31 July 2014


It feels like the air is melting on the skin, soft, sticky, trapped in heat. It's been like this since morning, a little after eight. I set a kettle on the stove. It's perhaps best to stay away from coffee now, but the craving is strong. The ceiling fan is on, the balcony door is open. I turn the kitchen faucet on to wash a bowl of cherries. Summer mornings with nowhere to go require the buzz of a radio set for company. My grandmother used to have an antique one in her dacha. From it I first heard the BBC, the rolling, elegant, distant English sounds. They seemed especially comforting on a choppy day, before a storm, the sky dark, about to deliver, the surface of the river Don like tree bark, the imminent downpour a conversation topic. Vovremya my pomidory podvyazali. Na samom dele! A okna naverkhu zakryty? 

You are listening to the BBC radio services in the background.

The water in the kettle starts to hiss. I quickly measure out coffee beans and pour them in my new hand grinder, Japan Porlex and Co., Osaka. I got it from Anthony for my birthday earlier this month. It was a good day, we went out for dinner. I had a roll of guinea fowl stuffed with truffles and pancetta to start with, and an Anjou pigeon with roast vegetables as a main, and half a bottle of Barbaresco 2006 ($$$),  and from our table watched the windows of Hotel De L'Europe across the road turn vermilion at sunset, but I'll remember the meal most by the pistachio gelato I had for dessert, a clean, unmistakable taste of well toasted pistachio nuts in every bite, cool, silky. I never tasted pistachio ice-cream as good as this before. I'm glad I did on the day I turned thirty.

Crack crack crack, my right arm starts to burn from rotating the grinder's handle. After the dinner we went to a bar, an underground rock/metal club actually; Anthony wanted me to try a vodka-coffee shot the bartender had designed for him before. I took a sip. Heavy metal tearing up the room, I shouted that mine was too strong, needed more coffee liqueur. Anthony downed his, placed the glass back on a Heineken coaster, then reached into his messenger bag. This is for you, and it's the filthiest gift you ever received. The wrapper was deep scarlet, matching roses and horns. It looked like something you'd get from an erotic shop. I tore into it -- and it was the manual coffee grinder I'd been eyeing the day before. You could hear my laughter over the music.

The kettle is about to boil.


J said...



anya said...


J said...

..well, you mentioned rolling, elegant, distant English sounds... Which is intriguing because I'm now wondering how someone who is not a native speaker recognises a posh BBC accent, as opposed to a provincial one like mine ?
It's not like it was, when BBC presenters spoke with an accent like royalty, very posh, but it's still middle class sounding.
My Russian teacher said that Muscovites are a bit like cockneys, they turn an O into an A - Landon, Mackba

J said...

....explanation... that music marks the close of BBC radio 4 every night.

J said...

...or as a further illustration - I took some cookery classes at school, and the teacher, from London, told us we were going to be making ration fish pie.

She got a lot of confused stares from the Yorkshire kids until they figured out she meant Russian fish pie.

"Ration fish pie"
"Ration fish pie"
"Again ?"
"Ration fish pie"
"Ah, you mean Roossian fish pie"
"That's what I said!"

(Pie was nice - basically fish and chopped potato I think)

On the other hand, my Russian teacher had taken on the Yorkshire accent, so Russian became Roossian.

anya said...

"Ration fish pie" -- LOL!

I of course had no idea that the BBC I first heard 20 years ago spoke RP (as I would later learn in college). I didn't know of the foot-strut split either; forward the tape and you'll find me in the audio classroom listening to pronunciation records in the attempts to pick up on the differences, finer and not so, between the UK's north and south.

But rolling and elegant those sounds were...They made me want to call English my adopted mother tongue. Ah, I'm so hopeful!

J said...

So how can I further illustrate the North South foot/strut divide..

Viz magazine - made in Newcastle which has a distinct accent and dialect, writing Cockney characters

Cockney Wanker ---

and Big Vern ---

Or Sid the Sexist, Newcastle ---

This is advanced stuff that would defeat your professors :-)