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the long way around

The living room is a forest of mic stands and cables. A cup of coffee, a large glass of water and a shallow shot of whiskey sit on the tiny white table. I alternate between them, making sure the guitar is in tune, trying to understand if the chair will creak when I lean my head back on the second chorus.  There is a hush in the room. I can hear my own heartbeat. The lyrics are printed out on a fresh piece of paper, large and thick so I can read them easily even though I sing with my eyes closed and will surely forget a handful of words no matter what I do.

The guitar sounds dry, perfect - even honest. I can play a simple D chord with a long strum, or the side of my thumb and it sounds so different. I record a few takes, barefoot in the bright room. I am going too fast in some parts, and my fingers are already sore from the chord changes.

And then all at once, I am thinking of a show I played in an old factory in Brooklyn, way back when I had just started writing songs almost twenty y…

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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