The Architect Gets Grandfathered [excerpt]

Look what happens.

I told Sasha he could help to renovate the house. From one immigrant to another, I told him. Let us make it like old times in Sankt Peterburg Arkhitekturnyi Universitet, our nicknames for professors, the long nights in winter and in spring, the Noviye Godyi and Easters, sunlight in the skylight at ten of the morning, the smell of gesso and lacquered wood, the same wood as here, smoking samokrutki on the stairs, …. Even though, when I think about it, there was only Hermitage and Tikhvin Cathedral, cartoons of buildings in a snowy, paper-like landscape, the Leningrad of my memory is a colorful and beautiful city, not so gray. If I am to be a less gray architect, I should like to make The Catskills the same.

And I thought it would be easy, because since the down payment, I am finding only people who are like my old friends in this county, all from Moscow or Kazan, it is like we all bought the same airplane tickets. Why did you come here? Da, da, me too. Are you not supposed to stay with your people? I tried to, and look what happens.

This stupid fucking antlers. It’s a fucking shit. What was he thinking? Chapels in Novgorod? The dachas in the fairytales we read to our children? I can say for sure that when my son sees this his eyes will do the same as my eyes. Big and many lines. I don’t understand. The structure was in, all done. The rafters, the bracing, the triangle was good. All that is left is to paint. But the next morning he decides to decorate. This drunken tree branches, so very stupid.

Yes, it was middle of May when I finally decided to talk to him. Invited him inside the kitchen that we finished the tiles only one week before, he took his shoes off and the beech leaf pieces blow in with him, and I made for us some tea.

Sash, I said, nu shto takoe, what are those silly things.

What, you don’t like them?

Absolutely not. I think they are extra and silly.

Nu Mashinka, he said.

I said do not call me Mashinka. Please call me Marina. We are here in a professional relationship, not old friends. It is not Russia anymore. I never gave you this instruction. I go back to New York for just one week, and I come back and there is this. In this country, we do not have to agree from the heart, but we have to agree on the paper, in writing. We have to work because we agree to it, civilized. Kak beliye lyudi, like white people. You are not following instructions.

He started to yell to me. What instructions? You give me no instructions. Bad specification. Bad drawings. Always late. I remember the lines on his face, darker than before and more angles. He put his tea cup down and it spilled on the tiles which were not waterproofed yet and it left a dark ring. His hands moved a lot. Russians do not point, except when they are angry, or a little disrespect. Somewhere in the middle of his words he tells me about himself, like a beggar telling his life story.

I realize I remember wrong: we only were at the Saint Petersburg University one year together, and he was a transfer. He left before he finished. Returned home to his mother, took care of her and worked in building, just like now. I build many chapels like this, he said. A technical man, a practical man, did not read books. But he had faith in things, and he said he no longer had faith in us. I understood: we are both Russian but we are very different people.

My father once told me that in every relationship, there is a limit to the number of words you can say to each other. Like you open an account with a word bank, and withdraw little by little every day. Some have more yes and some have more no and some have mostly why. Some days you have to ration, save for later. Sometimes you find a new word, a surprise, like faith, and you can live off of it for weeks. Almost as if, on that day, Sasha spent all of the remaining words, and now we talk almost never.

This fucking branches.
Mash & Natash.

By the.vonz.himanen

Ivan Himanen is an architect, urbanist, and researcher based in New York City.

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