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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 visitor

There is a knock on the door. It is the middle of the afternoon, and salesmen normally ring all of the doorbells in the morning. Through the peephole, I see a small man in overalls. He knocks again, and for some reason I decide to open the door. He waves a paper in the air, something about a mark, something about the pipes. I tell him, sure ok I will sign it and he gestures inside.

I stare at his thick, wet black hair and his tiny hands. He is polite, pushing his shoes off at the doormat and tiptoeing in. He asks to look in the bathroom, and I wave him on. E wanders to the living room door, head craning.
"He needs to check the pipes or something." I tell her, quietly.
She shrugs her shoulders and goes back to her homework.

The man peers and squints at the pipes behind a crooked panel that swings open in the bathroom. He scribbles numbers down, squints again. He seems to be taking a long time and I wonder if he can see very well. His flashlight dances around, and eventually he is done. For some reason, I do not sign any papers. His head bows a little as he leaves. Thank you, thank you.

I did not even think to call N and ask her what to do.

Later, I mention this visit to her and her eyes roll. No one ever comes to check the pipes, it is no job, no position. This man is not who he pretended to be. He was a spy, an imposter, maybe looking for some other information. But no one has ever come to check the pipes in Moscow.









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