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to be an expat

How can I even begin to explain the experiences of an expat?  The great assumption is that East and West are terribly different. One is vilified, the other painted as a land of patriots and heroes. One is crude and filthy the other has streets paved with gold. Look up and you will see miracles of architecture. Beyond the windows there are supposed to be good people, open smiles and warm hearts. How can I tell you that none of this is true? How can I untie my shoes, and somehow put them on your feet three thousand miles away? You would never believe what secrets they have to tell.

Every time I go back to the states I become more embarrassed to be an American. I overhear conversations in the street, the whines of privileged and moneyed voices. Coddled, dumbed-down and mislead they are drunk on a calculated fairly tale. And then back in Moscow, the same ignorance - the same questions from curious taxi drivers about how good it must be in America, where everything is possible and life mu…

one eye, two slices

There is nothing remarkable about the day. Another dance between questions and clients, materials, fonts, software, scripts and rewrites. I figure out what to make us for lunch. I put some pants on at one point, as rain splatters the windows and the air turns cool.

E turns a tiny chair into a post office and leaves folded papers there for me to open. They are birthday cards, glued shut with a smear of plastilene. They say things like "I luv you so much happy birthday p.s. i gave you a prezent". There is a hand-drawn ballerina with freckles that falls to the floor when I open it.

The hour arrives to shower and get dressed, to cram paper and pens into a bag. E decides to wear a sparkly purple dress with sneakers that blink. We take the metro, changing trains and exiting through the same station that used to lead to the office. We turn left, and walk for a few minutes.

Here is a museum, and an exhibit of modern paintings. I pay, and we walk inside, her hand dangling from mine, her neck craning forwards as we wander through rooms. She stands in front of each canvas, one foot propped on its edge, her hands turning. She reads the little cards next to them, and says nothing. She looks up at me sometimes, a smile turning the corners of her mouth. I ask if she wants to know something about them and she nods yes. I explain who Pirosmani is, and how he painted on cardboard, and wood and anything he could find. She nods, as I tell her how he paid for his dinner with paintings, and that was how he survived.

Old women sit in chairs, leaning to see if E will try to touch anything. She does once, but they do not see her. They smile bland smiles at us as we go from room to room.

"I think I saw enough." E tells me after twenty minutes.
"Ok." I say, trying to figure out where the exit is.
We turn into one room and there is no hallway from it, a dead end. E stands in front of one last painting. I ask her what it says, as there are words scribbled on it. She shrugs her shoulders.
I think it says something about a beast, or a creature with one eye.

Outside, we sit on a park bench. A pigeon shits and it falls on my shoulder. E erupts in laughter as I pull the white shirt off and try to wash it with the water left in her bottle.
"Whattayagonna do?" She says, shrugging her shoulders.
"You know this means good luck, right?" I tell her.
She makes a face.
"Come on, and on my birthday?" I say. "That is amazing."
I call N, who is close but in traffic.
"It means a lot of money." She says.
She will park soon, and we will sit in a restaurant on a veranda. Friends will come. A bottle of wine will be opened. More gifts, toasts, plates of pkhali and lobiani, mchadi and sulguni, khinkali and lulia kebab. The hour will grow late and E will have curled up on the sofa.
No, no candles in a restaurant dessert. Just home.

The next day, E says we still need to make a cake.
"You aren't older until you blow out the candles." She tells me.
Late that night, I do make a cake. Olive oil instead of butter, cloves, fresh ginger, coriander seeds, nutmeg, ground almonds, honey and nine sour plums. By the time it is cooked, E has gone to sleep again. N plants two candles in it, still warm and does her best Marilyn Monroe. I wish she sang more often. Her voice is sweet and kind.
I make my wish.
I eat two slices.


Uncle Al said…
A simply beautiful bithrday
Uncle Al said…
A simply beautiful Birthday
liv said…
Oh, Marco. It's your Birthday and you give us such a gift! That picture of you and E is stunning!! I love it and will keep it here where I write to see it everyday. She looked so sweet with all her curiosity and her vibrant little mind starring at that canvas. She has art so deep inside her - so creative she is.

And I could smell the cake! Hope the wish comes true! You know I do. Happy, Happy Birthday to YOU!
Banker Chick said…
That cake looked luscious, Happy Birthday.
Sarah said…
Happy Birthday Marco! So glad you had a good day.
Aisha said…
Happy Birthday. From me AND the pigeon...
Mely said…
Happy Birthday Marco! She is growing so tall and wise as the same time.

I will have to bake a cake like that tonight.

May your wishes come true.


Mrs. Munchkin said…
Happy Birthday!

We have made our move to Moscow from sunny Florida! Dont be surprised if a stranger (thats me) comes up to say hi if i see you :-) Still enjoy your entries....

Many birthday blessings!!
mosaikmum said…
A beautiful post and accompanying photos!
Toybox said…
Happy Belated Birthday Marco! I love your photos of you and your daughter. The cake looked delicious! Hope you had a wonderful and blessed day with all your friends and E.
Best wishes for the year ahead from here in NZ! :-D
Marco North said…
thanks Lunchbox and Liv and Banker Chick and Sarah and Aisha and Mely and of course Uncle Al and Mosaikmum from the land down under and Mrs. Munchkin (welcome to the madhouse if you are already here).

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