Berlin, 12 June 2014

Berlin, 12 June 2014
by Deborah Bouchette, 2nd year IDSVA student

I am a flâneur in the evening in Berlin. My friends have abandoned me for gelato—I am alone to savor the lights and darks as I walk, to hear the polyphonic community, the heteroglossia that murmurs through the single language of Berlin this night. From a street vendor, I try to buy a pendant made from the tines of a fork hammered into curls—curiously reminiscent of a Hawaiian skirt swaying in the breeze. He pressed it into my hand, and it was heavy. He said it was sterling and showed me the maker’s mark on the handle of another fork. My superego warns me that all the forks are different. I asked the vendor how much, and he said fifteen. Heady with the scent of a perfect Berlin evening, in an act of spontaneity I decided I could spend fifteen euros on that pendant of curly locks, whether silver or plate, and I retrieved my wallet. Two fifties and a five. I try to hand him a fifty and he moans. He has no change. I show him I only have a five, and the deal seems off. So I dig for my change purse. Three times two plus eighty-four. I am loathe to relinquish my pair of two-cent pieces, but for the necklace, I am willing to hand over 11.84€. He asks if my friend can loan me the money, but she used all her small change on the tip for supper. He asks for change from his next-door vendors—no deal. I think I hear him offer to get change from the restaurant, but at least I am smart enough not to hand a fifty to a stranger and let him disappear. Then he suggests I go to the restaurant. I increase my capacity for resistance and say no. The intoxication has passed. The desire has been cancelled by the difficult exchange.

At dinner this evening, the artist featured in the Russian pavilion at last year’s Venice Biennale is across the table from me. He is a kind and gentle man with stories to tell of when there was no contemporary art in Moscow. He speaks of the time ofперестройка (perestroika) and coming to the West. He says that now he has artist friends who are envious he was in the first wave of this new Russian art—they do not understand how dangerous it was. After seeing the Biennale during last summer’s residency, I wrote a short piece on the Russian pavilion because it had been my favorite. I never dreamed that less than a year later I would be visiting his studio, eating walnut ice cream at his kitchen table, and he would be in our company for dinner. He gives me a souvenir: a gold-colored coin marked ONE DANAË on the face. On the back, THE ARTIST GUARANTEES THE VALUE WITH HIS HONOR 2013 rings the stack of words in the central motif TRUST UNITY FREEDOM LOVE. He says that he came to the Biennale one day to find his exhibit shut down because there were no more coins: 200,000 had been stolen—pocketed mostly by women, even though statistically men steal more than women.

I realize that I do not want gelato because I want the flavor of Vadim Zakharov’s walnut ice cream forever in my memory.