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cold nostalgia

There is a note, stuck to the front entrance of our building. The hot water will be turned off for ten days. This is something that happens every summer, although it snowed a week ago and children wander the playgrounds in ski hats these days. At night it can be 40 degrees fahrenheit.  The hot water is always turned off like this, at some point during June or July. It is a long-standing Soviet tradition, and people begrudgingly accept it here. But the baby, V does not. She wants to stand in a hot bath before she goes to sleep, to splash and pour water all around her, and N. She wants to stand and wiggle her tiny hands under the spout, as she grows pink and clean, as she howls and shouts for us to see what new trick she has improvised. There is no explanation for her, why the hot water is off today, and will be tomorrow. She is angry, furious even.

I used to buy the story that this offered a chance for the water department to fix pipes, to take care of routine maintenance. Hot water c…

free bread (and hotdogs from New York)

On our last night in Tbilisi we walked up an old street to where N used to live. I took a picture of her under the streetlights, one hand gripping her elbow as she stared back at me. We continued, her cousin leading us through the city. A bread shop was open as all of them are, long into the evening. The smell pumping out of the basement was intense, yeast and and vapor, char and salt. I stooped down, peering into the long narrow room. N's cousin knew what I wanted and went inside, speaking with the man who worked there, his hands moving in slow circles for a moment and then he waved me in. 

Nesting my camera bag in the corner, I took some light readings and checked to see how many frames were left in my Leica. I kept the 35mm lens on, hovering close to the long table and the individual mounds of dough. He acknowledged me, just a tiny head nod as he tossed a little flour across the open space, smacking the dough onto a half-sphere shaped board, stretching the dough out then bringing it to the round oven, slapping the wet disc to the inside walls. 

I followed him, working both angles of the board until the whole batch had gone in. Shooting from pure instinct, I let my mind go empty, forgetting where I was, who I was, that we needed to pack our bags still, that E was fast asleep in Moscow hopefully next to one of the cats. 

Finished, he stood hands on hips for a moment. I bowed and said thanks in both Russian and Georgian, digging in my pockets for some change to buy a loaf. He shook his head no, shoving one into my hands, waving me out. Walking up the stairs to the cool air of the street I tore off a corner, shoving it into my mouth. N and her cousin were laughing at me, that I was still hungry after another giant family meal. 

I thought of the man working alone, methodical, elegant, precise. 


On my birthday I took E to a museum. We climbed all of the stairs and worked our way down, lingering in certain rooms and skipping others entirely. We sat in front of a set of elephants, and said nothing for a little while.

We pass another that depicts a mother and child.
E reads the tiny description card to herself, then turns to me.
"This one is about Madonna." She explains.
I think to correct her, but let it go.

A few days later we sit at a table in a restaurant, at a belated wedding party for some friends. There are vodka toasts, and flowers that fill vases on the floor. N's hair is done up in an elaborate braid. E slumps next to me, nibbling on her food then shoving it around her plate.
"Can I have my pen and paper now?" She asks me.
"Of course." I tell her, pulling them from my bag. "Just eat some of mine, when they bring the next course ok?"
She nods slowly, chin shaking.
A pen is opened, hovering over the paper.
"What should I draw?" She asks, under her breath.
"Whatever you like." I tell her. "Whatever you like the most."
She stares out the window at the little pond, maybe one of the swans drifting around in the late afternoon light. Her hand jumps, and she is drawing herself, then me carrying a hotdog, then N. She draws a young woman.
"So this is you now." I say, pointing at the girl next to me in the drawing, then moving to the young woman. "And this is you when you are older?"
"Nah." She says. "That is just a girl."
I have missed a toast by one of the bride's friends, something about how they make a perfect couple.
I raise my glass, from our end of the table.
When I look at E, I see she has started to cry.
A few tears splash onto the paper.
"I thought it was about living in New York when you are older." I tell her.
She shakes her head no.
"It is about how I want to live in New York now." She answers.



Comments

liv said…
Your writing, it takes me right there! Lovely little scenario.

Please tell E that her drawing skills are superb. She captured NYC precisely - I can almost smell the hotdog!
Uncle Al said…
Beautiful and sensitive as always

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