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the trains still run

They never taught us more than how to make things. They did not explain how to take pictures, or write stories, or record songs when the walls are falling down. What should you paint when the sky is falling? And yet, they taught us all we needed to know. As I have begun to understand over and over again, all art is political. All freedom is freedom. The trains still run. The cameras can still be loaded with fresh rolls of film that smell of plastic and possibility. If there is a pothole, at some point it gets filled. Sometimes it just takes a hell of a long time to happen.

The sun rises. Children trundle around in the snow, laughing, falling down and getting back up again. Yes, the news is unthinkable. Yes, the headlines are poisonous enough to make you throw things out the window. But there is still dinner to cook, and why not make it delicious? Why not crack an egg, or laugh wildly at nothing in particular?

There was a night, about eight years ago when I was told that the militia w…

oh banjola (goodnight 2017)




There is no shortage of banjo jokes. I never wanted to own one, but the banjola is another story. Made  entirely of wood, it has nylon strings (not steel, like a banjo) and with a great deal of a luck it would be a Pollman, which were made over 100 years ago. If you have ever heard 16 Horsepower, you would know why I want one so desperately. 

I signed up for alerts. I checked eBay every day. A few months later, one surfaced - well refurbished, from 1897. Can you imagine having an instrument that old in your living room? What songs would leap from such an old soul? What nicks and gouges, what wounds does it bear? My mind grew swollen with these thoughts as I bid, and raised my bid and then won a Pollman banjola over a week ago. It would take a month to ship to Moscow, where any and every package can be stopped and lost and returned without explanation. I held faith that it would arrive, safe and ready to play. 

The shipping notices arrived, saying "your package is now at the Global Shipping Center". I imagined it there, a box bursting with potential, with some sort of divine Christmas spirit guiding it across the ocean.  And then a new message came. The box was oversized. My payment had already been refunded by some computer system. The banjola was going back to the seller. I contacted him frantically on Christmas Eve. He answered after some time, and agreed to sell it to me outright. I breathed deeply, sipping cold wine at the dinner table, a great satisfaction rolling around me. The banjola would be here soon I thought, as I rested my head on the pillow. 

Then a new message from the seller. Ebay was not sending it back to him. They simply said they would resell it themselves. They paid him for it. End of story. It was all unheard of. So cruel and random, so rare. If I lived in the states I would have this instrument already. My cheeks flush red, embarrassed. Why do I need this old handful of wood and glue so much? A voice whispers in my ear, telling me I am being foolish. Maybe it is just the wish to buy something, and get it. Maybe this is not about exotic banjolas. Maybe this is about the ugly reality of life in Russia, and wanting something that is not there. 

The year of years ends with a fresh cut, and no apology. My only action is to call eBay and beg them, ship the banjola somewhere in the states and wait until I am back to take it. Russia surrounds itself with walls, to prevent anything from passing the borders untaxed. More than a book, or a document - how this gets through is a miracle. You must become your own postman, or postwoman to solve this. 

Goodnight 2017. 



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