The Caliph Stork

But if they laughed while they were transformed, the word would be forgotten.

—Boris Tomashevsky

  When Boris Tomashevsky told his wife, Emily, about the afternoon he spent on Portobello Road, he neglected to mention the owls made of glass. First, he took off his coat and remarked what a lovely day it had been outside. It had been perfectly brisk, he said, the kind of day that does wonders for the heart. He asked her how her afternoon had been and told her of his own.

  “It’s a road of a hundred city blocks,” he explained, “and on a particular section, about twelve blocks long, they’ve filled the street with vendors of every kind.” It was not the meager hodge-podge of the Moscow market-place, he wanted his wife to understand, but an incredible variety of things for sale. And although he didn’t say it to Emily, he imagined that everything in the world, with the exception of slaves, was openly sold in its stalls.