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Loren Goodman
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I have heard about Kazakh hospitality, but am not prepared for this: this is no ordinary hotel, this is a palace. The Golden Palace. And I’ve got a deluxe room. It’s huge. Huge floor to ceiling windows on two sides with a view of the orthodox church in the distance. Feels great to have a big bed and couch in the room. In the elevator, I see this: I have never seen an ad quite like this. We can learn a great deal about different cultures from their advertisements. How would you describe the expression on this man’s face? If there were a comic bubble emerging from his mouth, what would you write in it? “Welcome to our business lunch. You got a problem?” “Hello. If you don’t like our business lunch, I will smash it in your face.” “Which of you schmucks had the meat?” I have dined with many eminent figures and great leaders, but never imagined I would have a chance to eat breakfast—my first breakfast in Kazakhstan—with Marcus Aurelius. Can you believe it? I was supposed to have time for a nap, but after striking up a conversation at breakfast (love the crepes, cucumbers and eggs)with Marcus Aurelius (who could pass that up?), taking a shower and getting organizized, it is already time to go to lunch. Zhanar, a graduate student and instructor, takes me to lunch. Beef soup and some kind of light beef dumpling called Oromo, hot tea, really good. This is a tea culture. Kazakh people like to sit around and talk and drink tea (black tea with milk) the way people in other countries like to sit around and talk and drink beer. After lunch, Zhanar helps me find a winter coat. I try on about twelve coats, all black. Finally find this proletariat number, the biggest they have. All the inexplicable buckles, straps, zippers and pockets (for ammunition?) remind me of the Explorer’s coat in Kafka’s In the Penal Colony. But it’s warm, functional and can’t argue with the Soviet-era price. Need winter shoes. I have to walk very slowly, stepping gingerly so as to not slip on ice. And the cold goes right through my Adidas. Zhanar takes me to meet the Vice-Rector, and Sholpan (first thought “Chopin”), another graduate student instructor, who will be my translator and assistant. They are both very welcoming and friendly. Serving often as the interpreter of late, it is interesting to be on the other end of the translation. I am being welcomed, and told what is expected of me, what I need to do. Some things I am being asked, but I it is clear that I am being told. I notice part way through the translation that there is no space for me to respond. I try to create some space, then realize it is meant to be that way. Near the end, I squeeze in a “thank you,” and the Vice-Rector nods and smiles. “There will be a panel discussion at... Continue reading
Posted Dec 17, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
London’s Last Knight If you got to go to London for only one night, what would you do? I am here and it is now, and as I have no winter clothes and am leaving on a jet plane for a cold place tomorrow night. According to my informants, there is only one option: Primark. It is already dark, and time is on the run. I glide down the ice-covered steps of the site of my inconspicuous bargain-basement lodging (after ascending from my basement room), the Excalibur Hotel (its only sign a scotch-taped sheet of A4), to Earl's Court Station. Once out at Oxford Street, I wade through London's Christmas spirit. Having been in Liverpool and York for research on the nuances of form and tone in Chav poetry, I missed Thanksgiving back home. Thankfully, a storefront catches my eye, and I decide to make a pit stop for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner: Jerk Chicken. (Innit?) This British jerk is different from what I used to get in Flatbush -- more liquidy, and sweeter. I was looking forward to the crusted salt and pepper of dusted spices. Perhaps all emotion springs from expectation. Yet this jerk is one, true and good. Amidst the hallowed halls of Primark, I wander through each chartered aisle, near where the chartered Thames does flow. And mark in every face I meet, marks of weakness, marks of woe. After many sizings it seems I shall not find that which I seek with ease. None of the winter coats fit. Still, before closing, I emerge with some necessities: grey wool turtleneck, black smoking jacket, and Run D.M.C. socks. Will have to board the plane and make do without a coat. But how hard can it be to find a warm coat in one of the coldest places in the world? Surely there will be a better selection to choose from there. The Power of Hats There is something about a hat that goes beyond the head. Beyond warmth and style. Perhaps the hat is a kind of channeling device, or beacon for the transmission and reception of powerful energies. I would like to discuss hats further, but first, I would like to thank the security people at Heathrow for their uncompromising dedication and thoroughness. They do not cut any corners. To the member of security who helps me remove everything from my bag—and I mean everything—I thank you. I thank you from the bottom of my Boston Tea Party. This man removes everything from every compartment, even from the most deeply hidden, zippered areas. He produces—with the nonchalant flair of David Copperfield—things I thought I had lost, have not seen in years, and never knew I had. With a bit of training, this man could have a lucrative career in psychoanalysis. I would also like to thank this man for allowing me to re-pack my bag myself. Having gone through this rigorous search process, I feel confident that I have experienced British culture and hospitality, and... Continue reading
Posted Dec 16, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
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Dec 15, 2014