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no gold (things will have to wait)

There is an old Russian expression for the inevitable moment when your neighbors begin renovating. "Searching for gold in the walls." They say, to describe the epic sounds of drills in ancient concrete. You might appreciate this odd humor, this dark joke, this survival tactic. I am not so graceful a man to wrap my thoughts around it. Those drills and grinders, they shake the very walls of our apartment. Early on Sunday mornings and often long into the evenings they go.

This has been going on for the last four months, maybe more. I stopped counting.

I cannot imagine there are any walls left, that there is an entire open floor below us, the wind whipping through the naked beams and nothing else. That is the only explanation. Or that they break down walls, build new ones, find a flaw, some grand mistake and then break all of the walls down again. Not swiftly with sledgehammers, but with one crappy old drill with a dull bit, mashing away, so that children hundreds of miles away…

How I surrendered to Northern Italy

We were buoyant, as if we were traveling inside a balloon. The metro shuttled along, and I saw my reflection across the aisle. Little E sat on one of my knees in a bright blue dress, me in a bright blue shirt. We were laughing at ourselves.

The address we were going to changed from 30 Bolshaya Nikitskaya to 60 Bolshaya Nikitskaya. We were wandering on side streets on a Saturday evening. The sky bright above us said afternoon. We passed the cool spray of fountains, sweet smelling couples walking hand in hand. We passed the Brazilian Embassy, and tried to see inside the windows. There were jasmine bushes hanging low over the sidewalk that we pressed our noses into. E closed her eyes for a long time.

And now we find the place, under a different name – a yellow Osteria, a few hundred meters from The White House. D is waiting on the stairs and we enter together. Our clients are already there, nibbling on cheese. We move to a table on the veranda. E spreads her dolls in front of her, and grabs slender breadsticks from the waiter as they touch the table. I am asked to select a wine, and spy an Arneis on the list. We have $40 in the bank, and I order a $100 bottle.

One of the women wears a purple dress, and has such a big smile you can see the tops of her teeth.

The wine arrives, and I am overwhelmed by the first sip. I think of cool mornings, and the rich soil of Northern Italy. I feel so very human drinking this wine, watching the glass spin in my hand, watching the other faces at the table as they take their first sip.

We talk quickly about business, and then about our children.

The first bottle has evaporated it seems. I think to order a Verdicchio, and then hear a little voice inside me suggest a Bianca from Puglia. I have earned everyone’s trust with the last selection, and when it arrives and says Chardonnay on the label, I do not even raise an eyebrow. I am used to the announcements on the metro, and how they say one stop when we are really at another. The bright yellow splash in my glass tastes of the mountains, and wild things.

We are all getting drunk on empty stomachs. The women smile lopsided smiles, hanging their heads to one side. Two waiters now play a guitar and a mandolin, hovering around the veranda like honeybees. Little E has her dolls do a dance for us, and I see we are out of those breadsticks. I give up on worrying about the details of life, about the millions of equations that need solving. I surrender to my newly filled glass, and the black pepper on my fingertips.

The wine is finished, the cheese and honey and grapes long gone. E’s hair is plastered to her head, sweaty and limp. The woman in the purple dress picks up the tab, and we go our separate ways, saying the traditional Russian goodnight – “Shistliva” (literally, happiness).

Outside, D announces she is too drunk to get in a taxi. She pulls off her shoes and walks on the sidewalk. E does the same, happily shouting “basicom!” (barefoot). We slowly make our way home, crossing a bridge over the Mosckva River as the sun makes it’s way behind the white house, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

We need to buy cat food, and toilet paper, I remind myself.

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