December 2, 2010
I spoke too soon. I should have never made any remarks about the wonders of Polish winter and the lack of snow. It's now official: no more El Santino, no more outdoor activities for at least three months, no more summer dresses mixed with warm blazers, scarfs and heavy boots. Yeti chic is the only trend that matters. I can smell a new ice age right outside my window. I also smell presents, cupcakes and parties. There's no better time to be happy, bright, playful and in love. Spring is almost around the corner.
November 28, 2010
Although I'm overloaded with work and until mid-December I'll barely have time to breathe, whenever I do have a few precious hours for myself I tend to slow down and try not to waste any valuable energy. This means that lately I tried to stick to the basics, like dancing, reading about social change and traditional dances in Cuba, translating and focusing mostly on indoor activities, although it was with heavy heart that I gave El Santino a well deserved break. There's actually surprisingly little snow on the ground and I guess it might still be safe to ride the bike to work.
Lately I've been thinking about seeing a fortune teller, although I don't really have any important questions to ask or major decisions to make. Also, I'm afraid it might mess up my karma, which is something I'd rather avoid, especially since I managed to survive the month of November, famous all over Poland for being the most depressing of them all, without even the slightest mental discomfort.
November 12, 2010
We exchanged earrings in B52 one Sunday morning over Cuba Libre and so began the most outdoor romantic involvement in my life. The setting couldn't have been more appropriate: Bucharest in spring, when the air smells like rain but there's not a cloud in sight, countless parks and gardens and hidden terraces. It was pure bliss while it lasted, but by the end of May it was more than obvious that it couldn't last much longer. It felt as if there were no words left to say, as if we he said them all. We broke up on my birthday and all I remember from that last time we met is my green silk scarf, the awkwardness of the moment, his hand holding mine on the way to the bus stop and the ladybird.
Perhaps the timing wasn't right or we were too young or spring simply isn't the best season for me when it comes to matters of the heart. Then summer came and even though it wasn't a summer to remember, like the incredibly long, hot and eventful summer of 2001, it is safe to assume that it was probably the fastest way to full recovery.
Every once in a while all the stuffed animals, jewelry, vinyl discs, dried flowers, souvenirs collected from flea markets and other trifles, traces of more or less disastruous relationships, end up in a box that spends a few weeks under my bed and eventually vanishes into oblivion. I only keep books, because fiction tends to take a life of its own shortly after it ends up on my shelf, no matter how it ends up there. If it's good, it stays. Luckily, most of the men in my life had very good taste in literature.
The ladybird is the only present I kept over the years. At first because I couldn't let go, later because I kept wondering what it could have been like, under different circumstances, with better timing and lately because it became a much needed reminder of those innocent and amazing years when things only seemed complicated but were in fact simple, honest and unproblematic.
November 8, 2010
It never occurred to me that I might be taking things for granted when it comes to blogging and bloggers. There's a few blogs I came to depend on, much like I depend on my morning coffee.
A few days ago, Nathan Bransford, literary agent and one of my favorite bloggers of all times, announced he was leaving the industry. I read his post late on Sunday, after my intense and illuminating weekend, and I came to realize just how much I was going to miss his advice, his insights, his sense of humor, his tips and tricks. Although the industry in Romania (and Poland, for that matter) has a lot of growing up to do until it can reach a level comparable to the one Nathan used to write about - and by a lot I mean I'm afraid I won't be around to see the miracle happen - it still feels odd knowing that I won't be relying on his teachings anymore, at least not in the way I used to until now.
I can't even remember how many times I quoted him when talking to my friends about the latest developments in our exotic, Eastern-European, self-centered and immature literary world and just how much I wished we had a Nathan of our own - something tells me things would have looked a lot better than they do at this point, the industry would have been healthier and our authors would have stopped being so smug and finally understood it was their readers who count most.
I can only hope he'll stick around, as he promised, posting about books and writing and anything else that might appear on the agenda - I know I'll be happy to follow him and learn a thing or two on the way.
November 7, 2010
This has definitely been on of the most intense weekends in a long time. A little old school, reminding me of the days when I could function with very little or no sleep and lots of activities. I was very happy to discover I could still do that, although I quickly understood it was all very deceiving and that the difference between early twenties and mid twenties lies in the effects of sleepless nights.
But apparently lack of sleep can be illuminating. Or at least it was in this particular case. That and the fact that I have some really smart friends :)
- I finally understood what Bilus meant when speaking about "the path with a heart". I knew I was walking on mine the minute I stopped wondering "what if", when I settled down and looked at all my projects and understood what was worth keeping and what I was ready to let go. The path with a heart is the one that gives you butterflies every morning because you wake up and you know you're going to take a few more steps on that path and it instantly brightens up your day.
- In the academic world, the more Eastern European you are, it is expected of you to research your own culture. Ana made a very good point while we were debating the paper I'm currently researching for my studies: no one will have anything against a research conducted in Latin America by a person coming from Western Europe, but they will find it strange if a Romanian does it, and it's equally true for students coming from other less known countries. The fact that I'm studying gender roles in the history of Latin dance seems to have provoked a mild dissatisfaction at the Uni, simply because Romanian culture appears to be very exotic and, truth be told, little known in Poland, so everybody expected me to be writing about it. It's this type of labeling that bothers the hell out of me because it makes people miss the big picture. In this case, my coordinator saw my nationality first and my fabulous research came second, which means I have to work twice as hard to convince him - and not because my idea was not good enough, but rather because it did not match his expectations, built simply on some information he had about me before we even met.
- Speaking of cultural exchange and peculiarities of different cultures, there's one thing that I could not get used to in Poland, even though I've been systematically exposed to the phenomenon and I was everybody's favorite bartender for a year: what's with the whole excessive drinking thing? Just when I was about to stop asking questions and take things as they are, I had an edifying talk with Karolina (she's Polish, btw) while we were out celebrating the first anniversary of Nowy Wspanialy Swiat, one of Warsaw's hot-spots: it is wrong and not normal to be happy when we meet guys who only drink every so often. This drinking issue should not be the first thing to come to our minds when meeting someone new, but unfortunately it does and it seems to be increasingly difficult to find guys who can handle their liquor.
- Went to see Herta Muller and was really, really disappointed. Mostly because I wasted two hours getting bored and trying to figure out an elegant way to leave the meeting. Monica summed it up perfectly: if the meeting organized in Bucharest was a circus, this felt like a trip to a museum where you're not allowed to touch, take pictures, ask questions but instead you get very dull explanations. It was not the first time I got extremely bored at such a meeting and I don't know if the organizers are to blame or if it's best to just let writers do their thing and not ask them to perform on stage - they're often less remarkable than their books. At some point, I fell asleep for a few seconds and the only reason why I didn't sleep until the end was that I didn't want to damage my hair because I was going dancing. Turns out my partner and I still have lead & follow issues, which is not exactly surprising but it can be very annoying because it made us waste valuable dancing time arguing. Now I'm pretty sure one of us will resort to murder sooner or later.
It's the first time since I moved to Poland that I'm not depressed in November. True, it's only been a week, but something tells me I might be safe this time.
November 4, 2010
Sometimes, dancing can lead to drama in the blink of an eye. Last week's trainings almost led to murder. So today, when I met Karolina to add the final touches to my dress, I began to wonder if the black tulle should serve its initial purpose and be transformed into a flounce that will make underarm turns look even more fabulous than they normally do, or if I should just wear it as a veil and, while still in mourning, start looking for another partner.
Either way, the dress is a thing of beauty and I can't wait for our first dance. This might be the reason why I won't resort to any drastic measures, at least not in the foreseeable future.
October 25, 2010
Things are finally looking normal around here. Everything appears to be in order, no mismatches, no dramas, no bad karma. Even time management doesn't seem to be an issue anymore and that is truly amazing. I actually had time to wander the streets of Praga with one of my friends, looking for the perfect fabric for my first authentic rumba dress. It was easier than we expected, and the fact that K. can do wonders with nothing more but scissors and a sewing machine translates into a fabulous dress that's already on its way, ready to meet my new dance shoes.
I recently figured it took me almost 8 months to recover from this spring's emotional equivalent of the crash of 1929. It dawned on me one sunny, windy morning, while I was walking to work and the air smelled just like it did back in spring, when I spent a few weeks learning to control my tears and trying to bring myself back on track. It did take me a lot of time to be back to my old self and see things clearly, and I also learned there are emotional dramas that I can overcome and others I have to learn to live with. I miss my Gran every single day, with no exception, and this has probably been the toughest experience I ever went through. The wound is still there, still open and something tells me it's going to stay that way. In a way, I don't think I'd want it to close.
Finding my old self and realizing we can still relate could only mean one thing: it's time to get back in the game, which in this case means it's time to go back to school. This was the missing piece in my puzzle: the Uni. And a program so complex and smart, yet relaxed and dynamic, it almost appears to have been tailored especially for me, just like the black satin rumba dress.
I'm looking at a week off and surprisingly I'm planning to spend it in the coziness of my vanilla scented, smoke free apartment (I think I quit smoking, although this seems like a very serious decision and I'm not sure it's irreversible), sleeping late, editing the translation I'm finally done with, spending long hours with Kindle and all the wonderful books I already filled his head with, only leaving the house to go to the library and to dance practice. And Kato, later this week. It's about time I went back.
Of course it's peaceful and serene times like these that give birth to the most outrageous and implausible thoughts which, in my case, instantly turn into plans. I think change might be around the corner, although for the time being it does not involve any new cities, or at least not new homes in new cities, but rather a lot of research. It does, however, involve other serious changes and I just love the way life writes its own scenarios, coming up with twists of events I wouldn't have thought possible.
October 14, 2010
Just when I was about to say October can't possibly get any better, I was surprised to discover it actually can. And all it takes is some really good friends, a film festival, breakfast made by somebody else, red nail polish, salsa nights and extra dance lessons, lattes in the afternoon sun, plane tickets to Lisbon, cute bartenders, summer dresses on sale, exhibition openings and lots of fiction. I think this might be the perfect antidote for Polish autumn depression.
October 5, 2010
Shoes of Prey was born out of desire.
We all know that the spark of shoe-desire takes just a moment to take hold, and then the need to find that perfect shoe is intoxicating.
At last, the search is over. Is there anything more fabulous than designing your own shoes and wearing your creation? I spent way too much time studying leather samples and testing shapes, sizes, decorations and colors. I wouldn't have stopped if it weren't for my to do lists, and for the list prioritizing the to do lists. Still, the perfect shoe is just a few clicks away.
Autumn can't get any better, can it?
October 3, 2010
One year ago, after a hardcore September which left me traumatized for many months, October seemed to open endless new possibilities, as all beginnings do. That was happening only a year after another radical change and I was starting to fear I was developing a pattern. All I wanted was for this October to find me in the middle of something - anything, as long as I was in the middle. And it did. It found me working on a translation I'm rather late with, but that's not unusual, putting together a work-related project I actually like, learning Portuguese and dancing the cha cha. Since moving to Warsaw, I don't think I've been more relaxed, more in control and more energized than I am now. That's the fun part about being in the middle of something and I'm planning to enjoy it as much as I can. I know myself too well and I can bet this will not last forever and there will come a time when everything will seem dull and predictable. Then I'll give everything up for a new beginning and a new city.
Last week, something wonderful happened: everybody seems to have started migrating to Warsaw. Some of my friends moved here (three in one week), some others stopped in for short visits while others are currently getting ready for their trips to Warsaw. This, of course, means very little sleep, a full house, phones ringing 24/7, running around from the airport to the train station and back but most of all a lot of fun. And that's probably the best compensation for last year's somewhat lonely and confusing October.
September 17, 2010
Once again, I'm out of superlatives. Even though I've watched this video over and over again it still gives me goose bumps.
And I can't help but quote Eugene on immigration and the freedom to choose one's place in the world, to explore until you feel you're in the right place. After all, as they say, as we're crossing border after border, we realize the difference is none:
It's a video we always wanted to make, because it completes our story. It's very autobiographical, and tells a story about eight people who are all immigrants, who came to pursue something in new york city. That's our biography. But on the other hand, like it coincides with the idealistic belief that people shall always be free to choose the place of their residence. It's an antidote to the politics around the world that have dictated separation and division of communities. Immigration is a crucial part of this idea of world citizenship. In the past, immigration was mostly for economic reasons, or because of natural disaster or war. But now, more and more often it's an intellectual choice, and an important evolutionary process for the planet. More people are committed to being uniters of communities and cultures, to being people who transcend the understanding of different cultures, people who live by the idea that there is no identity but that of a human being.
September 15, 2010
I'm just dying to know when did children become accepted in hair salons for normal people?
Hair dying is a complex ritual which requires an appropriate setting, good music, coffee, books and light hearted conversations with other women who understand and appreciate the magic that happens behind closed doors in beauty salons. Yesterday, a screaming three year old with bladder control issues almost ruined my perfect evening. Apparently, children are not big fans of having their hair cut and when their mothers insists on doing so all hell breaks loose. The one thing I will never understand is why parents think that hysterical children who piss themselves and become purple from all the screaming are cute. Luckily, my color turned out great although for a minute I was afraid it might be affected by all the drama.
But this is nothing compared to what I'm about to go through if Polish experts are right. Not children related, still equally annoying. It seems like this year we will be faced with the most severe winter in the last millennium. Winter in Poland is a dreadful experience and I'd be happy to find a way to avoid it even under normal circumstances. Now, with a new ice age lurking on the horizon, the only thing I can think of is a long and well deserved holiday in the sun and the sooner the better. This of course will generate a new time management crisis in the first months of 2011 and I'm already looking forward to it.
I'd be really grateful if, for a long time from now on, winter and children were the only things to complain about.
September 8, 2010
Ever since we saw Carrie Bradshaw chasing Mr. Big all over Manhattan in her Manolos, we seem to have decided it was ok to run in our stilettos. Not ok, especially when there's a bike involved and a red traffic light. Now El Santino is bruised - again! - and I'm traumatized by women in high heels. There are few things worse than a woman wearing her shoes as if they were some medieval instrument of torture, but there's an excuse even for that. No excuse for jumping in front of my bike in the middle of the street, tripping and lying there looking dumb and helpless. I'm a huge fan of heels but I'm seriously beginning to think that the world would be a better place if we all knew just how high is high enough.
September 2, 2010
I really did my best.
Seems like my relationships with cities have almost the same pattern as my relationships with people. After a while, the butterflies simply won't come back. But instead of enjoying the coziness and serenity that supposedly come along when the butterflies are gone, I find myself in a strange situation: longing for something I don't have anymore, living with the vague memory of how things used to be, incapable of letting go because I hope those feelings will be back or because I'm afraid I won't find something better and in the meantime seeking fun and challenges elsewhere.
I did my best to rediscover Warsaw and see it from a different perspective. Not working. Tried to remember just how much I missed it and how awful it felt being away, back in those days when all I wanted was to live here. Not working either.
My little experiment did help me discover some new artists, a few pubs and the best coffee in the city, but the magic is gone, no doubt about it. And yet Warsaw still feels like home and something tells me I'd have huge regrets if I left it now, so maybe this time I'll try to make an exception and see what happens after the butterflies are gone.
August 30, 2010
I think today was the first day of autumn. The air smelled like school.
This of course can only mean one thing: it's time to shop for personalized stationery and get back in the game. Looking forward to spending endless hours at the library, writing essays and getting little or no sleep before an exam. The nerd in me hasn't been so happy in a long time.
Let it never be said that my kitchen skills are limited to making coffee and toast. But for my talents to shine it takes a very special setting, super secret ingredients from far away lands, a magic spell and an oven that works miracles in less than three minutes. It is very likely that baking will not become part of my daily routine, but it was fun to experiment it in the Museum of Gingerbread in Torun.
While mixing the ingredients and rolling dough I found out that the essential ingredient for gingerbread is black pepper (?) and also the Polish names for different types of flour, which was definitely the most useless information I've gotten in ages, both from a practical and a linguistic point of view.
While waiting for the gingerbread to bake some of us had to kneel in front of the oven and pray, which was even more disturbing as we were supposed to do it in Polish. Luckily the Master of Gingerbread, under whose guidance we baked the cookies, read our impure thoughts about gingerbread and allowed us to finish our prayer before we even started it.
And finally, the proof that I can bake (and in case anyone has any doubts, my friend Karolina can give a firsthand account of this experience).
Baking gingerbread was just one of the highlights of our trip to Torun. We also found out about the end of art and accidentally participated in a wedding. But the best thing about it was that I finally came to understand some crucial aspects of my falling in and out of love with Warsaw. Soon to be revealed.
August 28, 2010
There are days when I feel very grown-up and responsible. The reasons for feeling this way may vary from wearing a serious outfit to doing a great job with one of my projects to averting a crisis or to being financially independent from my parents for more than 12 months in a row. Some other times, it all comes down to growing basil. This is particularly enjoyable as it has a slight retro hint - I sometimes think I might be able, in the not so distant future, to grow my own food and never have to eat fruit & veggies that taste like plastic.
It takes the average basil about two weeks to die under my careful and loving eye. In the end, I tell myself, it's only a plant I would have probably eaten sooner or later, so why bother? Good thing I don't plan on taking care of a dog, a cat or even a goldfish. Failure would be almost inevitable and too hard to stomach.
August 27, 2010
It was only a few years ago that we were all still in Bucharest, planning and dreaming and hoping to change literature and the world, convinced that the impossible was possible even if we were well aware of just how naive we were. Back in those days our hearts were as open as our agendas and we somehow managed to deal with the lack of sleep and disorganized schedules a lot easier than we do now. Apparently it did wonders for our creativity.
And there was no better feeling than getting our hands on an unpublished manuscript that we got to review for our magazine before everyone else did or to publishing an interview with an author we adored or to finally meeting a deadline - this actually only happened a few times and that's what made it memorable.
I remembered all of these things when reading one of the million articles published these days about Jonathan Franzen's new novel. If you're into this whole Franzen frenzy, you can find the article here. This fragment is a very accurate description of how things used to be. Surely, proportions do not bare comparison but the feeling is the same. It's one of those feelings I haven't had in quite a while and that makes me just a bit nostalgic:
August 23, 2010
August 21, 2010
Over the years I have happily closed some of the chapters in my life and celebrated their transformation into memories. I've kept others open for as long as I could, simply because they were too fabulous to close. And then there are uncertain chapters, the ones I'd like to think were still open, but going back to them feels rather unnatural and odd. Since I can't decide what to do with them, I just leave them as they are, hoping that one day I might go back but knowing for a fact that I won't.
Summer schools fall under this last category. For about eight years, they were the thing to look forward to every summer. New places, new languages, new people, everything on fast forward, a world away from daily routine, with an intensity that left me wanting more every time. All the promises made and never kept - I'll write / call / come visit / never forget you and the easy way out - it's one of the unwritten rules of summer schools, nobody actually believes that promises will be kept, but everybody knows summer is not complete without them.
I got to thinking about this a few days ago, when it dawned on me that my love for Warsaw, before moving here and making it my sort of home, was not so much about the city itself, but about the people. And the people who made everything so perfect, so fresh and fun were not the locals, but the ones I had met during summer schools.
Something tells me the age of academic tourism is over. Once you're out of the circuit, it's tough to get back in and it may even turn out to be a huge disappointment. But that's a risk I'd be willing to take, for the sake of those few weeks filled with the excitement of discoveries and promises never kept.
August 11, 2010
A lot of new arrivals on this blog lately and it seems like this summer everyone is after two things: dancing and books. Isn't that just lovely?
Apparently, everyone in France is searching for the Anonymous author of The Book With No Name and this quest brings some of the readers here. Which is nice, but this is not the best place to look for that information.
Those who are not that much into reading are either planning to get tattoos or take up ballroom dancing or both and so they show up here looking for ballroom dancing tattoos or wondering if tattoos are allowed in ballroom dancing.
Let's take them one at a time and start with the facts, then we'll take a look at fiction.
Ballroom dancing and tattoos. Yes, they can go hand in hand, although it's probably not a great idea. There's no rule against tattoos in ballroom dancing however if you do decide to get a tattoo and still compete it would be best to go for something small, preferably in a place that's not exposed. After all, you should remember that ballroom dancing started as a form of social dancing for the privileged (now think of those who used to have tattoos back when ballroom dancing became increasingly popular and you'll know why they're not exactly compatible). True, the term has changed its meaning and now refers to International Standard and International Latin style dances but that does not mean everything has become acceptable overnight. If, however, you're just dancing for fun (and dancing is a lot of fun, not to mention it can teach you a thing or two about compromising, teamwork and trust) then there's really no argument against tattoos. I'm very much enjoying mine and I think they're even more beautiful while I'm dancing. Here you can read more about what's allowed and what's not allowed in competitive dancing.
Moving on to The Bourbon Kid and his Anonymous author, the answer is simple and it's right there in front of you, as long as you learn to read between the lines and stop listening to what everybody says/writes about him. All it takes is a little effort and a little imagination. But before anything else you should respect the fictional pact you make with the author the minute you open the books (my advice is to try to add your own amendments to it, see if it works).
August 10, 2010
It appears some people in Poland simply can't let go. So there was a tragedy. And the way people gathered in April in front of the Presidential Palace to pay respects to their late president and the victims of the Smolensk plane crash was amazing. They proved, once again, that they can be united and solemn and avoid transforming history's sinister ironies into a cheap show for the whole world to watch.
Until about a week ago, when it was finally decided to remove the memorial cross that stands in front of the Presidential Palace. Hundreds of people have been protesting ever since, blocking the cross, defending it, tying themselves to it and insisting it be kept on state ground rather than on church ground - at least until a permanent monument is built at the site.
While in April it was perfectly fine to take a detour to get to work and I had all the sympathy in the world for the people standing outside the palace and for their grief, now I find it annoying as hell and I totally agree with my Polish friends who think this whole circus is really embarrassing and it's not doing anybody any good.
Luckily, most of the people in this country are still sane. Others even find the whole incident funny and make their point loud and clear:
Coming soon in front of the Presidential Palace
photo: Tomek Oginski
August 5, 2010
Turns out being 26 is as confusing and annoying as being 16. Ten years ago, I used to think that my problems were bigger than anybody else's because they were mine and the world just didn't seem to understand this or to care. As the years passed I gained some sense of proportions and while I'm still selfish and think my problems are as real as can be even when they're not, I'm at least trying not to make such a big deal out of it. But this still doesn't change the fact that I'm clueless and have no idea what the next step should be.
The good news, however, is that if this is a cycle then all I have to do is wait one more year and things will be clear, I'll have a plan, a map, a new destination and some brand new adventures on the horizon.
In the meantime I am pleased to discover that dancing is a more efficient therapy than lying on a couch and whining about my fictional problems. And even if it fails to put me back on track, at least when that moment comes, I'll be more than happy to practise my steps on the new found path.
August 1, 2010
Two weeks into my "local tourist in Warsaw" project, things are going quite well although I still seem to grab with both hands any opportunity to get out of the city. Well, maybe not any opportunity, just those that sound really, really good, like a weekend spent partly at the beach, partly at the theater, seeing Shakespeare get the Polski treatment in three cities and more than 20 venues down by the sea. My friend M. was coordinating a project for the Romanian Cultural Institute, as part of the Shakespeare International Festival, and since it wasn't the first time I made some volunteer work promoting Ro culture, I thought my efforts would be compensated with lazy mornings at the beach, performances, Margaritas and late night parties. This was my first error of judgement: having met, along the years, some amazing artists from Romania, I almost forgot not everyone back home is cool and entertaining. There's one thing I can't come to terms with: people who are arrogant and full of themselves without having the goods to back this up with. I also dislike boring people, but that's something I learned to tolerate at least to an extent. But when boring meets arrogant meets stupid, I find it rather difficult to be nice and smile and pretend I'm amazed at the simulation of talent and creativity. And the saddest part is that one such encounter can shade off all the other great experiences, reminding me of the things that really annoyed me back in Ro. So my weekend was not as relaxing as I dreamed it would be, and the icing on my cupcake were a very smug director and a perpetual malcontent douchebag scenographer, a black chicken that made an appearance at the beginning of the play (I still don't get the connection between Shakespeare's Tempest and the chicken, but I'm sure they were on to something), a performance that relied on the talent of 3 actors out of a dozen and way too many hours spent backstage.
In the end, the wheel turned on the last day, after a splendid interview with the director of the Shakespeare Festival, a man so amazing and charming and wise who in the end made me understand something that's commonsensical, but appeared to have slipped my mind for a short while: I'm not at all absurd when expecting some people (and by some I mean those in culture & the arts) to be smart, well-educated and to have a spark. It is entirely possible, and it can even justify arrogance and self sufficiency.
July 20, 2010
It is my firm belief that it is impossible to "act like a local" while on vacation in a foreign city. Sure, maps and guides and booklets spice up their recommendations with tips and tricks for those who wish to take a closer look and enjoy "an authentic experience", but you are not a local until you become one. And that doesn't happen overnight and it's most of the times less pleasant than it might seem.
But is the opposite possible? After almost a year in Warsaw, could I still act like a tourist and not like the expat that I am? Would I still find it charming and spectacular, like I did during my first summer spent here? Can I reinvent the city that feels more "at home" than any other home I've ever had?
Two years ago, Warsaw would have been the best scenario for summer. Is it too late now? There's only one way to find out. Since I have to be here, I might as well pretend I'm on vacation and start planning accordingly.
July 19, 2010
So I'm back. And as if I didn't have enough problems already, I just realized I have major time management issues. This is not something new in itself, but such a conclusion can turn out to be catastrophic when associated with temperatures over 35 degrees for three days in a row. Apparently, heat can be very depressing.
Because of last year's traumatic experience - I spent my summer working - I decided to award myself this year and so I kept vacationing without thinking about the consequences of my deeds (this isn't something new either). I don't regret any of my vacations and I still think they were this year's highlights, what I do regret is not having tried to negotiate better terms when I signed a contract and decided to get a full time job. I should have made it clear that 21 days were simply not enough for all the traveling I was planning to do, for all the concerts I wanted to see and for all the lazy mornings I desperately need in order to charge my batteries.
And here I am, back to a scenario so similar to last year's it makes me dizzy. Officially, I am only entitled to 7 more days of vacation until the end of the year. And the plan was to run off to the seaside for a week in August, to take another trip to Lisbon in autumn and then, as to avoid becoming depressed in November, to see how Istanbul was doing as a European Capital of Culture and check out the Gogol Bordello concert in Munich.
I'm pretty sure I'm looking at a long and not spectacular summer (unless I manage to pull myself together and do some serious writing, but I'm not the slightest bit serious in summer) and that I'll have to settle for less in autumn. And, most likely, I'll be so starved for a vacation in January that I'll make the same mistake all over again.
July 1, 2010
On the road avec les parents. Should be interesting, it's been ages since we spent a vacation together.
The timing is perfect, because mid-July all hell breaks loose, September already looks awful with three major projects for work, university deadlines and a translation I can't seem to finish. But I can worry about that later and in the meantime enjoy my favorite pastime: packing.
June 25, 2010
Exactly one month ago one of my travel fantasies was finally coming true and, like most fantasies, it was even better in reality. In my fantasy, Lisbon would be fabulous. In reality, it was love at first sight. Not the irrational, life-changing love story I had with Warsaw but rather the kind of intense summer fling which you assume will be over come fall. And then, by the end of summer, you realize you've been blown to pieces and it's the only thing on your mind. I can only hope there is not a limited amount of love when it comes to cities, otherwise I think I might have spent mine on Warsaw and Lisbon.
The city is relaxed and joyful like a perpetual vacation, cheerful without being annoying and user-friendly without being too organized, filled with small, family-owned restaurants and bars where after half an hour you feel like home, cakes are decadent and fruit tastes like real fruit, the shops are still open after midnight and so are some of the art galleries, men are incredibly cute and incredibly friendly, a world of adventures opens here and an amazing sailing history is there to prove it, yet there's a sweet sadness to it, a kind of resignation from something I couldn't really grasp, much like a woman who's aged gracefully but lost her beauty, walking barefoot in the narrow streets of Bairro Alto and singing her heartbreaking fado.
I've had a thing for Portuguese writers a long time before having a thing for Lisbon or for the language. And so this trip was the perfect opportunity to have lunch with one of my favorite characters in the history of literature. Needless to say, all of his heteronyms were there.
On my way back from the Fernando Pessoa Memorial House, I was pleasantly surprised to discover this in a station of the metro:
And a few days later, at the train station in Porto:
But the most amazing thing happened one lazy afternoon near the monument celebrating Henry the Navigator, Vasco da Gama, Pedro Alvares Cabral and other navigators who played an essential role in Portuguese maritime discoveries.
In a city filled with the presence of some of the men I admire most, in the place where adventures and discoveries started, I realized just how much I missed home, and just how at home I felt in Warsaw. It was the first time ever that I was in a new city which I happened to be fascinated with and still had the feeling there was something missing. I also believe it was the first time I missed home, a feeling so new and strange it was almost shocking. I've always missed people, I've missed places, too, but I've never missed home. I think I've become faithful without even noticing it. Acknowledging this change is one thing, dealing with it is something I'm not ready for, at least not until I've sailed my very own, fictional seven seas.
June 22, 2010
On the way back from London I got to thinking about relationships. Mainly because a lot of things have changed lately, but also because I've come to terms with the thought that sometimes it's a good idea to let go. And then I found a quote that's rather embarrassing and tacky, yet highly appropriate, so I have to mention it:
There comes a point in your life when you realize who matters, who never did, who won't anymore and who always will. So don't worry about people from your past, there's a reason why they didn't make it to your future. I'm not convinced I could tell, at this point, who won't matter anymore or who always will, this is all very relative. But the sad truth is that no matter how much I cared about some people, they seem to not fit in the picture anymore. And even though I'll always think of them fondly, I realized I don't have the energy to lie to myself that common memories, no matter how wonderful, are enough. On the other hand, there's always the excitement of discovering new people or rediscovering some of the old ones and that has got to be one of the best things I've ever experienced.
Back to my short and intense London trip, here's a few highlights:
- a non-touristic tour of a very touristic part of London with one of my new friends, replacing pictures and maps with coffee and chats about books, couch surfing, movie scripts and horse races
- cherry flavored beer at Tate Modern and a great discovery, Juliao Sarmento, an artist so amazing I'm actually planning a trip to Portugal in autumn to see his exhibition. Tate was twice the fun because I was there with one of my best friends ever, who I suspect knows everything about modern & contemporary art. Needless to say, it felt like taking a private tour spiced up with inside jokes and harmless gossip
- Thames Clippers at dawn
- living in Shepherd's Bush, just like the characters of the first novel I translated
- Hello Kitty temporary tattoos
- meeting one of my older friends, who has always been an inspiration to me due to his energy and unbelievably positive outlook upon life and who has always encouraged me to carry on with my plans, no matter how silly or implausible, because they're great
- overdosing on Reese's Pieces, thus ending the gummy bears episode, hopefully for good
June 18, 2010
I was about to finally write the story of my perfect Portuguese vacation, although it feels like it's been ages, not three weeks, since I was happily discovering Lisbon, when I noticed something very disturbing.
I'm meeting Big Brother for the weekend in London and as usual everything was planned a long time ago in the tiniest detail. I did, however, mix some details up (this happens a lot lately, I wonder if it's age related) and so half an hour ago it dawned on me I booked my flight to London from Poznan and not from Warsaw (my return ticket is from London to Warsaw). Which means I'm already out of time and I still have about one million things to take care of at the office, a train to catch and hopefully make it to the airport.
Which makes me wonder: am I tired and in desperate need for a vacation or the fact that I've been taking small vacations / long weekends lately has made me so relaxed that I can't even keep track of my own agenda?
June 9, 2010
I was too late to tell my Gran all those things that were left unsaid. I didn't even make it in time to say goodbye. But later that evening, she found the perfect way to say it, a sunset so amazing, so beautiful and calm it made all words unnecessary. As always, she knew how to be there for me, warm and loving and wonderful, and I can only hope she knew I wished I could have been there for her.
June 2, 2010
My fabulous trip to Lisbon started in Milan, not exactly my favorite city in Europe, but a perfect location for a Gogol Bordello concert, as it turned out later on. Having seen Gogol perform in Bucharest and in Warsaw and being madly in love with them, I thought I was prepared for another night spent in the front rows. But I had no idea what was coming to me.
Italians are insane, no doubt about it. It took them about 15 seconds to get in the mood for punk rock parranda and after the first two songs half of the audience was shirtless and I was shoeless. And the one thing you don't want to try is barefoot pogo. Turns out I should have taken other things into account when putting my outfit together. Sure, it was colorful and gypsy and looked great, but next time I'm so not wearing slingbacks. If I ever decide to see Gogol in Italy, which is highly possible, I think I might have to wear military boots. Luckily, I was rescued just in time by a very nice Italian and recovered my shoe as well, and the whole thing could have been quite sweet if it hadn't been hilarious and idiotic before anything else. The fact that Eugene was screaming something about revolutions and his dick didn't help either, but once I reached a safer spot the night went on without any noticeable incidents.
Another thing I love about their concerts is that you're never alone, even if you are alone, that's why I'm not even slightly worried about not having someone with me to join the fun. Once again, Italians proved to be more friendly than the average, loud and joyful and inexhaustible, sharing drinks, joints, chocolate and chewing gum with anybody who happened to be around.
And as I can't seem to get enough of Gogol Bordello, I'm planning to see them in the UK and in Germany, not just for their wonderful and energizing music, but also because I'm really curious about their audience, wondering if it can get any better than in Italy.
In the morning, tired and bruised and happy as can be, I was on my way to Lisbon, where an epiphany was waiting round the corner.
May 30, 2010
Because I very much enjoyed being 25, I decided not to turn 26 this year, but instead to celebrate my 25th birthday once again. It seems like this decision has been very confusing for my friends, and with very few exceptions most of them forgot about my B-day or simply ignored it (I still don't know what's worse). That kinda hurt, although I didn't think I'd make such a big deal out of this, but apparently I did, especially as I didn't expect it from the people I love.
Since I'm such a fan of traveling, I figured the best way to spend my special day was to stay on the road and on the run. So after a night train from Lisbon to Porto, I flew to London and from there to Poznan and with the very last drops of energy I dragged my tired ass on a train to Warsaw. By the end of the day, it felt a bit odd to enter the house without a boarding pass and / or ticket. Now the one thing I really hate when I'm tired and cranky (and when I'm tired I'm always cranky) is the sound of babies crying, and I had my fair share of that on both of today's flights, to last me until I turn 26, or 27, or 25 again, next year.
When I landed in Poznan I was hungry and grumpier than I usually am, and the vegetarian sandwich I bought turned out to be anything but vegetarian. The slice of ham which I didn't observe (I don't usually study my food, once I'm assured it contains no meat) tasted foul and it made me sick in an instant, then again it wasn't the first time I threw up on my way from London to Warsaw, so I guess it's becoming a personal tradition, although the reasons could not have been any different from one trip to another.
And then there was the phone call from my Mom. Who did not forget about my birthday, but she had other things to tell me, as well. This morning, they took my Gran to the hospital. All of a sudden, everything else faded. All I wanted was to be home, hold her hand and tell her how much I loved her and how badly I needed her to stay around. Over the years, we've had such a powerful bond, and I'm sure she knows all this, but I just want to be there and make sure I tell her. I'm sad in a way I haven't been sad for a very long time, I'm neither depressed nor heartbroken nor disappointed, it's pure sadness and it's very difficult to bear. I knew once I decided to leave Romania and settle in Poland, at least for the time being, that such situations might occur. But thinking about it is one thing, actually experiencing the whole thing is a whole different story. I'm going home. I'm not even considering the possibility that it might be too late.
And thus ended, in the worst possible way, the best vacation I've had in ages. I'll be back with stories about it once I sort the pics and clear my mind.
May 25, 2010
Just when I was about to settle for less and deal with the fact that I'll be attending my first TR with a particularly ugly wheelbarrow, things took an interesting turn. It was a day to remember and I'm already looking forward to next year's edition.
10 a.m. - way too early for anything, especially when instructions are not quite clear. Magda and I did our best to fit together the parts of my brand new wheelbarrow, but our best was not good enough:
11 a.m. - after several failed attempts we have to call Przemek and ask for help. On the way to the tent, Pan Janek takes a detour and drives us closer to the first meeting point:
11.15 a.m. - with a little help from my friends, my wheelbarrow is finally assembled:
11.30 a.m. - two hours before the big meeting, I'm working on my masterpiece. Even though it was very last minute, my ladybird was quite successful:
1.30 p.m. - first wheelbarrows show up. Magda's tiny wheelbarrow will prove to be very useful later on, and so will the retro fire siren:
2 p.m. - and they keep coming...
3 p.m. - and we're still waiting :)
4 p.m. - next stop, El Popo. A much needed break, turns out pushing a wheelbarrow around is serious business
5.30 p.m. - Kompresor, one last stop before our final destination. And yes, Sznurek had a high-tech wheelbarrow which actually did play music
7 p.m. - the parking lot outside the tent, our last stop.