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you are not there

We are taking the little one for a ride on her new sled. It is bright orange, with a fuzzy black and white seat cover to keep her extra warm. Her tiny hands in tiny gloves hold the sides as tight as she can. I pull her down a path, shouting "woohooo" and then she replies "woohoo". N's turn is next, pulling her more schoolgirl than mother for a few minutes. There are other parents with children on sleds passing us. Their eyes straight forward, faces completely blank they slip by in silence. I flash a smile to them, and they do not even look at me. I am not there, just another tree leaning towards the stream that runs below.

There are ducks still, flapping around the brackish water and we throw pieces of stale bread to them. I start to think, not about the complete absence of smiles in this culture. I stopped asking about that long ago, told over and again that smiles are reserved for home, behind closed doors. But I wonder, for the children -  these wiggling bu…

chaos and horseradish

The House of Scientists on Prechistinka has a cafeteria. I plunk down my 15 rubles to enter the great house, asking the odd little woman with fake red-stained hair if the "stalovka" is open today. She stares at me fiercely, telling me we are "in the center of the city" and that the S-T-A-L-O-V-A-Y-A is open. Big difference was my thought, but this is a culture that holds tiny details precious, especially the generations that lived on both sides of the great experiment. Stalovka/Stalovaya - like I was confusing a Dodge Dart with a Porsche when I asked if I could get some lunch.

You need to give your ticket to an old woman standing five feet away who tears it precisely in half and hands you the stub no one will ask for. You leave your coat with another woman who hangs it slowly and carefully. If it requires a coat hanger you must pay a ruble.

Upstairs, beyond floor-length Austrian drapes and mysterious portraits, long red carpets and empty rooms is the Stalovaya. The tables are jammed with people from the offices nearby, eating methodically, wiping mayonnaise from the corners of their mouths. I see a terribly old man alone at a table and ask to share with him. He nods yes, his skin pale and translucent. He looks like those mice that live underground and never see light. Another man joins us, in a tattered sport jacket and a tie like my high school principal wore. He orders the same as me  - soup harcho, pork roast, pureed potatoes and compote. He looks more like a turtle - his bald head and fringe of hair a sort of mess, hairs sprouting from his ears, his nose. He is smashing the food into his mouth, clumps of potato puree hanging from his face. The pork roast is a bit bland, so I order some horseradish, which causes the two old men to freeze, staring at me in some kind of horror.

Later, I learn that in asking for horseradish sauce "sovs hren" I told the waitress to suck my dick.

She didn't bat an eye, and a boat of fiery horseradish appeared a few minutes later.

And then minutes later both of them are waving her down, all dark hair and a giant frown. She announces what they owe, no check  - just  conversation. Neither of them leave a tip, shuffling off into the warm afternoon. I savor the last bits of compote and chew at the fruit at the bottom of my glass.

The next day, I return and somehow sit at the same table with the turtle-faced man in the green sportcoat. He speaks a bit of English, and tells me he is from St. Petersburg. He is a theoretical physicist.

We both order a soup with tiny meatballs in it call frikadelik, and beef stroganoff.

My friend is smiling and laughing to himself. "Moscow is always some kind of choas." he explains, pronouncing choas like "cowwos".
"What do you mean?' I ask, not disagreeing with him.
"This new skyscrapers for example." He says. "They are in complete conflict, complete disharmony with the State Buildings."
"You mean in the new city on Kutuzovsky?" I ask.
"Exactly." He nods, soup splashing on his shirt.
"It's where I live - in one of the old buildings." I say.
He smiles, slurping up the last of his soup. "It is a city that is so foolish. No plan, no order or harmony...just random ideas."

He stands up abruptly, leaving his money on the table. There is a brief silence, as I clean my plate. I thought to tell him about the half-built skyscraper with the giant red balloon lit up, pulsing like a heartbeat and how you could not see this anymore. Even this was random.


Annie said…
You know, your essays are ought to see if you could sell them to Russian Life. Suddenly, in a way, this one reminded me of a series they do run, by a woman who lives in a tiny, very rural village. Strikes me that your essays of city life would be such a fine contrast. I take a little trip to Moscow every Monday. Thanks again!

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