Город на холме/The City on a Hill

My third poem/photo project. Numbers correspond to photos below. I apologize for the scrolling- couldn’t think of a better way to present it.

Город на холме

Я родилась в городе на холме.
Я теперь живу в городе на семи холмах.
Спрашиваю:
Куда? И ответ:
Еще чуть-чуть наверх.
Ну хорошо, поднимимся
Шаг за шагом
Взгляд за взглядом
Поднимимся наверх.
Увидимся,
Что там твориться,
В городе на холме.

1.
Белое небо,
Чистый лист,
Обещает нам быть ближе
В городе на холме.
И белая арка
Над тротуаром
И белый забор
За красным тюльпаном
Обещают, что мы
На правильном пути.
И я–
Тюльпан ходящий
В красном плаще,
Открыт солнцу
Ослепившему небеса
А не меня
Я иду в город на холм
Выпучив глаза.

2.
Красоту воображаю
Вокруг моего следа:
Сорняки, камни, грязь
Пот, как самоосуществяющую мазь;
Крутые те, кто
Крутые склоны преоделяют.

3.
А мягкие склоны лукавые–
Каблуки приглашают
Не на камни, а на трещины
В одном большом
Бетонном камне.
И спотыкаюсь
Иногда.
Но иду, иду, на
Чистый лист
Говорят, что он блестящий,
Тот город на холме.
Где-то
Минует меня мигом
Серебряная машина.
Я начинаю утомлять.

4.
Может,
Эта гора
Эта обнимающая, удушающая река
На самом деле

5.
Моровейник?
Ведь они думают,
Что моя тень–
Облако,
Что я уже плыву
По белому небу
Там, у ихних язычных богов
В городе на холме.

6.
О! Вдруг все сомнения
Разлетают на все четыре стороны!
Я поворачиваю и любуюсь.
Я что думала про камни, про бетон?
Видимо, я по траве
Шла, шла и пела,
“Холмы живые
С звуками музыки.”
Я завоевала свое место на холме.
Но не могу сказать,
В городе на холме.
Ведь здесь души нет.
Я одна
Я, и белые небеса
И заброшенная бутылка.
И додумалась:
Пятиться пора.

7.
Опять белый забор.
Пока я ветала в облаках
Тюльпаны поникли,
Цветы арки покоричневели,
Но мне все равно
Потому, что
Я лечу, лечу
И там, внизу

8.
Будет мой дом.
А знаешь, холм коверкает.
Отсюда белое небо
Каждый может видеть.

The Сity on a Hill

I was born in the city on a hill.
I now live in a city on seven hills.
I ask:
Where to? The answer:
A little further up.
Well good, we’ll rise
Step by step
Glance by glance,
We’ll rise up
We’ll see what’s up
In the city on a hill.

1.
The white sky
A clean slate
Promises to be closer
To the city on a hill.
And a white arch over the sidewalk
And a white fence behind the red tulips
Promise that we
Are on our way.
And I–
A walking tulip
In a red raincoat
Open to the sun
That blinds the skies
But not me; I
Go to the city on a hill
With open eyes.

2.
I envision beauty
Surrounding me.
Dirt, rocks weeds teem
Sweat like a self-actualizing cream;
Cool are those
Who climb steep slopes.

3.
Soft slopes are temptresses
They invite heels
Not to rocks, but to cracks
In one big concrete rock
And I trip
Sometimes
But I go and go
To the clean slate
They say it shines,
The city on a hill.
Somewhere
A silver car speeds by
And I begin to tire.

4.
Maybe, this mountain
This embracing, suffocating river

5.
Is actually a mole hill?
An ant hill, I mean.
After all, they think
That my shadow is a cloud
That I already fly
Through the white sky
There among their pagan gods
In the city on a hill.

6.
Oh! Suddenly all doubt
Dissipates into the wind!
I turn and admire.
What was I saying
About concrete and rocks?
Seems like I walked on grass
Walked and sang about
Hills alive with the sound of music.
I earned my place on the hill.

I can’t say the city on the hill.
There’s no one here,
Not a soul
I’m alone–
With the white skies
And a tossed-aside
Bottle
And it dawned on me:
Time to descend.

7.
Again the white fence
While my head was in the clouds
The tulips wilted
The arch browned
But I don’t care
Because I fly, I fly
And there, below, is my
Home

8.
And you know, the hills lie.
From here I still see
The white sky.

 

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A Weekend in Moldova

Are you looking for a place to spend the weekend this lovely spring? On a budget? Chisinau is calling every type of tourist. Whether you are looking for an adventure in the most “developing” European country, a romantic getaway in a cute little capital, a unique cultural experience, or just a stamp in your passport (been there, seen that), I have a plan ready for you.

The Adventure
Go-to mode of transportation: marshrutki (mini-buses). The driving is wild.
Friday evening: Make plans to go see a show at the Theater from Rose Street. I promise you have no chance of actually finding the theater without having a regular of the theater (no, random person on the street won’t know) personally lead you there. Instead, you’ll have an adventure searching for it and seeing what a real Chisinau neighborhood looks like until you give up and duck into a sketchy-looking place for a bite to eat.
Saturday: Souvenir time! Get to the flea market near the railroad station early. If your sense of adventure includes searching among second hand clothing, broken phones and god knows what else for that awesome 50 cents Soviet computer drive or $3 fur mittens, this is for you. Next, get on a marshrutka and settle in for a 2 hour drive to Tsipova. Trust me, it’s worth it. The views of the Dnistr River are incredible, you can climb through escape tunnels in cave churches, and you can go on a real hike. Not a nice nature walk. Like a “will you hold this thorny branch out of my way” and “BLIN (a mild Russian cuss word) I just slipped down this steep rocky slope” sort of hike. You’ll be rewarded with a waterfall at the bottom, and when you make it back up to the top, a tasty, simple dinner at the monastery.
Sunday morning: Go to Codru, the neighborhood in the south of the city. Stop in the Linella (a supermarket chain) and buy a lot of plachinta. Then head toward the abandoned kolhoz (collective farm). Pick a direction and go until you are completely lost, then take out your phone to check google maps and remember you have no wifi here. Then plop down, eat your plachinta, and struggle on with renewed energy until you make your way to some sort of street. Find a marshrutka, any marshrutka, and hope it takes you back to civilization.

The Romantic Getaway
Go-to mode of transportation: once again, marshrutki. You will have a lot of physical contact, I promise. Space is limited.
Friday evening: Wine tasting is a romantic thing to do, yes? I’ve heard through the grape vine (haha) that Moldova has good wine. Settle in for a ride to Milesci Mici, the largest underground wine storage system of tunnels in Europe.
Saturday morning: Souvenir time! If owning matching (ish- they are all unique) hand-knit sweaters seems like an AWW THATS SO CUTE moment to you as much as it does to me, find the yarn store on Moscova. On your way out, buy some flowers from a grandmother on the street. You’ll make both her and your date’s day. Then head back to the center to Komsomokskaya Ozera (Lake). It’s a pretty walk, but more even more fun is the natural spring up on the hill, where you can cleanse yourselves together in mineral water if naked old guys have not claimed it first.
Saturday evening: Walk up to 31 August 1989 street to, in my humble opinion, the bes restaurant in town, called Tiffany’s. Don’t hold back: portions are small, so you’ll want appetizers, drinks. But save the desert and coffee for the French cafe next door, home of the best croissants in Chisinau. You think this will all cost you a fortune? That is the beauty. You would have to try very hard to make all of this (drink+appetizer+entree+coffee+croissant) add up to more than $15 per person. Then head over to the Theater of Opera and Ballet, and buy some $10 orchestra seats to something romantic like…opera or ballet.
Sunday morning: Hit up the central market. Get as lost as possible among the tents. Two goals here. First of all, the likelyhood that you will find wedding dresses is high (romantic, right?) Second, you’ll need food. Do a brinza (goat cheese) tasting in the big tent and buy what strikes your fancy. Get yourself some kalach (round braided bread–this becomes important, stay tuned), fresh fruits, Bucaria (locally manufactured) candy. Get unlost and make your way to the dendrarium for a picnic. After meandering among the flowers and finding yourself a spot, lay out your food and get ready to break bread–that is, kalach. In Moldovan tradition it is necessary to kiss kalach before you can eat it. And while you are already kissing things…

The Erudite Experience
Go-to mode of transportation: trolleybus. The reliable means of transport for the average Chisinau citizen. 10 cents per ride.
Friday evening: Souvenir time! Hightail it to the knizhni rinok (book market). If you make it before approximately 4 pm, you’ll be treated to a book lover’s fantasy: everything from 19th century books in German to the complete Dostoevski, sold only as the complete Dostoevski. (That would be 12 volumes.) 99.6% guarantee that you can find a soviet-era edition of any given Russian classic. You can also pick up some dictionaries to learn some language and make your the rest of your experience more erudite. Maybe your language skills can even convince your new book seller friends to invite you to dinner for real Moldovan food and conversation?
Saturday morning: Hit up the national history museum for your overview on what this country is. Don’t spent too much time there, though, because the main event of the day will be a day trip to Old Orhei, a monastery/ancient town with all kinds of cool artifacts. You can also get the feel for the traditional Moldovan village as you walk through the town to a restaurant for lunch.
Saturday evening: Go see a play at the Chekhov theater. At least once a month you can catch a major Russian classic, i.e. something by Ostrovskii, Gogol, Dostoevskii, Tolstoi, or the namesake himself, Chekhov. Success rate for these shows is about 60% but worth it for the erudite feeling of going to see a Russian classic at the thee-a-teh. And it’s only $5-7 for front row seats.
Sunday morning: True nerds visit national libraries. If looking through a paper catalog and reading newspapers from 1945 that only exist in this one library in Chisinau, Moldova seems like your type of thing, rock on. Just don’t have any actual goals about what you are looking for or you will be there too long and will miss your flight. Also byotp (bring your own toilet paper).

The I-Wanna-Be-a-Tourist
Go-to mode of transportation: taxi. It costs about the same to take a taxi across the city as a single ride in the New York City metro. If you are already being touristy, why not?
Friday evening: You want to do the tourist thing? First stop: the statue of Stefan cel Mare in the center of the city. Take a nice selfie. Then cross the street and go right to the iconic (as far as iconic goes in Moldova) victory arch. Selfie number two. Turn around and admire the parliament building and all that democracy (read: protests). Selfie number three. Look at each other, confused that you have somehow managed to see all the tourist sites in Chisinau within 3 minutes. Then go to La Plachinta, a “traditional” Moldovan restaurant chain, for dinner and order the stuff with the strangest sounding name (mamaliga).
Saturday morning: considering that you have already seen all the “must-see” attractions in Chisinau, make the couple-hour trip to Soroki. Here you will find more to do. The list: 16th century fortress (selfie number four), the “Gypsy mountain” with a bunch of strange houses, such as a replica of the Capitol building (selfie number five) and a thousand some steps up to a spectacular view of the Dnestr River and Ukraine (selfie number six).
Saturday evening: Once you get back to Chisinau, get some bubliki (cheese and cinnamon are especially recommended- about 20 cents a piece) at the stand across the street from the National Palace. Then, because you are good tourists, you planned your trip for when there is a traditional Moldovan folk dance show at the National Palace.
Sunday morning: Souvenir time! On boulevard Stefan cel Mare a few blocks east (“up” in local speak) is a tourist market for this very purpose. Whether you want an I ❤ Moldova t-shirt, a matroshka doll (it’s actually Russian, but no one back home will know the difference), or a painting by a local artist, you are covered. By this point you’re probably tired and are at a loss for what else to do–how about just getting some coffee before your flight? The magnetic pull of the foreigner trap Tucano will be too great to resist. About one out of three patrons at any given time are speaking English. And your wallet will be comforted by the fact that you are paying somewhat close to western prices ($2 for coffee). Actually though, the signature coffee (Tucano coffee of course) is really good. Just fair warning: don’t order a large if you are used to Starbucks temperatures, because it come in a large round cup and will therefore (surface area science stuff) will become lukewarm within 30 seconds. Bonus: there is free wifi, so you can post all those selfies to Facebook. #moldova #europeshiddengem.
#actuallythough.

Post

For the past week, I have been a strict vegan. In Orthodox countries, several times of year there is a post (a time of fasting), when according to church guidelines people should decline to consume any animal products. The longest post, called the great post in Russian, corresponds to lent on the orthodox calendar (Easter will be on May 1st this year). The list of valid and important reasons the people go vegan is long: animal rights, saving the environment, staying healthy, maintaining your relationship with God.
My reasons?
1. I wonder what it would be like to be vegan.
2. I should probably eat less chocolate.
3. That amazing vegan chocolate cake my host mom made makes me believe I can actually live without eating non-vegan chocolate.
My host family observes post, so the basis of my dinners and breakfasts was vegan anyway. That’s over half the time, right? Making up the other half should be simple. All I have to do is swear off:
-Milk in my tea in the morning
-All lunches except the 5 options on the vegan menu (borscht, arugula and potato salad, cabbage and peas, beans, cheeseless pizza).
-All the German chocolate I buy
-Coffee drinks
-Cake with those coffee drinks
-Ice cream (the program somehow managed to find occasion to order it twice for us in the last week)
-Random American candies that somehow make their way to people here
-Brinza (goat cheese) on my salads, potatoes, pasta, mini sandwiches…
You know what’s funny? If you told me I had to give up any one of those, I would probably tell you that I don’t have the willpower to do it. It is actually easier to go without all of them. I think the reason is that when you have such a limited diet, everything is framed in terms of foods that you can eat, rather foods that you can’t. No one bothers to go through the regular menu and ask if every item is vegan. They just ask for a list of vegan foods, and choose from there. Among the list of foods that have become my staples:
-Placinta, a Moldovan pastry with thin dough and various fillings. My host mom makes it often during post with cabbage or nuts and jam. The nut one is sweet and helps stave off cravings for other desserts. Both are an excellent thing to pack and take with me when I will invariably still be hungry after lunch.
-Walnuts and almonds have always been available, because my family has a nut farm. My consumption of them has resurged.
-Everything fried in sunflower oil. Because eating foods that taste unhealthy is a must sometimes. When I say everything, I really mean just potatoes. But I eat a lot of potatoes, so that almost counts as everything.
-Pasta with jarred tomato-pepper something. After loads and loads of potatoes every day, pasta raises my mood as much as candy used to. Simple white carbs.
-Jarred things in general. My mom was preparing for post back in August, when she filled our cellar with cabbage, tomatoes, jams, etc.
-Oatmeal. Are it before, eat it now.
-Golupsi. If you remember them back from my post about the holidays, then about double the love I expressed for them there, you’ll have an accurate idea of our current relationship status. They are just as good without meat.
-Beets. I might have to go ahead and call them my favorite food. Filling, healthy, and they satisfy my sweet tooth.
-My vitamin. Got to get calcium somewhere. And when I looked up online good sources of calcium for vegans, I found lists that included “foods vegans typically eat”: tofu, soy milk, collards, broccoli. Um…I had broccoli a couple times here in restaurants…and the western cafe now offers tiny amounts of soy milk to add to coffee…
My conviction is stronger than I thought it would be. Of course there have been times when I’ve thought “wow, that chicken smells really good” but I’ve never actually wavered about whether I should eat it or not. The worst moment was when I actually opened a peppermint patty from America, and just as the minty chocolate hit my nostrils, I thought: I can’t eat this. By far the hardest thing to deal with has not been denying myself foods, but being hungry. Before my hunger level ranged from I guess I could eat to stuffed. Over the past week, it ranged from starving to pleasantly satisfied.
I’m no longer fasting, because I had to move host families and my new family had a tough enough time with their previous vegetarian host daughter, let alone a vegan. I’m back to eating chocolate; so much for that. However, the fact that I started the fast planning to stay vegan for an entire month made the past week, I believe, representative of how I would have felt had I actually stayed vegan for a month. And I accomplished what I set out to do, even if I started on a whim and didn’t realize it at the time. I proved to myself that nothing, not even chocolate, controls my life. I treat myself because I want to, not because I need to.
In my last two months in Moldova, I will do a lot. I will also not get around to doing everything. And I will try to apply this lesson as much as I can to my life here: doing things because I want to do them, not because I feel like I should do them. I will work towards appreciating the simple, the beets and pasta, and not constantly craving something more–which, to be honest, may or may not have satisfied me anyway.
Simple things, like enjoying my new host mom’s fried eggs, packing brinza to put on everything at a picnic, and accepting gifts of German chocolate from my friends.