Saturday, July 23, 2005

A Day’s Trip

"Hotel rooms are like relationships: intimate and powerful. The good ones nurture, making you feel relaxed and happy. The bad ones get under your skin and fill you with impotent rage." (Jennifer Cox- "Around the World in 80 Dates").

Recently, we decided, J and I, to take a one night – two day trip to Washington. It was mainly for an appointment I had with the Romanian Embassy, but we decided to spice it up a bit. We took off after work one day, on a Tuesday, drove to somewhere in Northern Virginia, and the following day we drove the rest of the day, to DC. For such trips, we never make reservations: we always find coupon travel brochures and find cheap hotels to stay in for a night. This time, the hotel was cheap indeed, and, as J reminded me, you get what you pay for. A Days Inn hotel that advertised a $38.99 rate in the brochure, turned out at the door to have a $47.99 smoking only rate going on. What could we do? Drive off somewhere else? It was close to midnight and we were both tired. The room appeared to have been flooded at some point, as the ceiling, the window treatments and the carpets were generously decorated with giant stains of water. Dried now. The smell of wet carpet was still persistent and so was the smell of smoke; a used ashtray was nicely placed on one of the beds, right next to a pillow. The next morning, we found that there was running water, but only through the tap, not through the showerhead ; the shower knob was broken, and could not channel the water through the shower pipe. That brought back memories from the communist days when we had to “take baths” in the sink, by splashing water at our bodies, since the water did not have enough pressure to make it through the tub’s piping system. After a breakfast of stale bagels and warm juice, we headed to Washington. After the appointment with the Embassy, we drove to the National Museum of the American Indian, a newly build Smithsonian institution, less than a year old.
Built in undulating shapes, just like nature, (no wall or staircase has straight lines), a 4 story giant, the museum makes you feel smaller than an ant and gives you a sense of “there is something bigger than life” out here. From the inside of the main hallway, it feels like you’re in a teepee, but one that is built around all the Indian nations from all over the land. We visited the exhibits, learnt about the different nations, took tons of pictures of artifacts (like ornate skulls, jackets made of fish scales and whale guts lining) and ate Native food: buffalo burger, Indian taco on fried bread, wild rice, a red snapper in coconut stew (delicious!!!) and the sweetest cornbread I have ever been given to taste in my entire life! Now, having lived in the South for the past 7 years, that is a really amazing compliment right there!
I marveled at the similarities these cultures have with other religions and cultures of the world, especially since they’ve always seemed so remote, as a culture, from the rest of the world. Here are some examples of such similarities: on one of the walls, I found this quote, near a picture of a turtle ( in Hindu traditions, the turtle is seen as either the Creator of the world, or as the support of the Earth itself): “The Creator is truth. The Sun is true. No one in this universe could ever change the sun. Truth is represented by those things that never change” – and what does our Christian tradition tell us: “I (Jesus, Son and God says) am the Truth, the Life and the Way”; a symbolic “eye of the storm” had a half black and half red background, which, in some Eastern cultures are true opposites (like black and white in others). Again, I pondered upon our similarities and things we all have in common: no matter how different we may look, we’re looking at the same world, and see it with similar hearts, understanding it with similar brains. Nothing is ever random, someone once said: we’re all connected, and related, and we are all part of the same big continuum. Nothing ever ends, it just evolves into stages and goes further (as the Natives also believe)…The peace I find in the unity and harmony of it all has a special silence, and an “awe-some” feeling of belonging. The visit was a moment in time: a moment when you feel that there is something stronger and bigger than us, something that governs all creatures of all places; and a moment when we too could bow our heads in respect of a culture so close to us, in more ways than one and so rich.
Shower working or not, room rate overpriced or not, we found out what's more important in a trip: it's the hidden treasures such as these finds that keep us going back on the roads, and not the promise of a Ritzy hotel. After all, 60 years from now, looking back, the museum findings will still be there, in our minds and hearts, the Days Inn will fade away as just another cheap hotel we spent one unfortunate night in.
We headed back home, and after fighting the now notorious Washington traffic, we got home late that night, richer and happier. At least I did.

Over the Rainbow - a concert

“Long as I remember The rain been coming down.
Clouds of myst'ry pouring Confusion on the ground.
Good men through the ages, Trying to find the sun;
And I wonder, Still I wonder, Who'll stop the rain.”

It’s always a surreal feeling for me, to pause and look upon the journey of my life so far: from home, in Romania, to living in the States for more than 7 years now. Going to live concerts of people I only heard and read about in the dark days of communism, people that I never would have dreamed I’d be in the same hemisphere with, much less under the same roof is cause for such a strange contemplation!
I remember how, growing up, dad used to tell us about the “good” music, the oldies he listened to as a teen: Creedence, and The Doors, and Janis, and Hendrix, The Beatles, and The Stones, and encourage us to listen to it, and understand it. Back in those days, it was close to impossible to come by such an album, without being considered a “dangerous element” to the prosperity of our socialism. It was a life of hiding behind closed blinds and speaking in a whisper, and that’s how my sister and I got our first introduction into the Western culture.
Last night, pausing to look at my journey, from the communist days to the freedom I enjoy today filled my heart with joy and my eyes with tears: it’s truly an amazing world, and you can truly live amazingly if you really tried. The boundaries of countries and cultures are just as real as you decide to make them. And I have my dad to thank for always encouraging me to go past the boundaries imposed by the outside world, for making me seek love and beauty in the farthest of places.
Last night, singing and dancing the music I’ve loved for years, out in the free air, and along with thousands of other people was a celebration of life and of our family’s dreams. Listening to Fogerty 15-17 years go, in the dark and under the covers, with the volume turned down and listening to him now, out in the open, while singing along, was finally like finding the pot of gold at the end of that rainbow: the journey was so worth while.
When I first saw Fogerty come out on the stage and I heard the first notes, my eyes filled with tears as my heart sank: I missed my dad so much; this far away, I felt him near, I heard his voice once again “listen to his (John’s) voice, honey; they called him the man with the metal larynx, for his unique sound; he’s truly amazing”. And John Fogerty was truly amazing, as dad always said! I missed him so much, that very second. I wanted him to be there and share that moment with me, and I wanted to see him playing his air guitar one more time, this time out in the open, and free, and under the same roof as one of his idols. Last night was for you, dad. With love and tears, from me and John Fogerty. I love you, and thanks for the journey and for always being there. Happy Birthday, too!

The concert was fantastic! The torrential downpour did nothing to spoil it. Have you noticed how many "rain" songs John Fogerty has, too?! Quite ironic, I found. Another hour and a half worthwhile journey to see the man, and not only to see him, but to listen to him and enjoy the bond.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Living with Terror

The recent bombings in London made me once again question my own future: will I one day cease traveling because of all these horrible events? Will I allow terror to make me hide away in the mountains somewhere, nowhere to be found, nowhere to be reached?! I have doubted that for almost 4 years now. I was visiting my family, in Romania when the September 11 happened, and although my heart stopped with the heart of the world at the sight of the terrorist attacks I never wavered: giving up traveling would mean acknowledging "they" won! Giving way to fear would be "they" are stronger, "they" reached their goal: "they" made us afraid. And fear is death. The communists taught us that: fear is death. Spiritual, emotional death. As long as there are planes in the world that fly places, and roads that lead places, I will be in the planes and on the roads: we must go on, and live our lives and if the lives we live involve travel, then that's what we need to be doing. Terror, unfortunately, will be one circumstance, once reality we need to face when we're there in the world: just like bad weather, earthquakes and lack of money, sometimes. Just another hindrance, but by no means a stop. It's an unfortunate reality of the era we live in, and nothing more. Had we been born in the Middle Ages, we had to live with cholera around us, and so on...
We pause, we pray, we think, we feel the pain of the innocent gone, and we move on, towards our destiny. I am a firm believer in fate: if that's the way it's written we would go, than, that's the way we're going, one day, when our time has come, even if we bury ourselves alive in our own basement to hide away from the world.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Family Trips

I have been dating J for 3 and a half years now. We're perfectly happy with the "arrangement" we have going on (although the time apart can be hard to handle at times): we don’t live together: I have a condo and 3 cats, and he has a 2 story-house with a huge back yard and a beagle who loves to think that the 3 cats are snacks more so than playmates. So, we've been trying to "get the pets to like each other" as J likes to say, but in the meantime, we've been happily lingering in this sweet independent state of dating for a while now.
I must say, after a failed first marriage I am in no rush to marry again, and I believe weddings at the age of 60 are quite romantic! So, no rush there...
Once in a while we take weekend trips to his parents' house, who live in a 5600 sq feet mansion (to me, who is used to living in a 980 sq feet of space) on a beautiful lake. We swim, and throw the dogs in the lake, and grill out, and chat and catch up and chat some more. J and I love to travel, so, we sometimes “cheat” when we have no cash to take a trip but feel the urge to get away: we "go to the padres" as J says. They're nice, down-to-earth people, everybody's dream of in-laws! So, this weekend, with a +60% chance of rain showers, we took the plunge and "went to the padres" once more this month (our last trip there was only 2 weeks ago).
As any traveler will tell you, there is no trip without adventure: we got there on Friday night, and they had no power, courtesy to a minivan flipped over in a ditch that knocked down 2 power poles; we ate in the dark on the patio (how romantic, right?!), and chatted till 11 PM, waiting for the power to be turned on, in the dark living room, in candlelight. We finally gave up hope when we called Duke Power and they informed us that the power will not come on before 3 am that night. We all went to bed weary of waiting, and with our tails between our legs, moping muzzles to the ground, and we tried to go to sleep. Impossible though, since their entire house is wired with security systems and fire alarms, and they were all beeping to let us know that well, they had no power!!! After several hours of pretending we're having a good night sleep (the beeping was the kind they probably use in communist prisons for mental torture and brainwashing!), we finally got power at 3 AM, as promised.
The next day, we were hoping for blue skies to play in the lake with the 2 dogs and tan, and drive the boat around, and just relax: but the blue skies were hard to find: cloudy, gray skies and thunder was all we got. J’s dog, the beagle, and the parents’ dog, a golden lab-golden retriever mix, enjoyed the lake, the lazy laying around, the “people snacks” they got once in a while, and the more mature ones enjoyed the quiet time, the family talk and the rum a twisters and beers. At night, for dinner, we went for pizza to a Brooklyn-original pizzeria (easier and easier to find in the South!!) – and that concluded a perfectly quiet and happy family weekend – so the parents thought!
We had told them we’re going to stay just one night (Friday): but after a whole a night of non-sleep, waiting for the beep to stop, a day of swimming, waiting for the sun to show up, handling 2 temperamental dogs and 2 full-of-Brooklyn-pizza bellies, J and I decided we’re way too tired to drive back (about an hour and 15 minutes to our town): so we stuck around one more night, and left on Sunday morning.
It was a great trip: relaxation was great; we’re darker (it didn’t rain, but the clouds still tanned us, miraculously), heavier from all the grilling and pizza, happier, since we bonded with our parents, and re-charged our “wisdom”- batteries, and the beagle is happy he got away and saw his “cousin” and swam in the lake! “Mama bear” – as I call J’s mom- attended us hand and foot, as usual, and we had free lodging, and free food, AND we got away for the entire weekend: NO ONE can ever ask for more, right?! Thank God for families!
All went well, except for the eternal “A (= that’s me!), why won’t you wanna have kids” – talk, with which I am gracefully treated, on every single encounter with the mama bear! But that is a whole different topic all together… one which will hopefully make the subject of another day’s dairy altogether.

Thursday, July 14, 2005


Why a blog?
Because this should be a good motivation for me to write and share. I have been writing for years, but with no sharing. Hopefully, one day, I'll connect. And also: because we are social creatures and it's getting tougher and tougher to communicate with someone who is outside of work and outside of our every day petty routine (the grocery store cashier and the mailman, maybe). And because interesting things happen all the time, and maybe you're there in California, and cannot see the interesting things that are happening here, on the East Coast, and I'd be happy to tell you about the ones here, on the East Coast, in case, JUST in case, you're wondering. And because I think I have a story, but I am not sure, and there is only one way to find out: if I get it down on "paper". And also, a blog, because I love to talk, and tell stories. Read on, and we'll find out together why life is the way it is, and not different. Hopefully. And because life in general, actually, and every day in particular are a journey: we don't have to travel 5000 miles to find that out. The journey is happening now, and we're doing it. If you ever thought you hate travelling, think again: you've been fooled!