A Chekovian Fourth of July

I love the mood in New York just before Independence Day–half the city has fled but the streets are still brimming with people ready to relax and have fun. We have some great parks in Greenpoint and Williamsburg with lots of sprinklers and fountains turned on in summer (water balloons are a big thing with kids of all ages.) McCarren Park pool is another hotspot–founded during the Great Depression and recently reopened to Brooklyn bathers.

I arrived at Ms. Ezersky’s apartment today wearing bright salmon-colored shorts and ballet flats. My teacher greeted me with something between disdain and disbelief: “This is your Russian lesson. Are you going to the beach? Shameless.” Excuses like “I just came from a giant turtle fountain with my four-year-old” aren’t acceptable so I hardly ever bother explaining myself. Eager to share some news, I was abruptly cut off: “No time. We’re reading Chekhov.” Ms. Ezersky brought out some brisk tea with cherry jam and biscuits–our usual custom though the cherry jam was especially delicious. I asked where it was from. “No idea,” she said. “Back to Chekhov.”

The Chekhov story led to another story about Ms. Ezersky’s leaving Russia in the 1970s. She had lived through much of the Stalin era as a journalist, and managed to escape with her husband for three months in Rome before making their way to the U.S. “We had no money and used what few coins we had to see churches and museums. It was our Roman holiday.” But, she said, “Who knew if we were making the right choice to leave–we had grown up there and didn’t even know what a prison it was. Rome, as it turns out, was worth all of it–my broken life, my lost country.” I recalled a trip she took several years ago to revisit Italy after her husband died. They had wanted to see Venice during those transitory months but didn’t have enough money to get past the train station.

What does it cost to be free, I ask myself, as July 4th rolls around and my son naps in his room. When he wakes up, I think I’ll make us a little party of chips and guacamole and head to McCarren Pool.

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