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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…

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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