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there is always something (why I shoot film)

There are maybe ten shots left on the roll. Outside the metro, a collection of pigeons sit on minuscule ledges above two old men. They talk as all old men do, with operatic waves of their hands, sour expressions, belly laughs, eventually scratching their chins as they stare off at nothing in particular. I am pretending to take pictures of something near them, then swing across when they are not looking to shoot a few frames. At one point I surrender to the afternoon and move on.

And now, the courtyard that leads to the film lab. A great old building rests here, a school of architecture where students mill around dressed in black sucking on cigarettes with giant portfolios tucked under their arms. A young man approaches me. I am ready to tell him I have no idea what he is saying, but he wants to know where the film lab is. I jut my chin, telling him the door is just beyond a few bushes. He nods his thanks.

There are screens set up in a jagged line, sheathed in filthy white plastic to …

that smell (Moscow)


The old elevator rattles and the doors lurch open. Inside our apartment I somehow feel taller. There is a smell of formaldehyde, like cutting those frogs open in tenth grade Biology class. The rooms feel dead, not like a tender museum of our things but empty, as if the only life in these rooms is born from us and in our absence they simply did not exist. I yank the door to the balcony open, thinking that smell will go away but it lingers deep in the pillows on the couch and the drapes. Sour, sad and chemical.

I think of random conversations I had in Ureki, mostly with taxi drivers who asked where I was from. I spoke to them in broken Russian, and they all said the same thing - Moscow, a cold place with cold people. Nothing seems to happen here, or change here. Sure, there may be a new sidewalk, a new supermarket, a fresh coat of paint on a crooked fence but the sense that this entire place is dead as well, a sort of sprawling, residential graveyard is hard to shake off. There is a slow walk of time in Moscow, like gravel crunching under a giant asphalt roller. It all gets crushed to nothing, lost under a thick layer of black tar.

The ocean, outside the windows for two weeks. The low roar of the waves at night. The stacks of clouds at dawn. The water sometimes green, sometimes blue, sometimes clear, sometimes foam and churl. The ocean, taken for granted so quickly and now so far away. A vacation that felt endless until we sat in the airport and squeezed into seats, climbing into the clouds and closing our eyes.

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