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to be an expat

How can I even begin to explain the experiences of an expat?  The great assumption is that East and West are terribly different. One is vilified, the other painted as a land of patriots and heroes. One is crude and filthy the other has streets paved with gold. Look up and you will see miracles of architecture. Beyond the windows there are supposed to be good people, open smiles and warm hearts. How can I tell you that none of this is true? How can I untie my shoes, and somehow put them on your feet three thousand miles away? You would never believe what secrets they have to tell.

Every time I go back to the states I become more embarrassed to be an American. I overhear conversations in the street, the whines of privileged and moneyed voices. Coddled, dumbed-down and mislead they are drunk on a calculated fairly tale. And then back in Moscow, the same ignorance - the same questions from curious taxi drivers about how good it must be in America, where everything is possible and life mu…

windows and goodbyes

I am on the number 34 bus, going to get E from school for the last time this year. Sitting halfway back on the right, there is a perfect diagonal view of the space next to the windows where there are no seats. People often stand there, both hands clenching the green rail as they look out the window or poke at their phones. I took a picture in this exact spot last winter, of a young woman, her head wrapped in a scarf, the street a pale bright light of snow and grit, the streaky windows covered in salt and grime. Her hands were so graceful, so hopeful, so sad. Now a man stands in the exact same spot. The window is cracked open and traffic streams around us. There is diesel smoke, the smell of freshly cut grass. His profile looks noble, staring intently at the road churning past us. I marvel at these coincidences, these recognized moments, their irony, their gesture at a collective soul, their humble beauty. I pull off one frame and then move forwards to a seat closer to him, the camera poised and then I do get a better shot before he turns abruptly and gets off at Sparrow Hill.

A satisfied breath turns inside me. One hand rests across the lens, holding the camera as it jumps on my belly. The bus wheezes towards the final stop.

Walking with N and V on a lost Saturday evening, we make our way west towards a set of apartments built in a circle with a round courtyard inside them. They were supposed to be seen from above for some former Olympics, the city itself creating those  inter-locking rings when seen from the sky. They never finished all of them.

There are a group of sheds here, odd slabs of concrete and sheet metal leaning against each other. They look like open square mouths yawning open where little old cars can hide when it rains. I took a handful of pictures of them in the Spring. There was a collection of birdhouses around them for some reason. Now, I see they are suddenly gone. There is a pile of rebar and concrete under some trees. Two men are sparking an acetylene torch and slicing into the last roof. Sparks are cascading to the dry earth. They heave and pull, arguing about how to accomplish this. Then it breaks in half, all at once. They step back, realizing it could have fallen on them.

A boy stands in some tall grass, waiting for someone.

On the way to the film lab, we always stop for a cupcake and some lemonade at the Magnolia cafe. It is another outpost from New York, transplanted here with pretty bags, the smell of butter and sugar, glass windows where you can oggle the workers slathering frosting on everything. It has become an unspoken tradition, each time E goes with me. Sometimes she has the cupcake first, sometimes after we drop things off. Today, we are sweaty and tired from the cramped metro and craving that lemonade. At the front door, we stop cold. The sign is gone. The windows are draped in black plastic. I can still smell the fresh batter, the perfume of strawberries from a crack in the door. We wander around the windows. They are indeed closed, gone, the same as those slabs of concrete. Someone wanders out, and we see coffee machines and our conditioners lined up on the floor. Another absence, another unexpected goodbye.

Sometimes I wonder what will be left here.

A follow-up note about the image from this week's post. This is from a successfully exposed roll of Svema 125 Color Negative, the Soviet-era film I have been wrestling with.


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