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Saturday, September 13, 2014

Coins at the Counter. By John von Daler

               When the dignified old woman entered the supermarket there almost always was whispering.
                She was once a great beauty! they said. They say she slept with the Czar!

                Famous she had been at any rate. A great goddess. Even now her face, covered as it was with wrinkles and creases, shone through those crisscrossed lines like some stately old mansion now hidden by the underbrush and the windows of her eyes looked out with ancient patience at the passing of the years.
                She had been a ballet dancer. Even now as she moved around only with the help of her cane, her shopping cart in tow, she created a sense of rhythm and form through her movements, a kind of measured mazurka more elegant than her surroundings might perceive.
                Once, quite by accident, we stood together in front of some canned tomatoes and having made a quick survey of the possibilities (organic, chopped, whole, with or without garlic, etc.) both our hands reached for the same can of tomatoes with basil. After that brief touch and my apology to her for touching her hand, I began to think that that must have been the hand that had made love to the Czar. Or had it just dangled in passivity from some great silk and satin bed as the Czar had his way? Perhaps it never had touched the last of the Russian royalty, but only had been close to him. Or had it, in fact, tried to fend him off?
                You do not ask a great woman these things in a supermarket. If some late night in her apartment we had shared a cold pheasant and a bottle of Chablis, she might have unveiled some detail, in passing, without explanation: I think I have not tasted quite that use of juniper in a cold pheasant since my young days in Moscow...
                Perhaps I would have tried to unlock this little doorway to the past, Ah, yes, when you danced for the Czar, I suppose?
                And then, like all people, great or inconsequential, who have become symbols of their times in one way or another, she would probably have fended off my query by tantalizing me: Ah, but I did not dance for the Czar! He danced for me! And she would then have changed the subject: But now you must tell me how to use those wonderful cans of tomatoes with basil that they have down in the supermarket. I love it so when a man can cook!
                I did not dare speak when she turned away from the cans, but only watched her measured steps with cane and cart in hand. Perhaps I was too timid.
               How should you observe a magnificent story like that when it floats by? At least you have to try to imagine its details, see the dancer even without the dance. 
              After all, as you are counting out your coins at the counter, you should be getting your money's worth. An old coin is often more valuable than a new one.

My book,
is like
an old lady
in a supermarket:
elusive and
full of tales.
Buy it here:


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