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the long way around

The living room is a forest of mic stands and cables. A cup of coffee, a large glass of water and a shallow shot of whiskey sit on the tiny white table. I alternate between them, making sure the guitar is in tune, trying to understand if the chair will creak when I lean my head back on the second chorus.  There is a hush in the room. I can hear my own heartbeat. The lyrics are printed out on a fresh piece of paper, large and thick so I can read them easily even though I sing with my eyes closed and will surely forget a handful of words no matter what I do.

The guitar sounds dry, perfect - even honest. I can play a simple D chord with a long strum, or the side of my thumb and it sounds so different. I record a few takes, barefoot in the bright room. I am going too fast in some parts, and my fingers are already sore from the chord changes.

And then all at once, I am thinking of a show I played in an old factory in Brooklyn, way back when I had just started writing songs almost twenty y…

the red lion (a journey to Kiev)

It is colder here, with a soft rain pattering on the terrace. Waking up in a strange bed in a foreign land, my clothes still packed in my carry-on bag I stare at the ceiling for a while, the blinds chattering against the windows. The apartment smells of old lady perfume and cigarettes. 

Sipping black tea, toast with raspberry jam, a thunderous music swells up from the street. A patriotic chest-pounding Ukrainian anthem. I jump to close the windows, which barely muffles the deep voices that speak now - crude men who will remain faceless. Their words are overpronounced, percussive, brutal comments about Timoshenko. From what I can gather, they are defending her honor. They are explaining, rationalizing, excusing. They are pleading. And then a new voice enters- hostile, furious - repeating a handful of words. I hear kalashnikov and mistake it for the gun, not the politician. I think the enraged man calls Timoshenko a faithful rifle, a weapon. It is my typical confusion, jumping to some poetry, some metaphor when the words are very simple. 

The sound reflects off of the buildings and courtyards in a chaotic mess, the speakers nearly bleeding they are so loud. The double and triple echoes of the speeches become a sort of grotesque nonsense, interrupted by protestors with loudspeakers strapped to their cars. I watch the people of Kiev in the street, ignoring the whole thing. They eat ice creams, sip takeout coffees, and make their way to work. 

The studio is far outside the city, set behind a tangle of apple trees. The shooting will go on for two days, with long stretches of waiting and brief moments of intense thought and concentration, discussion, pointing at screens, regrouping, refining, and then moving on to the next shot. 

I wander the halls of the ancient Soviet documentary studio looking for a bathroom. I glimpse an empty room, odd notes painted on the dim walls, floorboards creaking heavily under my steps. I find old crumbling structures like this one to be warm, kind. There are ghosts here, no doubt, and walls with countless stories to tell. I rest my palms against them, sensing nothing but this, no details, nothing specific, just a deep sense of history.

Tall women totter on stilettos across the cobblestones when we return late at night to grab bread and ham from a market, maybe some Georgian wine. The city is practically humming with strip clubs, with girls hiked up in miniskirts, their eyes wide and dark, staring at me as I jaywalk across an intersection. 

The room is right over a club marked by a red-lit passageway, the Red Lion. The lights blink on and off in the cool air. I do not see anyone entering or exiting. Maybe it is too early or too late for the show. 

The next morning I see girls leaning outside the place, taking long hard drags on their cigarettes, squinting into the horizon above a police station tucked into an alleyway. The girls are all in black now, jeans and sweatshirts, little gym bags resting next to their feet. They do not wear heels.

The speeches begin again, a recording that plays on a loop. They have to shout to hear each other now, even standing a few inches away. The words seem even louder this time, maybe because of the cool, fresh silence before them.

I will fly home in a few hours, back to E and N, back to my guitars and my kitchen, back to my red chair and a sunny bedroom to write in. There are chocolate eggs in my bags, some perfume for N, a job to do, files and sketches and logos. These girls in their black jeans will be here still, and back tonight. I know this is the only work for them here, that they probably support a family in this club. I don't want to imagine what they do inside there. I am a father. I have a sister.

The voices are thundering, desperate in their rhythm. They crescendo and then music plays, lyrical, old. The space between this corrupt politician, with braids twisted over her head and the girls in the red hallway seems very small.

Here, they are all criminals.


The other side of Kiev... I can't help but think how different my report on it would be if I went... (I really wanna go, but no luck so far)
Marco North said…
well, julia - sex trades and prostitution are so wildly out of control there it's impossible to ignore. as for blaring speakers spewing out political rhetoric 10 hours a day - also impossible to ignore.
liv said…
Your writing is so emotionally evocative that I always wish it would go on for pages and pages .....and pages. I too "really wanna go", but after just that glimpse that you give, there is some feeling that I have been.
Congratulations on the work. And I am sure that E and N are thrilled to have you back in your kitchen and your sunny bedroom as such important work goes on there too.

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