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the immigrant and the exile

The expatriate remains patriotic - loving their country from a distance. Their loyalty does not waver.

The immigrant is a foreigner that works in another country as a result of some form of escape, some desperate act.

The exile does not love their country, and it can be said that their country rejected them.

Which one wakes up homesick?

Which one can shrug off the betrayal, the long shadow of the dream of a better life when it sours and fades?

There are days when  I see no difference between the immigrant and the exile, two sides of the same coin. The expat is a blind romantic, their decisions set as young men and women, their senses dulled to nothing. I have started to understand I am not an expat any more, as I do not love my country. I tolerate it.

don't eat (the blueberries)

The news come quickly, without warning. There was no debate, no hemming and hawing. No more fruit or vegetables, no dairy or meat from Europe, from the US, from Australia or Norway. No more pecorino, or prosciutto, no shrimp, no sea bass, no Polish apples, no Greek yogurt, no olive oil. In the same moment I am sad and furious and half-relieved. Seven years of struggling to source ingredients left me exhausted and disappointed on a daily basis. By the time mozzarella gets to Moscow, it tastes like cardboard. Anything imported is freakishly overpriced, which is especially brutal for a New Yorker. "Never pay full price" is the secret mantra of my home. We define ourselves as people that get that hand-rolled thirteenth bagel for free. Paying through the nose for Europe's dreck, their sloppy seconds was always a painful reminder that we live here. 

E takes the news with flat-out desperation.
"My bacon?" She asks.
"It is Czech." I answer. 
She frowns, already close to tears.
"Maple syrup?" She adds.
"I will have to bring more back with me next time I go home." I tell her.
"Root beer?" She asks.
I am not sure if beverages are part of the embargo. I know wine and alcohol are still allowed, but that is just today. I know that the health inspectors suddenly found issue with bottles of Jack Daniels and it was swiftly added to the list. 
"Pecorino?" She asks.
I shake my head no.
She slumps into a chair, her chin on the table.
"Everything Asian is still ok." I remind her. "Water chestnuts, soy sauce, oyster sauce, miso, lemongrass, galangal, coconut."
She stares at me.
"That is what you eat." She blurts out. "I only like that sometimes."
"We can still make wontons and pot stickers." I tell her. "You love those."
She rests her forehead on the table.
I wonder if I have foolishly spoiled her, setting her up for this disappointment as I scrounged for every curious ingredient I could muster here, replicating dishes from back home so she will know what they are when she goes there someday. No, there is nothing wrong with a kid that knows what chilaquiles is, or torta Espanol, or bracciole, or a BLT.  Last week we made sloppy joes because she thought they sounded interesting. I don't think she will ask for them again, but at least she knows what the sloppy part is and what the joe part is now. 

I sit back, imagining empty shelves in the markets but convince myself that is not what will happen. No, there will be shelves of Russian products, probably double-priced. They will taste of salt and vinegar, of onion and not much more. There will be rows of soft Soviet salami so fatty it oozes in the sun by the time we get home. There will be no arugula for salad. There will be no Norwegian salmon, just the pale, fatty Russian stuff that stinks up the house no matter how you cook it. I think of the fish counter at rinok, and wonder what will happen to our friends there in their striped shirts. Will they survive by selling nothing but trout and sturgeon? 

My head spins. My whole body feels heavy. I smell something like rotting pennies. 

I know this anxiety, this fear of the next shoe falling. It is an empty moment that can last for weeks, and never be resolved. I should be smarter by now. Maybe everything will be on the shelves and this is just bold talk for headlines. Maybe this is a typical line of bullshit the world gobbles up. Maybe nothing will change. 

All I know, is that no one knows. 



We are at a birthday party the first day of the embargo. Someone tells me there was an announcement, that it is forbidden to share photos of any food that is not allowed today. 
"Forbidden by who?" I ask.
"Does it matter?" I am told. 
"And what is the penalty?" I ask.
Faces stare at me, shoulders shrug.
"It it just not something to do." They tell me. "It is not worth it."
I look at the children, eating pizza that has some strange cheese on it, their fingers messy.  

Later, I hear reports that blueberries being sold in Russia are 12 times more radioactive than "normal". They are sourced from a region close to Chernobyl.

I start to imagine eating nothing but potatoes and cabbage, turning pale and fat, sluggish as I drink cup after cup of strong black tea. 

The next day E is still upset, wandering the rooms with her arms at her sides.
"Let's go get a cheeseburger." I announce.
"Do you think they still have the root beer?" She asks.
"Only one way to find out." I tell her, pulling on my sneakers.
"OK, but what if they do not have it?" She says.
"Let's think there are two bottles left for you and me." I tell her.

We walk across the bridge in silence. 

People are out, parading in stilettos, men in loafers with their shoulders thrust out, pumping up their chests. There are two root beers waiting for us, and we sit at a table, waiting for our order to be ready.  People are shoving their way in. I see a man in red suede slippers, and a gold belt. I see pregnant women in giant black dresses. Everyone is ordering cheeseburgers and milkshakes, crinkle-cut fries. 

I don't know if they are having root beers or not.











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