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.

One more time with feeling. A journey through Brighton and my own heart

I must confess I wasn’t actually looking forward to watching the documentary about Nick Cave’s latest album. I hadn’t even listened to the album, to be perfectly honest. I knew it was much about the pain of losing his fifteen year old son last year. I knew he’d fallen off a cliff in Brighton. Didn’t know it was LSD. In November, right after I’d been in Brighton after my birthday.

Got on the train from London and I’m feeling so excited taking in the damp landscape as the train is cutting through fields and small towns in a more quiet and rural England. I can’t wait to get to the sea. A Romanian couple are talking loudly a few seats away and I’m feeling so self-sufficient in my quiet bubble, reading, writing and taking pictures.

In Brighton a friend is waiting for me. I met him in Bucharest in a pub one night a few years ago. We had a friend in common and later found out we were born in the same area – the Jiu Valley, Hunedoara, each from his small mining town. I met him once there, on a winter holiday. We went up on some hills together and licked a sweet, clear liquid off some naked tree branches.

He meets me at the Brighton station and then takes me on a walk along narrow streets lined with pubs and shops and I get my green leather bound diary from an antique book shop and my Rumi poetry book from this big fancy book shop. I can still remember the moment I found it and my fingertips touching it for the first time. Such great desire for this book. A lover seeking a lover. A few months later my friend writes telling me he’s found a nice, old, copy of Rumi’s and wants me to have it. I tell him I’ll wait for it till we meet again, so he can give it to me in person.

We make confessions and have a pleasant time as he’s taking me to the sea. Even before I step on the pebble beach and feel her smell, like a woman’s smell when she hasn’t showered for a day, my eyes are flooded and I look away for fear I might look stupid. But the sight of the sea does that to me every time. I suppose I should live next to her for a while to find my cure. Or just let her make me cry like this every time. As if I were meeting an old lover I could never fall out of love with.

“I have a surprise for you”, he tells me and walks me to  what I recognize to be the Royal Pavilion, where a friend of his from the gay community lets us in before the huge crowd queuing at the entrance. You know, everybody knows everybody in the gay community. (Or rather everybody has known everybody. At least once.) Therefore, it’s like a big family, people help each other. So we have this wonderful, quiet and private tour and I am impressed and grateful. Her majesty feels she’s getting what she deserves.

visiting the royal pavilion in brighton

“Do you know Nick Cave lives here?” I ask my friend, but I can’t remember his answer a year later. I’m thinking about Nick Cave as we’re having lunch in this Thai restaurant and then a beer in a queer pub and can’t help admiring the view. I wonder if I could actually recognize him if I saw him in the street. I’m thinking probably not.

Having left my friend in Brighton, after one more pint in a pub on the corner opposite the station, I am smiling alone in my blue seat on the last train back to London. “I love you”, I text my gay friend, but the text won’t go through and I’m left looking at the reflection of the luminous phone screen in the black wagon window. My body would like to lie down in the arms of someone loving and just let go. Still, I must be alert and awake and make my way back to my kindergarten friend’s house in London.

As I’m walking on my own to the cinema in Bucharest tonight,  I pass by this loud tipsy couple speaking English. She’s way younger than him and Romanian, while he seems to be an American. Both are tall and lean and their movements seem a little bit disorganized and careless, zigzagging across the sidewalk and dodging various obstacles.

“Yeah, you know, because nobody’s perfect. Not even me”, she says and speeds up a few steps in front of him.

“Really? You’re not perfect?” he asks sounding genuinely surprised.

And I smile and walk on, checking out the Christmas lights on their first night. I was supposed to meet someone tonight and it got postponed. A long awaited encounter. So my stomach is still not very tense and I still don’t feel like I have anything to lose. It’s just a projection at this point. I’m a silent passenger walking among these people, under these lights, along these streets, in this cold. Nobody’s partner. Perhaps somebody’s dream. Still not met. I am anonymous. I can very well disappear. Only I feel so balanced and confident. There’s nothing that can shake me right now, as I am walking to the cinema.

“Most of us don’t wanna change, really. I mean why should we? What we do want is sort of modifications of the original model. We keep being ourselves, just hopefully better versions of ourselves. But what happens when an event occurs that is so catastrophic that we just change? We change from the known person to the unknown person. So that when you look at yourself in the mirror you recognize the person that you were, but the person inside the skin is a different person.” Kick Cave begins in his serious voice, perhaps a bit coarser and fainter than I used to know it. He’s sitting at the piano and the camera is moving around him and the strong contrast, black and white image infused with high pitched violin sounds quickly hypnotizes me and I lose track of who I was when I came to this place.

“Ah, Brighton! I was there. Right there. Brighton peer. Last year in November, after my birthday.” I lean and whisper in my friend’s ear and she looks surprised when she turns smiling to me.

brighton peer at night

And that sensation of being torn and shred to pieces comes back. Or the memory of it, rather. You know, when you feel you’ve freed yourself to the point of becoming nothing more than a piece of rag being blown by the wind and drifting aimlessly, unable to grab hold of anything stable.

“Somebody’s gotta sing the pain.” Nick says and I finally get it. Somebody’s gotta be here to represent the pain, the darkness, the hardship. Someone’s gotta validate these experiences and honor this part of life so that the darker side can have a voice and therefore can make room for us to perceive the lighter side, too and make the difference between the two. In a world of duality, light cannot exist without darkness. Nor can pleasure without pain. Or happiness without unhappiness. So we need these special representatives that offer creative media for the dark side to come to the surface and feel justice is being done. The same way we need representatives for the bright side. And ways to express both. I just think the darker positions sometimes are harder to fill in. At the same time, I also feel there’s a great danger it might actually be quite on the contrary.

“I shall never love again.” my friend in Istanbul confesses to me after his girlfriend left him. Again.

“Yes, you will, habibi. This is what you told me the day I first met you. And that was when I knew I would love you. You will love again. And it will be wonderful.” I tell him without any shadow of a doubt. “Do you wanna know how I know that? It’s because I have been there. Broken to pieces. Trembling and suffocating, crying and shouting with pain and crawling like a worm. And I will never stop loving. No matter what happens to me. My heart will always stay open. Always. Because it’s wonderful.”

“We decided we would be happy as a form of protest. We decided to be happy and our happiness would be an act of revenge, of defiance. And we would be kind. To ourselves and to the other people.” Nick Cave explains towards the end of his documentary.

And I remember that so did I. So why am I so afraid then? I need to keep reminding myself of the simple things, things I’ve been certain about and that fear makes me forget. My stomach seems to insist on coming down with gastritis. Simply because it finds it so romantic. I am not afraid of travelling alone to remote and hostile places. What if I run? I’m so good at running! I can just disappear. Before things get out of hand. Before I lose myself, before I become too vulnerable. Having nothing leaves nothing to lose. And all the possible freedom. I don’t actually need anyone, do I? No one to complete me. I am whole. Shams confirmed. Yet, I remember my decision. And I’ve decided to be happy. And to be kind. To the others and to myself. Not as a form of protest. But as a way of living. Inshallah.