Yesterday I stood at the window of the house that is no longer ours, looking down at the garden and the swimming pool (which I haven't used since I was in high school) and the sports court beyond that (which I haven't used since...well, ever; it was the domain of my two brothers), and the waving tall bamboo forest that ran along the edge of the court before the rest of our land slid down in a steep slope to the street below. The lilacs were blooming. I remember when it was a tiny, spindly bush with a few piddly flowers. Now it is tall and luxuriant with blossoms. It is the last time I will see those lilacs bloom in this garden, the garden of my childhood, and I feel the tears threaten to fall.
The smell of lilacs remind me of St. Petersburg, that golden month I spent there, in June when the night never falls. (They call it the "White Nights;" the city conjured up in its gilded splendor over a swamp - like Venice, it is sinking - is so far north that in the early summer the sun never seems to set). Old women with their bright kerchiefs sold bunches of lilacs and bouquets of lilies-of-the-valley wrapped in green leaves, among the markets that sprang up around the entrances to the metro stations. There would be stalls selling clothes and fruits and vegetables and bottled water and ice cream, and those old women with their baskets of flowers. The smell of flowers would float into the air and down the escalators, into the subterranean metro stations; you would leave the crowded cars with the reek of human bodies and emerge into the faint breath of lilacs and lilies-of-the-valley, the smell of spring.
Today is so warm and sunny that it almost reminds me of those far-off June days, when I would buy piroshky from a stall near the university cafeteria - it was cheaper than the cafeteria lunch and even cheaper than a meal in a restaurant - and eat in the park. The piroshky were made from a soft dough, rather like a brioche dough, formed into neat ovals, bisected by a crimped seam. The dough would have a fine golden crust, with a soft white interior yielding into the savory filling. I loved the ones filled with mushrooms and potatoes the most. I bought one for lunch today, at a small bakery near my apartment. The man behind the counter slips my potato-mushroom piroshky in the microwave to warm it up, slides it into a paper bag, hands it over. I head back to the office at a brisk trot, but cannot resist taking a bite or two when waiting at a stoplight.
Time falls away like the cherry blossoms whose petals drift to the ground with every gust of wind. There seem to be lilacs in bloom wherever you look, and I have a warm potato-mushroom piroshky in my hand. Work is waiting for me, but for a minute I can stand on a street corner and let the memories slide across my face like sunlight.