Saturday, September 19, 2015

leaves of gold

I sang of leaves, of leaves of gold,
and leaves of gold there grew:
Of wind I sang, a wind there came
and in the branches blew.
Beyond the Sun, beyond the Moon,
the foam was on the Sea,
And by the strand of Ilmarin
there grew a golden Tree.
Beneath the stars of Ever-eve
in Eldamar it shone,
In Eldamar beside the walls
of Elven Tirion.
There long the golden leaves have grown
upon the branching years,
While here beyond the Sundering Seas
now fall the Elven-tears.
O Lorien! The Winter comes,
the bare and leafless Day;
The leaves are falling in the stream,
the River flows away.
O Lorien! Too long I have dwelt
upon this Hither Shore
And in a fading crown have twined
the golden elanor.
But if of ships I now should sing,
what ship would come to me,
What ship would bear me ever back
across so wide a Sea?

--J.R.R. Tolkien

Friday, September 18, 2015

the cherries

The other day, from the corner of my left eye, I saw a woman lift a glass jar from a shelf. I turned and walked away, so I would not see her place the object nonchalantly in her basket. Instead, I shuffled to the counter and ordered a pound of sunflower seed halvah.

Not a big deal. Except that, during that split second, while that jar hovered harmlessly in the air across the room from me, a Proustian revelation on the relativity of desire and need bloomed bizarrely in my brain. Why? Because it just happened to be a jar of Bulgarian pie-cherries.

Imagine, if you will, that, in an alternate version of the story, Don Quixote had quit fighting, and laid down his armor and sword in favor of a tamer profession. In the meantime, Dulcinea, not being content with this state of affairs, had donned his armor, and, elbows akimbo, began tilting alone at windmills, willy nilly.

During one long, rainy Autumn in Moscow, I spent a part of each day for weeks facing off against two pallets of cardboard boxes in a neighborhood store. The labels on the the boxes declared that they were filled with tart-sweet Bulgarian cherries, and they seemed to have popped up like toadstools at random in the center of the gray stone floor. I walked up to the register and inquired about them. The cherries, I was told, were not yet for sale. When would they be ready to sell? Later, I was told. 

I determined that, no matter what, I would get my hands on those cherries. It was only a matter of when. 

To understand the reasoning behind my obsession, one would need to know that this occurred during perestroika, after the effects of the food deficits had begun to be quite palpable. There was not much available on the shelves of stores. A few dusty potatoes and carrots. Large, grand icy-green heads of cabbage, if one were lucky. A few tins of canned peas.

At that time, I had entered into the embrace of a life in which my Choices had narrowed themselves into a very small peephole. I had the honor of sharing this circumstance with millions of other human beings. We had launched ourselves headfirst into this venture, lugging the baggage of a country-ful of pain. For the sake of this, we stood patiently in long lines to buy staples. We craved cheese, in vain. We yearned for anything but drab. We (mostly) survived. We changed. 

Day after day, I  strode out of the apartment, stringing a purple purse over my skinny left shoulder, and marched a few blocks to the store where I stopped and stared at the cherries. And day after day, I was told that they were not ready to sell them, yet. My craving grew, but I encouraged myself: it won't be long now. I became a cherry-stalker.

Between my hunting trips, I would return home to stare at the antique icon of St. Nikolai, partially covered by a silver riza, who had been shoved behind the glass of a bookshelf not far from titles such as Red Star Above Kabul, which I puzzled over.

It was pouring cats-and-dogs on the day I walked into the store, and saw that only a few cases of cherries remained on the old wooden pallet. They had been released! I rushed up to the register breathlessly, handed the sacred slip of paper to someone wearing a dingy white robe, and obtained the legal right to a case of cherries.

My subsequent mood of triumphant euphoria was only slightly dampened by the fact that I found it difficult to keep hold of the wet box, and that it grew heavy enough that I had to stop a few times and set it down on the sidewalk to rest. 

Thump, bump, thump up four flights of stairs, and then - what? I realized that the cherries would take their place somewhere under a cot, near the case of baking soda which Tatyana Mikhailovna had wisely stashed, or in front of the five kilos of sugar I had scored near the embassies downtown. 

I remember the flavor of those cherries. They tasted like sweetness and tartness, like sunshine and rain, memory and forgetfulness. Although they were a bit soggy, they tasted like kindness, like the contrast of a subdued splash of color against burlap. Like hope.

Those cherries were what I was able to bring to the table. They made it possible for me to exchange quiet, joy-filled glances with the birch tree that stood outside my window. They were -- my offering.

alpine blueberry

Listening to Alyona Sviridova's Pink Flamingo (Розовый Фламинго), which dates me rather concretely.

"Dumai o khoroshem..."

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