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Breathing the right air

Nothing brings more comfort than a bag of good things to cook, swinging under your arm as you make your way home. Somehow it blots out the rest of the world. In these moments, the entire universe consists of a late afternoon sun, a stray dog and a clump of flowers growing strange and wild in a yard. A hit of basil jumps from my elbows with each swing of the bag, a gift from one of the ladies I buy from the most. I visit markets without intention, just eyes open ready to discover fresh peas, or the first corn. Knowing that these products will disappear as quickly as they present themselves creates a certain form of excitement. Each season offers up this rhythm and without it I might become completely lost.

I think of when we were in Tuscany a month ago, feeling like such a tourist until I wandered out along the highway and found the local vegetable stand. I shoved squash blossoms and tiny tomatoes into a bag, rushing back to our room like I had robbed a bank. I made pasta with them th…

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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