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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 reward for silence (a different person)


It is hard for anyone to appreciate the sense of stagnation here. There are plenty of countries where the rich stay rich and the poor stay poor. Everyone in this world struggles to carve out their own hearth and bed, their own green-grassed backyard. That is not what I mean. Here, the days pass slowly. Here, things stand broken for months, even years before they are fixed and no one complains. It is that mute response that throws me, that lack of outcry, that absence of righteous opinion. Yes, behind closed doors, people speak in low voices to a handful of trustworthy ears. But who says in public "that is wrong". No one.

Almost nine years here and I still cannot swallow that bitter pill. On the playground, in the street, on the trolley bus there are trespasses, there are people running wild over lines that have been drawn and no one says a word. It is a survival mechanism, a means to an end. I often tell myself to take the high road, which may indeed involve rising above some petty misdeed. Maybe there are more important things than saying "that is wrong". Maybe going home to your family, safe and sound is the other side of that coin. Maybe sleeping well is the reward for silence.

I was raised on a fable - that hard work, that sweat and grit and guts were what it takes to accomplish things, that the labor was noble in and of itself. But what if being invisible accomplishes the same things in the end? What if that gets you there? Swallowing pride and honor, in the name of securing safe passage - is that so terrible? Some worlds are more dangerous than others, and who am I to judge?

When I go to New York for a week I might as well have gone to Mars by the time I get back. Everything outside of here is so upside-down, so opposite, so backwards. Straddling both worlds is some kind of magic trick, like jumping back and forth across a river so quickly that you are in two places at the same time, a different person on each edge.





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