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no answer (the melon seller)

A shiny black van pulls up, wheels skidding on gravel. Five, maybe six men step out all at once. They wear black t-shirts and army fatigues. Their heads are shaved, slick with sweat in the afternoon sun. Their arms are huge, squeezed into those shirts a few sizes too small. All at once they circle a fruit stand by the road. It is made of plywood, held together with a few screws. One good sneeze could level it. Rows of torpedo shaped melons sit on bulging shelves, below them a cage full of watermelons. The men yank smartphones from their pockets, taking pictures, making calls. I assume they are some covert team that extorts vendors, either sending them home and destroying the fruit or worse. I somehow expect the man does not have a permit and the right papers to sell anything. In Russia, you need permission to do just about anything. There are no five year olds with lemonade stands here. 
I cross the street, distancing myself as I glimpse the men between the cars and trolley buses tha…

closely watched trains



On a Sunday afternoon, we decide to take the metro to the film lab. The nearest station is being renovated, so we wander the tunnels beneath the street that lead us to a different entrance. Everything is new here, and they scan our bags.
"It's like we are in the airport or something." E gripes.

I decide to follow the flow of people down the nearest stairs only to understand that this is not the station it used to be. There are a string of stops listed I have never heard of, and trains that are shiny red beasts wheezing in and out of the platform in near silence. This could easily be some kind of recurring dream, when I have to walk on stage naked without knowing my lines now.

But then I understand this is the new line people told me about. I stare at the map until it all makes sense. We take the next train as it arrives, eyeing a giant gap between the car and the platform big enough for a dog or a child to fall through. The seats are soft and blue. Everything smells of fresh plastic. People speak in hushed voices. The station is crawling with police.

It will be eight stops until we get off.
"This is just weird, too weird." E announces,  over and over.

The neighborhoods flit by, nondescript streets where maybe nothing ever happens. No protests, no car crashes, no weddings, no funerals. There are old buildings in the distance, like giant bricks that people live in as they slowly crumble. There is construction, stations with names like Zorgi. Everything somehow looks harmless from the blue seats. Modern, without emotion, no gristle of Soviet design. There are recycling bins on the platforms, in shiny colors. But no one recycles here, and there is one place for all of the garbage to go. This is just some clever propaganda, a photo opportunity, the sheen of civilization.

Families with children in strollers ride for a few stops and get off, their jean jackets and sneakers saying USA and Nike, Hugo Boss and Reebok. They have those same faces, sullen and withdrawn like the people on the metro.

And then we do get to the station, where we will change back to the old network of trains. A smell whips up to greet us, like rotting cotton candy. It is familiar. We will be there soon.








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