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there is always something (why I shoot film)

There are maybe ten shots left on the roll. Outside the metro, a collection of pigeons sit on minuscule ledges above two old men. They talk as all old men do, with operatic waves of their hands, sour expressions, belly laughs, eventually scratching their chins as they stare off at nothing in particular. I am pretending to take pictures of something near them, then swing across when they are not looking to shoot a few frames. At one point I surrender to the afternoon and move on.

And now, the courtyard that leads to the film lab. A great old building rests here, a school of architecture where students mill around dressed in black sucking on cigarettes with giant portfolios tucked under their arms. A young man approaches me. I am ready to tell him I have no idea what he is saying, but he wants to know where the film lab is. I jut my chin, telling him the door is just beyond a few bushes. He nods his thanks.

There are screens set up in a jagged line, sheathed in filthy white plastic to …

the myth of sisyphus (accordions and safety pins)

There is only one perehod (underpass) we take on the way to school each morning. In winter, it looms dank and wet. In summer it is cool, under sputtering fluorescents and a low ceiling. A man sits halfway down on a tiny folding stool playing the accordion. It is the same brisk song. An old Soviet one, happily ironic. His face is lost in some unblinking slow motion. He has no smile, no sadness. It is as if he is a blank piece of paper. Empty. Motionless. Just his fingers moving and his body making a little sway right and a little sway left. If someone drops a ruble, he does not react. If you stare at him, or stop for a moment he does not look at you. 

On some mornings his song brings a sort of breath to our walk. We are almost there. I will pull E's long messy hair into a ponytail, kiss her once on the top of her head and agree what time I will take her in the afternoon. Some mornings his song makes me depressed. I keep hoping he will play a new one, or he will do something different. I try to imagine how many years he has been playing this urgent, forlorn waltz. 

Lately, he makes me angry. Every morning, sitting with his insect eyes poking out from his face. Every morning with that sideways tilt of his head. No suntan. No different stubble on his chin. The same pants. The same shoes. I want to respect him for his commitment. He is running a marathon that will never offer a finish line, or a silk ribbon to break. I think he will just lean over very slowly one day in this tunnel and die. A flame of embarrassment runs under my face, and along my arms at these cruel thoughts. He is a father, I guess. He found something to do, and he does it. He is not a quitter. Maybe he hates playing this song, but has no choice. Maybe this is the only song he knows. I can't expect him to improvise a new one. I can't expect him to do anything more than what he can. 

I pass him, thinking to drop a coin in the little cardboard box but I do not. I need small change to buy milk downstairs and they refuse to change bills.

I wonder how the accordion man sees all of us, scurrying to work, to bring children to school before they stop serving breakfast, to the market, to the bank. Maybe he feels sorry for us, running around like insects every morning. I wonder if he is bored of my face, sour and tired after I have brought E to school, my hands in my pockets, gazing at my feet as I go home to an empty apartment, to scramble some eggs and make a living. 

I am haunted by his half-lidded eyes that day. Taking the garbage to the chute in the hallway, the heavy metal door flops open. There is a safety pin at the bottom. It has been there for months now. Every time the door slams shut and wine bottles clang furiously down, I wonder if it has unloosed itself. A day or two passes, then the next garbage bag goes down. It is still there. A North star in a dark sky. Someone must need this safety pin. Someone must take it, I tell myself.

But they never do.

It is safe. It survives, maybe by luck or chance. Maybe by grace.
I hope it is there tomorrow.


mosaikmum said…
I'd have never have guessed what your photo was about!...looking at the small image on my phone I thought it a photo of пух accumulated on the ground...(I did notice the safety pin)...but your photo is a whole lot more than that. Great writing! Thank you!
liv said…
I'm not sure, my dear, whether you are Sisyphus or he is Sisyphus...? You both seem relegated to the same repetitive dance...only I pray, as you know, for a happy ending to yours.

Love this ability of yours to see the minutia of life as poetry - it speaks so well for your soul.

However, I know you are cooking...I KNOW you are. It is your secret weapon - can you share just a little? A photo? Send the aromas across the continents so I can swoon at their perfume? It's magic when you cook.
Annie said…
Beautiful, as usual.
There's a guy in a perekhod on Yakimanka, blind, with a dog and an array of icons around him. I sometimes feel I should suggest he wears military uniform and medals to complete the set, but sense he'd think me flippant.
He plays a recorder, beautifully, Annie's song this morning, last week the theme from Godfather, I pass him twice weekly and have yet to hear him repeat a tune.
I'm over your way often, maybe I'll find your guy someday: we could make a busking map of Moscow.
Mely said…
I look forward to read your post every week and as always you deliver a great piece.

But I am also wondering what it is that you cook.

Marco North said…
Mely - here is a glimpse at some of my cooking.
Lenochka said…
I do not know why but your expat view of Moscow coincides with mine so much. I was born in Moscow and now am living in St. Petersburg and I enjoy reading your posts.
Mely said…
Thanks for sharing.


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