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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…

perfect water

Today carries a certain perfection in the Russian calendar. In truth, all water is considered holy on this day. People make their way to churches, empty bottles tucked under their arms, or knocking against each other in strong bags from Ikea. I am one of them.

I enter the monastery that blooms so random and wild in the summer. Now, an ice sculpture stands in front of the church - a crudely carved angel, her head bowed in grace. Inside, the rooms are lit only by candles and the patches of sunlight that make their way to the icons that cover the walls. Incense remains heavy in the air, familiar and comforting. I buy two candles and light them in front of my favorite one. I do not need to pay anything for them, but do all the same. One for E and one for me.

We came here yesterday as I had mistaken the day of perfect water. It was during a service. Her eyes wide, she stood completely silent and still for some time. People stood (as there are no pews in Russian Orthodox churches). They stood in their winter coats with warm hats shoved in their pockets. They stood in awkward poses as this is what you do when you stand for a long time.

Now, I am in line and see giant silver vats full of sacred water. Old women dispense them, carefully placing funnels and little white pans on the floor so not a drop is wasted. They say the water is chemically perfect on this day, and that you may drink from this bottle during the year when you are sick. They say you may put a bit of this water on the walls and floor of your apartment to make it a good home.

Sometimes I drink it in the morning - -just a splash at the bottom of a little cup. I drink it at truly difficult moments, after I look at the sky or my hands through it. It tastes wonderful, like the well water I drank as a boy on the farm.





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