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Drinking too many coffees with the great Russian poet Joseph Brodsky

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It was 1974 and tension was high between the Soviets and Americans. The dissident poet Joseph Brodsky and the dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov met in New York and had a lot to talk about

I first met the poet Joseph Brodsky at a dinner in New York in early autumn 1974. I had just escaped from the Soviet Union, and he had been thrown out of the country two years before. After the dinner we went to a café in Greenwich Village. I remember drinking so many espressos – something I wasn’t used to – that I couldn’t fall asleep afterwards because of the heartbeat.

Actually the heartbeat was not only due to the coffee. “I think we have a lot to talk about,” said Joseph. We did. We both came from Leningrad and had many friends, acquaintances and experiences in common. We talked about where I had lived during my 10 years in Leningrad, and Joseph knew every spot. He was fascinated by architecture – specifically the canals, arches, bridges and Italianate palaces of Leningrad refracted into abstraction by the ripples of the Neva River. I remember his eyebrows going up when I said my last apartment had been near the Hermitage, just across the Moika River from the house where Pushkin lived and died. He said, with an ironic grin: “And we left all that beauty…”

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