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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 …

erasers

There was a tiny shack, a kiosk that sold cigarettes. It stood on a patch of grass along the main drag of our little neighborhood. One day, it was simply gone, as if a giant had swatted a fly away. A pale mark, some broken earth, the remnants of a miniature foundation were all that was left. And then a few months later it returned, shiny and new. Then a few months later, gone. A phantom. This happens all of the time here. Ramshackle buildings were declared eyesores, and are razed without warning. Torn plastic bags and dead flowers are all that remains. They flip in the wind and wash away until there is nothing. 

There are new bus stops, all thick glass and shiny seats. There are old women with cardboard boxes, a handful of potatoes or carrots strewn across them. They stare up at the people passing, hands in slow-motion gestures towards their merchandise. When they have wildflowers, I normally buy them. Short bouquets of lily of the valley, to place in water glasses on the kitchen table. 

I weaseled my way through the door to one of my favorite vegetable kiosks while the wind was whipping my hat off. There were men in yellow overalls outside, with clipboards, pens poised as they looked at car license plates. I asked for five avocados. The young woman nodded, standing on a stool to reach them. There was a rattling outside the door. She craned her neck. I told her there were men looking at cars and she frowned. A walkie-talkie perched on her hip and she grabbed it, speaking to a man named Dima, telling him to see what was going on. The sound was getting louder outside the door and I blamed it on the wind. I asked for fresh spinach next, a rarity that gets marked up three times depending on where you find it here. 

Outside, I see those men with the signs from the vegetable kiosk, dragging wires and loose bolts behind them as they take everything to a van parked on the street. Do they work for the city? Maybe, maybe not. Do they work for the competition? No idea. I just know the sign is gone, and I begin to wonder if the kiosk will be there next Sunday. 




I studied a lot of critical theory as a young man. Most of it gets a bad rap. People think strewing a salad across a plate and putting the dressing on the side is deconstructing it. It is hard to quote any of these theories without encouraging a lot of eye-rolls. One concept does haunt me though, in moments like this. Derrida offered that when something is erased, when something is redacted or deleted, it is inherently "true". For example, you write a letter to your lover but in the process you cross a few things out. Chances are, these blackouts, these erased fragments are the things you wish you could express but were scared to, or you worried about how they might be taken. They may be too much to bear. The idea is that history plays by the same rules. "Under erasure" equates to something authentic, something untainted by perspective or interpretation. 

It was what it was, until it disappeared. 


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