clump of flowers growing strange and wild in a yard. A hit of basil jumps from my elbows with each swing of the bag, a gift from one of the ladies I buy from the most. I visit markets without intention, just eyes open ready to discover fresh peas, or the first corn. Knowing that these products will disappear as quickly as they present themselves creates a certain form of excitement. Each season offers up this rhythm and without it I might become completely lost.

I think of when we were in Tuscany a month ago, feeling like such a tourist until I wandered out along the highway and found the local vegetable stand. I shoved squash blossoms and tiny tomatoes into a bag, rushing back to our room like I had robbed a bank. I made pasta with them th…

хлеб (bread)

In my most desperate moments, I jump up and find a heel of bread. Tearing it into tiny pieces that I fling from an open window, there are always birds to grab at them. At home there are great black crows. At the studio, sleepy pigeons and fast sparrows. This exercise helps me get outside of my thoughts. I imagine I am one of these birds, finding unexpected bread from an unexpected source. I imagine that gifts from a similar, impossible source are finding their way to me.

If this measure fails me, I go to the convent across the street from my studio. A great, sprawling collection of buildings sits low behind the walls. The convent is being rebuilt. There are skeletons of spires, great piles of bricks, yellow cranes tall in the sky, clouds of fine dust, suntanned workers, upside-down wheelbarrows and countless flowers.

The flowers grow wild here, as well as in organized gardens. There are roses as big as cows, and hollyhocks that stand taller than a man. There are some small stone stairs that lead to three graves. Each grave blooms in a collection of rumashki (wild daises), and violets and pansies. I always stare at these graves for some time.

As I leave, stooping my head under sunflowers bending under their own weight, bobbing in the wind, I see the church. Inside it is dark, cool and quiet. You can buy candles for whatever price you wish to pay. Every inch is adorned with icons of saints, Mary, and the Christ child. There is a big metal container filled with holy water and a still-wet cup dangling from a handle. You can turn the spigot and drink as much as you like.

Outside, there is an embankment covered so randomly with flowers, it is as if a child mixed all of the seeds together and threw them there. Black-eyed Susans, foxglove, and jasmine all twist into each other. The air is most fragrant here, and I stand with my eyes closed.

Around the corner, past more construction and white stones stacked on top of each other is the khlebuchik (bakery). Behind a small window, a mysterious collection of breads is displayed. There are yablokei pishki (tiny apple-filled pastries), khleb monaster (dark monastery bread). There are elephant’s ears, and cinnamon-filled logs, and even pampushki (tiny brioche covered in garlic and oil). I always buy myself the little pishki, for 20 cents apiece and some of the cinnamon bread for E for a dollar. She has been known to eat an entire loaf in one sitting. I found out that this bakery uses no yeast or baking powder - only hops, that are grown on the grounds.

Leaving from a side exit, I cross myself as I leave – returning to the busy street, computers, clients, telephones…and eventually home, to my little girl.

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