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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 …

The keys to the kingdom

There were events I cannot describe. There were threats that cut down to the bone with their potential to become real. Snow was banging around the sky, flying upwards as much as down. I missed meals, sleep and taking E to music school. I called every goddamn person I knew and said help. I called strangers, people I had met once two years ago. By some miracle, they remembered us. People were pulling strings, calling on longshots. I threw a hail mary pass every ten minutes, staring out the apartment windows at a sudden white sky. I paced the floor, waiting for the phone to ring. I ate a box of dry cereal in messy handfuls.


And then the apartment was shown to some new potential buyers. It had always been our agreement that I would move out of this funny little place if there was a buyer. On the market for over seven years, two rooms that were once a policeman's office before this became a private building - we never thought the day would come. But it did.

Scrambling to search for apartments and be out the door in 30 days - a curse I would not wish on my worst enemy. I did not want E to become upset. This bright place in the clouds has been the first place she has ever felt truly happy, safe and peaceful in her short little life. This is where she had her first real birthday party, with a room full of children and toys, balloons crisscrossing the walls, ribbons and streamers across every doorway.

I thought to complain about the tiny things, like the internet turning off, or how the faucets tend to spray water all over the kitchen and rarely on the dishes. About how a loose tile in the bathroom forces water into a space under the bathtub, letting out a sweet and rotten smell and maybe that is where those tiny black flies come from. I thought these complaints would turn her, make moving out her idea as opposed to a piano slowly dropping from the sky on us.

I set times to look at new places, terrifying in their snapshots on the internet - macrame doors, ancient red velvet, peeling green wallpaper, bathtubs gone brown with stains. I started going on a night E was not with me, N by my side to cut through the bullshit and the rug selling. I needed the truth, and I needed it fast. The next night, E was with us. She was mildly excited, but after seeing two places she just wanted to go home. Ah, how to nudge the truth towards her without causing her to seize up like the pipes under the sink. I promised to buy her a new bed at Ikea, and we would decorate it with flowers and stars. A small nod of her face, a quiet yes from deep inside her.

One more place, this one by the river. Close to the great Vokzal (train station) of Kievskaya. Massive sculptures, a glass-covered bridge that spans the river. We enter. It is big, a sprawl of three rooms. Old chandeliers. Wacky vintage stereos and drapes but a view of the skyline. Old buildings dwarfed by the blue glass towers of City with their A class offices and the newest Starbucks in Moscow. And in the bedroom, a balcony with a view of the river. The kitchen, a cozy square with a round table. E is exhausted. She just wants to crumble onto the floor with her toys that are not there. The place has that old lady smell, of dust and fuzzy sofas, of food that needs salt. The place is old, tired. But it is warm, and solid.

I sign the lease the next day.

E is smiling. She is ready. N is relieved at least this is solved. She will help me with every detail. She will drive me to Ikea not once but twice, her tiny car packed to the ceiling. She will light candles and the old smell will fade. I still have nightmares to deal with, but at least this is solved. E will sleep here soon, her arms awkward on her pillow. I will cook here soon, smoking up the kitchen, eating from new plates and sipping wine from a paper cup.


I used to think that the number of keys in your pocket is a good indication of how complex your life is. Successful people have very few keys, was my mantra. A number of days ago, I gave back the keys to the office. In my right pocket is the front door key to a friend's home in the USA, a sort of touchstone I can hold on to in moments of complete madness. In my bag are the keys to my sister's place. Now I am wrestling with new apartment keys, old ones as I wrestle boxes in and out. It will get simpler, I keep repeating to myself.

The old place is annoying now. A coat rack falls from the wall one night. It seems there were no nails holding it up for the last 11 months. I lean against the bathroom doorway and tiles begin popping off the wall and clattering to the floor. The cat is hiding. E is laughing in her bathrobe, her hair a wet mess. I can't wait to get out of here now.



E sleeps as I work into the night. Her toys are arranged carefully across the windowsill. I wonder if she will remember this place when she is older. I wonder if the rain falling will turn to snow. I wonder about the bigger problems, the ones that cannot be solved by a bag of money and a signature on a lease. Looking out at the great building, I am happy to move on. I spent many sad nights here, wondering if E was ok. I spent many days looking out at that sky with no idea what to do.

This is where I met N, where she sat and drank coffee and asked me a thousand questions. This is our love nest, our place for pyjamas and coffee. This is where we curled up naked and warm, like hibernating chipmunks.

I pull a sweater around me. There is a draft. I have to fix that window too.

Comments

willwilisovsky said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
willwilisovsky said…
Grand stuff, hope that new place starts a new chapter, they usually do
willwilisovsky said…
Scuse the deleted post, couldn't follow your nakedness with a typo was all
Rabbit blogger said…
thanks will. you'll be amused to learn i have outlived the bad internet curse. starnet showed up on time today, 15 minutes later, 15mb down, 10 up. now to get everything in there. ah, for the moment my Gretsch rests in the corner of the living room...
Annie said…
Envious, envious. That's "my" neighborhood...where Ilya and I spent two weeks, walking and eating little snacks in out of the way corners....and getting to be a mom and her protective boy. Sacred streets.

Lucky, lucky you.
Anonymous said…
Thanks, M. As always, moving and brilliant.

RD

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