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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…

every picture


It was too easy. At one point it seemed like there was an accordion player on every corner, or every underpass dodging the rain. I stopped taking pictures of them, these old men with grave expressions and a little cardboard box on the ground at their feet. The songs tended to be happy ones, nostalgia for the passer-by. Something from a Soviet cartoon, or a children's song.

Some say that every picture we take is a self-portrait, a mirror image of the person behind the camera. I want to agree, and when I do I understand that maybe I see myself as that old man looking out at the people, ignored. Maybe just for that moment. In the next, I am a child with a fresh drawing I am sticking on the door of a refrigerator. I am the chalk drawing on the pavement, the scrawled name on the wall.

There is something so metaphorical about the street musician - the giving it away, the humility of it all, and the occasional reward from a stranger. Great musicians started this way, busking for loose change. It may be the path to glory, or if all else fails, a bowl of soup. Somehow, this image sums all of this up for me - the hope, the ugly truth, the wish, the endless defeat, the fresh possibility.

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