Tag Archives: Marion Cotillard

“You and I Have Memories Longer Than the Road That Stretches Out Ahead.”

It’s long past midnight in Warsaw.  There is a new couple that has moved into the apartment across the street.

For the last two days, it has been sitting empty, with the curtains open and the stark white mattress in the middle of the living-room.  On the first of the new year (today), they have appeared:  He’s tall, with pepper and salt hair; she’s lovely.  And even though I cannot see the details of her face underneath her bangs, I can imagine the high cheekbones and the doll-like roundness that I’ve been seeing in the store window reflections of the last twenty years.

I watch them from my kitchen, while drinking coffee.  I am jet-lagged.

The curtains remain open and the yellow light of a single lamp is getting some assistance from the screen of their TV.  They’re eating dinner that consists of corn on the cob and one bucket of KFC (so very Eastern European, as I have come to learn).  Occasionally, they half turn their faces to each other:

“You want some tea?”

Or,

“For what time, you think, we should set the alarm clock, in the morning?”

I leave them be and wander from one room to another to check on our drying laundry.  The guidebook never promised us domestic amenities, so the discovery of a washing machine in our kitchen came as a complete surprise.  The dryer button is jammed on it though, but considering I have arrived here with my arrested expectations from post-Soviet Russia, circa 1997, I am extremely grateful for the dignified living standards with which this city has accommodated us.

Besides, the absence of a dryer — I find romantic.  I run my hands along the cloths from my and my lover’s body, earlier drenched from running through this cold city, and wonder what it would’ve been like if I were to enter my womanhood in my birth place.  Would I have known the grace of unconditional love and the finally non-tumultuous forcefulness of me?  Would I’ve grown up kind, or would the much harder life of my homeland have taken a toll on my character and aged me, prematurely?  And would I have the privilege of choices that make up my identity now, still generous and grateful for the opportunities I’ve found abroad?

Identity.  In my impression of the world, this word comes from the American ventricle of me.  But after this week’s reunion with my father, who never had the privilege to watch me make the choices that led me to the woman that I am, I am surprised to find myself resemble him so much.  Despite the separation of nearly two decades:  I am my father’s daughter.  Of course, by some self-written rules, it’s presupposed that I have traveled further in my life than father ever did in his.  I’ve been exposed to more world, and in return, it taught me to question twice all prejudices and violations of freedom.  But what a joy it’s been to find that, in my father’s eyes, life is only about truth and grace and justice; and matters of identity, for him, have no affect on any person’s freedoms.

I wander back into the kitchen, sit down into my father’s chair.  Thus far, it’s been the greatest pleasure of my life to watch him eat good food that I have made.  While eating, dad is curious and — here’s that word again — grateful:

“What’s that ingredient?”

And,

“What do you call this bread?”

And I can see him now:  slouching just a little above his meal, in this chair; shaking his head at the meal that he finds to be gourmet, while to us — it is our daily bread.  I have to look away when with childlike amusement he walks his lips along a string of melted cheese:

Here is to more such meals, my most dear love, and to the moments that define a life!  that must define MY life!

The couple in the window across the street has finished their meal.  The table is still cluttered with settings, crumbled paper napkins and a red bucket whose iconography — although recognizable — is somehow different from the red-and-white signs that pollute the American skyline.  The couple is now on the couch:  She’s sitting up and removing pillows from behind her back, then tossing them onto the wooden floor.  He is fetching two smaller ones, in white pillow cases, from the bed.  Together, they recline again and progressively tangle up into each other, like lovers who have passed the times of dire passion and landed in that even-tempered place of loving partnership.

The light of the TV is now the only one illuminating their spartan room.  From where I stand, now drinking a cup of black tea (still, jet lagged), I only see the back of his head and her hand that has ended up near his right shoulder.   Occasionally, he half turns his face toward her, then turns toward the flickering blue light again:

“Are you comfortable, my love?”

Or,

“Would you rather watch the news?”

I walk into my bedroom to fetch my computer.  The yellow light follows me from the kitchen and slowly dissipates as I approach the next doorway.  It, ever so lightly, hits the exposed leg of my sleeping lover.  I think I study him, but instead the mind gives room to memories of similar moments and visions.  And in that suspended history of us, I reach into the drawer.

“From Tolstoy to Tinker Bell. Down from Berkeley to Carmel.”

STOP HERE ON RED —>

EXPECT 5 MINUTE DELAY

We obey.

I’ve never seen such a thing.  The normally two-lane highway — with one lane heading to Monterey, and the other back down to Central Coast — has narrowed down into a single one.  The red light conducts the traffic going in two different directions into a narrow passage marked by the striped, orange cones.

One lane.  Somehow, all the way up here, in Kerouac’s country, coming and going doesn’t seem to matter.  We are all one:  simply on the road.   

We wait.

Ahead, the plastic poles cut across our lane diagonally, and the orange netting stretched between them provides zero protection from the loose stones that seem to have come off the side of the mountain.  The high rock is exposed and dark gray, darker than the wet asphalt of the PCH.  Here, the highway had to have been built by heros, used to conquering any mountain.  Or, perhaps, it was carved by the machetes of the retired Valkyries, tired of fighting.

We rest.

The traffic behind us is starting to accumulate.  The Jeep of military green has a brand new rack on its rooftop.  It’s empty.  A line of Subies and Prii must belong to the locals.  They know how to navigate these roads, with patience and an even hand.  But I wonder if for them — the chase is over.

A row of similar cars going in the other direction finally passes us.  Our light changes.

We begin to continue.

As the view opens around the bend, we both gasp:  Unmanned machinery sits amidst the piles of construction material.  There are rolls of metal netting with which the heros must secure the side of the suddenly disobedient rock.  A giant crane of royal blue is left upright and I immediately want to go swinging off its rusty hook suspended seemingly at an arm length away.  It has begun to drizzle and the machines parked on the other side of the road, over a short bridge, are blurry behind the fog.  Sleeping monsters.  There are a couple of newly erected cement walls, on both sides of the road.  They’ve got their purpose written in stone, but with five meter spaces in between each one, they appear to be thought up by Richard Serra himself.  And underneath it all, there roars the Pacific.  It’s white with foam and gray with rage.  Mercilessly, it slams its hissing waves against the giant fangs of the rocky shores.

To look down feels like a bird’s flight, but it is best not to do so while driving:  The heights tempt the mind’s wings into the abyss.

The line of cars on the opposite side of the site simultaneously waves hello with their skinny hands of windshield wipers.  The faces behind the rain-splattered windows seem calm and exhausted, but not at all resigned.  They are aware, actually.  For fifty miles at least, I haven’t heard any thumping of car radios or the abrasive screech of honks.

We cruise.  Come up on yet another sign.

ROUGH ROAD

The forewarned patch is just a dip with gravel on the bottom.  The white railing to the sides winks at our headlights with yellow, round mirror eyes.

We drop, survive.

It’s not so bad.  And just like that:  It’s over.

The mountains get higher here.  The fog is denser and it wraps around the black peaks.  It blends the line between the seemingly undoable heights and the sky.  The Ocean beneath is blurry, and although the drop can no longer be measured by the eye, the exhilarated heartbeat knows it’s no joke.  I hear its whooshing.  Glorious.

The limit that marks the end of that terrain and starts Big Sur sneaks up on us:  And suddenly, things change.  The mountains are not so rocky and covered with all shades of green and rusty red.  The roots of vegetation replace the metal netting done by the heros; and they seem to do quite a sufficient job at taming the exposed rock.  The rain begins to come down evenly, but not yet pour.  There kicks in the smell of mushrooms, dying leaves and wet bark.

The fields with feeding livestock return.  A row of inns and hiking humans marks our return to calm civilization.

HENRY MILLER LIBRARY

SOMEONE ELSE’S GALLERY

USED BOOKSHOP

BREAKFAST LUNCH AND DINNER

We pick up the pace.  The Redwoods.  Magnificent umbrellas of evergreens.  Stalagmites of eroded yellow rock.  The fire-engine red of succulents.

CARMEL HIGHLANDS

We keep on moving.  Sometimes, we follow the lead of those who seem familiar with the passage.  Their pace is calm, belonging to those living in surrender.  The occasionally impatient ones pass us while we pull off to the other side of the white line.  Here, we’re all still one, and simply — on the road.

SHOULDER CLOSED

BUMP AHEAD

We pass it and again:  It’s not so bad.

We keep on following the road.

“Let Me Sleep All Night in Your Soul Kitchen.”

In grandma’s house, there were no days of waking late.  They could’ve been such days, but it would take some stubborn courage to not succumb to my innate Russian guilt and to stay in bed while the rest of the household filled with busy noises.

The women would always rise first.  My grandma was the first to make it to the kitchen, and after the dry footsteps of her bare, callused feet against the wooden floor, intermixed with the thumping of her wooden cane, I’d soon smell the smoke of an oil lamp that she’d start inside a cove of a stone stove, in the corner.

That thing took up half the room:  Built of wood and red brick, the stove was the oldest characteristic of a traditional rural Russian home.  Its purpose was not only for cooking, upon a single metal plate located right above the fire pit; but for the heating of the entire house.  So, the bedroom was often located on the other side of it.  The stove was always painted with white chalk; and after a few of my un-welcomed visits of my grandma’s cot, where I would try to warm up my feet but leave markings on the wall, the men of the house took turns repainting that damn thing, upon the grouchy old woman’s instructions.

“Little gypsy children have dirty little feet,” my grandfather would joke through the side of his mouth in which he perpetually held a slowly fuming pipe.

Per old woman’s instructions, he was not allowed to smoke in the house.  So, I’d shrug my skinny shoulders knowing that I too had some info on him that could get him also in trouble, really fast.

The fire pit was covered with a rusty door on squeaky hinges.  The pots were stored onto the shelves along its wall.  But right on top of the structure, one could pile up blankets and pillows stuffed with duck feathers — and sleep.  But in my grandma’s house, no living soul was welcome to lounge around up there.  (No soul was welcome to lounge around anywhere, really; because the family’s collective labor was its own religion. Except on Sundays:  And then, there would be church.)

Two curtains, each about three meters long, were hung to hide the gap between the top of the stove and the ceiling.  So narrow was the opening, a grown man would have to climb up there from the side and remain reclining.  But I could sit up and lean against the pillar that lead up to the chimney; which I would still do whenever I would not be caught.  I’d drag up my toys, but mostly books; and spend hours at a time, frying my soles against the hot stones.  Some days, the heat would be expiring until the adults returned and started another fire.  But late at night, after the dinner had been cooked, the pots — soaked in a tub of warm, soapy water, then rinsed under the spout sticking out from the wall of the house, outside — the stove was hot.  The wooden floor of the kitchen had to be scrubbed every night; and under the strict overlooking eyes of the old woman, the young wives of her sons would find themselves on hands and knees.  These chores would make the women be the last to bathe.  They’d be the first to rise — and last to rest.

It would require a conspiracy between my motha and I for me to sneak up into the gap behind the curtains.  First, she’d push me up, then store the drying cast iron pots in a row and pile them up in such a way, they’d create a wall behind which I could hide, if only I could hold still and flat on my back.

“You must be quiet like a spy.  Shhh!” my motha’s hiss at me while winking and tucking me in.  Her smirking eyes would tickle my insides with anxiety:  at the adventure and the danger of being discovered by the old woman.

“‘Cause if she finds you,” motha’d warn me, “she’ll kick both gypsies out!”

I wasn’t sure where motha and I would have to go if my grandma followed through with that punishment.  And I was definitely confused at why my father would not follow us into our homeless adventure.  But the threat seemed real enough to keep me snickering into the pillow — from little fear but mostly the thrill.

I’d hear my motha’s hands moving the floor rag quickly and impatiently.  I’d hear the dry footsteps and the cane of the old woman spying on her, while muttering passive-aggressive instructions on how to do it better.  The men would come inside the house together and they would wash their faces and their sweaty necks above a metal sink in the corner, while the women helped by pouring water from aluminum cups.  The men would puff and spray liquids from their mouths and noses; and I would hear the women’s chuckles, as the cold splatters landed on their exposed arms and chests.

“I’ll get you after she goes to sleep,” my motha’d promise, and as the house settled down, I’d play a guessing game with others‘ noises and shadows upon the walls and ceiling.

And sometimes, I’d wake up to another day of never rising late.  Most likely, I would have drifted into slumber while waiting for my motha to come back.  Then, I would have to wait some more, upon a now cold stove, while listening to the noises of the waking household.

I couldn’t yet understand the griefs and grudges that the adults held against each other.  But from behind the closed curtains, I could watch their uncensored selves and make up stories.

“You Do It Every Hour: Oh, Baby, You’re So Vicious!”

I overheard a girl’s voice:

“That is just SO unattractive!”

Shit!  Have I been busted?

Never-ever in my life, had I ventured outside in a pair of pj’s.  But this pair of sweats, that had previously been purchased in the sleepwear department of H&M, had somehow seemed to be a perfect choice for the recent change in the weather.  They were that pretty color of a Siberian cat’s fur — bluish-gray and fluffy — and so fucking cozy, the rainy Saturday morning had insisted on calling them out of my closet.  Plus they fit over my knee-high Uggs without any bulky stretch in the material.  And I kept thinking no one would be able to tell the primary purpose of this attire, so I left the house.

I remembered wearing these sweats on a run once.

“Are those Cossack pants?” my running partner evaluated my look before we hit the ground running.

Asshole.

He himself was wearing a pair of black, shiny tights with zippers at his ankles, which I’m pretty sure belonged to the women’s portion of a Lululemon store that he had raided a week before.

“Do you know any other guy who could pull these off?” my running buddy had puffed himself up, after berating my attire.

I didn’t want to break it to him.  We were about to run through West Hollywood, so anything went.

“Are you gonna use these as sails?” he turned the attention back to me.  “Just to pick up  some speed, or something?”

These men, who make us, women, feel like we don’t measure up to their standards:  Why do they find it humane, or even appropriate, to express their opinions out loud?

I was proud of my pants though, and I have pleasantly rediscovered them this fall.  When someone mentioned we were expecting a rainy weekend, I had already been wearing these things around the house for a week.  And on this rainy Saturday, they were finally being taken outside.

It was a perfect San Franciscan morning.  The street — with cute boutiques and family-owned restaurants; a deli with excellent (although overpriced) food; a used bookstore and a funky newsstand on the corner — was paved with a wet and shimmering asphalt.  A few sleepy humans came out into the rain to smell the newly rinsed city and its rarely smog-less air.  Two pale young men from a Noah Baumbach future cast were the only ones sitting on the patio and mellowly watching the traffic of shiny, rinsed cars.  Tiny drops of drizzle were tangled up in the tips of their overgrown hair.  They looked like dandelion heads.

The owner of a health store I never visited before was sliding open the rusty gate.  A pretty brunette in rubber rain boots, she, too, looked mellow and somewhat tired.

“Good morn!” she said, sounding like a girl who would never outgrow her college-day quirkiness.  “Love your pants!”

“Thank god for Zooey Deschanel,” I thought, “for paving the road for us, smart girls.”

“Aren’t they perfect?!” I responded cheerfully.  (I was trying too hard — so, I self-corrected quickly.)  “So fucking cozy!”

Yes, it was a perfect San Franciscan morning.  Except that, I was on my street, in Hollywood.

A giant cup of steaming ginger tea, wide enough to wash my face in, began to sound perfect.  I strolled down to the end of the block and stepped inside my favorite coffee joint, with Bohemia-inspired set-up and late night hours suitable for the insomniacs and dreamers.

The light was mellow, streaming down from mismatching lamps, through vintage lampshades and colored lightbulbs.  A mirror ball was slowly spinning in the corner.  A feline female voice was meowing over the speakers.

“Bjork?” I guessed.

That’s when I overheard the girl:

“I mean:  That is just SO unattractive!”

The male barista, who leaned against the counter to listen to the venting female customer, greeted me with a nod.

“Do you know what you’d like?”

“Um?  Do you have any ginger tea?” I said.

“Don’t think so,” he said.  “But lemme check.”

Carefully, from behind my icicle locks of wet hair, I snuck a peak at the girl:  She was pretty and petite.  A cute brunette in an oversized, Flashdance inspired sweater slipping off her naked shoulder, she leaned her body into the bar and arched her back.  The thong, that her position had revealed above her jeans’ belt, seemed pre-staged.  Her hair was messy, wavy, almost nappy, a la Sienna Miller, in her hipster self.  Her jewelry was so H&M:  giant rings and layered necklaces!  She was consumed with scrolling text messages with a single thumb on her Blackberry’s screen.

“Yeah.  I don’t think this is about me,” I thought.

The mellow barista returned:

“I don’t have any ginger tea.  But I have tea — with ginger?”  He linger.

“That’ll do!” I said.

Our transaction was over.  The girl returned to venting:

“I mean, just look at this one!  How can he be texting me such things?

She brushed her sharp nails through the nappy hair and handed over the Blackberry.  She seemed distraught, although slightly showy.

Another lovely girl’s breath wasted.  Another stab at her esteem.

Hit the Road, Jack!

A heavy heart.  She believed it to be a condition of the true. 

“Not now…” her girlfriends in bad relationships pleaded, their faces looking like sad dogs or startled babies, right before they howl with grief.  “Maybe tomorrow, you can tell me the truth.  But not now.”

They were hurting, like so many:  An epidemic of the living.  She understood that.  But she always thought it was better to hit the road.

Her losses — there have been many.  Plenty of little defeats.  But maybe it was her father, who as she remembered always stood so very tall; maybe it was he who taught her to get up and hit the road, again and again, even if merely out of habit.

He himself had long been self-discounted to the camp of the defeated:  Those who got through a listless crawl of days that were mundane most of the time — at their best — and chaotic for the rest of the year.  (Once, he confessed that he preferred the chaotic ones; because at least then, he couldn’t ponder his way through them.)

He had stayed behind, in a country that she fled before she too joined the defeated.  Because she wanted so much more than survival.  Because she got sick in the lobbies of its office buildings, hospitals and dorms, all smelling alike — like chlorine and mildew — waiting and waiting for someone to come and get you, only to give you another dose shit.  Daily resignation to injustice just wasn’t enough:  She wanted to strive, to flourish; to chase ideals, like a cat does mirror reflections on the wall.  She wanted the truth; and she had hoped, for the world.  

So:  She hit the road.

But the heavy heart followed.  (She believed it to be a condition of the true.)

“Truth’s okay,” a wise woman once recommended.  “But you have to say it with a smile.  Otherwise, you’re all sharp edges.”

“Look!  A roach in your salad,” she said; then remembered the woman’s advice — and smiled.  Better?

Every night, when heading home, at the end of all that striving and flourishing — the hour of the heavy heart would rapidly descend.  Because she knew that in between the white walls (which her lease prohibited her from painting), there would be no distractions.  Only pondering.  Only the truth.  (Oh, is that why she always preferred to be in the midst of a love affair:  Because she could reach for the voices of her lovers like others reach for a midnight snack?  But then again, she never knew how to end it.  How to wait for the end.  So, she’d either found herself “in the midst” — or hitting the road.)

Sometimes, she’d take the longest routes home, through the unpredictable neighborhoods of her city that she was beginning to memorize by heart.  Her sometimes heavy heart.   

“How do you not get lost around here?” her mother, always the passenger, asked her every single time.

“I’d rather be fucking lost, trust me!” she responded; then remembered the woman’s advice — and smiled.

Some nights though, she just couldn’t bear it.  After all of her failed attempts to get lost, she’d return to the white walls; leave the bags in the kitchen, then turn right around and leave.  Oh how she wished to live in a city with tolerance for pedestrians!  Still:  She hit the road.

And so, she would drive through her city, over and over —  through it, around — hoping to discover a new street.  To get fucking lost.  She hated those “Dead End” signs — always so brutal and non-negotiable! — and preferred one-way streets.  Those ditches on the road — she kind of liked them:  They always jolted her to an awareness and justified a complaint.  She liked shortcuts, through alleys and parking lots, especially when it was unclear if she was heading the wrong way.  The poorly lit streets of immigrant neighborhoods thrilled her and she rolled down her windows:  to get a whiff of their contented survival.

She studied other drivers, most of whom always seemed unaware of their living behind the glass walls.  She hated being stuck behind trucks and buses, even though most forewarned her of making frequent stops and wide turns.  So she’d zoom around them.  Prii — always brought bad news.  (She liked calling them “Priuses” anyway.)  So, she’d go around those too, while shaking her head and avoiding eye contact with the owners.

When following police cars, she never knew if she was allowed to go faster than them; because truth be told, she rarely knew the speed limit.

“WATCH THE ROAD” their stickers recommended.  Not:  “WATCH THE SPEED”.

So, she’d speed around those as well.

“Ooh, gurl,” one night, a driver of a bus she had just passed, attempted to talk to her through his cracked window.  She looked over.  Very much the jolly type, he probably never suffered from a heavy heart.  He was grinning:  A happy wanderer.

“Come wit me?” he said with some sort of a mishmash of Caribbean accent and street talk.

“Okay,” she responded, surprising herself with the sudden lightness of her own heart.

“Meh say:  Come WIT me!”  The man was in the midst of a sermon.

“OKAY,” she laughed.  “Where are we going?”

“Whedeva ya want, gurl!”

She considered:  “India?”

“Let’s — go!”

“Now?”

“Yeh, gurl.”

“Don’t you have passengers?”  She looked back at the monstrosity she’d zoomed around:  No wonder it makes wide turns.

“Ya make me wanna pull dis ting ova’!”  He grinned at her, with not a hint of creepiness, just joy and admiration.

“Well.  Then, let’s hit the road,” she said.

Of course, at the green eye of the traffic light, she’d sped past him, and past the orange monstrosity he was lugging around town, with seeming contentment.  Straight home she went, for the white walls of her apartment which she was prohibited to paint.  And when she stood in the midst of her kitchen — alone with her heavy heart — she thought:

“This isn’t so bad,” — and reached for the fridge, at midnight.