Tag Archives: Irina Shayk

Lost in Translation

It was like Kafka.

“World According to Russia,” she said to me over the phone. “Hello!”

“Um.  Hello?”

I was slightly taken back that someone in a Russian office would pick up after the first ring.

“Yes, hello,” she repeated.  “World According to Russia.  How can I help you?”

“Yes, um.  Hello… I mean:  Allo!” and that’s when I switched back to my native tongue, and I don’t know why.  “Zdravstvui’te!”

I was respectful but immediately nervous.  Whenever speaking to any Russian bureaucrat, I tend to lose a grasp on my otherwise unwavering — to some, obnoxious — self-esteem.

It makes no sense to English speakers, but there are several types of Russian.

“Well, it is like dialects?” an American would ask me.

No.  I’d rather think of it as this:  That the entire history of my dear tortured Motha’land had made a mark onto my native tongue of poetic beauty — by splitting it into as many personalities as there were regimes.

First, there is the pretty Russian, used mostly in literature:  I’m pretty good at that one, and I dig the way it translates.  Then, there is the Soviet street talk:  A blend of Yiddish and something crass and always funny, it is the most expressive of them all.

Motha speaks in that one well, and normally our chats result in my dashing for the bathroom, at the end.

“Who needz fuckingg Pilates, eh — vhen ve laugh and laugh like zis?!”  She would sometimes say that from behind my bathroom door, while I would clutch my bladder and beg her to “PLEASE!  STOP!”

She is right though:  My motha’s stand-up routine is the best form of ab workout I have ever known.  But I do not speak her language:  I only marvel at the way it turns its words from inside out, and it makes for such comedy, as a result.

The street talk of the contemporary Russians is something I’ve only briefly overheard on the lips of those hotheaded Muscovites, all clad in black leather jackets and American labels, whenever I catch them being interviewed by BBC.  Most of the time though, they tend to switch to English anyway, which then comes out eloquently and with a very little accent.  The tall female beauties speak in that tongue as well.  They are, however, most often accompanied by older men of stoic nature who speak on their behalf.  And when they speak to women, the men tend to address them slightly condescendingly, or like little girls.

The third personality of Russian — is the one I fear the most.  It is the one adopted by the Russian Consulates, bilingual politicians or lawyers in West Hollywood.  It’s not just legal lingo though.  Again:  It’s NOT a dialect!

This type of Russian is choppy, filled with acronyms and abbreviations that I have no skills for breaking down.  Instead, I panic, ask them to slow down; then, reiterate their statements again and again.  Considering that most bureaucrats are at a lack for time, such interactions don’t end well for me.  The people who should have the answers leave me to my own devices, while they, nearly irate, roll their eyes at my degree of helplessness and walk out on me — or hang up.

The woman on the phone had switched to Russian, too.  I have to give it to her:  She sounded quite pleasant, so far.  Not really perky, no; but pleasant nonetheless.  I guess she never knew who could be calling her.  It could be an American, and an American always expects a certain standard of customer service (the concept of which doesn’t even exist in my native tongue, no matter its personality).

“How can I help you, young woman?” she said to me, sounding almost aristocratic.

I relaxed a bit:  “Um.  Well.  I wanted to know about traveling to Russia with an American passport.”

There was a pause.  She didn’t budge.

“Would one need a visa?” I gave her a little more.

“But of course!”

Aha!  The way she said it almost sounded irate.  Was that a dumb question?  Or did I expect her to be rude?  I tried to sooth the situation.

“Um.  Okay.  Well.  How would one… go about…  THAT?  Da?”

“You would have to bring documentation that proves you’re no longer a Russian citizen.”

“Um.  Okay.  But isn’t having an American passport enough of a proof?”

“Young woman,” her voice got slightly terser.  “Do you know how many Russians live here with both passports?”

I didn’t know.

“Is that like dual citizenship?”  I jumped:  Look at me, being smart ‘n’ all!  But I did have to switch to English to deliver that.

“I wouldn’t go that far,” the woman answered, also in English.

At any moment now, she would hang up on me, I thought.  She owed me nothing.  She was doing this for free.

“Um.  Okay.  What do I do to prove that I am an American and NOT a Russian citizen.”

“You would have to show us papers renouncing your Russian citizenship.”

“Renouncing?!”  That sounded harsh.  Nyet?!

But the answer was simply:  “Da.”

“Um.  Okay.  How do I do that?”

“You have to bring your Russian passport…”

“Well.  Yes, you see:  I do not have one.”

“Then, you must apply!”

The woman proceeded to breakdown timelines and fees.  I panicked and asked her to slow down.  The gist was this:  It would take half a grand to get the passport that I would then have to renounce.  In terms of time, I was looking at pretty much a year.

“Um.  What if I don’t renounce it?” I said.  (If I can help it, I’d rather never renounce anything in life.)

“Then, you still pay and wait to get the passport.”

There was more silence.  I wanted to reiterate, but the absurdity was pretty clear already.  There would be paperwork and fees, then a long wait.  And then, another stage of paperwork, and fees, and more long wait.  But at least, it sounded Russian!

The silence lasted.  The woman almost gave in:

“Unless you were born here…”  She was giving me an inch… a centimeter.

“No,” I said.  I wasn’t sure which language I was using at that point.

I think the woman sensed the shock, because she took some mercy on me:

“When did you come here, miss?”

“Um.  Sixteen years ago.”

“WHAT YEAR?” and just like that, she was about to get irate, again.

“Nineteen… Oh, I dunno.  1997, I think?”

“Ah, yes.  You’re one of those,” the woman said.  “You have no choice.”

“It’s Amazin’, So Amazin’, So Amazin’, So Amazin’!”

She woke up really early on me today, peaked through the orange tulle curtains of my hotel window and said, “Come play dress-up, messy head.”

I opened my eyes, shushed away the last of my dreams and squinted at Her sun.

“Look on you,” I thought, immediately inspired to untangle myself from the sweat-drenched sheets.

(I had come here to do some serious heavy lifting:  To leave a lover behind — like an excess of water weight — to let Her keep him, for good.  “Do keep him safe though,” I had thought last night before leaving for my dreams, “and don’t tell anyone — just how much I loved him.”)

It would not take me longer than fifteen minutes to leap out of my bed, stretch the soaked sheets over the bathroom door to dry out; peel on my brand new running clothes, pull all that hair nonsense out of my face — and to start running.  Despite the whining knee I had busted last night in the midst of rage, I flew down the stairs (“Fuck the elevator:  I’m am an athlete!”) and past the disoriented guests checking-in at the desk of this vintage hotel that can only happen here — with Her — or back in New York City.

“Onward from here!” my mind was beginning to slip into just another of its outraged moods; and having foreseen it, I had left my running music up in the room.  “ONWARD!”

But the minute I stepped outside:

“Ah, look on you!” I thought — and felt my shoulder blades loosen up immediately and slide down my back like a pair of resting wings.

I have always had a crush on Her:  a little bit of a moody addiction of which I am not fully aware until it is time to leave Her.  On our every rendezvous, I forget about my departure date looming ahead.  I block it out; and instead, I carry on, quite often getting confused for a local by the disoriented tourists stumbling along Her streets with a “Look on you!” expression paralyzing their breathless faces.  On foot, I navigate Her  streets never really on any other mission than to live — and to live so damn fucking well!  And every time I have to leave Her, I throw fits:  in the middle of my vintage hotels, on BART rides and in airport lounges.  I would begin to jones for Her long before saying my goodbyes; and slip into yet another outraged mood for days, for weeks to follow.

“Yeah?  You like?” She began to shift about on her feet, twirling her sex in front of my eyes:  showing off Her heavenly curvatures and the bohemian yet often expensive frocks.  From Chestnut, she looked idillic:  Too good to be true, really.  Right around Fillmore, She seemed quite youthful.

On Divisadero, She nearly brought me down to my knees; and I would weep with gratitude for having lived long enough to get here — for having lived so damn fucking well! — and for wanting to live past Her, on this day, just so that I could always come back to Her.  And back — to this gratitude.

“And what about this?” She purred turning the hip of her Bay toward me.  “I put this on, just for you.”

It’s true:  My beautiful girl — that flirt! — was unusually sunny today; kind of balmy, as if shrouded in a fur coat of Florida’s dampness.  Adorned with her favorite Golden necklace of the Bridge, she shifted the other hip toward me and looked over her shoulder:

“I can pull this off, yeah?  You think?”

“Oh,” I thought.  “Oh, oh, oh!  Look on you!”

I would catch myself walking.  The outraged mood of the mind had evaporated with the last feathers of her fog, somewhere along Hyde.  (Whatever the fuck that was about!)  And who knows for how long I had been moving at this calmer pace:  It had to have been because I could not soak her up fast enough at that other, outraged speed on mine — so I shifted my gears.

And maybe, it had something to do with Her faces — the so-damn-fucking-well-lived-in faces of her locals:

The chiseled face of a gorgeous driver inside a white delivery truck with absent doors who studied me with curiosity while waiting to make a left — waiting for me to walk by — and then he smiled so disarmingly, so fully, so kindly and well, I thought:  “By god!  Marry me!”

The sad face of a beautiful girl, smoking her cigarette in a Parisian manner, outside a tanning salon, who was possibly dreaming of better places and better loves, in the world:  “Is better love even possible?”

The threesome clan of nerdy boys from the future cast of a Wes Anderson film who simultaneously stripped down to their waistlines revealing some delicious muscles underneath:  “Yes, please!”

The Yoko Ono in her black chic, horn-rimmed glasses who with a single gesture of a black-winged bird threw her pashmina over the elegant shoulder and sucker-punched me with a wave of her perfume:  “Ahhh!”

The ultra masculine, unshaven, sleepy street fighter in a gray-and-scarlet 49ers tee, climbing inside his hefty Grand Cherokee:  “Has anyone else noticed the cars never look filthy around here (around Her)?”  And again:   “Yes!  Please!”

And the long haired hippie thoughtfully strumming his guitar with some Flamenco chords as if its strings were the lead-loaded waters of the Bay, or the heavy hair of a brown girl he once loved so madly:  “Play it up, love.  Play it up.  I want to hear you, for many blocks ahead.”

“And what if I throw this on?” She raised a single eyebrow and slid into the cashmere of her grayish clouds, with blue in between.

“Perfect!” I hummed in response.  “You are — absolutely perfect.”

I felt the tears accumulate again in my lower eyelids, and when a few slipped out and rolled down my face:  Yes, they tasted like gratitude. 

And I began to run again.

“Yes, My Heart Belongs To Daddy: Da, Da, Da”

What will you be like, the future papa of my child?  Will you be tall, but not necessarily dark?  Or will you be just competent, quietly but certainly, in the way all good men — with nothing to prove — are?  

Yes, I’m pretty sure, you’ll be tall. 

“What are you chirping about over there?” my own — tall — father chuckled on the phone last night, “My little sparrow…”

He hadn’t seen me grow up.  To him, I am still a child treading on the edge of her womanhood with the same gentle balance and vulnerability as if I were walking along a curb:  one foot in front of the other, thrilled and focused, not certain about the destination but quite alright with that uncertainty.

He used to follow me whenever I chose that activity on our walks.  Hanging just a few steps back, as if giving me enough room for my budding self-esteem and competence, he, while smoking his cigarette, would be equally as focused at putting one foot in front of the other, upon his own flat ground.  And according to him, puddles — were always the height of my thrill.

“Don’t get your feet wet:  Your mom’ll kill me,” he’d warn me — the best co-conspirator of my life.  Yet, he’d never prohibit me from my exploration.

Besides, with me — it was useless to object.  He knew that.  It was his own trait:  If I got an idea into my little stubborn head, you could bet your life I’d follow through.  So, he’d rest, while smoking his cigarette on a bench or leaning against a mossy boulder; or on that same curb marked up with my tiny footsteps.  And yes, most likely, I would get my feet wet; and I’d look back at him with a frown:

“Alright, let’s hear it!”

But all that would be given back to me was a grin that my father would be trying so very hard to suppress.

And, the future papa of my child:  Will you be of a quiet temperament, leaving all the chaotic emotions up to me; hanging back most of the time, as if giving me enough room for my sturdy self-esteem, but then always knowing when to step up to the plate — just because you will be taller — most certainly, taller! — stronger than me?  Just because you will be — my man?

True to my stubborn passion, half way through my teens, I decided to leave for a different continent.  That time, it was no longer a matter of exploration (although when wasn’t it, with me?) but a matter of a vague hope for better choices in my youth.

My father knew that:  The country of my birth was about to go under, and there would be no more gentle balancing for any of us, but a complete anarchy.  Yet, never in that chaos, would I see my father lose his composure.  Quietly, he’d take in one merciless situation after another, light up a cigarette and hang back while waiting for the best resolution to become clear.  And then, he’d step up to the plate and follow through, true to his quiet, stubborn, competent temperament.  My father:  The first tall man I’d fallen in love with.

So, when I delivered to him the news of my scholarship for a study abroad (something he’d never even heard of, in his lifetime), quietly, he smoked, hung back and took in the information.  Surely, there had to be a million questions chaotically arising in his head:  questions related to the unpredictable situations my life was certain to present.  But that day, he knew better than to get in the way of my decision to leave.  Because you could bet your life I’d follow through.  He knew that:  It was his own trait.

“Don’t tell your mom I agree with this:  She’ll kill me!” he told me that day, suppressed a grin; and we began mapping out our next conspiracy.

And, the future papa of my child:  Will you be the more lenient of a parent than me, hanging back while letting our kiddo explore his or her own curbs and puddles?  (Because you better be certain our child will inherit my tendency for stubborn passions.)  Will you quietly follow, hanging just a few steps back, alert enough to catch, pick-up, sweep off, dust off him or her, right on time?

Will you be more courageous to allow for our child’s falls:  Because that is the only way one learns?  And will you be calmer, leaving all the chaotic emotions up to me, when it is time for our unconditional acceptance of his or her missteps?

It would be one giant puddle I’d select to tread in my womanhood — an entire ocean, to be exact; and then — a whole other one.  No matter his own heartbreak, my father chose to hang back.  There would be many falls of mine he would be unable to prevent, a million of questions he couldn’t answer; many chaoses he was powerless at solving on my behalf.  But no matter my age — and no matter my defeats or victories — I could always dial in on his unconditional ear.

He would listen, hang back — suppress his tears or a grin — then launch into our next conspiracy.

“Don’t tell you mom I know about this,” he always warned me.

Because besides being an exceptional father, he also knew how to be a man:  How love a woman with a dangerous habit for stubborn passions.  My father would be taller than her, and always much stronger.  Yet, still, he would hang back, leaving all the chaotic emotions up to his wife and giving enough room for her budding self-esteem as a woman — and a mom.  And when he’d happen to catch us at our feminine chaoses — or silly conspiracies of our gender — he’d suppress a grin and say:

“What are you chirping about over there, my little sparrows?”

Home, Bitter-Sweet Home

Today, I woke up to the sound of construction.  Having had the type of a day that nearly disparaged me with other people’s tests of my boundaries, being brought back to reality didn’t enthrall me much, as you can imagine.  I growled, tossed to the other side of my bed; yanked the alarm plug out of the wall (‘cause I don’t need that shit waking me up later); and on my feet that someone had to have pumped with lead while I was sleeping, I stumbled toward my bedroom window:

“Bloody F!” I shifted the blinds to examine the haps of my ‘hood.

A handful of short, brown men calling out to each other in a foreign language were repairing the roof of the little blue house next to mine.  Right underneath my top-story apartment, I could see them ripping that shit to pieces.  Unlike the men at one of those construction sites with heavy machinery and brutal metallic noises, these guys were tiny; and the sounds they emitted belonged to the old country:  a scraping of the shovel against the stripped wood, an arhythmic knocking of a hand-held hammer and the rainfall of nails hailing into a plastic bucket in the middle.  The shortest of the workers, wearing a safari hat, had been assigned the task of sweeping around with a giant broom with plastic bristles. That thing was thrice as tall!  And their leader — a gray-mustached man with an LAPD cap and a waterproof pouch with architectural drawings sticking out of it — looked out toward my building while smoking a pipe.

That fucking pipe rang a bell:  On my yesterday’s morning jog, while fumbling with the wires of my iPod, I nearly knocked him over.  He didn’t see me coming from behind, didn’t hear my mutters at the wires that would’ve annoyed me less had they belonged to a spider web into which I walked in, face first.

“Ooh…  Sorry…” I said, not really meaning it:  Who the fuck was he anyway and why wasn’t he paying attention?  I began to make my way around him.

“‘S okay, beauty,” the gray-mustached man calmly said after removing his smoking instrument from the thin lips that made him look like my father, “You can bump me anytime.”

Okay, may be NOT like my father, you naughty old player!  I laughed.  I do tend to forget that older folk still haven’t forgotten about sex, and that some of them may still be having it (yikes!).

So, it always tickles me to no end to watch these old guys flirt with me, with the swagger of their old days.  I bet they don’t sext the woman they like; and they know the etiquette of a phone call.  “Liking” a girl’s photograph on Facebook does not pass, for them, as an expression of desire.  And their stubborn commitment to getting doors and pulling out chairs; to taking over a woman’s grocery bags and never letting her whip out her money, no matter her protesting — all that throws me into a state of easy melancholy, readily available to my Russianness.

Yesterday, we left it at a laugh; but as I took off, I continued to smile and shake my head a few more times.  My jogging step suddenly got lighter.  I maneuvered my way around my neighborhood at the foot of a mountain; and considering LA-LA’s latest weather of the Bay-like blues — with its fogginess and unpredictable spurts of sunshine — it suddenly reminded me of my home:  A tiny village on a peninsula at the other end of the Pacific.  The old country.

A fresh cup of coffee would make the perfect finish to my start of the day, I decided, and detoured toward my neighborhood’s market.  Feeling the grogginess of the morning lift, giving room to the lightness of gratitude, I aimlessly walked through the fresh produce aisle.  A mount of magnificent red plums tempted me to pick-up a few and breathe them in.  I rubbed my fingers against a mint leaf and petted the shiny surfaces of eggplants; groped a few avocados.  Letting habit and the vague smell of coffee take me to my destination, I passed the fish counter.

“Hello, how are jew?” the manager said from behind his tempting, never frozen line-up of produce.

“Beauticious,” I answered and gave him my best American smile:  open and down with it.

Surprised by an alert response, the man’s brown face immediately stretched into an enthusiastic smile:  “Beauti-cious?”  I heard remnants of his Spanish accent.

“It’s like, ahem, beautiful and delicious at the same time,” I explained.  “Like those jumbo scallops of yours.”

“Oy!  Oy!” the man was already putting on his gloves.  “Would jew like to take a l’ook?”  (Definitely Spanish!)

Before I could switch from smiling to speaking (I’m still figuring out the dynamics of that whole American smiling, to tell you the truth), the old guy was already on my side of the counter, lifting its front cover.  (I didn’t even know it was built like that!)  A whiff of the sea hit my nose:  Ah, the old country.  HOME.  

The man began to gingerly pick-up the beauticious scallops and bounce them in his giant hands.

“Oy!  How ‘bout dis one?!”

“Gorgeous,” I said and rested my forearm on his shoulder.  “Beauticious!”

He chuckled:  My tender presence thrilled him. Perhaps, it reminded him of his own home:  Where men drink beer on outside patios and bluntly whistle at the lovely chicas strutting by; where time crawls and dictates the course of the day with its mood; where lunchtime can last until dinner and where every accidental drum beat can start an impromptu fiesta.

“What cha got there?”  The old guy said to me and starting staring at my breast.

I looked down:  A neon-orange sticker that used to belong to the mount of avocados, sat in the vicinity of my nipple and read:

“RIPE READY TO EAT”.

The man sized me up:  Was he about to get in trouble?  But when I thumped my forehead against his chest and lost my composure entirely, wiping away the tears that ready flooded my tired eyes, he too began to holler with his chesty laughter.

“Oy!  Oy!” he was still holding those scallops in this giant, brown hands and throwing his head back.  He would’ve touched me — it felt like he wanted to — but his American training had taught him about boundaries.

Still:  It was suddenly all so easy; so light.  Beauticious and grateful.

“Yep,” I thought:

It’s time to go home.  The old country.