Bus ride across Bucharest

After the morning subway ride, having appreciated how my contact improvisation skills helped me get on the packed train through body surfing and gliding, it’s around 1.30 pm and I am now riding the bus:

the sun shining in puddles and on top of dirty snow piles
three middle aged gypsy women dancing in front of a block of flats, in their long, large skirts
a car crash
three angry drivers swearing and spitting words in each other’s faces from just a few centimeters’ distance
traffic police dancing at a crossroads, rushing everyone on their own way in life
unzipped coats flapping around hibernating bodies like worn out wings

A very loud phone conversation:

“Say, doc, what’s up? … Oh… Aha… Ok… His name? Wait! Wait a little! … Iulian Feather! Iulian Feather! Feather! … Yes! Ok, Violin, bye!”

A dialogue:

“I’m sorry, please excuse me…”
“You know, we are all relatives actually. It’s just that we are too embarrassed to talk to one another. So we’d rather keep our eyes stuck on the screens of our phones.”

I am thinking about a dream I had the night before, walking through a quiet village in plain spring and stopping next to the fence of a luxurious garden to feel the smell of a lemon tree and get the title of a book I’m supposed to write.

Winter serenade

I’m sitting at my table, browsing the Internet and waiting for him to call and tell me he’s downstairs. My stomach and my thighs feel tense and my lips are pursed and my jaw stiff. I can see myself from the outside but I still cannot relax. I am so afraid of a tragedy I think it would take a miracle to avoid it, with my strong attraction force.

What if he changes his mind? This is his first time too and he is clearly uncomfortable and weird about he whole thing. What if my first Valentine’s date ever doesn’t even happen…

Then I hear something at the window and I think some snow must have fallen off the roof down on the terrace below. And then I hear it again, a little stronger. And again, much stronger. I start thinking the radiator might be slowly and almost quietly exploding, piece by piece. So I reluctantly get up and, before I get next to the window, I have this whole film in my head about hot water splashing everywhere and pieces of radiator metal stuck in my flesh and my first Valentine’s Day date ever fucked. (Perfect word choice, I know.)

I get to the window, grab the curtain and pull it away from the radiator to check it out. I am looking down and, from the corner of my eye, I see movement downstairs, in front of the terrace. I look up and see him waving at me.

I start laughing. I know now his phone is dead and realize he’s been throwing snow at my window. Nobody’s ever thrown snow at my window to call me out. I like that. The dead phone is the best gift. I am giggling as I am going down the stairs and I know it’s gonna be the best Valentine’s date ever. (Especially since I have none other to compare it to and it is actually happening.)

Valentine’s Day caught between fear and love

I’ve never celebrated Valentine’s Day and have been terrified by it for years. The strongest memory I have of it is since I was fifteen and my first love cheated on me.

Ten years older than me and a lieutenant, he was living in another town. He came to see me the day before Valentine’s and the next day I had to go to an English contest in the county capital. So he said he was going into the mountains to ski because he was training for an international competition.

“I’ll be back tonight!” he told me that morning in the bus stop and kissed me before I got on the couch and we went our separate ways. Forever.

I waited and waited and waited. We had no phones back then and no computers. There was no way of getting in touch. It was Saturday. On Monday I asked my neighbors on the ground floor to allow me to use their landline to call his mother, thinking he might be dead or something. I was in love head over heels, we were planning to have kids when I grew up and he said he loved me, so not showing up that night meant he was either dead or unconscious in the forest or in the hospital.

“He left, darling. Yesterday.” his mother said.

I was surprised to see I could get out of my neighbors’ apartment and back to my room. I knew for sure I was not dead because everything hurt. No explanation. No idea. No way to get in touch except letters. I decided to wait. Actually, I don’t remember if it was so much a decision I made or just the only thing I could do since I was unable to do anything else, really.

A few days later he called my neighbors’ phone number. I hated the weight of the receiver pressing against my ear, resting in the sweaty palm of my hand, smearing grease and dust and filth on my skin. I later had to rub everything off with a sponge. Still, the ghost of it was hard to banish. It stuck to me like a leech. Made me rub my ear and palm so much they became red and hot. My right side was burning.

“Something happened…” he said in the same voice I had loved with all my heart. “I met someone”, the lips that had kissed every inch of my teenage body continued. “I am sorry. I never wanted to hurt you…”

I cannot reply. My neck is broken in his fist. No air can go through. No words can come out. Kneeling next to the bedside cabinet where the phone is, the fifteen year old who had only lost her virginity to this man two or three weeks before, is dead. Never again would she get up and walk out of that living room in her neighbors’ ground floor apartment. The ghost that does get up and leave is trembling all over and cannot breathe. She keeps staring at her sweaty hands shaking uncontrollably.

In the meantime, I miraculously managed to get over all that. Well, countless hours of regressions, homeopathy and energy work helped a lot. We even met a few years ago, me and him, and made peace and then continued on our separate ways. And here I am, twenty years later. I hated this time of year for twenty long years and was always expecting something to go terribly wrong.

This year I decided I want it. I want Valentine’s Day. This morning I woke up in the arms of the man that I love. He’s far from being flawless. We have that in common. But I made the decision to believe again. For years I have been criticizing Valentine’s Day for being such a superficial and commercial holiday. Well, life itself is commercial. The media educates us into believing we need so much stuff. Ultimately, Valentine’s Day, just like any other day of our lives, is what each of us decides to make of it. I have decided to step out of the drama and the sarcasm and the superiority complex. I have decided to celebrate it and celebrate joy and life. Am I afraid? Terrified… Does that stop me? Not a chance!

Letting England shake us

“It’s supposed to be blue. Blue air…. And it’s white air…” I hear a kid at my back saying, as we’re flying up through the fluffy cloud blanket, leaving the thick London fog below, before getting into the blinding sun burning the sky above the clouds.

It was my fourth time in England and it feels so much like home that I don’t even feel like I was very far away… Although it is extremely different from Romania, it does remind me of my home town and the weather there during my childhood, before the effects of global warming became impossible to ignore and we could still joke about the weather, me an my mom, saying “Last year we had summer on a Thursday.” Now all that has changed and it’s much warmer and drier. But England still has that damp air and the fog and the perpetual spring scent that I miss. And I love it for that.

“She was donated to us”, an elderly curator starts telling us the story about the huge elephant skull on the right of the staircase in the Peterborough museum. “She had her own coach on the train when she came to us from London. They got bored with her there. Sometime after the war…” And we have a pleasant chat before he politely rushes us out of the place so he can close the museum. And right before we leave, I miraculously find a green stone (peacock ore) in the museum shop, just like the one I dreamed I was buying the night before, together with a small, hand carved wooden broom for erasing debts.

The next day, I find London as I remembered her: a wrinkled chic old lady wearing high heeled sandals in winter, no tights, a thick layer of lipstick in military red shade and colorful clothes in an outrageous mix of patterns and prints over nude silk underwear. All topped with a stiff Victorian collar. She’s still got it in her. I’ve never managed to fall out of love with her. Never even tried, to be perfectly honest.

“Now I understand what you tried to say to me, how you suffered for your sanity, how you tried to set them free. But they would not listen, they did not know how, perhaps they’ll listen now… For they could not love you, but still your love was true, and when no hope was left inside on that starry, starry night, you took your life as lovers often do. But I could’ve told you, Vincent, this world was never made for one as beautiful as you.” I hear my own voice singing in my friend’s ear at the National Gallery, before Van Gogh’s paintings. And I love my voice. I sounds so full and soft and brave, as if I could actually sing. Amsterdam is waiting.

Spent two days in London, going places and having beers in pubs, getting all permeated with the London atmosphere like a green, soft moss under heavy rain. I absorbed everything like a sponge. I still have the same feeling it gave me the first time I visited: no matter who you are or what you are like, you find your place here, there’s something for you, too. The city feels like a huge salad with everything – all colors and textures and tastes, enough for everyone. And the morning being woken up by the chirping of the birds in the park across the street from our artist friends’ basement apartment in Islington, where we spent the night on a mattress in their living room… priceless!

The third day was King’s Lynn day. A small medieval town about an hour and a half bus ride from Peterborough. The center is packed with hair salons (literally, three or four in every street) and shops and the greatest attraction was a beautiful antique shop kept by some friendly old ladies wearing thick knitted jumpers and vests to insulate their fragile bodies from the penetrating cold that conserved their impressive collection of antiques, all polished and well kept.

“What is there to do here?”
“Hmm… I don’t know… Have kids, I guess… I mean what else can one do here?”
“Yes. You’re right. We should move here and have kids.”
“And a new haircut every week.”

We make the plan and then head back to Peterborough and the next day it’s York. We loved York. So neat and red and English to the bone (well, to the timber beams holding all the red bricks in place). We climb up to the highest tower in the York Minster (where we have tickets that are valid for a whole year, so we really should go back and visit it again) and take pictures and laugh a lot through the nausea caused by the narrow spiral climb. Later on, after a boring visit at the Museum of York, we get a beautiful game of story cubes from a lovely shop called Traveling Man and then play at a pub with a fireplace, igniting our imagination and when the beers kick in we laugh and create funny collaborative stories, following new rules every round. We continue the same game the entire train ride back to Peterborough, making the beautiful young Asian student sitting next to us get up and find another seat where she can learn in silence, away from the ridiculous thirty something Romanians playing their weird game.

And that was our last night in England on this journey, so the next day we are back to the airport and back on the plane. This time, for the first time ever, I spend almost the entire flight sleeping. I remember not being able to understand people who slept during short flights. For me the view out the window is so spectacular I couldn’t understand how anyone could sleep through such a marvelous display of beauty. Now, flying so often and sleeping so little, I can understand. So, having my eyes flooded by the white air that funny kid at my back noticed, I let them close and rest my head on my travel companion’s shoulder. And there’s this precious moment, right before falling asleep, when I feel my mind skidding like a car wheel on a patch of ice unexpectedly encountered on a dry road, when everything feels perfect.

See pictures from this journey on Instagram.

You should come with me to the end of the world

“Is there any chance you might come to Cambodia with me one day?”

“Cambodia?!” I ask, turning on my mental gps and trying to locate it on the map. Is it in Africa? I wonder, but I quickly cover up my confusion with a smile and decide the best answer to a question you don’t know the answer to is another question: “Why would I want to go to Cambodia?”

“Because it’s beautiful…” he replies squeezing my arm.

We’re walking together in Cismigiu, the oldest park in Bucharest. He’s my oldest friend. 84.

A long conversation follows as I’m trying to figure out why he wants to take me to the end of the world, since I can’t afford to pay for almost anything on such a long and faraway journey.

“I tell you, if I were fifty years younger, you’d be having a very hard time trying to get rid of me. But I’m not, so I can just be your friend”, he says laughing, trying to assure me of the terms of our relationship and help me relax into the proposal. But I still find it difficult.

“You like travelling, don’t you? So why then can’t you accept that life is giving you a present?” he finally asks the question that manages to convince me to say yes.

“Really?” he asks. “You are coming?” Now he’s the one who’s surprised. It’s the first time he’s met someone who’s as crazy as he is, it seems.

This is who I am. Once I know it’s something I want, I jump in head first and I go all the way. There’s no half measure with me. And I am brave enough to go to the end of the world with someone I’ve known for a very short while. I am thirsty for life. I have been so since I decided to live, after having been so close to death in early childhood.

It’s been one year since my journey to Cambodia. And it was one of the most exciting experiences of my life. It has changed me. Now, a year later, I’m going on another journey. This time with a partner. Not a friend. Not just a lover, either. Someone I’ve decided to give a chance to. It’s hard, I’m not gonna lie. Every day I am a battle ground for these two inner forces – the one saying I should leave and travel on my own and the other one, the softer one, that wants love and companionship and dreams of domestic bliss, both on and off the road. I try to love them both. Last year this is what I asked for, keeling in all the temples I visited: “Send me my partner. Send me my travel companion. And I will serve You forever.” This is what I got.

PS More about the current journey and the one in Cambodia soon on the blog.

PPS The title of this blog post is a line from a song by Aphrodite’s Child that I like – End of the world.