Thursday, September 25, 2008


I remember when being an American was a cool thing. Not long ago, in fact, it was a thing to be desired, and lied for, and proud to snatch! I remember when immigrating to America was the highest of dreams one can achieve .

But is it anymore??!!

People close all sorts of doors to Americans all over the world - more so than they open them in fact. Americans are scorned upon in Europe and in the Middle East. In Asia and Canada. In Latin America, too ... I guess Americans have gotten used to that kind of scorn. Hatred is better than ignorance, right?! At least everyone minds them. Until now!
Until recently, they still had the economic power to not worry too much about a couple of oh just so random little feelings some of the rest of the world out there held towards them.
Until now, I say ...

Nowadays, not many people go to Europe for vacations. For a while now, the middle class (all ranks), and not only them, has not been able to afford it... What's even sadder now: Canada is even more expensive than here, as well! Canada is too overpriced for America now!!! No trips to Canada?! Our "poor sister"?? Depressing...

No matter what their fist-cliched-over-heart patriotism will try to tell you, Americans do not hold their heads up high out there in the world anymore. They still have big patriotic hearts, and big mouths, here, but they cannot do that abroad. And they know it. If they still do, stubbornly, they look ridiculous and they should know it! Americans - humble?! That's a dimension I am still waiting to see ...

It's also depressing to see my Eastern European parents begging me to come back home, because, "honey, let's face it: it's better here! More safe!". I didn't think I'd live the day when the job market would look better in Romania than here!

When I was growing up, during Communism, America was the Heaven on Earth where people had everything they wanted, without rationing, and without standing in lines! Everything was plenty and available around the clock. All you had to do was get a job!

Not anymore... I went to WalMart tonight, and not only were the lines for gas unbelievable, but they had police forces to regulate the traffic in and out of the parking lot. They were also out of two of of three kinds of gas! And the gallon is not all that cheap, there, either, at $3.75 - but much cheaper than my neighborhood, where it's $3.98! Other parts of town display prices over $4.00 even.

America was supposed to have plenty of gas, and we were supposed to use our cars whenever we wanted, to go wherever we wanted, and to always fill up the tank, every time we pull up for gas! Not just get "just enough to make it". Not anymore. Not when there are stations that ration how much you can buy, or even ones that are closed down. Americans have to become mindful of spending, just like the rest of the world, anymore, it seems.

The Land of Plenty has all of a sudden become The Land of Plenty to Worry About!

Also during Communism, Romania's dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu, was asked by the starving and freezing people, one winter, to give them more heat in their apartments (heat was centralized by the State, just like everything else). Ceausescu's answer was: "Put on another sweater! And if you have two on already, put a coat on! You'll be warm!".

My dad used to tell me then that I needed to move to America, where heat is plenty and affordable and I'll never be cold again!
Given the past few nights of chilly weather, I am trying really hard not to turn on the heat!! I am not sure I'll go through the winter if I start the heat in September, money-wise!! I am worried about losing my job every day, and I am not sure how I am going to pay my bills if that happens. I am trying to save and not splurge right about now. So, I'll give turning on the heat another thought, and in the meantime, I'll put on another sweater, and another blanket on, too, at night! Natural gas, too, as we all know, is so high as well!

When I was growing up, with the dreams of the Promised Land, I tell you: I have never thought it would look like this.
All around us, we see people saving, afraid for their jobs, laid off, companies shut down, people losing homes. Every morning, another huge corporation goes bust ... I know I am not saying anything new to anyone.

The only point I was trying to make here was that, on a personal level, this hurts! This is a chipped dream, and I don't do well with disappointments. I cannot look my parents in the eye and admit that I have failed in my choices! It's not the natural path of an (over)achiever!

I guess it is true what they say about big empires: they have their rise, and they have their fall. I hope this is just a temporary hiccup for this empire, though. I hope history has taught many lessons and illuminated minds can fix this. It's definitely, I think, important enough to make a spot in the history books.

Sure, America still has her freedom, which will lure millions still, decade after decade. But increased want for basic needs (and I don't even want to go anywhere near healthcare talks here - I'd need a book), total disregard of the Government for those needs , while fighting wars for sport and just to prove an empty principle instead, will make being an American being more and more un-cool!

I am not going back to Romania, but let me tell you: Canada has sounded sweeter and sweeter every time I have looked at it lately.

"Leave us our broken dreams
We'll give them time to mend" ... or break even worse.
How sad?!
I guess they call it "Depression" for a reason.
This ain't fun!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Stopping for a Moment

"A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone".
(D. Thoreau)

I close the door in the morning. I am careful to lock it twice behind me. Thieves, you know ...

I put the laptop bag carefully in the crate in my trunk, so it won't get smashed, in case of a sudden brake.

I peel the potatoes the only way I learned how: with a knife, not a peeler. Careful not to cut my finger. I add water and boil them... When they are boiled, I am careful to turn off the burner first, and then pick the pot up, drain them ever so carefully so as not to burn my forearms with the hot steam ... But turn the burner off first - so as not to forget and then set the house on fire ...

I turn off computers and servers ... all day long, for a job ... Careful not to crash them ... "Gracefully" - I think- they call it ...'File-Exit-Shut down...'.

And yet, they make band aids for burns and cut fingers. And they give warranties for broken laptops ... and there is always insurance for burnt houses ... and also broken servers.

And yet, I am careless with words I say to people. And statements I make. And there is not one damn thing, insurance, band aid, or other kind of security that can mend a broken heart, a broken bond ... a tearing eye ... from hurtfulness ...

And yet, when it comes to "holding on to the truth" and "stating an opinion" just to "make a point" ... I seem to be fierce ... And I think most of us do. Once I realize the milk has been spilled, I hate myself - which in itself is not healthy .. but it's too late...

The damage, and the unfixable kind, too, has been done ... And only my prayer in people's goodness and ability to forgive (which may or may not be present) is left ... And relying on others to fix what you've done yourself - is that the way to go?!

Why do we do that?!

Why are we more careful with the amount of water we water our yard with rather than the amount of self righteousness we judge our friends, and family, and next door neighbors with?! Since when and how did things become more important than humans?!

When and how are we ever going to learn that there are no fixes for all the burnt bridges and bruised hearts?!?

What can teach us? Other than just stopping and thinking about it ?! And learning to be mindful ... ?! Learning to be mindful, just so we can be less alone ... ?!

Is it fear? Is it pride that pushes us to judge and state our "truths"? Is it control? Or fear of losing it?! Is it ... power? Over what? Or hunger for it?!

I wish I had answers ...

For now, I just have this passage from a book, that made me wonder about all this, and also made me stop, and think, and ask for an apology: it was due time:

" ... 'pride' is really another word for fear. Marlon Brando delivers this truth magnificently in Apocalypse Now when ... he tells his executioner: 'It is our judgement that defeats us'. We become our own executioners when we sit in judgement of our efforts. Only when we act without judgement we can truly flourish in our lives. " (Meditations from the Mat - Gates & Kenison)

On the same sort of note, I find in the same book a quote from Almost Famous: "The only true currency in this bankrupt world is the truth" ...

But we must all realize that other than the absolute truth of the earth and the sky being real, and the rivers flowing to the sea, the human truth, the one linked to the ever changing human body, spirit, and mind is ever so relative. And ever so changing. We must non - attach ourselves from at least that thought: that we could be, at any point, an absolute judge of the human truth...

As my mom has always said: "if it's human, darling, it's imperfect". But ... none the less beautiful, I'd add ... and I'll try to remember it next time... If I am ever so lucky, to have a "next time"...

I am sorry for all the bleeding hearts ... I wish I could nullify the daggers I sent into the world.
I just pray for soul band aids, generosity and forgiveness ...

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Belonging ... - An Identity Blog?!

Let me just begin by saying that I love being where I am from. And I would not trade it for the world! I think the complexity and absolute puzzlement of my personality which I love comes from where I am from, and I will never deny my home country, nor ever forget my roots. My roots are the one true, solid thread that I hold dear and gets me through hardships, every day! I would be literally dead without them!

But even so … this came to be written …

I have tried to write this piece for years, probably for as long as I have lived. And there are no words to describe this experience… Sure, you’ve “heard” me talk about my trips, my friends, my family, my cats, and my peeves in traffic and at WalMart … You know I can write about almost anything out there.

But this one’s tough! This one’s on my tough list. Along with the day when I decided my mom was cooler than dad (what a life change!) and the day I knew I was surely heading for a divorce … It’s a tough one …

But I’ll attempt just the tip of the iceberg here – because I know it’ll take several lifetimes to get to the bottom of it!

It’s about never feeling like I really belong to “Romanians” at all … It is strange to say that the culture you grew up into, the only one you experienced and knew until you were 23 … has never felt like home to you. To admit it is one thing. To explain it – is a whole different matter altogether and entirely …

I am not sure I felt “at home” in any culture. Mom was sad when at 16 I started speaking in my sleep … in English. I was in Romania then, with no sure plan of moving to an English speaking country … but somehow my subconscious decided to speak English instead of Romanian …

I guess that was the first time when I realized, “wait up, world! I don’t feel Romanian”?! Who knows … I was definitely escaping something. Or my innermost self was, for sure.

Nowadays, removed from my home culture for over 10 years, I do not seek it. I don’t miss it. And when I am exposed to it, I cringe! The cheap and fake familiarity, the macho-ism, the continual “I am better than you”-isms drain me … I have nothing to show off for them. Actually: I would not show off! Not give “them” the satisfaction!

I never speak of what I have made, and what I have accomplished, and that’s all my ‘Romanian friends’ want to know: how much money, what kind of car, how long I have been here and how much I have gained, why the American last name. One compatriot even said once: “Oh, you’re that kind that slept around for a visa”. I didn’t deny it. All I said was: “What?! You’re jealous?!”. This kind of cheap familiarity is just not my taste. This kind of "the guy gets away with murder and the woman is killed or worse: shamed" is so far from mu cup of soup!

I don’t miss the pettiness. I don’t miss the small world victim show: “Oh, Americans have all the McDonald’s but we have all the history” – makes me puke! Yeah, and what did you do with all the history- I wanna ask?! You moved to America! “History” alone will not keep you fed, and clad, and free, and happy, will it, now?!

They snarl at the American culture. They bite the hand that’s feeding them, and I cannot stop that low.

I don’t miss the fake melancholy: “Oh, when we were back home, the sausages tasted like real meat, and the wine was sweet, not like these prefab ones. Yuck”. Oh, yeah, I want to say: so, move the hell back!

It’s like you’re shipwrecked on this deserted island and the people on that ship speak the same language as you, and you know them all – so there is a certain familiarity there - but at the same time you can’t trust them: because they want your peril, so they can survive! So, the sameness instead of bonding becomes a weapon you can use against them, to survive. And it all becomes … painful, petty, painful … and just troublesome in night, when you’re alone with your thoughts.

I don’t miss the fake patriotism, either: they bring tricolored balloons (red-yellow-blue) to Romanian gatherings, or flowers, or even the flag. I can’t relate to it. That is a country that has hurt me (and all of us) so! A country whose lack of political wisdom, corruption, breaking all the laws and violating all human rights forced all of us to move far, far away and live with no family, and no real bonds. Amongst strangers. Why crave it? Why wish for it? Why cherish it here?!? Why re-live it?! Just to be martyrs? Or victims? That’s so lame. Shallow. Lame and boring.

I bring with me the Romanian things my family gave me; the personal things I want not to share with anyone but my family: the foods, the Saints’ feasts, the customs, the personal touches in the home; the china and art on the walls; the hand painted eggs, and ceramics; the language.

But I cannot get together and wishfully lust for a land and a culture that has raped me of everything sacred that I had, from my home, my family, myself, as I knew me at 23. A culture that has forced me to pack one suitcase full of clothes and run! And never look behind! A culture that still tortures and demeans my family. My flash and blood.

The Romanian culture for me was more like a dura mater rather than an alma mater

It forced me into an American exile even after my love and marriage had long been dead. There was no way back. Only forward. There are volumes to be written about my American experience and immigration in general. But this was not an easy choice.

So, to get together and celebrate our Romanianism has always just felt a bit masochistic and rude. Rude to our parents left behind. Rude to ourselves and our true feelings.

At least to me. If I cannot have my parents here, the fake love of strangers, I seek note.

It’s part of the whole immigration … odyssey, and it’s very, very hard to explain.

I do not regret my choice. Ever. And I see that some of the things that are Romanian encouraged this culture that pushed me (and us) away: the corruption springs from the jealousy of wanting what the neighbor has and bringing it to the rank of law! Lying, jealousy, and melancholy of the past are basis of Romanian “patriotism”!

Like I have said before: I think of myself as not placed in the world yet, but I love the Romanian in me: the caution, and ingenuity, the ability to not waste as much as my American fellows; the understanding for immigrants and oppression; the respect for everyone around me, and the “small country” frame of mind, of knowing that we’re not alone in the world, and we have to be mindful of all . But I am still uneasy to congregate with my fellow people.

It will be even harder, I know, 20 years from now. A woman without a country you can say I am. I still see myself sitting on the sidewalk in Margate, England, and crying that I don’t want to go back to Romania, because I had found my home. That was 1997. And I guess even earlier than that, at 16, in 1991, I have been looking for home, in my sleep talk.

I guess my roots did get planted firmly in Romanian soil. Forever. But my trunk, and branches, and leaves and blooms chose to belong to other realms. To America? Canada? Europe in general? The world?! They still look bend towards the roots, back towards where they started and to what feeds them, and see the starting point … But just like a graceful willow, they bend towards it, but they’ll never touch it again.

Final note: if this is totally confusing – it’s OK!

Friday, September 19, 2008

The New Camera

I guess the whole world knows (most times it feels that way) that I love taking pictures . My pics’ site is a work in progress, but everyone that knows me knows that I take hundreds of pictures on any of my trips … Sometimes, they are composition pictures, sometimes they are just impromptu shots of a brief moment in time … Sometimes they make absolutely no sense to anyone but me, like a plate full of empty shrimp shells at Awful Arthur’s in the Outer Banks.

I am also not typically a pack rat, unless it’s about pictures and the written word. I am a fierce guardian of those two… Somehow, I value memories, I guess, and I hope this will, at some point in time, pay off – not only for me (which it already has), but those left behind after I will be long gone.

For such a semi-passionate photographer as I like to think of myself, I have never bought a camera. Myself. Until this week. All my cameras have always been given to me. My dad’s camera was the first one I had, a semi-professional one, with film, of course, and which had 5 minutes of settings before you could snap a picture. Nothing even remotely close to a “point and shoot”. Every camera after that was given to me as a present on some occasion or another …

And every time I have felt like I “had to like” it, as a gift horse is not checked for all his teeth, you know …Some of my “gift cameras” I liked, but most of them I didn’t… Most of them – I would have picked differently…

In the past, whether I liked the cameras or not, I had to be pleased with them. They were gifts. I had to show gratefulness and appreciation for the gesture. At least once of those times the camera was bad. Bad-bad. The battery would die after 3 pictures, and the zoom would take at least a whole minute to come out. It was painful! Gosh, anything from that was an improvement!!

I have been looking to upgrade my camera lately from a 3.2 MP one (yep… that’s right!!) to at least a 10 MP one … My 3.2 MP one has been awesome, though: has religiously documented my life for the past 5 years (almost) anywhere from Christmas parties to Vienna, Romania and Canada. It has done its job and I will still keep it and use it. It’s been my veteran camera, for sure. And we have a bond. So, she’s not retired! Just … moved to part time! This week, a new full time camera has been put in place.

This time around, I feel I am on no guilt trip! If it’s broken, or otherwise I don’t like it, I can return it in 30 days … But this time, I love my camera too!! I picked it out, after a long search. And trust me: I was choosy!!! I shopped and shopped, I went to stores and played with real life cameras, and I knew what I wanted … When I got the right size, and weight, I shopped online and added to the features … I am happy.

As of yet, I have not had much time to play with it, but I did shoot some “around the house” scenes just to test it out … and I am tickled… Of course, I had never had this much resolution and this much zoom – I am so easy to please there…

I feel like I have accomplished something, but I don’t feel just as good as I did when I got my first typewriter (also a gift)… Then, I was in so much shock, I just smelled it and touched it for days, before I put paper in it … I guess I’ll always be a talker before I am a watcher … so writing IS my main vice!

It is similar to the elation I have felt when I picked out my first car … I wanted to sleep in it, just to smell it – for weeks … It’s like that: I cannot believe it’s mine, it’s real, and it’s here!

I have bought homes before that didn’t feel this good… The place I bought after my divorce did feel like this: just a new start, new beginning. It’s good when you have a say in it. It’s different. No matter how well people know you, they always miss at least one thing.

This time around I don’t have to like it , though. When you factor freedom into anything, it suddenly becomes sweeter – that’s for darn sure!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

"Confused" Places

There are some places I visit that I can’t quite bring myself to define. I go and I am not sure what my expectations are. I am not even sure I can explain this, but … they’re a mish-mash of a bunch of things. It’s not that they don’t have personality – far be that from true, but … they offer it all and none of one specific thing at the same time …

Let me try to explain.

Take Charleston, SC for instance: when I go there I know I am going to see, I feel, I smell the past. In all its rusty and cobwebby presence. In The Market, I can hear the cries of the slaves and the arrogant laughter of the owners. I can hear the horseshoes hitting the cobblestone. I transport myself in this other time, when dresses were long, ladies were always escorted and gentlemen were still talking about The War, a game of cards and The Trade.

Burnsville, NC is quiet, and it’s like time there forgot to get recorded in some calendar. Any calendar. Old taverns with odd hours, old houses hosting anything from restaurants to libraries, and art stores. You get old Southern food and buy contemporary ceramic art, all in one stop. And one breath. You blink, and you’ve reached the end of the town. You hear “mountain talk”, which is not quite Southern, but very much its own dialect, but you’re wondering where it comes from?! You feel like you’re time travelling, but you’re standing still too …

I go to New York City and I am transported in the future, almost. Even the old (architecture) seems new and revamped, because of all the lights and the billboards! Because of all the steel around it. The old is buried under the new, I should say!

It’s a testimony of where all the “other cities” of the world want to look like in 20 years! But NYC is already there…Time is faster than thoughts, here. Faster than the wind. NYC in clothing style to me is like Microsoft in the computer world: you open the box, and it’s outdated! (thank you, Aa.!).

But then, there is Norfolk, VA. And even DC. And even Atlanta! There is the old, and the new, right besides each other … And they don’t hush each other up, but they don’t make a loud enough statement to claim the personality of the place either …

The Norfolk area is even more confusing, to me –for now. You get Suffolk, which is half old and quaint and small, and half – a cheesy, Suburban jungle that’s still hosting some fine many-a-land full of trailers, until they decide what they want to be.

In Norfolk – you get the high rises and the steel, you get the harbor, but it’s all …industrial looking and cold, right next to the old architecture and old streets as well. And then you go to VA Beach and you get cheesy-beachy- family style plastic modern hotels a la Myrtle Beach right along with age old lighthouses and shotgun houses made of rotten driftwood, it seems. And then there is Portsmouth – and what I have seen of it is like a whisper of Charleston or Savannah. All in the middle of that.

So, the whole area to me … is like a place that has not yet figured out what it wants to be. No, it’s not that’s it’s not grown up yet! It is! But it’s like one of those 60 year olds who is still in school and working part time at the library and part time at the video store, trying to figure out what they want to be. It’s surely interesting …

Judge for yourself: pictures from my last trip there are here.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

The Signs

An almost completely trivial post

My friends all know that I love to take pictures of signs. I think I'll put a site together for all the ones I have collected over the years. They inspire me and they give me an insight on how people's minds work, sometimes. And sometimes how they don't. Work, that is...My favorite signs were definitely in New Orleans. That place is wicked full of originality and weirdness though, so that was an easy pick.

The last two trips I took though, I could not take pictures of the signs that "made me go: hmmm...", for various reasons: either I saw them while in a speeding car, or I was on a military base, and my company felt too scared (intimidated?!) to let me shoot. So... I can only talk about them. And I wanted to mention the three that caught my eye, as I find them ... unique.

Only approaching a place like Charlotte, NC, you can see a billboard that reads: "It's not rude! It's racing!". Trust me: I am NOT particularly proud that my new nephew shares his birthday with Dale Earnhardt.

Another sign was on the Fort Story Military Base in Virginia. I thought it was cleverly put, albeit bossy, but hey, we were in Army territory. Growing up with an Army mom, I can understand sternness! It was a speed limit sign, but instead of a boring "25 MPH Speed Limit", it read: "26 MPH is breaking the law". Yes, Sir! I hear ya loud and clear! Now, that is ONE speed limit sign even I will obey!

My friend didn't allow me to shoot that one, although we were stopped, and searched for nefarious objects in our truck. I want one of those signs in my house: I think it's brilliant!

My favorite sign of this year belonged to a ... carwash. But hey, with a dirty mind like mine, take it out of context and you have a good (and easy in more ways than one) joke. It read: "Soft touch, touchless or both!". Yes, with the exclamation point, too. Well, heLLo, there, and how YOU doin'?!

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Coming Home

"We're trying for something that's already found us." (Jim Morrison)

I have been on the road a lot this year, it seems.
Atlanta ... Norfolk ... Arlington... DC ... Blowing Rock .... Raleigh ... Montreal ... Norfolk again ... And I am planning at least four more trips till the year closes ...
One question allows itself to peek its ugly head and interrupt me: what am I looking for?!

My dad used to (still does) leave us for a day ... a couple of days ... a week ... one time even a month ... when things got "ugly" at home. You know: just too much to handle. I always wondered what was he going out there for? Why was he not just talking it out, and resolving whatever it was that bugged him... Why did he have to leave us?!

And that was my most horrifying feeling: what if dad, the most sturdy pillar of the home, will not come back? What if he will be distracted out there, in the world, and never come back? So many nights I have lost (used?) praying God to bring him back. And God always listened.

I feel like now, I grew up to be my dad, ironically... when things get "ugly" here, I wander ...

Are the loneliness, and emptiness, and pain that I have felt this year sending me out on the road so much? And I am looking for some kind of answer from the world? I feel like that's a double "yes".
I wish I could call dad and ask him what he found in all those wanderings. But we're not supposed to talk about the wanderings. Those are his alone. I am sure, though, he found some kind of strength to keep going. Or did he find it "there" ...?!

I am not sure what I found if anything. Higher gas prices and lots and lots of accumulated tiredness for sure. Lots of miles on my car. Seeing friends, and bonding, shooting some beautiful corners of the world, sure ....
But is the pain gone? The loneliness? The emptiness?

Not that sure ...

I cooked dinner tonight. And Fero was standing in front of my oven sniffing the garlic and rosemary flavor seeping through the oven door. Gypsy was asleep, upside down, on the dining room chair, and Little Kitty was passed out on a shelf, listening to "An American Prayer"...

And for the first time this year, I felt like the puzzle pieces have come together ...Finally. For the first time, in eight months, I was not only home. I felt home.

Not sure why, but the smell in the oven, and my house, full with cats and me, and my thoughts has felt fuller than it has in years ...

I guess I needed to go out to rediscover the in. What's new, right?!

Whatever the reason: I am grateful God listened once more. And that I am back.

Another picture of Home