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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…

cold nostalgia


There is a note, stuck to the front entrance of our building. The hot water will be turned off for ten days. This is something that happens every summer, although it snowed a week ago and children wander the playgrounds in ski hats these days. At night it can be 40 degrees fahrenheit.  The hot water is always turned off like this, at some point during June or July. It is a long-standing Soviet tradition, and people begrudgingly accept it here. But the baby, V does not. She wants to stand in a hot bath before she goes to sleep, to splash and pour water all around her, and N. She wants to stand and wiggle her tiny hands under the spout, as she grows pink and clean, as she howls and shouts for us to see what new trick she has improvised. There is no explanation for her, why the hot water is off today, and will be tomorrow. She is angry, furious even.

I used to buy the story that this offered a chance for the water department to fix pipes, to take care of routine maintenance. Hot water comes from local plants, not from inside the buildings here. That is why you see those giant tubes running along the highway, snaking around parking lots and though the forest. But then I heard better explanations, that water bills are easily calculated by dividing them into 50 weeks, not 52 weeks. As always, there is no true way of knowing anything here, but the absence of pipe repair crews began to add up. Another explanation began to present itself. This tradition of deprivation. It brings back some Soviet nostalgia. It reminds people of what life used to be like, and it may just be some calculated propaganda, some enforced reminder meant to put people in a state of mind about the past and the present.

The ten days pass, washing dishes in ice cold water, filling plastic tubs with water boiled in tea kettles, taking standing baths lathering up in silence, dumping the bucket over your head. It is humiliating. I agree with the baby, every summer.

And then the hot water does come, gargling through the pipes, spitting and dancing from the faucets and there is that long hot shower. I hear the neighbors upstairs, moaning through the ceiling.

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