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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…

Moscow at night


I was on a back street, behind Lubyanka. The name meant nothing to me when I first came to Moscow, just that it sounded a lot like люблю (lyublyu) which means "love". My naive ears did not understand that this place was a prison, and the headquarters of the KGB. It is also the name of a metro station, and I imagined lovers kissing here in old photographs, maybe a bridge with cascades of rusting locks attached to it like Ponte Milvio in Rome. Sometimes our imagination seems so logical, so possible that we simply accept it. For years I did not know the truth, not that anyone really knows what happens behind the dark concrete and the high windows of this place.

It looks empty, deserted. A lone guard approaches, asks a few questions and tells us to keep going.

On Tverskaya, there are museums and statues. Chekhov wrote about this street, Tolstoy, Pushkin and Bulgakov too. There is a great statue of Marx, his body half-submerged in a great block of stone, as if the work was left unfinished but somehow ended up on display. On this night he gazes into the percolating traffic, the people milling around. There is history upon history here. Churches that were ripped down to nothing, mansions built, invasions, triumphs. But the streets tell no story, they simply crumble over time. I look at the faces, and they are empty or lost in the tiny screens of their phones. I used to make fun of people that looked up in New York, marveling at the architecture. "Tourists" we would say, with an all-knowing sneer. New Yorker's look forwards and walk fast, that is what we all believed.

Turning the corner onto Mosfilm where we live, the wind blows softly through the trees. An old woman walks a tiny dog. A vegetable stand is closed, surrounded by empty boxes that hang open, a collection of giant cardboard mouths waiting to be fed. There are puddles in the streets, reflecting the lights on in homes, warm and yellow.  I imagine I can tell which one is ours, high above the trees with wet laundry drying on a rack in the living room.




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