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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 …

podarok (the present)

E is curled up in her tiny bed, a swirl of sheets twisted around her. It rained briefly as the sun came up a few hours ago and now there is a soft wet air in the apartment. Her chin tucked into her shoulder, hands frozen like an Italian sculpture. I watch her like this for some time, drinking my coffee. There are few things in the world as perfect as watching someone you love while they sleep.

Her face is serene, as if she lives some perfect life.

We went to a birthday party on a boat for N's cousin Misha last night. The oppressive heat had just broken when we arrived, N's giant purse clanging around beside us as we brought her nephew and E across the astroturf landing.

E made fast friends with a girl her age, before we had even pulled away from the dock. Laughing, scarfing down cucumbers, the children wove their way around the long table. The sun flashed from between the great buildings and monuments we drifted past. Cold bottles of white wine were uncorked. Platters of thinly sliced fish and meat were spread out. One stretch of the river stank of god knows what, quickly replaced by the smell of fresh cut grass. Other boats cruised past us pumping disco music, the dancing crowds waving hysterically, thrilled when we waved back.

N stood at the railing in a sleeveless, backless top. Her giant sunglasses perched on the bridge of her nose, she was more quiet than usual today. N is a very private person, and I am always sharply reminded of this when we are out in a group as opposed to just the two of us. Later, I found out she was a bit sea sick. Well, river sick.


Birthday toasts were made. Countless snapshots clicked away. Toys were lost in the chairs, then found again. E asked for the extra shirt I brought for her as a low wind grew, throwing her hair around. She asked me to put her hair in braids and I did. She announced to the people around us that I am her mother as well as her father.

All too shortly, the sun set and it was time for coffee, tea. Time to polish off the open bottles. I felt like I had been sitting in this perfect chair for a short lifetime, my arm loose around N's shoulder.

As we made our way off the boat E hugged me, squeezing my cheeks.

"Pop." She said. "Everybody liked me!"

On the stairs by the road, I congratulated Misha again, explaining how I had forgotten his present. He touched E's hand gently and shook his head once.

"No, this is the present." He said.

Comments

Annie said…
Oh, my. Oh, my. What a lovely, lovely party.

Beautiful description of it. And I love the photos. N. looks so elegant,exquisitely so - until yu let us in on the secret....well, yes; she DOES look seasick. So, then I think "I would have been, too." and the lovely buffet isn't quite as attractive.

But your daughter is. And observant, it was clear to me; you are a Papa/Mama. Lucky daughter.

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