Молдове/Dear Moldova

This is the forth and final poem/photo project. If you are not familiar with Bulgakov’s novella “Heart of a Dog” (Собачье сердце) and want to understand that part of the poem, I direct you to Wikipedia. The last two lines are from the famous Pushkin poem “I loved you” (“Я вас любил”). Like last time, numbers correspond to photos below.

Молдове

Ты помнишь, когда
В первый раз
Я призналась в любви?
Мы были тогда
У озера.
Долго шли,
Долго еще было идти.
1. И лестница из камня
Поднималась перед нами,
Разбитая,
Сплошная трещинами,
2. Как черешня трещится
После дождя
В нашем огороде
Где те огромные слова
Не уместятся
Между ветвями,
Заполненными плодом.
Тем более,
Горло загораживает
Или косточка,
Или ком.
Я только знаю, что
Черешня кормит
Не только тело,
А тоже сердце мое:
Собачье сердце.
Мой первый раз
3. В театре Чехова
Доказал, что лояльность
Моему американскому сердцу
Неизбежна; но–
Это не значит, что не влюблюсь
В новую шкуру,
Голос, глаза,
Которыми оказалась
Молдова моя.
Булгаков меня знает.
Тоже другие автора:
Лермонтов, Чехов, Толстой,
4. Которые манят на рынок
Пока я еду домой.
Когда приеду,
5. Цветные крыши
Как открытые книги
Красят соседние холмы.

Почему те трещины
Пели мне псалмы,
И именно тогда гласила
“Люблю”?
Наверное, знала,
Что потом взгляну назад,
6. Увижу красоту.

Минуют минуты
Неминуемой разлуки
С Молдовой, с Кишиневом моим.
“Так дай вам Бог
Любимой быть другим”.

Dear Moldova

Do you remember when
For the first time
I told you I love you?
It was at a lake
We were already then
Tired though and through,
And had a long way to go, too.
1. And in front of us a staircase grew
Stone by stone, into the blue
Shaken
Until cracks appear
2. Like cherries crack
Dripping rain’s tear
In our garden
Where the sheer enormity
Of those words
Won’t fit between the branches
Domineered by fruit.
Moreover,
A cherry pit, or lump,
In my throat
Has made me mute.
I know only
That cherries tart
Feed not just my body,
But also my heart:
The Heart of a Dog.
My first time
3. At the Chekhov Theater
Proved, that loyalty
To my American heart can’t be
Moved, but that
I can fall for
The new coat of fur,
New voice, new eyes
That, like my Moldova,
Around me arise.
But not just to Bulgakov
Does my life have ties.
Lermontov’s, Chekhov’s, Tolstoy’s tomes
4. Beckon me to the market
On my bus ride home.
And when I arrive
5. Colorful roofs
Like open books
Cover the neighboring hills.

Why did those cracks in the stairs
Give me chills?
Why in that exact moment
Did love overcome me?
Probably because I knew
I will later glance back
6. And see beauty.

I can’t pretend
That it’s not coming close,
The inescapable end.
My Moldova, I’ll miss her.
“May God grant that you
Be so loved by another.”

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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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Желтеет мир веселоватый/A Happyish World Glows Yellow

The second poem/photo project. I decided this time to take pictures of yellow things. I was suprised that by carrying around a camera in my pocket and taking pictures of only yellow stuff–a tiny percentage of objects in any country–I ended up with a very accurate depiction of what my Moldova looks like: the beautiful and the ugly, the natural and unnatural, the random and the meaningful. Unlike last time, I don’t mention all the photos in my poem (although all the images in the poem are somewhere among the photos). If you have any questions about what things are, please comment. I’d be more than happy to answer them; speaking of meaningful, I could have written entire stanzas about almost any given object. Unfortunately I don’t have the strength to eek out a poem that long. Actually, I more don’t have the strength to then translate what I’ve written into English. Speaking of which, a note to English only readers: the rhyming non-pattern is not a translation mistake, it is that way in the original also. It was intentional. Русские читатели–я знаю, что некоторые слова не существуют. Я нарочно их создала.

Желтеет мир веселоватый

 

Слыхала я когда-то,

Что страны

С желтыми флагами

Не рыба, не мясо.

Они не бывают

Властными.

 

Это несколько странно,

Поскольку нас всех на свете связывает

Солнце одно.

Че, не считается то

Желтейшее существо,

Владеющее общественным счастьем?

 

О! Вот–уловила.

Счастье не ведет к власти.

Чаще–наоборот.

Власть может счастьем управлять

А там, где солнце уже светит

Желтеет мир веселоватый:

Опасаясь ради лучшей крыши

Его ласковые лучи потерять.

 

Моя Молдова–желтая.

 

В природе штучки ярче

Желтого цветка нет.

Глядя на рекламу, папку,

Куртку, кнопку, каталку,

Кулечки-листья

Забывается, что человечество,

Не творил этот цвет.

 

До того, как капитализм

Дал нам радоваться смайлику

Желтый все равно краснел весну.

 

Я не верю Достоевскому.

Ни на рынке, ни на природе,

Желтый–болезнь.

Хотя

Он может доить прочнее цвета.

(Спроси дерево, у которого плесень.)

 

Желтый! Какой ты покладистый.

Принадлежишь всем:

И библиотеке, и сигаретке,

И дому рядом с близнецом.

Оттенки отличаются–ну и что?

Соперничать не станем.

Мало того, приглашаем вас:

Пусть желтеет твоя душа у нас!

 

A Happyish World Glows Yellow

 

I heard somewhere

That countries

With yellow flags

Sort of…lag.

Mighty they

Are not.

 

Which is kinda strange, cause

The whole world whirls around

One sun.

That yellowest entity

Possessing the happiness of society

What, doesn’t count?

 

Oh! Figured it out.

Happiness does not lead to mightiness.

Might by the opposite is triggered.

Might create its own pleasure.

There, where the sun already shines,

A happyish world gleams yellow:

Afraid of rooves (that are better, they know),

Clinging to the rays they treasure.

 

My Moldova is yellow.

 

In nature, nothing’s brighter

Than a yellow flower.

Looking at a folder, jacket, slide

Button, billboard, bag-leaves,

It’s hard to remember

That such a color

Was created by a higher power.

 

Before capitalism

Made it into a smiley-thing

Yellow colored spring.

 

I don’t believe Dostoevsky

Neither on the market nor in nature

Is yellow an illness.

Although it might mooch off of more durable colors.

(Ask the tree with the fungus.)

 

Yellow! How agreeable you are.

You belong to everyone.

To grand libraries, to litter,

To strangely similar neighbors

The shades might differ, but so what?

We don’t compete or shun.

Moreover, we invite you:

Come yellow your soul here too!

 

 

 

 

 

Жемчуг/Pearl

What follows is the first of a monthly photo/poem series. The Russian version was written first. English is a loose translation.

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Я живу в устрице

Во рту, на вялом языке

Где творился жемчуг

Белеющий в темноте

I’m from the oyster’s mouth

Lying on a listless tongue

A pearl gleams in the dark

Where the sea is unsung

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Как ни изящный

Он был бы на шее чистой

Вместо этого он охвачен

Раковиной морщинистой

To a faultless breast

The pearl may be suited

But instead it is swallowed

In a shell convoluted

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Устрица не вольно отдаст

Свое святое сокровище.

Ведь жемчуг лакирован

Слюной самого чудовища.

The oyster shuts its trap up tight

In protection of its treasure.

After all, oysters make pearls

Through salivation at their leisure.

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Забывает: жемчуг начался

Песком рухленной империи.

Новостройка на морском дне

(То есть, советском тротуаре)

Oyster forgets how pearl began:

Empire crumbled to a grain of sand.

From soviet sidewalks (ocean floor)

To shiny buildings (seaweed galore)

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Но, в море жемчуг

Не единственная красота.

Цветные рыбы плавают

По руслу нового моста.

However! Pearls aren’t

The only beauty in the blue

New currents open to colorful fish:

A bridge they can swim through

Красный плащ/Red Jacket

I struggled with whether I wanted to write this fictional piece in English or Russian. Russian felt like the right language, but I was also very frustrated in the knowledge that I may or may not be expressing myself in a comprehensible way; in English, at least I am confident that I am saying what I mean. I decided to write both an English and a Russian version in parallel, sometimes working on Russian first and translating to English, sometimes vice versa. The result is what I believe is the same story, but in general (not accounting for errors) I think the Russian version is better. If you understand Russian, I recommend reading the Russian version first, referencing the English version when there seems to be misinterpretation.

Красный плащ

Рассеяние–это мое чувство, смотря на листья танцующие с ветреным духом. Все желтое, коричневое, вечнозеленое, не совсем белое, кроме красного плаща как крови на бетоне. Ее руки в карманах, волосы насыплют из-под капота и шарфа. Я ее замечаю потому, что видно что не бродит, но ее взгляд бегает, как бы она потерялась. Интересно, знает ли она спутников вдоль себя: слева мальчик, у которого губы изгибаются как синусоида (улыбка увеличила бы относительный максимум); справа, девушка с темными очками, которые обрамляют ее глаза, словно из картины 16-ого века северной Европы. Нету повода думать, что это трое знакомо, кроме… того, что кое-что у них похоже друг на друга. То ли чуть-чуть скачка в их шагах, то ли наклонение голов наверх. То ли ощущение, что они с целью бродят, без цели идут…
Нет, не потому. Это их самые различия их связают. У них яркость. Яркость рыжих волос, красного значка на рюкзаке, красного плаща.
Смотрю на мальчика, сидя со мной рядом. Он может быть чужим. Мы довольно похожи. Темные волосы у нас обоих, темные пальто с мехом на капотах. Он закончит смс, выключит экран, поглядит на меня гладящую на него. Он будет близиться чтобы поцеловать меня. Я оттащу, и посмотрю на него критически. Это наша игра. Он улыбнется и потянет меня к себе. Его руки будут теплы на моем замерзшом лице.
“Ты мой маятничик,” скажет он. “Дальше и ближе, дальше и ближе.”
Конечно я вру. Мальчика нету. Я наслаждаюсь моим одиночеством на скамейке. Всего пять-десять минут каждый день я могу быть только с собой. Девушка в красном плаще сейчас ждет троллейбуса на другой стороне улицы. Она слабая, я вижу. Ищет и находит самоуверенность в носах своих друзей. Честно, в носах: туда же она смотрит. Утверждено, что они друзья: она что-то говорит им, они кивают головой. Права я была.
Сказала, что я только с собой. Опять врала. Я с моим фиктивным мальчиком, с девушкой в красном плаще.
Я решаю, что и мне нужен красный плащ. В красном плаще человек не может избежать внимание. Только когда ты тянешь внимание на внешность ты можешь прятать личность, которая, предположим, кажется составленной одним слоем: смесь ума и фразы “да, могу, тем более, хочу.” Пожалуйста, я целый человек, я не абстрактная сущность без тела.
Да здравствует феминизм.
Черт возьми. В школу.
Как всегда, день идет таким образом: много процесса плюс мало прогресса равны избыточным результатам. Я не плохо знаю математику. Этого совсем не понимаю.
Мне нужен красный плащ. В красном плаще человек может избежать внимание. Кто ожидает ответ от девушки в красном плаще? Красный плащ, это ее ответ на жизнь. Больше никаких ответов имеет. Красный плащ говорит, чтобы ей не надо было.
“Очень приятно познакомиться. Я спелая, наглая, веселая, иногда чуть смешная. Я следую впереди других.”
“Очень приятно, красный плащ. Скажи–кстати, не перешли уже на ты?”
“Я не в курсе, что мы начали на вы.”
“Скажи, красный плащ, ты ребенок или взрослый?”
“И так и так. Иргы–работа. Работа–жизнь. Жизнь–простая. Простота–трудность.”
Вхожу в один магазин, где продаются куртки, плащи, пальто. Выхожу.
Вхожу в другой. Выхожу.
Вхожу в еще другой магазин. Выхожу из нее.
Вхожу в следующий. Выхожу через пять минут.
Вхожу. Выхожу сквозь стеклянных дверей.
Вхожу. Выхожу.
Вхожу в магазин. Выхожу из магазина.
Тебе скучно? Мне не скучно. Например, в одном магазине стояла девушка с одной блестой полосой черной косметики на щеке.
Вхожу в магазин. Выхожу.
Вхожу. Выхожу из магазина.
Вхожу. Выхожу.
Вхожу. Выхожу.
Вхожу. Выхожу.
Вхожу. Выхожу.
Вхожу в пятнадцатый магазин. Выхожу из четырнадцатого.
Чего? Нет, перепутала. Перечитываю:
Вошла, вышла, вошла, вышла, вошла, вышла, вышла, вошла, вышла, вошла, вышла, вошла, вошла, зашла за мороженого (забыла сказать), вошла, вышла, вышла, вошла, вошла, вышла, вошла, вовышла, ввышла, шлавыво, вывывышла, вшла, вшлаво, шлавы, шла, вы пожалуйста перестаньте следовать за мной!
Это я говорю не тебе, а девушке в красном плаще. Она стоит у угла, ждя троллейбуса опять. Я не могу не войти сквозь металических дверей за ней, она садится и достает блокнот из сумки, начинает читать, смотрит вниз и в окно по очереди, повторяет, повторяет, я стою, ой, какая у нее скоро скоропереходящая улыбка, которая режит слух.
Я с ней выхожу из троллейбуса в последней остановке. Она доходит до дома.
Я бы нервничала. Она не нервничает.
Открываю дверь.
“Hello, my name is Cathy, nice to meet you, where should I put my things, oh thank you so much!!” [Привет, меня зовут Кати, очень приятно, куда положить свои вещи, спасибо большое!]
Я входу в мою комнату. Она болшая. Открываю чемодан и вы…не знаю…выносу…выношу мою красную куртку.
Red Jacket

Scattered: that’s what I feel, watching leaves dance in the wind. All yellow, brown, evergreen, off-white, except for a red coat like blood on the pavement. Her hands are in her pockets, hair fraying out from a coat-scarf weave. She catches my eye because the way she walks looks purposeful, but her glances running about look terribly lost. I wonder if she knows the people walking alongside her: a boy whose lips wave like sine over his face, whose smile would break the relative maximum; a girl whose heavy glasses frame big dark eyes like a painting from 16th century Northern Europe. There is no reason to think so, except…something about them is too similar. The amount of bounce in a step, maybe, or the up-tilt of their head, or their aura of wandering purpose, no, purposeful drifting…
No. Not that. It’s their utter dissimilarity that ties the three together, their brightness: a red coat, red hair, a red button on a backpack. Too random to be randomly in a row.
I look at the boy sitting next to me. He could be a stranger. We have just enough in common. Dark hair, dark coats with fur-lined hoods. He will finish his text, click off the bright, and look over at me looking at him. He’ll lean over to kiss me. I’ll pull back and look at him critically. This is our game. He’ll smile and pull me toward him. His hands will be warm on my face.
“You’re my little pendulum,” he’ll say. “Further and closer, further and closer.”
I’m lying, of course. There’s no boy. I relish my aloneness on the bench. I get to be with myself for only five or ten minutes each day. The girl in the red jacket is now waiting for a trolleybus on the other side of the street. I can tell she’s weak. She searches for and finds self-confidence in the noses of her friends. Really, in the noses; that’s where she’s looking. Confirmed, they are friends: she says something to them and they nod. I was right.
I said that I am with myself. I lied again. I’m with my fictitious boy, with the girl in the red jacket.
I decide I also need a red jacket. In a red jacket you can’t avoid attention. Only when your appearance attracts attention can you hide your personality, which, say, might seem to be composed of one layer: a mixture of smart and “yes, can-do, moreover, I want to.” Please, I’m a whole person, I’m not an abstract essence without a body.
Long live feminism.
The hell with it. Off to school.
Like always, a day with lots of process plus little progress equals excessive results. I’m pretty good at math. I don’t understand this at all.
I need a red jacket. In a red jacket a person can avoid attention. Who expects an answer from a girl in a red jacket? A red jacket, that’s her answers to life. She has no more answers. The red jacket talks so she doesn’t have to.
“It’s very nice to meet you. I’m brave, insolent, joyous, sometimes a little silly. I follow in front of others.”
“Very nice to meet you, red jacket. What’d ya think–wait, can I talk to you like a friend?”
“I was unaware that we began this conversation as anything but.”
“What’d ya think, red jacket, are you child or an adult?”
“Both. Play is work. My work is my life. My life is simple. Simple is difficult.”
I go in a store where they sell coats and jackets. I go out.
I go into another. I go out.
I go into yet another store. I go out of it.
I go into the next store. I go out within five minutes.
I go in. I go out through glass doors.
I go in. I go out.
I go into a store. I go out from the store.
Is this boring for you? It’s not boring for me. For example, in one of the stores stood a girl with a single shining streak of mascara on her cheek.
I go into a store. I go out from a store.
I go in. I go out from a store.
I go in. I go out.
I go in. I go out.
I go in. I go out.
I go in. I go out.
I go into the 15th store. I go out of the 14th store.
What? I got mixed up. I count again:
Went in, out, went in, went out, went in, went out, went out, went in, when out, went in, went out, went in, went in, went for ice cream (forgot to mention), went in, went out, went out, went in, went in, went out, went in, went in, out, went outt, in out went, went outout, wint in, wintoutin, outwent, went, out, wout, would you please stop following me!
I’m not talking to you, but to the girl in the red jacket. She is standing at the corner, waiting for the trolleybus again. I can’t not go in behind her through the metal doors, she sits and gets out a notebook from her bag, begins to read, looks down and out the window in turn, repeats, repeats, I stand, oy, what a fleeting smile she has, it’s like nails on a chalkboard.
I go out of the trolleybus with her at the last stop. She goes up to a house.
I would get nervous. She doesn’t get nervous.
I open the door.
“Привет, меня зовут Катя, очень приятно, куда положить свои вещи, спасибо большое!” [Hello, my name is Katya, nice to meet you, where should I put my things, oh thank you so much!!]
I into room go. It is big. I open the siutcase and out…I don’t know…poot out…put out my red raincoat.
 

Thanksgiving can happen anywhere

Apples
Baked in batter with plums
Redefining “pie”

A vase
With maroon-white mums
Picked from the garden for me

Free from worry about college
As my maroon-white
Sleep shirt reminds

Free from worry about money for
Mockingjay and popcorn (no lines)
A 1969 copy of Anna Karenina
And other flea market finds

My health
Despite adjusting to new food and air,
Trolleybus rides where zero contact is rare
And leaving once or twice with wet hair

People with whom I can debate
The cause of illness (and so on)
Without hate, and with vastly
Different experiences to go on

Speaking of people
A mom’s kind, reassuring conversation
A dad’s attempt to never leave me out of a conversation
A brother’s attempt to have a conversation
All in a language that is not their own

A friend who asks to ensure I’m fine
A friend who messages me a hilarious vine
A friend who messages me an interesting read
Friends who don’t force me to lead
Friends who are brilliant, who speak (two languages)
With both reason and rhyme

And time
Time to learn
Time to care
Not “somehow, someday, somewhere”
But NOW

Time to read from the local library
Time to gather Meetings for Worship
Time to call my family at home
To sing, to think, to watch, to roam
And despite no math, a different sort of sum:
Time to write poems about apples and mums

This is what I would not trade despite
Complaints, complaints, complaints
This is what I remember to relight
My days with thanks

Один день Екатерины Браяновны [One Day in the Life of Ekaterina Bryanovna]

I realized that even the most loyal readers of my blog might not have a great idea what my life is like. I have spent the last two weeks writing this in an attempt to fix that. The following is inspired by a piece I wrote about a few days in my high school life (if you want to read it, let me know and I’ll send it to you, it might be an interesting contrast if this type of thing doesn’t bore you to tears), which was in turn inspired by the first real piece of Russian literature I read, a novella called Неделя как неделя [A week Like Any Other]. The title is a reference to another novella I tried, but failed, to read: Один день Ивана Денисовича [One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich] by Solzhenitsyn. Just like in that title the use of the full name and patronymic is at once dignified and ironic, highlighting the hero’s position as a prisoner, I too chose to use a Russified name for myself. Ironic, yes; as has been noted on probably hundreds of such blogs, I am never more American than when I am abroad. But just like Solzhenitsyn treats his prisoner with respect, even if no one else does, I am trying to show myself the same courtesy: I am truly making an effort to live по-русски [in Russian] (except for the time I take out of my day to write this obnoxiously long blog post), as demonstrated by the fact that I could not accurately describe my day without using the language. Unlike last time, though, I’ve provided helpful English translations for my beloved readers who don’t speak the language of the Родина [motherland].

Cello music swells, because my former best friend NPR does not exist in Moldova, which is so obvious that it shocked me when I realized that I would have to set my alarm to something else. 5:30 am с копейками [with small change] by the time I swipe left. Rejection. Silence settles until 7:00, when the weak morning light and rooster crowing would have stirred my consciousness without an alarm. But I went to bed last night without doing any homework, even though yesterday was City Day and we гуляли весь день [did not go to class and walked around the whole day] until I found myself late last night sitting around listening to drunkish Russmanian and peeling walnuts.
I click the light on by my bed and daydream (in English, yes, I’m weak) for a few minutes until I have to go to the bathroom. Slide into тапочки [slippers]. The bathroom is cold. Someone keeps opening the window, even though осень наступила [fall has arrived]. They worry I will catch a cold if I spend ten seconds with bare feet on the cold floor. Apparently cold toilet seats, on the other hand, are not an issue.
I climb back into bed and достаю [obtain with some difficulty] my school bag off the stool behind me. It didn’t occur to me to grab it as I walked past it just now. Anxiety over the presentation today sets in, prickling in my chest like a limb that fell asleep. I didn’t learn it well enough. I didn’t practice enough. But I have other homework. I debate for a moment whether to start with the yellow folder of Valerii Pavlovich’s class, which will tell me to do some mindless exercises, or the blue folder of Nina Ivanovna’s, which will tell me to do some other things that might involve effort and/or learning. I start with the yellow folder of course, finish in 7 minutes. Pull out the blue one and read: “Отвеить на вопросы на листочке. Выучить стихотворение.” Не трудно. [“Answer the question on the handout. Memorize the poem.” Not hard.]
Семь уже [it’s 7:00 already]. I consider my options for clothes today. Слои [Layers]. Jeans are clean. My favorite black turtleneck. Undershirt, so that I can avoid washing my sweaters this winter. Нечего [not bad].
Breakfast is oatmeal kasha, as usual, wrapped in a towel to preserve heat. Then an apple from our farm. Tea with a cookie after that. Back to my room for contacts, vitamin, teeth brushing, deodorant, makeup. As I bold, underline and equalize at my mirror, my mom’s voice from the mudroom as she looks over at me:
“Кат-я. Ты уходишь?” [Kaht-ya. Are you leaving?]
I don’t even know how to answer that. At once, obviously yes, I’ll be leaving in the present-to-indicate-near-future sense and also obviously no, I’m not currently doing the present-continuous-action.
“Скоро.” [Soon].
Bag thrown over my shoulder, its fringe swinging, I look in the mirror, brush my hair behind on ear, behind the other, finger comb it free, and lastly switch slippers for boots before heading out the door. As I tug at the zipper a blister stings on my finger, a product of trying on boots that were very nearly too tight for my thighs, which I guess are than those of Moldovan girls. I won’t pretend to not have felt the позор [disgrace].
The misuse of the слишком сильное слово [too strong word] simultaneously conjures the sound of Valerii’s disapproving “Нет нет нет нет нет. Еще раз объясню. [No no no no no. I’ll explain again]” and the laughter of my friends. For whatever reason, any word or expression we spend more than 2 minutes talking about in class becomes an inside joke to use indiscriminately in only barely suitable situations.
Valerii Pavlovich ate the dog in words and expressions. We therefore have a lot of inside jokes.
I’m the first one to arrive at our corner, as usual, and I wait for my коллег [colleagues]. A chill settles on the bridge of my nose, drips down to my lips, is swallowed with an indrawn breath deep to the core. As soon of they arrive, brisk air is traded for a brisk walk, and by the time we reach the trolleybus ten minutes later we have run out of conversation that everyone can have in Russian and I have run out of layers I can remove. As we stand with teens waiting to cross to the high school side of the street looking at the young adults waiting to cross to the university side of the street, I can feel the radiating disapproval of all, glancing at the coat on my arm as they bundle up more tightly. One of the most baffling facts about Moldova so far is the fur puffer coats, gloves and hats for the 60 degree tundra.
Moldovans are southerners. Of course, the soviet south was a little chillier than the American south, but все равно менталитет остается [the mentality remains anyway].
We are the first stop, our neighborhood is the end of civilization, so I get a seat and take out my transcript. I successfully used to memorize mock trial speeches of this length in this amount of time, but плохо сейчас получаться [it’s being gotten/working out poorly now]. I think the woman next to me is reading it surreptitiously. I wonder what she thinks. It’s probably not bad enough to be obvious that a foreigner wrote it, but definitely bad enough to make her think I am an idiot. Настоящий позор на сей раз [A real disgrace this time]. Не могу сосредоточивать [I can’t concentrate].
I’m cold again as I step of the bus, so I put my coat back on while everyone gets off. We set off through the park. The kiosks aren’t open yet. There is something dignified about this little patch of land where once upon a time, Pushkin wrote some poems, as we are reminded on every tour on our way past it out of the city. Dignity in the mustached busts of deceased writers. Dignity in the tall trees, beginning to golden, in the heeled and cloaked women passing by. Dignity and Truth should should set up their tents and protests here; it would suit their name and the landed молавская душа [Moldovan soul] better to camp out here on the earth rather than on the parliamentary concrete.
Plus, they might get better results. I have a feeling it would perturb Moldovans far more to have their park occupied than their main square.
The дворь [courtyard] of the university is empty save for the Americans, who get a special schedule. Everyone else starts at eight, I assume. Здоровимся, болтаем, повторяем стихи. [We greet each other, chat, repeat the poem.] A minute before nine we file into the classroom, hang our jackets on the вещалки [coat racks] our teacher insisted on having, take out pens (не дай Бог, карандаш [God forbid, a pencil]) and notebooks. Valerii Pavlovich is first today. I brace myself by pasting an expression of absolute neutrality on my face, which he has actually commented on several times when asking if I understand his explanation as to why he cannot explain the formation of past passive participles.
“Поняла [I understand],” I say.
“Мой ответ вас удовлеторил? [Did my answer satisfy you?]”
I just smile and think “нет [no].”
His face, in contrast, is очень выразительный [very expressive]: squinting, even closing his eyes, as he considers the answer to a question (“это очень тонкие вещи” [these are very fine distinctions]); lips pinched up toward his nose when we make mistakes (“стоп стоп стоп стоп стоп” [Stop stop stop stop stop]); eyes opened so wide that his eyebrows fly up when we get to the right answer (“Вот! Теперь правильно.” [Exactly! Now it’s right]); big smile when we start talking about politics or the Soviet Union.
We end up discussing gun control, which somehow came out of a reading on Russian schools.
In the break between classes we normally go out into the courtyard, but today I stay inside to reread my presentation. To my chagrin, Valerii Pavlovich engages me in conversation about my pleasure reading. He and every other Moldovan believes I should spend my time with modern детективы, женские романы, или по крайней мере рассказы [mysteries, romances, or at least short stories], and refuses to be convinced that you don’t have to be a genius to understand Chekhov.
First read through, you might miss the extremely important plot point that two characters are having an affair, which our beloved Wikipedia clarified. But keep it positive! Focus on what you do understand! That’s the way to learn!
For the first time all year Nina Ivanovna picks me to write the date on the board. I accidentally write September rather than October. Habit or internal message that I’m not ready to acknowledge that I’ve already been here for two-ish months, and therefore only have seven left? As usual, her class is on point. We each get a thorough commentary, in front of the class, on our homework mistakes; demolish some ИК [intonation]; and learn how to talk about time. Seems simple, except that when Russians say five minutes of nine they mean 8:05 and while it is “in” the day, it is “on” the week. I admire the efficiency, but no new material for me except for the expression “any day now.”
I’m sure we’ll start new material any day now.
Before we start the walk to lunch I run to the bathroom, bringing with me tissues for toilet paper. Don’t knock squat toilets until you’ve tried them. Really very comfortable.
The walk to lunch is uphill and brisk, at our pace anyway. I can almost convince myself that it counts as exercise, until one of my friends starts talking (по-русски [in Russian]) about how they don’t think they will be able to go running today, but they should have time tomorrow.
Lunch is nervous. The walk back to the university is nervous. I spend it talking (in English) about my main experience with nerves: my old frienemy Mock Trial. When I release English, especially to talk about my former life, the words run out of my mouth, desperate to be heard before I shut it again and insist on русский язык [Russian].
The presentations begin. I have my transcript in front of me. They are all so good, beautifully memorized…I guiltily repeat my presentation in my head during the less interesting presentations. The theme was people, and about a third chose their host mom. Это те, коротые я имею виду. [Those are the ones I mean]. By not volunteering, I end up going last. I realize partway through that I am last, the only thing standing between my friends and freedom is my analysis of the soviet woman in Moldova, and I cut out major chunks. It doesn’t flow as well as I would have liked, and there were probably a lot more mistakes than in the written version, but at least I had fun fulfilling one of the requirements: retell a story with dramatic effect.
Probably physically reenacting picking corn off the road and changing my voice between intimidating soviet officer and starving woman was a little more extreme than what they had it mind. Then it’s over, it’s over, I’m gone.
As we walk back toward the center, we start complaining in English about this and that, and I know that after that stress none of us will be making our usual effort to speak Russian to each other. All of a sudden dozens of police officers run out and block the road прямо перед нашими носами [right in front of our noses]. What the hell? We sort of turn back for a few steps, take out our phones and consider alerting our RD (resident director) as we are supposed to, turn back, and then it’s over, the police disperse. The лагерь (camp) seems a little more boisterous than usual, but it is boisterous in Romanian, so мы не в курсе в том, что случилось [we’re not aware of what happened].
Four of us end up walking much faster than the rest, and we decide to get gelato. We turn down the wrong street and go too far. We know this can’t be right, but we can’t imagine what is right; we are on Пушкин [Pushkin]. Everything is on Пушкин. We see another gelato place and go in, but realize that it is just some gelato that happens to be sold in Andy’s Pizza. The combination of the nauseous memory of cold white sauce and corn on pizza and the fact that the woman and the counter says we can’t order lemon with chocolate потому что не подходит [because it doesn’t work together] adds up to us deciding to leave, determined to find the right place.
One person is convinced that it is just a little farther down. Another takes out his iPad and tries to find it on the map. A third calls our RD and asks him.
Somehow, we get there. It’s amazing how after a two minute walk from the main square, we could end up on a tiny, barely drivable road with no stores, no one except an old man who asks if we are lost.
You get this anywhere in Chisinau. Driving along, you think: this looks fairly modern! Make any turn. Literally any turn off any main road, and within 45 seconds you will be surrounded by paved-ish streets and buildings in a maze, the colors of fruit sold by grandmothers and of clothes hanging out to dry on the street popping from the grey-grey-grey backdrop.
I never realized how much color commercialism adds to our life. Cereal boxes, cars, signs.
And how stunningly beautiful a rainbow of socks can be.
Pulling me from my thoughts is a rainbow of gelato flavors. I get chocolate with cinnamon. Chocolate here is a прелесть [delight]; dark, not milk. As we eat we hear about further development in plans for a belt business that one of my friends dreamed up. The brilliant idea is to shatter the apparently lucrative embroidered belts market with handmade ones from Moldovan babushki at a tenth of the labor cost. Local contacts and prototypes: this shouldn’t work but it very well might, like bees and local map apps. He could pay his way through college.
Pay his way through college Starbucks visits at least. Don’t know how I will readjust to $4 coffee.
Oh wait, he doesn’t drink caffeine. Damn, he really thought this one through.
The gelato was not satisfying enough. I buy something that tastes good when I’m not remembering that it is supposed to be something called a cannoli.
It’s dark already by the time I get to the trolleybus stop.
Молодой человек [a young man] stands up on the trolleybus and motions for me to sit down. I open my bloknote. Words glare at me as I stare out the window. Осколок, порыв, гвоздь, упрек. Толковать, тосковать, внушать, растрепать. [Fragment, impulse, highlight, reproach. To interpret, to be depressed, to inspire, to wear out.]
Растрепать [to wear out]. Растрепать.
I look at the window. An un-American night: the streetlights solidify the darkness, cracking rather than melting it. To wear out?
I glance down. Растрепать.
That one is not sticking.
I have no fully formed thoughts the entire walk home. Почему-то не скучно [For some reason, I don’t feel an absence].
The gate requires a particularly forceful shove to open tonight. I change to slippers, call out that I’m home, head for the bathroom to blow my nose. The cat jumps up on the washing machine, startling me. He meows, then purrs loudly, demanding that I greet him. I pick him up and head to the kitchen. With my free arm I lift the lids of the pots on the stove. Борщ, но не приготовлен, на завтра, небось. [Borshch, but it’s not ready, for tomorrow I guess]. Another pot seems to contain just hot milk. I’m not sure where dinner is. My mom comes in and apologizes for eating without me. I tell her it’s nothing, that I’m not that hungry. There is fish in the oven, made by papa apparently, boiled potatoes and green onion on the table. I heat up a plate. The cat is in my seat when I return, so I plop him in my lap, where he settles in very happily. My mom sits with me while I eat, peeling walnuts from our farm. She is having a long week at work, organizing seminars for her elderly clients. Ноги болят [feet/legs hurt]. I tell her about some of the other projects, don’t mention getting gelato after, complain about how I still don’t have a hobby, how long it is taking them что-нибудь устраивать [to work something out]. Мол [they say] complaining is a national pastime in Eastern Europe.
My mom says she is leaving.
“Куда ты?” [Where are you going?]
“У нашего знакомого, ну, у его жены родился мальчик. Принесу ей пить молоко, чтобы у нее было что кормить ребенка. Бедный. Плачет…” [Our friend, well, his wife had a baby. I’m bringing her milk to drink, so that she’ll be able to feed him. Poor thing. He’s crying…]
“У какого знакомого?” [What friend?]
“Ну, работник в ферме, как-то, начальник там. Знаком с папой уже пятнадцать лет.” [Uh, a worker on the farm, more like the manager there. He’s known papa 15 years already].
Как раз [just then] my dad comes in. He announces the news of the baby, then sits down at the table. I ask mama:
“Сейчас уходишь?” [Are you leaving now?]
“Нет, чай попьем, потом. Григораж-олей! Hai beau ceai!” [No, we’ll drink tea first. Gregory-olay! Come drink tea!” (in Romanian)].
My brother joins us. Green tea tonight, with honey and lemon. Gelato weighing on my conscience, I eat a slice of leftover пирог [cake without frosting] from last night. Romanian buzzes in my ear. I can’t tune it out; the second the blissful switch to Russian occurs, I am on top of it. My mom’s “слышь Катя” [listen Katya] is unnecessary. Жужу, жужу [Bz bz, bz bz]…
My host dad takes pity on me. We strike up a conversation about music. He is trying to listen to American songs to improve his overall English, which is right now concentrated on the ability to read scholarly articles about agriculture. He asks me if I like Rihanna. I reply that she was popular when I was in middle school, but not much. With a huge smile, he tells me she is black and therefore I am a racist.
I grunt and look annoyed. My mom laughs explains, as if I didn’t get it:
“Когда он сказал что он не расист, у него нечего против черных, а они ему не нравятся, ты его назвала расистом. А сейчас ты говоришь, что тебе черная не нравится, поэтому значит ты…” [When he said that he is not a racist, that he doesn’t have anything against blacks, but he doesn’t like them, you said he was a racist. And now you say that you don’t like a black person, therefore you…”]
I talk over her. “Поняла. Но если бы я сказала бы, что она мне нравится только из-за того что она черная, я как раз станет расистом, расист думает, что человек не человек, а относится к группе прежде всего…” [I get it. But if I had said that I like her just because she is black, that would in fact be racism, a racist thinks that a person is not a person, but a member of a group more than anything else…”] They are already not listening anymore.
My dad mentions that he read my transcript. Ну как [what’d you think], I ask. It was interesting, but there were mistakes of course, he says.
Of course. Of course there were. I can rationally explain why this should not upset me at all.
I convince my mom to let me do the dishes, reminding her of the hungry baby. We exchange kisses on the cheek.
Back in my room, I have missed a lot of messages in our group chat. Their words fill my chest like the good food filled my stomach. These clever, fun, diverse people are my friends. Круто [dope]. There’s the standard homework clarification, this time about a Washington task:
“How long do the riddle things have to be”
“What riddle things?”
“100 words”
“Oh for the quest. Yeah 100 words”
“I just realized they can be in English.
I’m so good at English”
” *have to be in English”
“Well if they insist
I’m not going to fight them
Who am I to play god”
“Surprised the revolutionary spirit in this city hasn’t affected you”
With that perfect seguidor the conversation turns to the insanity of this country’s government. They figured out that the commotion we saw in the street today was the former prime minister and current leader of one of the two parties in the coalition currently in powder being arrested. We saw one of the most powerful people in Moldova get arrested. From that launching point I’m now getting the least dry crash course imaginable on all the political changes of the last few years from someone who is clearly giving themselves a crash course as we talk, все удивительно, изумно [everything is surprising, shocking]. A prime minister who were also the president because no one wanted to be president. A prime minister who forged a high school diploma. A prime minister who was prime minister for eight days.
“Do you even put that on your resume?” I write.
The last thing I see of the night is that a 6 year old brother is now throwing real darts at a dartboard and the host mom is not around. I hope that doesn’t end poorly. Все хорошо, что хорошо кончается [All’s well that ends well].
I decide to put off homework until tomorrow morning, as usual. Run my fingers through my hair to decide whether to take a shower. Eh, I took one yesterday. The thought of fighting with the temperamental temperature, and even more so, the moment when I’ll have to put down the shower head and soap myself in the cold air, is not particularly appealing. Раскладываю [lay out] the old off-white Chekhov book from the library, my red dictionary and my blue bloknote on my lap. Working through Три сестры [Three Sisters] for the second time now, I внимательно читаю и пишу новые слова [read attentively and write down new words]. Стараюсь. [I’m trying.] I love them, these sisters, I want to breathe in the stuffy on-stage air that заглушает [muffles, stifles, deadens] their lives and breathe out their words, their living words. Они все мечтают по-своему. Одна неспелая, другая разочарованная, а третья–одновременно и так и так. [The all dream in their own way. One is immature, another disillusioned, and the third is both at once]. My eyes soon start to щипать [sting, burn, tingle] so give up on the reading for today and update my little personal dictionary by making letters of yesterday’s scribble and an exact Russian word from the letters and an English word from the Russian word. Of course left out of all this sense making is the original sense of the conversation from which I must have plucked these words. I don’t remember. My life is microscopic. I memorize the details, feel the moments, but can’t conclude, summarize, remember…
Осколок, порыв, гвоздь, упрек. Толковать, тосковать, внушать, растрепать. [Fragment, impulse, highlight, reproach. To interpret, to be depressed, to inspire, to wear out.]
Take off my sweatshirt. Drop it on the floor. Take out my contacts. Drop them in the пакет [plastic bag] on my desk that I use as my trash can. Click off the light. Climb under the covers. Fall asleep instantly.
Wake up to the cat meowing. Didn’t know he ночевал [spent the night] with me. Stumble to open the door. Fall back asleep.
Dream that we get moved to Estonia. Wake to a pounding heart and a damp pressure in my eyes. Overwhelming relief and gratitude when I realize that no one is making me leave. Fall back asleep.
Wake up to gentle light and the crow of a rooster.
Блин [shit]. I forgot to set my alarm.