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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 …

the other shoe

 

As soon as the news arrives, I check in on a friend that lives in Brussels. A father, a husband. He is safe, telling me he was in that airport just a week ago. We send messages back and forth. I am working, creating animations for news stories that people read on their smartphones. I have the images right in front of me, with the names of the photographers who took them, the blood and smoke, the giant gaping wound that was once a window. I see hands lost in empty gestures, the faces of stewardesses tight and pale.

Just then a new wave of news arrives, about the metro bombs going off.
I tell my friend there is more going on.
He pauses.
"Not good." He replies.
He signs off, to begin a day I cannot imagine very well.
My phone rings.
E is telling me they are evacuating her school.
A pit rises in my stomach, instantly sour and biting against the walls of my chest. Maybe they are just being paranoid, I tell myself. Her school is just across a small bend in a river that snakes around the White House. They are sending everyone home, that's all. I tell myself.
But really, this is the sound of the other shoe dropping, the one I am prepared for, the one I will not be surprised by. It hangs inches above the ground for months, even years. It looms in shadow, but I go to sleep knowing it is there all the same.
She sends me a message.
"Never mind." She says.
I call her.
There is no evacuation, just a conference of teachers and they did not tell anyone about it. The classroom is going to be used to store their coats or something. Nothing more. It is a false alarm.

E hears the tension in my voice, my words choking out.
"What is it Pop?" She asks me. "I can wait for you in a different room to get me, like normal."
"Nothing." I tell her.
My instinct is to keep this story quiet. Let her live a day longer without a blanket of dread wrapped around her thoughts. Let her breathe quietly, laugh at some little something, look out a window, daydream. Anything but this chewing on the news, this gristle and bone of ugliness.









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