A Soviet Communion
An early dinner in Vilnius, Lithuania
When I’m traveling I like to dine alone, way before dinnertime. I’m the only patron and the hostess says I can sit wherever I like. I choose a table far away from the terraces and windows. Enclosure is my goal.
The restaurant, Bistro 18, is Italian and also serves a curry dish. The address is Stikliu Street, number 18, a quiet street in the old town of this landlocked city. This word, Stikliu, out of my mouth it sounds like stink. Nothing beautiful can come of it. But I wonder if the street has power for the locals, like an Elm, an Astor, or a Lincoln.
Since Bistro 18 is not busy, all the workers are ready to serve. The hostess offers me an American newspaper from a basket filled with today’s papers. The bus boy, slicing fifty lemons, adds two wedges to my still water. My waitress is prompt and stunning, and she looks smart, whatever that means. She smiles in English and offers me the menu. Now comes my favorite part of dining alone. I don’t have to look at the menu. I can just say, “make me whatever’s easiest, and bring me your favorite wine.”
I’m overwhelmingly pleased with my decision to dine alone. As the song says, you always know how much you’re paying.
During my meal I become great friends with the staff. People walk in to make reservations for hours from now, three days from now, normal romantic dinner hours. They see me sitting alone, eating my grand meal at the wrong time. Maybe they think I’m the owner. Or a spy. I feel like both.
The waitress pours me another glass of wine. I motion for her to remove the American newspaper from my table, which I haven’t touched, and I don’t want to see. She places the paper in the basket, picks up a Russian one, and holds it up to the hostess. “This one smells Soviet,” she says.
“Oh does it!” I say. “Can I smell it? I’m dying to know what Soviet smells like.”
“You should listen to what she says,” the hostess laughs, “she’s going to be a journalist on television.”
The future news anchor hands me the paper and turns away when I sniff it. “I don’t mean it smells like Soviet Union,” she frowns, “I mean, has the stink of it.”
“Oh, you mean, it’s reminiscent of being Soviet.”
“Yes maybe this is it.”
“I guess what we really mean is it’s redolent of the Soviets.”
“Yes, like, it really smells of it, stinks of it, I mean, just like what you said. Exactly what you said. Just a little bit more. Or maybe less.”
“I like this word redolent,” she says.
“You should have it,” I say softly.
She walks away. I drink my wine. I imagine having a job where the only requirement is to provide this news anchor with tricked-out English words. I will never leave Stikliu Street. I will never leave her. Though I’ve had many jobs, this would be the first to pay off.