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I believe in artichokes

Italy did ruin me. After that first trip I came back disgusted by bodega coffee, which now smelled of old socks. Before, it was just fine. I rolled my eyes at red sauce joints, detouring old standbys like a stranger. If eating can be seen as a religious or spiritual experience I had been to the mountain. In time I would return on pilgrimages, always holding the simple pleasures in my thoughts.  An artichoke, methodically fried in good olive oil, with some salt. Black truffles, good butter and fresh pasta twisting around the back of a fork. A very cold and tiny glass of porto bianco sipped in a Genoa bar, with my friend Federico. A man cleaning sardines on a block of wood in the street. A woman selling green figs that she wraps into a newspaper cone. I have thousands of these memories, these artifacts. But I live in Moscow, where there has been an embargo for years now, and there is no population that expects perfect mounds of fresh cheese. They ship powdered palm oil here, that gets …

heavy

A drunken man is thrashing in the grip of the security officers. It takes four men to wrestle him down the stairs, smashing elbows into his face as he flounders like a catfish on the shore - slipping once and again from them. And then, he is gone. Tens of thousands of people sit respectfully in the stadium. The crowd on the floor are packed against each other, and in the distance the stage sits empty under bright lights. I am with N and her girlfriend Tanya, as we chew watermelon gum and wait for Metallica to come on. Yes, Metallica. When she asked me if I wanted to see them, I said yes without hesitating. I feel different these days, and going to see a heavy metal act seemed like a great way to test my new sensibilities.

"MEETALLEEEEKUH." The audience shouted randomly, adding the extra syllable "eekuh". Eventually they came on. 

I tried to find the beat, lost in the punk rock of my youth and confused by the mechanical, blistering rhythm, no snare drum - all bass kick and toms. I've jammed with half of the guys from the Swans, worked with performers like Diamanda Galas, The Blue Man Group - - you can't scare me with sheer atonal noise. It took some time for me to find it. The audience was like some kind of army, a million right arms pumping into the air in perfect unison. I imagined big angry robots making music from ones and zeroes, fighting off the random two or three that tried to join in. I watched grown men playing air guitar solos, twisting in slow-motion circles. A woman next to us was dubbed "the geometry teacher", complete in her sweater vest  and thick glasses. She jumped up sometimes, double pumping, fingers splayed in angry patterns in the air. The stale watermelon gum in my mouth seemed oddly appropriate. I felt this was music of pain, unrelenting. This was mathematic music - - precise, intricate and cold. This was war music, death music. It has its place, I thought. It speaks to any Russian and turns them into fanatic sufi whirling dervishes, at a Qawwali performance. This is a sort of religious ecstasy I was watching - and not really understanding. 

The last songs had a more Eastern melody to them, and I suddenly felt in sync - the paired guitars speaking in these painful intervals between the notes. I know this scale. It bleeds. 

The concert ended with a cascade of giant black balloons that rained from the ceiling. 

We slept in with the windows open, and I made strawberry clafoutis for our breakfast. 

That night, I watched Avatar with E. She kept stopping the film, turning to smile at me, her thumbs up.

"I want to go there." She said. "I want to be a blue girl and fly a dinosaur." 

It was late, but we watched the whole film. There were moments when it scared her, when she asked me why people were hurting each other, killing each other. I told her people do that sometimes. A short moment passed as she processed this. She shouted and jumped around the living room, flying and travelled from tree to tree as she imagined an entire world around her.  I saw the same excitement, the same ecstasy as the previous night. I joined her, as we screamed like banshees and ran around the apartment with the cat hiding under a chair. 

"I'm going to save the trees." She kept saying.

In the morning, we talked about painting ourselves blue. I brought her to detskie sad, our breath cold in front of us making little clouds in the air. We ran down the sidewalk, pretending we were flying.

I had a morning meeting, and listened to a small voice inside me that told me not to take the metro. It was  only a few weeks ago, on a monday much like this one, in the station I would pass through, that one of those bombs exploded. This voice is the one that tells the expecting father to sell his motorcycle, the voice that tells you to take any work you are offered, the voice that says be humble, be safe. I walked across two bridges as the traffic absorbed me, as I thought about the cold April wind, as heavy metal music played from an empty carousel in a vacant lot.

Comments

brenda said…
f'ing BRILLIANT, M. As ever!
Annie said…
Yes, indeed.....when I read your posts, I am not only THERE. There is more. I feel and understand something new. Thanks!

I find myself thinking, "Who the heck were his parents to raise such an all-around brilliantly talented son?"

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