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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 …

no place else to go (making imaginary circles)



The city empties, hanging slack like a forgotten birthday balloon. Wrinkled and soft but still knocking around the rooms in a loose wind it hovers next to the bed like it is watching me then drifts back to the hallway. The nights are punctuated by the throaty cries of souped up motorcycles. The days are lost under bright white skies and then the rain that comes every Sunday afternoon at about three. There are foul smells from invisible sources in the street. There are men with faces turned mahogany, shirtless, selling flowers or bunches of disposable razors. There are women in faded black, feet with dirty socks forced into broken sandals selling boxes of rotting fruit, or polyester scarves. The people stream past them, cheeks pasted to phones as they cross the glass bridge that reaches across the river. All of the children and the pregnant women are in the country by now, leaving the young, the workers and the ones who have no place else to go.

We are holed up at home, taking cool showers, working on an animated film that uses E's drawings. My guitars are out, scattered across the rooms so they are always within reach. I put a new set of strings on the big acoustic one afternoon, the one all of the old songs were written on. It has a tobacco stain, a thin crack forming near the bridge and a familiar smell. E used to drop her crayons inside it and shake the whole thing like a tambourine when she was one. The insides are flecked with blue and orange and yellow.

E asks me to make her some matzah brei for breakfast when she finally wakes up. She is starving, skipping around the kitchen as she breaks the pieces into a metal bowl, running water over them and asking me how long to soak them. The butter foams in the pan. She squeezes the pieces dry, elbows poking out awkwardly, gingerly cracking the egg after a few tries and scrambling everything together with abrupt splashes. I place her hand in mine, showing her how to whip things together making imaginary circles, keeping things in the air for a moment. She nods, silent. Everything goes into the pan and I hand her the spatula. It is up to her now, to decide when it is cooked correctly, when to flip it, break it into pieces again, when to pull it from the flame and slide it onto the plate, adding some pepper or salt if it needs it after taking one bite.


We face the Russian winter for six months, staring at pictures of green trees and wildflowers, shivering in darkness and mud. When summer does come it is squandered, wasted with sleep and naps, with quick walks outside and then returning to cool rooms and shade, to nights spent half-awake. It will all be over as quickly as it started. When I was a boy, summer felt like a lifetime all by itself. The wheat would grow tall and green, with grasshoppers chirping in the darkness, with watermelon and corn growing in the garden. We would go to the stream, naked in the cold water trying to catch a fish with our bare hands as the tiny minnows nibbled at our ankles. The dogs followed us everywhere. There were trips to the town pool for swimming lessons, and then free time in the afternoon. We knew everyone, except the man who dove in from the side and cracked his nose open on the bottom of blue concrete. I had never seen so much blood in my life.

There was a tiny store up the hill, where we could enter with twenty five cents to divide between atomic fireballs and sweet-ums, or maybe split a Charleston Chew. It was either the pool, or the stream at home for the entire summer until the wheat turned brown, until we went to buy clean shirts and a fresh pair of toughskins in August.




Comments

liv said…
That's exactly the way I remember it too, Summer.
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