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to be an expat

How can I even begin to explain the experiences of an expat?  The great assumption is that East and West are terribly different. One is vilified, the other painted as a land of patriots and heroes. One is crude and filthy the other has streets paved with gold. Look up and you will see miracles of architecture. Beyond the windows there are supposed to be good people, open smiles and warm hearts. How can I tell you that none of this is true? How can I untie my shoes, and somehow put them on your feet three thousand miles away? You would never believe what secrets they have to tell.

Every time I go back to the states I become more embarrassed to be an American. I overhear conversations in the street, the whines of privileged and moneyed voices. Coddled, dumbed-down and mislead they are drunk on a calculated fairly tale. And then back in Moscow, the same ignorance - the same questions from curious taxi drivers about how good it must be in America, where everything is possible and life mu…

the heroine's coat


I took this picture right next to our house an a Saturday afternoon. The street this woman is walking down leads to a playground, eventually to a gate and a main road. The only people that walk here are returning to their parked car, or to find a child that has stayed on the swings too long. It occurred to me that this woman was neither of those things. She was just wandering away from traffic, away from the jangle of snowplows. Her hands clasped behind her back are an odd tradition here, some Soviet habit with no name. The snow was falling wet and heavy that day. I liked the trail of her footsteps.

That was almost two years ago.

Today I saw a long coat on a woman and suddenly recognized it. I still could not see her face, but that coat had become legend. I would recognize it anywhere. This is the minor miracle of the street photograph, recording the unnamable. She walked the same way, with a swaying side-to-side penguin shuffle. I hurried home, with a strange sense of satisfaction and possibility.


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