I was happy

It was the summer of 2016 and I was house, cat and fish sitting for my cousins’ friend in Sollentuna, on the outskirts of Stockholm, in her yellow house. I’d got a divorce the year before, after a 9 year marriage (but the relationship was actually longer – 16 years).

I was working as a teacher in a Steiner Waldorf school in Bucharest and I was on holiday. I had three weeks on my own in the yellow house, close to a nature reserve on one side and to a vik (long and narrow bay) on the other side, half an hour from Stockholm central.

I loved meeting deer and rabbits on my walks. The highway was close by and I was imagining the traffic noise was coming from a waterfall as I was doing my evening workout on the wooden deck or coming back from an incursion in Gamla Stan (the old town) or just my daily run in the neighboring streets.

I was happy. Alone. Beautiful. Free.

On the way to the train station there was a shopping area. And one day I discovered this small family-run shop, doing tailoring work and also selling clothes. I went in for the conversation. Because they were not Swedish and so I was sure they would appreciate the conversation at least as much as I was going to.

They were both in their late forties, a bit pale. The man had dark circles around his eyes, a stiff jaw and deep wrinkles between his eyebrows.  

The woman was hiding behind a sewing machine, her head covered in a light blue hijab, working on a black sparkling dress.

“Where are you from?” I asked after hearing them speak Arabic.

She quietly lifted her head, gave me a quick glance and then she briefly looked at the man. He turned to me, took a deep breath and pointed his chin up replying:


I’d never witnessed so much dignity in such a short reply.

“Oh, really, how beautiful. I have a very good Syrian friend, I met him in Istanbul.”

And we continue our small talk as I decide to buy a powdered pink dress.

“Shukran” I tell them after I pay and their eyes light up.

Five years later, I close down my business, pack everything, say goodbye to my friends and, together with my two young kids, my husband and our two cats, we move to the yellow house. From La Hulpe, Belgium. We arrive on April 1.

That morning we left our most beautiful house and lovely garden with vegetables, flowers and singing birds. The garden where I buried my 16 year old cat and Nathaniel’s placenta. Just 800 meters from a more than 220 hectares domain with a castle, half an hour from Brussels central. I would be hiding in bed, crying into a pillow, but I have the kids to think of.

The highway noise is bruising my ears and bringing my eyebrows closer together. The wind is mercilessly whipping my cheeks. The posh neighborhood we live in turns out to be in between these two ghettos, with gangs shooting and setting cars on fire, so the police helicopter often flies over our house at night. The neighbors are always playing loud music outside on every God-given sunny day.

I gather my strength and go visit the Syrian shop. I imagine them opening the door for me, I imagine reminding them I was there five years before, I imagine we are all smiling and I buy some clothes for the kids.

I have my whole family with me, I am wearing the pink powdered dress, hopping with joy in anticipation of a pleasant conversation as I approach the place.

The first thing that strikes me is the dirt – thick dust and pieces of packaging. Fragments of colorful Arabic words still stuck on the upper part of the windows, locked door. It’s dark inside. And a cold, heavy lump finds home in my throat.

No parachute

Having left Harmony street, I now live in Gardners’ street. So I grow stuff. Looking back now, it does feel like I have started a whole new life altogether, not merely changed the one I used to have. It has not been exactly a walk in the park. But it’s been totally worth it. Two years ago I finally put into practice a decision that changed everything. I feel so grateful for the power that was lent to me so that I could go through with all of it. A leap of faith, a jump into the unknown, no guarantees, nothing and no one to cling to except faith. Faith like a thread of light pulling me forward to a future that was only dreamed of. Knowing it is possible to make your dreams come true is the only thing we actually need to rely on the moment we make that scary jump. The rest is details. And balls.

Getting ready to leave Harmony Street

“Look how beautiful this is! A clear road ahead, we’re walking, the sun in shining, the air is fresh… No one pushing, nothing like the crowded morning underground ride…” I hesitantly say as we’re walking to the city center this morning.

Four more weeks before I move house. It’s hard. I live in my favorite area in Bucharest, where I’ve wanted to live ever since I first discovered these quiet narrow streets, lined with old houses, some run down, others still retaining some of their former glory in sumptuous ornaments and elegant architecture. Most of them date back to the period between the two world wars or even earlier, before the first world war. They belong to times when rich people were stiff, elegant, conservative and stylish, but also generally well educated.

I moved here at a time in my life when I was going through great changes. I had moved out of my own apartment, where I’d lived for nine years and in which I not only invested finances, but also hopes and dreams and ideas and feelings and a great part of my heart. “The bed I’m going to get pregnant into” was left behind along with painted radiator masks, chairs and so on. I have to admit I went through a gradual process of letting go that started long before I actually left the place. I cried for every object. I admit. I cried for the wooden floor in the living room as if it were a dear old friend I was leaving.

But when I left, there were no more tears for objects. I never looked back. Never felt sorry for anything anymore. Cut the cords and moved on. From time to time I would go to the fridge to pick up something I’d left in my other fridge, but that didn’t take long, either, and made me giggle eventually.

Before I found the house in Harmony street I made a list with everything I wanted from the new place I was moving into. This place met every strict requirement. I knew immediately it was going to be my new home and that I was going to love it. And that it would only be temporary. Though my initial ‘plan’ has absolutely nothing to do with what’s happening in my life now, it still prevented me from forming too close attachments to the new place.

Nevertheless, now, that I’m preparing to leave again, I’m trying to enjoy every detail, every second spent here, every walk to work and back home again, every bike ride along these beautiful streets. I’m making mental lists of things that will remind me of this place: how happy I was here, how free, so much travelling I’ve done, the open terrace, the run down attic, the cracks in the walls, the dancing during earthquakes, the trembling floor when the washing machine is on, the comfortable bed, the decorations, the marble steps, the sound of the wind blowing last autumn, the piles of virgin snow covering the tiny front yard one winter morning as I struggled to pushed the door open to go to work, the crazy guy downstairs paying me a surprise visit around lunchtime on a Sunday, the parties, the skype conversations, the nighttime jogging last summer and poetry while jogging, hooker spotting and so many other big and small details that will keep this place and this period in my heart for a long while.

I am moving on now. It’s a leap of faith, just like every important move in life. No guarantees. There were no guarantees when I moved here, either. And yet I felt that the happiest period in my life so far was starting. I was right. Sometimes I feel confident, other times I am so afraid. I keep telling myself it’s an adventure. It will take me somewhere. I don’t know where yet. But I know I’m not stuck, I am moving. This time last year I was looking forward to my second trip to Istanbul and talking to my Syrian boyfriend every night on Skype. Now it’s like I have died in the meantime and was born into a new life already. I still have some memories from the previous one, but it’s a totally different story now. I have no regrets. I have moved past the threshold. More about my new life as it unfolds.

My city, my body

“Look, mom, the lady is going on holiday!” a little girl exclaims when she sees me riding my overloaded bike, moving the last pieces of my luggage to my new life.

Last year, as I was moving house, I decided I would live my life as a traveler. I mean every day, even when I am in the city I live in, all caught up in my daily routine. More often than not, I forget about my decision and spend too many of my days wanting to be somewhere else, waiting for the next trip, the next adventure and forgetting to be curious about where I am now, to be an explorer, a discoverer of beauty and of stories.

Yesterday was a rainy day, but I put my camera in my backpack along with the stuff I usually take with me to school and I took it out on my walk back home. As I was shooting photos (not yet on manual mode, unfortunately), I started thinking that we tend to treat our town the way we treat our bodies.

Let me explain. We’ve lived with our own body for a while now. We were born with it. The time of wonder, exploration, discovery and awe has passed for many of us. We have got used to it. We know its secrets, we know its flaws and we know its best parts. We have seen it all, pretty much. So we just carry it around, we are no longer curious about it, it’s become purely functional.

We do the same with our city. We know everything we need to know about it. We know what we like, what we don’t like, we know the shortest route to work, that restaurant where we used to go on anniversaries, the park where we broke that heart, the street where we lost our earrings, the shop where we bought those great shoes, the pub where we took control of the playlist and danced like we owned the place, that cozy bookshop. We know how the streets are flooded when it rains, the traffic jams, the sound of leaves cracking under our feet, the unbearable heat in the summer and everything else there is to know. It just cannot surprise us anymore. So we switch over to auto pilot, we mind our own thoughts, we make plans, remember things, chant mantras and what not as we’re walking down these familiar streets.

On the other hand, when we are in a new place, all senses awaken. Just like when we are exploring another body. The auto pilot is suddenly switched off and we become alive and curious and involved. We look, we search, we taste, we feel, we take risks, ask for directions, talk to the locals, learn words in the new language etc. That’s how I want to live in my own town. I want to feel alive in it. Offer it my attention, my respect and my love. And do the same for my body. Especially since I do not have permanent residency in either.

Take a walk with me around Harmony Street: