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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 …

there's nothing sadder than a town with no cheer


His is taller then six feet and has bushy grey eyebrows, a lumpy face punctuated by a red nose. He does not look me in the eye. There are two dogs he takes outside, a slow moving German Shepherd and some tiny, nervous one. I have not learned their names even though we have shared the elevator countless times. The big dog is always silent, the little one with its shrill bark scares E if she is with me. 

Our neighbor smells of cigarettes and cheap cologne. 

He spends hours in the hallway, leaning against the window that looks out onto the train yards and a small school where they teach economics. He smokes and smokes, pressing the butts into a tiny glass jelly jar. I see the empty packs there when he is gone, the residue of the previous night, the wisp of clear plastic wrapper, the damp smell. He reads entire books leaning against the banister in a pair of plaid shorts and a t shirt, his yellow toenails shining from his flip-flops. 

I used to think he was avoiding his wife by turning the hallway into a sort of den. She is quiet, short, with brown hair pulled back tight. I never see her. N told me that maybe she does not allow smoking in the house, and that is why he spends his time in the stairwell. 

A year or so ago, I saw a young man going into their apartment. He was bald, his skin shiny and thin as if I could see the veins through it. His hands were shaking. I talked about this with N over tea that night and she guessed that maybe the boy was their son, and he was sick and that is why the old man smokes in the hallway. 

Months passed and we did not see the young man. The old man's face made more sense to me, the solemn mumbled greetings or none at all, the shuffling from door to window, even the dogs saying nothing just scratching at the door asking to go outside. 





Comments

Parke Muth said…
Wonderful example of what Dinty Moore and others would call a flash essay. I would call it a cousin of Kafka. Thank you.
liv said…
Is there ever cheer in Moscow? Perhaps in the North apartment, but in general, I am doubtful.

Yes, very Kafka like and all too common - the condition, not your writing. There is nothing common about your writing.

Hope E is much, much better !

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