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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 …

3AM - the Devil plays guitar

3AM, and the airport coffee tastes especially weak. The thick layer of stale cinnamon I did not ask for floats on the top, adding nothing. A man and a woman approach slowly and sit at the table next to mine. She is in red, from head to toe. A waitress appears, drops menus in front of them. He opens a plastic box meant for leftovers. It is full of eggs.

He begins to peel one. The woman sighs, and does not open the menu. The waitress returns, her hands jumping into the air. Her voice cuts across the empty space.

He offers the egg to her, half surprised there is a problem. The woman stands up, her chair squeaking across the floor. I smell her perfume, thick and floral - powdery. He finishes peeling the egg, salts it then holds it gingerly between his fingers, half-standing up to follow her.

The man sits back down, and eats it in three sloppy bites.


The rain is heavy, like giant soft pancakes. I am flying on September 11th, by choice. Yawning, searching for oxygen I rub my eyes and stand on one foot then the other, trying to stay awake.  The plane will board at five. I want to enjoy this trip, to wrestle with a pile of papers in my bag - the last story for my new book. I will thrust a fresh cartridge in the Montegrappa, mark a few points in juicy red ink that soaks through the cheap paper.

I will ignore the threats piled up on my phone, the text messages and emails from a madwoman. E will be ok, even if she keeps us from talking for seven days. She knows I am coming back with giant boxes of gifts, with Hello Kitty rain boots, with harmonicas.

The latest scandal is about music school. E wants to learn the guitar, and the conservatory happily assigned a teacher to us. Piano, violin, recorder - all of no interest to her. Her mother babbles and screams over the phone at me. She says I am the Devil if I destroy E's life by letting her learn the guitar. It is an instrument for idiots, she says. No, E must play the piano like she does (or pretends to). This, or I will never see my daughter again. The typical threat. The typical madcap ultimatum. I have a personal terrorist, one thorn, one bag of salt to run into every wound. She is tireless, and wise. She is reckless and sloppy.

She should be ignored, but there is always a moment when I look over my shoulder, when the hair on my arm prickles as the police pass close to me.

Ten years ago I was as innocent as E. The brutality of the world was a story told to me, defused in its translation. Vicious acts were the stuff of movies, of video clips from faraway lands.

Not any more.




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