Alla, without an accent, is not a grammatical mistake in Spanish but Liza’s mom our host. Upon entering, she asks us to take off our shoes and put on the two pairs of carefully prepared slippers. After settling into our room, we make our way to the kitchen and sit at a small round table covered in a yellow plastic tablecloth decorated with flower pots (describe more: cold, dark room, dirty curtains blocking the sunlight, traces of extinguished cigarettes on the table cloth)
Alla places an aluminium kettle on the stovetop. “Tea, coffee?” she asks in English. I could do with just a glass of water, but it seems imprudent to refuse. “Do you have any coffee?” I ask her. “Yes, of course,” and she without a moment to spare takes out an aluminium pot (or was it copper?) from the oven. She shuts the oven door so hard that the kitchen walls seems to crumble. She takes a plastic container from a small, dark wooden cabinet behind the table, and tosses two heaped teaspoons of ground coffee in the pot. Then, with the care of someone watering grass, she pours some of the boiling water from the kettle into the pot, and puts it over the already lit burner. Turkish coffee, it will be black and bitter strong. Elona helps herself to a teabag of Early Grey from the tin on the table.
We have just arrived, and the apartment on –
“Elona, what was the name of street where we stayed in Saint Petersburg?”
Monday 15 June, 5 AM. Black birds. Small black birds swooping in and out of holes in the walls, through antennas, cables and metal structures that extend from the buildings. Below, dirt streets, potholes, overflowing bins, cars squeezed into the limited space. I raise my eyes and look at the compound; a calm and central courtyard surrounded by a wide concrete outer ring of apartments. Two archways join the space to the city, an open fortress only a block away from Sukhbaatar Square. Strange structures.
A muffled yawn escapes my mouth as I watch the scene from the window on the sixth floor. A man carries a bucket full of water and empties it on some plants. A young couple leaves for work, and a middle-aged man arrives – a night porter perhaps, he wears an unbuttoned white shirt with black striped brown trousers which are too short for his legs, his socks are white. The sun is rising and I can already hear klaxons in the nearby streets. Slowly the city awakens. Soon, the now familiar music of the rubbish truck will join the soundscape. An inaudible sigh flows from my eyes. Nostalgia. I don’t know when, or if I will be back. This view, these sounds, will not be repeated. Every window is unique. So I record the language of the birds with their city. Ulaanbaatar.