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cold nostalgia

There is a note, stuck to the front entrance of our building. The hot water will be turned off for ten days. This is something that happens every summer, although it snowed a week ago and children wander the playgrounds in ski hats these days. At night it can be 40 degrees fahrenheit.  The hot water is always turned off like this, at some point during June or July. It is a long-standing Soviet tradition, and people begrudgingly accept it here. But the baby, V does not. She wants to stand in a hot bath before she goes to sleep, to splash and pour water all around her, and N. She wants to stand and wiggle her tiny hands under the spout, as she grows pink and clean, as she howls and shouts for us to see what new trick she has improvised. There is no explanation for her, why the hot water is off today, and will be tomorrow. She is angry, furious even.

I used to buy the story that this offered a chance for the water department to fix pipes, to take care of routine maintenance. Hot water c…

Brooklyn Bridge (eggs and sausage)

She stares out the window, at the bright dots of light across the river and the silhouetted stones of the Brooklyn Bridge passing in front of us. It is all a fantasy, a fairy tale kingdom, a place she was never going to see before she was 18. There was another nerve-wracking wait in that room in the Moscow airport, staring at the scuff marks on the floor, the familiar edge of that sad lonely desk. We waited there for forty minutes, our documents being examined in some room we could not see by people who did not know our faces. E was ready to surrender, her face dropping lower and lower, her lips shaking as she tried not to cry. We had been in this exact moment, in this exact room six months ago and it did not end well.


But somehow, on this random Friday morning the gates swung wide. A woman appeared, waving us on with our documents in her hands. She had long red fingernails. E began to smile, a sudden Cheshire cat next to me as we bought crappy hamburgers and slurped on giant sodas before boarding the plane. She asked me a thousand questions, about what to do, how to move her seat. It was already an adventure and we had not even gotten off the runway.




Our first morning in New York, I bought her a black leather motorcycle jacket. She looked like a lost Ramone, her hands shoved into her pockets, knees poking from ripped jeans as we walked uptown. A celebrity turned the corner of Houston and eyed us. Her neck craning at E as we did the same to her. It was a brief, silent exchange. I told E who it was a few steps later and her eyes lit up. “That was Cameron from Halt and Catch Fire? Ohmigod.”

She gets tired, tearing up the sidewalk with me. She sleeps like a pile of rocks each night.

Today we got to Washington, where I will shoot part of a documentary. We wake up early, and I lead her to the Cup and Saucer on Canal street. The sky is just getting bright. Old Chinese people are doing tai chi on basketball courts, the music floating around us. The diner lights are bright, the owner is alone inside. I see the front door is closed. He hustles over and unlocks it for us. We sit at the counter. I order eggs and sausage, the blueberry pancakes for her.

His employees straggle in, some lifting a heavy door behind the counter, stepping down into the floor like some kind of magic trick.

A women brings us coffees. The owner is singing Christmas songs as he slaps my egge around in a bowl. He gets half of the words wrong, out of sync with the radio but nothing stops his singing. E’s pancakes hit the grill and he scatters the blueberries on them like he is Jackson Pollock. E looks up at me, tired, a sheepy smile plastered on her face.

“This is New York.” I whisper to her.
“I know Pop, I know.” She tells me.








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