Fear and loathing on a white coach

“What are you doing? Are you socializing?” the guide, a dull guy in his mid twenties, asks with a wide smile that makes his eyes almost invisible.

“Yes, we are.” we both reply almost at the same time, cringing away from his unpleasant presence.

And these loud people are making jokes and taking photos and filming videos and posting them on Facebook, tagging and commenting and checking in. And there’s something vulgar about them, a lack of real connection between them, a distance and a way of living that’s like floating on the surface of life like patches of oil on the surface of a deep, blue water, filled with numerous colorful fish and other creatures they never get to touch. Their homes are in shallow waters, the current sometimes makes them drift away and fear brings them back most of the time.

This is not where I belong, I think to myself and I panic again, taken over by the same fear that’s been tormenting me for about two months already. I am taken over by this powerful ocean wave and I cannot resist its might. I do what I can to push my head above the water from time to time and take short, lifesaving breaths. This is too difficult. A part of me is thinking of running away again. And my chest hurts. And I want to be made to stay. I want to be held tightly, so tightly that my ribs threaten to crack, shattering all traces of fear. I really want to be made to stay.

The sleepy coach taking turns, staggering and cutting through the grey evening like a long white pill being swallowed is making me dizzy, but I cannot be sure if my nausea is caused by my own panic or by the nature of the coach trip. I feel my fate being carried by this white coach filled with loud strangers with whom I have only fear in common. The blue bus is calling us, Morrison’s sweet voice sounds in my head, soothing some of the pain and making the unsoothable part even worse.

You know, Sylvia Plath, that depressed writer I did my BA paper on, wrote a book called Johnny Panic and the bible of dreams. I remembered her talking about panic and the way it rules the world, so I looked for the precise quote. Here it is:

“Maybe a mouse gets to thinking pretty early on how the whole world is run by these enormous feet. Well, from where I sit, I figure the world is run by one thing and this one thing only. Panic with a dog-face, devil-face, hag-face, whore-face, panic in capital letters with no face at all—it’s the same Johnny Panic, awake or asleep.”

And I take it she’s right. All these people so afraid of leading meaningless lives that they strive to keep up the appearance of a personal life, of having friends, the fear I see so close to me – that of losing your freedom, of not getting enough, of settling down for less that your highest possible reachable potential, that of losing control, that of leading an unhappy, mediocre life. And my own fears…

Well, Sylvia ended up head in the oven, gas turned on, kitchen door sealed with duct tape, children asleep in the other room. She did also say, in the same book, “Wear your heart on your skin in this life.” That is what I have been trying to do, this is one of my goals. It’s crazy, I know. And I don’t know if it’s a good idea to follow Sylvia’s advice, either. You know, considering…

On the other hand, who is really afraid? Which part of me feels fear? Only the ego can ever be hurt (or create the convincing impression of being hurt). The heart knows no fear. And the opposite of fear is not courage. It’s love. I finally remember the only way out of the pit is changing the focus of my attention. Maybe this is why my eyes see everything bathed in this strong light. Life is trying to remind me to look at the bright side, to focus on the positive, on the light. And what’s the worst thing that can happen? And if that happens, so what? Throughout the entire history, personal and global, the world has never really ended. The journey never ends. Every step opens new possibilities. And I am excited to explore them.

“A wise person knows that fears are always your road companions through the desert of life. But you never let go of the harness of your camel. You are in charge.” a dear friend reminds me.

Need help at the bank? Call an angel

“Why don’t we have an ID?”

“For the same reason why we don’t have any cards anymore”, I reply. “I either lost them or were stolen.”

“We need an ID to be able to give you your new cards and the new pin numbers. This is the procedure”, the beautiful brunette in her early thirties tells me from across her desk, where I’m sitting in the bank close to where I live.

“Well, as I’ve already told your colleagues in the call center when I asked them to reissue my cards and your colleague at the front desk when she gave me the envelopes with the cards and sent me to you to get the pin numbers, I only have my passport. My ID, driving licence and cards went missing together with my wallet.”

“Oh, let me check”, she says and spends a few more minutes typing and clicking, while I’m sighing and eyeing those envelopes with my cards on her desk.

Suddenly, just as I’m wondering if he’s still working here, the branch manager steps into the office, as if by miracle. He sees me and stops for a second, startling softly and trying quickly to recompose himself and cover it up. You remember him, don’t you? I wrote here about our first encounter.

“Good afternoon”, he says, allowing just a tiny bit of red to color his cheeks.

“Good afternoon”, I reply smiling and searching for his eyes. I regret my no makeup, bad hair day and conjunctivitis, but I know this is my only chance, so I don’t back down. I see him surrounded by a bright light, like some sort of angel or saint coming to save me. No, really. This is the way my sore eyes see the world. Overexposed. My small, red and sore eyes find his and at this point I know I’m gonna get what I want.

“Oh, good. You’re here”, the brunette says from across her desk. “We need you.”

I’m just smiling and keep looking at him.

“She only has her passport and according to the procedure, in order to be able to give her the new cards, we need…”

“Another photo document with proof of address”, he completes her sentence and walks around me, planting himself in front of me, next to his colleague.

“Yes, but I only have my passport, that’s all.” I reply.

He quickly glances at the computer screen and then back at me smiling.

“Can you bring a birth certificate?”

“Sure I can, only it has no photo or proof of address.” I reply giggling as I keep looking into his eyes.

“I checked everything”, his colleague adds hopelessly, while I keep smiling and looking at him with my small, red eyes.

“Give them to her.” he says shortly. “Please come back when you have your new ID so we can make a copy, ok?” he tells me.

“Of course. Thank you so much!” I reply feeling relieved and he leaves the office.

Just as I’m getting out of the bank with my new cards, he’s coming in again, holding shopping bags from the nearby supermarket and we smile to each other again before he disappears into his office.


PS Read about my eye issue and the missing wallet in First week of the new year in Sweden. An identity loss/ change adventure.

Fourth week of sore eyes. Inside investigations

I’m looking only at You. I can see only You. I’m looking only at You. I can see only You. I’m looking only at You. I can see only You. I’m looking only at You. I can see only You.

I keep repeating it like a mantra and staring at this big painted icon hung somewhere up on a wall in an orthodox church in a monastery, on the left of a stained glass window overlooking the sea somewhere in a high place in Greece.

As I’m doing my spiritual practice, I’m tormented by his feeling of guilt as my eyes have slid from the icon to a small patch of transparent glass through which I can get a glimpse of a blue piece of the sea and the sun shining above it. For a fraction of a second I can feel the salt in the water and I can see the fish swimming and the waves rising, washing the feet of the seagulls having their breakfast. Temptation. The temptation of the world. My eyes are drawn to this small patch of transparent glass like sharks to a drop of blood in the ocean.

And then I see the temple in Cambodia and my bare feet walking along the stone corridors. Everything is sacred and I am smiling all the time. Every pore is smiling, every organ, every body part, my whole being. And I look closely at everything – every speck of dust, every petal, every leaf, every stone. Here it’s easy, I’m thinking as it all comes back to me again, filling me with pure joy.

And what is it that you think you can look at in this world that doesn’t have me in it? Is there anything you can see in which you cannot see both me and you? There is nothing in this world of which I am not a part and of which you are not a part. See me in everything. Everywhere you look discover me and discover yourself. Look without fear. Let the light flood you. Look into the light, the answer is whispered in my heart.

A meeting with an old friend, flooded in light

“You’re basically doing all the right things”, the ophthalmologist tells me after the examination, having almost blinded me with her strong light, taking the deepest look into my eyes anyone has ever taken.

The flood of light when I get out into the sun and the snow is so painful I can barely keep my eyes open and I’m feeling a little bit confused trying to make my way to the park to meet some of the kids in my class. There are no contours and everything seems to float and move all the time, as if I were trying to focus and the camera just won’t keep still.

“Mrs Daniela, Mrs Daniela, I missed you so much”, he says running towards me and jumping into my arms. I forget he’s grown and, hugging him tight, I lift him at my chest to make keeping him close easier on my back. This embarrasses him, so I quickly put him down and tell him how much he’s grown (though I’m not so credible anymore, since I could lift him).

“Me too, my darling, me too. Let me look at you” and I’m searching for his eyes and, through the blinding light still pouring in, I can still see that part of me I’ve always seen in him and that part of him I see in me every morning when I look in the mirror.

He’s so sensitive it almost feels like his skin has been peeled off his chest and his heart has no way of defending herself against the world doing all it does just by being itself. He takes it all in and lets it storm throughout his entire being. His heart is so big everyone and everything fits inside and there is still room for more. I wish mine were brave enough to be like that all the time. Leaving the doors and the windows wide open through the lowest and the highest temperatures.

He lives in India now with his family. A travelers’ family. We’re from the same family, so not even for a moment do I feel we have ever been apart. And I do feel, with all my heart, that there is a strong connection between us and it will stay strong and live through many life changes. I knew it since the first time I saw him – a strong, intelligent and scared eight year old, blinking all the time and hiding his eyes from mine. I knew he’s from my ship. We’re still sailing together.

Thank you, Rareș.


First week of the new year in Sweden. An identity loss/ change adventure


The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

— Jellaludin Rumi,
translation by Coleman Barks

“Gott nytt år!” a tall, thin blond woman in a group in front of a house turns to us smiling as we’re walking down the street after the fireworks, about half an hour after midnight.

“Happy new year!” we’re both answering in English almost at the same time, as the whole group turns looking at us.

“You said they were not so friendly, didn’t you?” my travel companion asks me and we conclude they must be friendlier on account of the large quantities of alcohol on the menu on New Year’s Eve.

We’re walking, the two of us, along the narrow streets of Sollentuna, lined with their beautiful houses surrounded by quiet gardens hiding wild animals and numerous beings of the etheric realm, living peaceful undisturbed lives. This is our first walk together in the new year, hand in hand, quiet or talking in low voices, we’re looking around and inside. Every few steps we stop and kiss. And I can’t help thinking this is a beautiful beginning.

We then head back to the house and spend a couple of hours dancing and laughing with my cousins and our friends and playing foosball before I kidnap him. Later on, after we all wake up, we take our new year walk to the long and narrow golf in Sollentuna to visit the sea. Her majesty is quiet, cold and sunny. My cousin is taking pictures and I get my new year’s portrait and pictures of the two of us. Again, something new. I try not to think about it too much. Though that’s like trying not to breathe too much.

Stockholm is waiting for us after sunset and it does feel like I’m taking my travel companion on a trip through my life – showing him people and places and things that I like. If he likes it, he may stay, I think. If he doesn’t, he’s free to go. And I have nothing to lose, so I shouldn’t become too possessive or scared or controlling. I am just a guest house.

There’s this process of adjustment and disclosure and strings being tied between us as others snap with a sharp noise and a slap over bare skin. We’re reaching out, feeling and thinking, fearing, running away and returning, hiding and then coming out again. A hide and seek game of sore muscles and sweaty foreheads. Old wounds start hurting again and I remember this is what a relationship does to you – it changes you, it takes you out of your comfort zone completely, it molds you, it torments you, it makes you face your worst pain and your deepest fears and your worst flaws. I’ve forgotten… It’s been so long! Oh, and the happiness, too. Happiness is a terrorist planting suicidal bombs in every new lifetime. Plants bomb. Bomb goes off. Terrorist dies. Terrorist goes to the afterlife. Terrorist is reborn. Terrorist plants bomb… (You know the drill by now.)

Uppsala is as beautiful as I remember her and I love visiting Carolina Rediviva library at the university. The reading rooms here are making me feel like I’m taking a walk through a story in an English book and remind me of lives spent in monasteries, studying and writing and dusting manuscripts and feeling like I’m in the middle of a treasure, surrounded by so much knowledge a lifetime feels too little to take it all in. My skin so thin and yellowish like an old book’s pages. My eyes always smiling and my fingertips having orgasm after orgasm touching those hand written and beautifully decorated pages, rare and precious like fine jewelry. Now I’m just a tourist, my heart dancing as we’re quietly walking along these wooden floors, careful not to disturb the students lined at the tables, studying in perfect silence.

The day we go on a bike ride around the lakes in the natural reservation in Sollentuna reminds me of the summer and the ride with my friend, who was in love and so scared his lover might leave him for not being good enough that he was stopping every two minutes to send text messages and make short calls and scream. Am I now experiencing the same fear? I am stronger than this. Or am I actually experiencing the same pain? That of not being loved… Or have I finally met my match? Someone with a strength that doesn’t feel threatened by mine? Is it a shock? I need to let go…

Later on the same day we’re studying each other’s skin under the microscope at the Nobel Museum and I find it fascinating. Looking at those miniature creases, at the huge thick hairs growing like branchless trees in a desert, at bruises and scratches. We’re so vulnerable and pink at such a close look, so temporary, changing all the time… It’s such an illusion to think you ever really know somebody. Not even under the microscope can you truly know. So it’s like you’re with someone new every second, really. Exciting!

His blue eyes are laughing, his dry lips revealing his white teeth, one missing on the right side. Grey hair, weather beaten face, a two day white beard and gnarled hands. In his mid sixties, tall and thin, wearing a red fleece jacket and water proof pants over mountain boots, he’s talking to his friend who’s sitting on his left on the bus taking us to Stockholm central station.

“You know”, I tell him when we get off, “I was looking at those two old men next to us. You know, the ones chattering on the seats by the door…”

“I didn’t notice them”, he answers abruptly and I know that’s not true because I’d felt he was a bit uneasy about the attention I was giving them.

“Really? They were right there, how could you not have noticed them? Anyway, I was wondering… What’s making these people so alive and yet so centered, so calm in their apparent autism? I was admiring the life in them, their joy and ease.” I continue as he gives me no answer. “Is it sport? Is it the cold? Is it this place? Or is it a combination of everything?” I keep going as we’re making our way to the train station through the frozen snow.

The occasional solar plexus explosions are markers of fear and fighting to gain an illusory control over things. When one of us takes out his phone to send another text message, a silent workout of fine muscles takes place and pain takes over and the tension in the jaw bone threatens to smash a couple of teeth before it loosens up again and saliva can hydrate and soothe for a short, blessed time.

Only I can see the lesbian couple walking hand in hand in Gamla Stan as we’re walking from Vasa Museum to the Medieval Museum. Tall and thin and tough, they look like aliens come from outer space – invisible to everyone who hasn’t visited their planet at least once. A feeling of admiration and pride awakens in my heart and I’m feeling happy for their freedom. I clasp the hand of my boy and squeeze it harder and I don’t mention the aliens.

“I dreamed we had a baby. A very small baby boy. I was holding him at my chest. He was so small, I’d just given birth to him…” I confess one morning before even opening my eyes and right away I am met with the best way to start your day. This is new, too. I am careful with the ‘us bubble’, careful to allow it to be permeable, careful to look trough it and not seal it closed. It’s been so many years since I’ve traveled with a partner. Someone who’s not a friend, not a mere room mate, not a relative, not a stranger. The lover of the lover of the road.

On the other hand, my right eye insists on being swollen, itchy and ill every day and it’s frustrating because I don’t get it, no matter how hard I’m thinking. It’s been too long and I don’t get it. And on the last day, just as I wish I could disappear off the face of the earth rather than being betrayed again, my wallet goes missing. Lost or stolen. My ID, credit cards, driving licence, health insurance card, money and a couple of other things I cared about (such as a leaf from a Celtic church, a present from a dear friend) – all gone. The moment I open my purse and can’t find my wallet feels like someone has pulled the carpet from under my feet. I’m suspended, floating above the ground, nowhere. For a second, I believe I’m going to have a panic attack. But I don’t, so I have no idea how it really feels since I’ve never experienced one. I had my chance and I blew it. I’m crying as I make the call to the bank to block my cards and I feel the guy at the call center a little bit confused about how he should react. Professionalism wins in the end. Another first time.

Use me, lie to me, betray me! That’s what I should be saying instead of fearing so much and trying so hard to control what’s going on. On our flight back to Bucharest my travel companion shows me this story in his book about freedom. Someone was kidnapped and sold as slave and he didn’t fight back at all, but used his power in a much smarter way, dominating the others through going along with their plan and actually exercising a form of freedom people rarely know exists and rising on top of the situation. So now my sweet boy has actually managed to remind me that there is absolutely nothing anyone can do to me that hasn’t already been done before. I am convinced fear is useless and I can always rise again, stronger than before.

Still, just as I’m writing these words, my heart reminds me not everything has already been done.

Related post: Leaving on a jet plane. Last time this year.

See the photos from this journey on Instagram.

Confessions in the electricity shop

“You know, I can pay you through a bank transfer if you give me your account number.” I tell my dentist as she’s pulling her instruments out of my mouth so I can talk again. “I don’t have enough cash and I don’t have my cards anymore, but I can do that.” I add.

“No, no, it’s fine, I told you. I was actually thinking I might give you some money for food” she says and that brings tears into my eyes but I quickly swallow them thanking her for her infinite kindness. She’s a good friend, my ‘dangerous Syrian boy’ would say. I’d told her my wallet was stolen/ lost and she insisted I should still come for the appointment.

And when she’s done fixing a tooth on the upper right side (the side with the swollen eye and the upset ear from landing this Saturday and the bike crash before my birthday this autumn), we both get out and she gives me a lift and drops me close to my home. We catch up on each other’s lives on the way and I meet her husband when I get out of the car and knowing that he, too, exists is reassuring and makes me more confident about my resolutions.

I stop at a small electricity shop and I find the door is locked. I look for the schedule on the narrow glass door and, before I find it, the door opens and a beautiful lady in her mid sixties welcomes me in.

“I’m listening. What is it?” she says and I notice her heavy makeup behind her thick glasses and her beautiful mouth and her clear, shiny skin.

“I need two light bulbs. A smaller one and a bigger one” I say hesitantly, realizing I sound like a woman who doesn’t know about electrical stuff. But since I’m talking to another woman, I’m relaxed about it.

“Do you know this neighborhood?” she asks fetching a couple of light bulbs from a shelf behind her and placing them on the counter in front of me, taking them out of their boxes and trying them for me to see that they work.

“Well, a little bit, I suppose. I haven’t lived here very long.”

“How long?”

“About a year and a half I think…”

“Do you get along with them?”

“I don’t know? With who? I don’t really interact with people around here…”

“I can’t take it anymore. I have some problems” she says making me stop and suddenly evaluate my possibilities. “How long can I still go on? What do you think I should do?” she asks staring into my eyes. “These people, they expect me to have sex with the boss of the neighborhood. Would you have sex with someone whose hands look like sausages? Would you be able to? With someone with loose skin, hanging about them like this?” she asks painting the image around her with her hands. “With someone who smells of garlic or who knows what else? With a seventy-five year old? I’m sixty-three. I am clean, I take care of myself, I can’t have sex with anyone like that.” she continues. “Why do you think they torment me like this?”

“I don’t know. I’m sorry.” At this point she’s got all my attention and my heart feels warm and a part of me reaches out to her over the counter, hugging her and wiping the tears running down her powdered, wrinkled cheeks.

“I had a family. They took it from me. I want my son. I want Cristi to come. Why isn’t he coming? You tell me.”

“I’m sorry… I don’t know…”

“I had a husband. My husband had a mistress. He would go and fuck her and then come back home to me and our son. You know, home is a state, an atmosphere. He couldn’t leave us… He came home every time. I see him sitting on a chair in the kitchen, his tears falling on the tiled floor. It’s you that I love, he used to say to me. And I believed him. Still, he kept fucking her. Now he is dead. But our family was destroyed before he died. They ran into it with a bulldozer. Why would anyone do that to someone?” she pauses again for me to answer.

“I don’t know…” and my own tears start blurring my vision as she’s giving me a glimpse into a possible future and I’m emptied of myself like a bath tub of which you suddenly remove the drain stop.

“At least if someone came to me and said: Mrs Doina, I have this against you…. I don’t like this about you… That is why I am tormenting you… But nobody says anything… You have to explain to me! Tell me!” her tears prevent her from continuing here and she takes a short break.

“I am sorry… I don’t know why this is happening to you…”

“And they torment me every day. They say nasty words, they steal my things, they took my boy, they took my family, my life, everything… Tell me why… Would you do that to anyone?”

“I don’t know why… I wouldn’t do that. I hope I’ll never be able to do that to anyone.”

“What can I do? Tell me?”

“Perhaps you should pray. Ask for guidance… Try to find some inner peace…”

“I can’t. I have tried. I can’t do that anymore. It’s too difficult. I can’t even go to church. It’s too much. You know?”

“I know…”

“Is it because I have these eyes?” she asks taking off her glasses to reveal her beautiful big eyes under her heavily made up eye lids. “Is it because I have these lips? Is it? Because I see when men come into the shop, they look at my lips. Perhaps they imagine their organ between my lips, you know… Perhaps that’s what they imagine…”

Her lips are beautiful – so soft and innocent and still so feminine and elegant, nothing vulgar or withered about them. And at this point I imagine kissing them. Just because I feel so much love for this woman right now and I imagine my touch would make her fly a little, help her forget about her life and take off with me in a dream. We could both disappear. I imagine leaning over the counter between us, my lips searching for hers and at the first soft touch, we both take off like two sister rockets and shoot up through the roof of the shop, making all the light bulbs and the cables and the fuses and everything burn in short, strong explosions like fireworks all around us. And we just disappear together. A well deserved break from life.

I’m standing still, back straight, arms straight, chin raised to meet hers, my eyes holding hers. What is it about me that puts me in situations like this? I am the silent dervish again (references here and here). Holding it all together so that the other one can express the pain. I am there for her. I love her with all my heart. I don’t judge, I just listen.

“Why is this happening to me?” she insists. “Why do people do this to other people? Why? What do you think?”

Since she insists, I make my confession, too. Just because for a moment there I think she needs to know she’s not the only one in pain, she’s not the only one asking herself and the others questions about life and the meaning of things. I confess everything.

“Oh, but that’s a totally different thing”, she says without the faintest sign of compassion.

“I should pay for the light bulbs”, I add deciding to get out of there.

“It’s 3 lei. And take care of yourself.” she replies.

“Thank you” I say in the end. “I wish you all the best, a light heart and peace.” and I truly feel blessed with a precious gift as I’m walking out of the shop.

Before getting home to write her story, a poem for a friend and a thank you card marking an end and a beginning, I make another short stop in the market across the road for some cheese. Just as I step out of the cheese shop and head for the exit, I am met by Annie Lennox’s convincing voice coming from a radio in a shop:

How many sorrows
Do you try to hide
In a world of illusion
That’s covering your mind?
I’ll show you something good
Oh I’ll show you something good.
When you open your mind
You’ll discover the sign
That there’s something
You’re longing to find
The miracle of love
Will take away your pain
When the miracle of love
Comes your way again.

I have absolutely no doubt about it.

PS Coming up on the blog: the story of my week in Sweden this winter.