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.

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.