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Vica Miller Literary Salons Turn Six & Celebrate with Russia! Night at Mimi Ferzt Gallery

NYC’s Top Literary Series Invites Book Lovers for a Night of Fiction, Memoir and Art

NEW YORKMay 14, 2015 – Vica Miller Literary Salons, a favorite NYC chamber reading series held in private art galleries, will celebrate its sixth birthday by staging the Russia! Salon at Mimi Ferzt in SoHo, the only New York gallery specializing in contemporary Russian art.

On May 20th, 2015, three Russian-American authors, well-loved for their distinct writing styles, captivating storytelling and intimate knowledge of the country, will be joined by a first time American novelist to share in the nostalgia, beauty, mystery and pain of a country that’s once again reinventing itself.

While no political discussions are planned for the evening, the Russia! Salon will be set amidst A Look at a Time exhibit of new work from Mikhail Magaril & Ivan Lebedev, and present narratives from places that are no more – 1970s Leningrad and late 1990s Moscow – that are sure to inspire a lively conversation during a Q&A session, the highly praised and most anticipated part of the Salons.

Elena Gorokhova, the bestselling author of A Mountain of Crumbs (Simon & Schuster, 2011), will read from a new memoir, Russian Tattoo (2015), of which Publishers Weekly said, “With a wry, unswervingly honest observer’s eye, Gorokhova chronicles the increasing strangeness of her new country… This work… is both wondrous and stinging.”

Katherine Dovlatov will read from Pushkin Hills (Counterpoint, 2014), her masterful translation of her father’s acclaimed novel Zapovednik. Sergei Dovlatov immigrated to the United States in 1978, publishing 12 books. After his death in 1990, he became one of the most widely read Russian writers of the latter 20th Century; his works are translated into 29 languages and there is a street named after him in Queens, New York. In 2015, Pushkin Hills was shortlisted for the Best Translated Books Award (BTBA).

Vica Miller, the founder of the Salons, whom Four Seasons Magazine dubbed “a modern-day Gertrude Stein,” will offer a chapter from her fast-paced debut novel, Inga’s Zigzags (Ladno Books, May 14, 2014). Kirkus Reviews wrote, “After 10 years in America, a Russian woman returns home hoping to make it big, but she finds herself distracted by the allure of a charismatic lesbian couple in this well-written debut novel…. Miller engagingly presents a heroine caught between contradictions: New York and Moscow; flashy glamour and self-pitying nostalgia; certainty and doubt… A sexy tale with plenty of Russian atmosphere.”

Rebecca Baldridge will read from her forthcoming (2016) debut novel, Moscow to the End of the Line. In part based on actual events, the book tells the story of a young expat’s life in Moscow in the 1990s, his descent into a decadent, hedonistic, sometimes criminal, lifestyle, and how he eventually found redemption.

“It’s been a thrilling adventure to foster the Salons,” said Miller. “Besides having featured over a hundred fantastic writers and poets, the Salons built a dedicated following and, according to Simon Van Booy, became ‘a vital part of the New York City literary scene.’ Along the way, I launched an indie press, Ladno Books, which in 2016 will publish a collection of short stories and essays, On Loving, by female alumni of the Salons, including Courtney Maum, Amy Shearn, Melissa Febos, Paula Bomer, and others. May 20th is special in other ways,” added Miller. “On this day, 25 years ago, I first landed in New York from Leningrad. And today, my debut novel turned one.”

5/20, 7- 9 PM

Mimi Ferzt. 81 Greene Street (bet. Broome & Spring)

On View: A Look at a Time. New work from Mikhail Magaril & Ivan Lebedev

Reading, Q&A, book signing & reception. In English.

Free. Must RSVP to info@vicamillersalons.com

Standing room only. No latecomers.

@vica_miller

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I want to tell you a story. It’s about this strange day, called birthday. You’ve been waiting for mine, eager to dress in your favorite velvet dress, and wear a special headband, and eat the chocolate-chocolate cake with me, and place your little hands on my face.

We now have the same digits in our ages. You and I are of the same age, only you have one number in yours, and I have two in mine.  The same digit, three times between the two of us. The funny thing is, I remember my parents at this age, but I hardly remember myself at your age. When you read this, will it be the same? Will you remember me as I were today, wondering alone through the foggy streets of Manhattan, or will it be me a decade from today, the digits moving swiftly to higher altitudes?

I think this day has a secret. And it’s like this: on your birthday, you can see everything, as if someone gave you a magnifying glass that’s connected to a telescope and you can look at both ends of your life, far, far out in both directions, from the day you were a cucumber wrapped in a blanket in your mother’s hands, to the day you’ll be wrapped in your last dress, your hands cold. And you are reminded…

You are reminded that your heart can belong in several places at once, and that it often doesn’t know which place to settle in, so it drifts from one memory to another, taking you with it. You are reminded that the best love is the one shared and saved, but also the one that never happened but still wants to.  They converge on this day, and you feel awash in love, in memories of what was, and what could have been. On this special day, those who truly love you step off from the locomotives of their lives, to pause and reach out, and while you no longer share their lives, or never will, the certainty of being loved is the most precious gift – because that’s all what we want, in the end.

On your birthday, they say, “May all your wishes to come true.” I wish to never stop noticing, so that twenty years from today, I could say, “Remember that day I took you to preschool in a cab, and you had two braids that I’d made in haste – one thicker than the other, and they looked so painfully precious that I thought I could die of love just looking at the back of your head,” and you’d answer, “I felt that.” Or do you remember the morning when a Dominican cab driver spoke Russian to us, because he had studied at a Moscow university 35 years earlier, and told us how he had been married to a Russian woman for 14 years, but she left him, and he missed Russia so much, so much, he had Russian radio on. You said, “Hola!” to him because you knew how.

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I want to notice the bursting maroon and yellow tulips, splayed by the morning rain, nodding their heads as I walk by. I want to remember the story of a man whose daughter ate paint off the walls in their new house, because the stress of moving was unbearable to her. I want to notice the first gray in my friends’ hair, and ask them what they grief about most. Can I even ask that? I want to remember how I celebrated my birthday at 15, and 21, and 30. And I want to remember why some years I didn’t celebrate at all. I want to notice the barges on the Hudson, so that I can remember the ships on the Neva. I want to remember every morning you came to my bed, the light of your dimpled smile shining on my life, erasing the melancholy that has been living in my heart for a while now. I want to remember the poem that I received on my birthday written in my language. I’ll let you read it one day. But mostly, I want to notice the moment of being alive. And that’s why your birthday is so good for you. It makes you feel time pass and it makes you notice life. Just that. That you’re ALIVE. And that’s the story I wanted to tell you on my birthday.

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For my Mom.

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I always remembered her lips. Round, smooth, never chapped and always pink and shiny, even in the coldest Russian winter. I haven’t seen her in twenty years, but when she wrote and asked to meet, the first thing I thought of were her lips. Not how she had hurt me, not how I had run away – her lips. Are they the same lips, I wondered, plump and moist, as if gilded by a morning dew? Does she still apply Chap Stick in the middle of a hurried storytelling or a recital, as she did back then, in St. Petersburg Conservatory – leaning forward, absorbed by the boys’ chorus singing a cappella, their high voices reverberating off the ceilings? Or in the midst of telling me of her boyfriend back in New York, wondering if he’d been faithful while she was away, trying on Russia?

Every time we talked, my eyes rested on her lips, soft as a child’s skin, their smooth curves as if outlined by a painter. Not that I ever touched them, but I must have missed half of her stories watching her lips. How they moved. How they glistened after she licked them. How they stretched into a smile, exposing two rows of perfectly even white teeth.

I was ready to turn off the dim desk light, my husband already asleep, his tall body draped over the bed, when I saw her email. After all these years Eden wanted to meet, as if nothing had ever happened. As if she hadn’t made me feel homeless and unwanted; as if I hadn’t cried every night for a week, alone in a foreign city that was her home, where she was my only friend. As if I could erase my memories of first sharing Russia with her, later wrecked by the cold shower of her irritation and annoyance with me in New York – because I stayed at her parent’s townhouse on Gramercy Park for a week too long.

But that was twenty years earlier. I had moved out of her parents’ house. I had found a job. I’d gotten married and had kids. So had she. And now she wanted to meet, in the city, which has become home to us both, and where we could have lived the rest of our lives without ever seeing each other again. Without exchanging another word, another glance, or point of view. Never having to remember what we shared back then, at twenty. Our walks along the Neva, the White Nights, the never-ending days, the evenings stretching into mornings under pretense of dusk; slumber parties, Eden wearing a torn Beatles tank top, me in a new Run DMC T-shirt. Translating Akhmatova’s poems into English, and Blake’s into Russian, reading Nabokov’s Lolita in two languages at once, savoring every vowel as if it were a jewel, wondering if she’d ever speak Russian like that, if I’d ever speak English like this.

Today, twenty years later we’ll meet again, because I said I’d love to. Because I forgave her. Because I didn’t think she’d remember my hurt. It was my hurt. And she probably had enough of her own to bother thinking about mine. Everybody has hurts. One doesn’t even have to ask, to know how much pain a person has had in her life. Just stand closer without uttering a word, look into her eyes a little longer… it’s all there.

So I’ve forgiven her even before I agreed to meet. She was still the same Eden, who had sat across from my mom at our kitchen table in St. Petersburg. I can’t sit across from Mom anymore, but I can sit across from Eden, so I went.

On Thursday afternoon, walking towards the meeting place I suggested, a small Italian Salumeria across from Verdi Square, I looked at my reflection floating in the windows, wondering what I’d say.  “Kak dela?” or “How are you?” Would she speak Russian to me and I, English to her, as we had back then?

I spotted her as she walked out of a chocolate shop, and saw her lips: pink and moist, stretched into a Cheshire smile. Eden – the mother of two, a 40-year old, with a few wrinkles around her eyes, but her tight full lips, unchanged. I felt as if a piece of my youth had been given back to me. Why was it a relief to know that her fabulous lips were intact after all these years, as if they held a secret to preserving my own life? We hugged.

“Shopping for chocolates?” I asked.

She laughed. “They have the same store in my building in Brooklyn,” she said. “I had no idea they were in Manhattan too.”

“I wanted to sit outside,” I said in Russian. Eden nodded and sat down, hurriedly putting away The New Yorker she held under her arm, then fumbling with a white serviette. A twig of rosemary fell out from it and Eden picked it up. I looked away to give her a moment. Was she nervous?

It was the first spring day after the longest winter. Forsythias and dandelions bursting with yellow. Pregnant women no longer covering their bellies, as if ready to aknowledge to the world the lives inside them.

I had wine, Eden didn’t.  She was still breastfeeding, she said. I’d stopped a year earlier. We talked, in English. Her father had died 10 years ago. I told her my mother had thought him so elegant and well groomed, unlike the men at her research institute.

“Well-groomed?” Eden asked and laughed.

“Yes, that’s what she said.”

My mother had died 19 years ago, I told her. Eden’s green eyes glistened.

“She made the best pirozhki in the world,” she said. I nodded. The cherry trees across Amsterdam Avenue unfolded in pink fuzziness. I thought of Mom’s hands.

“I want to bring up something from the past,” Eden said. “You probably don’t even remember this episode, but it’s been haunting me for a long time. Before you moved out of our house, you told me that I’d changed so much since Russia, and had become nepristupnaya… I didn’t know the word and had to look it up. Unapproachable. You told me I’d become unapproachable, not the person you knew.” Eden took a sip of water from the tall glass in front of her. “I want to apologize. Will you forgive me?” Her lips quivered and a round tear rolled out of her right eye and settled on her upper lip.

I touched her lips for the first time. They were as soft I’d imagined. I caressed her forehead and her eyebrow. I told her I didn’t remember saying those words, but that the hurt still lingered somewhere in my body, behind the rib cage, on the left, close to where the heart is. That I didn’t think she’d remembered “the episode”. I told her I’d forgiven her. We’ve known each other for more than half of our lives.

As I looked at her round face, framed by short brown hair with streaks of gray, into her green eyes made bigger by sadness and regret, I thought about how we had met and then parted, like two ships that left a harbor in different directions, sailed through rough waters, lost the way at times, and then drifted back. Is this a safe harbor now? I’d like to think it is. And we’re still the same ships, now moored, older and rougher on the surface, our sails withered by time and loss, but more forgiving and willing to forget.

After, we talked all the way to the subway, unable to part, as if our words entangled us into their nets, into the woven bits of our lives, each new sentence a string to our past, and perhaps future.

VM © 2011

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