Monday, February 19, 2007

At home at the Elephant

Sometimes when I get homesick I go to the Elephant &Castle shopping centre. This much maligned and much loved hideous pink monster holds inside clues to the soduko piece called London. Not all is apparent. How shall I explain? It's 1960s England only the people are Columbians. And Afro-carribeans and Chinese and... it's throngs of people, masses of them. Real people, they make the logos disappear, they make the dim light sing. It's ugly, no doubt. It's alive. It won't be there for much longer.

I go upstairs and walk into the Russian shop. Awaiting me are stacks of Riga Sprats tins (smoked fish); Russian beer, rye bread and Tvorag cheese. Everything is written in Cyrillic alphabet, even the OK! magazine the till girls hold as they chat in Russian. It all looks and smells and sounds like the shops of Russian immigrants in Jerusalem, where I used to buy fish and non-Kosher sausages every Friday afternoon, my end of the week treat.

Here in the Elephant they think I'm Russian. Well it's partly true as I am a quarter Moscovite. We fled the Bolsheviks in 1917. I don't mention this to anyone in the shop. They calculate my bill and say Dva Piatdesyat Pajalusta and I give them the coins and say Spasiba. Any further dialogue would make clear that I can only half mumble. In Jerusalem's Russian shops they never made this mistake: reading my body language and clothes, they always addressed me in Hebrew.

On my way back I think how strange to find home in these many mirrors of dislocations and alienations; that familiarity of strangenss, that reassuring stability of nomads.

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