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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 …

I am an artist


I despise him, this man I don't know. It has been more than four years, and he still tries to sell me roses every time I pass. Thousands and thousands of times he sees me and bows his head, his foot going on one heel in the snow or the rain or the sunny ground. 
"Sveta ne nada?" He says under his breath. (What, no roses?)
He has no memory of who I am. 
I have not seen a single person buy his flowers or even stop. 
He thinks he is so charming, cocking his head to the side like a Charlie Chaplin character. Him and his one tired rose.
It is much more logical that he is selling drugs. Heroin and opium is shuttled in and out of this train station. This is just his cover, I tell myself with the cops a few feet away smoking cigarettes, staring at trash cans that are on fire doing absolutely nothing.
I hate him, and how he thinks I am too stupid to go to a flower store all by myself, or that I look like a person who wants some opium.

Sometimes I imagine he has a family to provide for, and maybe children that do not have those tiny bloodshot eyes, children who shout his name when he finally comes home after a long day of standing in front of the metro. I see him sunburned, dazed and groggy, a little hat pulled down to his ears. I see him squinting into the distance, one foot on its side. He is tiny. I wonder if his children are tiny, if his wife is tiny. These are the moments when I feel guilty for hating him, struggling against my imagination.

Every time I pass this tiny man I secretly wish for him to nod, to have recognized me. Surely he knows who I am, passing with E two or four times a day depending on where he stands. He never does. I wonder if any of these men in short black jackets are selling flowers, or if they are all drug dealers. The real places to buy flowers are around the corner and there are old women with carts of roses a few yards away, but these men stand here every single day. It just doesn't make any sense.



There was a black-haired woman by the metro last summer, her mouth holding a row of cheap gold teeth. She was selling giant, grotesque baby dolls that she waved in the afternoon light. My Leica was with me, and I told E to wait for a moment. I took a light meter reading, and approached the woman from the side. All at once her teeth were gnashing in the air and she started calling out for the police.
"Ya hudoshnik." I said. (I am an artist.)
She shook her head no, barking words I could not follow.
E squeezed my hand.
"Pop, she says you cannot take her picture unless you buy a doll." She told me.
A laugh jumped out of my mouth.
Then I understood she thinks I am an undercover policeman, that the camera will be used to create evidence. No one is supposed to sell items on the street without a permit, but most risk it. The police wander around ignoring them for days and then round everyone up or run them off a few times a month. They all come scurrying back a few hours later, like cockroaches in the dark.

Yesterday the woman with the ugly dolls was talking to the little man with the rose and I began to understand that maybe all of them are selling drugs. The dolls are her cover, and they really don't want their picture taken.

Living here means dealing with constant uncertainty. Will the lights turn off tomorrow? Will the hot water run? Will the traffic lights work? Will the school be open? Will the music teacher be there? Will the landlady come back early from vacation and want her money in the morning? Will another explosion happen in an airport, or the metro or in the street? Was that a gunshot or was it some fireworks? Will that scaffolding fall down like the other one did? Will the sky turn green like it did last summer? Will that car stop at the light or roar through the crowd like the one that killed those orphans on a Saturday afternoon? We go to sleep without knowing the truth. We wake up and know nothing more, and the years pass. There are no answers, no absolutes, no solutions.
The trash cans are always on fire.


Comments

liv said…
I wish I could cook something for you and N and E.
Something sweet and sour, healthy and sinful.
Something to excite you and soothe you and make you all dream of sweet and silly things.
Something to take all that away, if only for the time it takes to slowly consume.

Your writing is interesting. E & K have lots in common.

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