Sunday, May 31, 2009

A Feel Good Weekend

I didn’t particularly help any major causes this weekend, didn’t write checks for charity, or sick kids, or saved the world in any big fashion, but somehow, I have this “feel good” feeling about me. Of accomplishment, or something similar.

It’s been a busy weekend, for sure, with a little bit of everything here and there. I guess just the fact that I accomplished most of what I planned to do can yield a “good feeling” vibe to the end of this Sunday.

The weekend started with a dinner with friends, at Grey’s Tavern in downtown Greensboro. I love the place first and foremost because everything is so affordable there. Also, everything they make has just enough of a twist to make it interesting, and unique, and yet, it’s the same ol’ good American fare, of burgers, dogs, sliders, and other sammiches. I was really boring on Friday, because all I ordered was a Tavern Dog. But trust me: this is no regular dog. I am not sure what brand it is, or what composition, but it is just the most “right” balance of flavor and sweetness and texture I have ever found in a hotdog. Their kraut is yummy too: not too wet, and not too salty, as some places have it.

On Saturday, I had an early morning, as I went to walk for the Heart Walk, at Country Park. It’s a walk I enjoy doing, and an organization I support, just because it’s close to my … heart. Pun not intended.

On Saturday afternoon, I volunteered to work again with The Greensboro Jaycees, at the NC Wine Festival, at the Tanglewood Park, in Clemmons. I had planned to get there at least 45 minutes before my shift started, so I can walk around, taste some of the great NC wine and possibly leave the place with a new found treasure of a bottle of wine. But the popularity of this festival, as well as the incredible weather had other plans for me: I got there 15 minutes later than my shift, because the traffic to get into Tanglewood was horrendous, so I was in the trenches right off the bat!

Although it was work-work-work for my stint there, I still enjoyed to festival, people watching, and contributing to this great event, which seems to grow in popularity from one year to the next. The free entrance was much welcome, too. And just contributing a bit to an industry I so love, and support, every chance I get was great.

Sunday was preparing for The Book Club. This month, I got to pick the book (“The Last Lecture” by Randy Pausch) and I also hosted. Since the temperatures are getting up there, I was craving a summery meal, so I made chicken and shrimp kebabs, with fresh pineapple, grape tomatoes, peppers and onions, accompanied by my first ever (and French inspired) couscous salad, which didn’t turn out too shabby, if I so say myself, and some other finger foods, and fruits, as well. To drink, we had mimosas and wine. I always enjoy the club, for the company, and the chats, which revolve around books, movies, work, life, you name it.

Now, it’s time for some brainless TV time, and catching up on the news, I guess… The weekend was busy, as I was saying. But good busy, and as always, I am so glad and grateful for all the friends I shared this weekend with.

One good laugh I got out of this weekend was at the Pickup Tent at Tanglewood: people label their purchases with their names and phone numbers, and they send them to this tent, to pick them up on their way out, so they won’t haul 10 bottles at a time through the wine festival. One of the names on several bottles was written in bright bluish – purple Sharpie ink, very carefully, and very clear (despite other hand writings, which I had some challenge to decipher), in all its hyphenated splendor! The last name was “Wooden - Cock”. I had enough questions for that person to fill up a novel! But I will leave you with your own, which I am sure will be plenty. The person never did pick up their wine while I was there, but I surely would have been intrigued to meet them. Some people just can't give up some things, can they? Like at least one name, for instance. Hhmm...

I am so sad Jay Leno’s off the air! He would have had a ball with this, I am sure!

Happy summer, all! And stay cool!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Unwanted Party

Note: major grossness alert

If it's true what they say in some cultures (Romanian included) that in the next life you'll get to consume (as in "eat") what you kill during the current life span, then I will be probably "feasting" on lots of mosquitoes, spiders, a handful of ants, and starting today, on slugs, as well.

This year, instead of hydrangeas and petunias, I decided to plant the hardiest, easiest to take care of flowers there are on my front porch: pansies. I figured, they're budget friendly, and purple, and nothing can kill them. Well, I didn't know slugs love them for their breakfast, and lunch, AND dinner!

So, in a matter of weeks, my two oversized planters of pansies, have been reduced to nothing, because the blooms have disappeared under my own eyes, just devoured by the little yucky creatures!

I knew from my mom that salt makes them melt. Literally. But I didn't want to put salt on the flowers, for fear that might kill them. So, I asked around and a friend of mine advised to put a tray full of beer around the pots, they'll go to the beer tray and drown. Sounds easy enough, doesn't it?!

And it's true: they surely go towards the beer. The entire neighborhood of slugs found out about the beer tray and apparently wanted to join the party! So, when I came home today, I find a whole colony, a whole carpet of slugs, if you will, strolling towards the beer trays! Oh, my God! I have not seen that many slugs in my whole life. There must have been about 50 drowned and about another 50 around the trays, on their way over to the ... drowning.

So, salt was next! And of course, the scientist mom has always been, she was right: they melt like nothing. So, now, I have two trays full of beer and dead slugs and one porch covered with salty dead piles of slugs as well.

The sight is frightful (not to mention disgusting as all) and I think I will have nightmares all night of being eaten alive by giant slugs. Or eating them. In my next life. Either way, it's making my skin crawl!

I tell you, God had really some awesome creative moments when He created Life on Earth as we know it, but He was really having a bad day when He created slugs!

I will definitely not look at beer the same way ever again. That's for darn sure! And next time: I'll get petunias! I can at least spray for bugs on those!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Forever Grateful for Friends

I think I am one of the very few folks out there who is happy when her friends move away. I am happy because I now have even more reasons to get out of town! Sure, you can say I am the same ol’ selfish woman you knew – it would be fair!

But, let me explain: when your friends move, you get the best of all worlds: you still keep the love, and trust me, if you really put your mind to it, long distance relationships DO work! So, you don’t “lose” them at all. Your relationship just changes … interaction. Then, you get to pull away from your routine once in a while, when you get to take the weekend off and go visit them; you get to disconnect from your boring life, and re-energize (how grateful do you need to be for THAT?!?) ; and you get pretty much free lodging and sometimes food when you go, too. What’s not to love?!

This year, I had two mantras to live by: stay in touch better with friends, close and far, and go places you’ve never been before. Thanks to friends who have moved places I have never been before, it looks like this is going to be an easy one!

This past weekend, I went to visit some friends who moved to Lexington, SC, just outside of Columbia. I have been to Lexington before, but not to this part of it: I didn’t know any part of SC can be so lush green and gorgeous! I have never been to Columbia, but I am planning to go back this year, to see that city also – I only hear good things about it. I am also planning to be on Lake Murray this summer, at some point, also courtesy of my said friends! I hope!

It’s always a pleasure to visit with my SC friends (who used to be NC friends). They are a gregarious bunch of folks, who always welcome you with open arms, always overflowing fridges, open minds, wisdom, poignant criticism and lots, and lots of unconditional love. The chats are easy and genuine, the love is sincere, and the giving is abounding! There is always a familiarity to see them, and a feeling of not being alone that is known to me only when I see family. They gave me a backyard bbq party, two restaurant meals, an office chair to take home (free!) , and a birthday gift, a month and a half after my birthday! It was like seeing mom, dad and having Christmas all over again!

I could have stayed on that screened in porch and talked about past, and future, and catch up on people we know till Labor Day, if I’d had my rathers! I didn’t mind the humidity, nor the mosquitoes that somehow got through the screen anyway, nor the heavy eyelids of a body tired from driving in the rain for three hours! It was so refreshing to meet the like-minded folks I once knew and still hold close! It was so refreshing to know, one more time, that I am “home”.

The moments spent with your friends are priceless! They are crystallized in time, and forever engrained in your brain. Those moments, I am sure, you take with you, in your heart, when you slip into "forever". They give you dimension in space, and teach you who you are. And on lonely nights, when you think you’re alone in the world, they give you something to feed off of, and something to dwell on: a family, and sense of belonging. We should really be more grateful to friends than we sometimes make time for!

I thank them now, as I always have, for just … existing. And making me a part of their world, about seven years ago. And never budging from that commitment. Yet. Family has no choice: they have to have you. But friends don’t have to. They do have a choice, and these folks made a choice to “have me” despite the changes in their lives, and mine.

I am grateful for the “things”, sure, and the “free trips”. But mostly, I am grateful for the love, and respect, the steadfastness with which they've loved me, and welcoming that they display, year after year, visit after visit, unmoved by the changes of time, and life.

They have married a son, and had two grandkids; they have retired and moved away. Their dog got old and slow. But they have always been the same to me: loving, giving and accepting! They humble me! And I love them.

One of my favorite pieces in their lush, perfectly manicured
gardens was a deep purple calla lily.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Thank You, Randy Pausch

And when I thought my week could not get any worse… I am actually being facetious: life can ALWAYS get worse.

Anyway, next time I complain about long hours and bad hair days, I’ll know what’s coming. Or at least I know what this week has brought.

Today, I go do my biweekly grocery run, and I get into a crash. A car crash, that is. I was due for one, I figured, since my small Echo has been hit more times, and regularly, but has been “on an accident break” since 2007, I think. I swear this car is an accident magnet! People hit it when it’s parked, and I am not even in it.

Anyway, so, on a gray, pouring outside kind of day, one of those days when you don’t feel in the least bit guilty for eating a loaded pizza all on your own, I get out of the said grocery store parking lot, and a lady on the opposite side of my space has the same plan: to get out too. I was all the way pulled out of my spot, and ready to straighten my wheel when she backs out of her spot, full force. And hits me.

We both got scratches on our back bumpers. She has a smaller scratch, I have a bigger one, as it always happens when my Echo and a bigger (Acura) car hit each other.

We looked at the damage. We both realized it’s not worth calling anyone, or getting the insurance involved; we exchanged phone numbers and license numbers, and … we’ll see how and if we’re going to fix this… Yes, I did say “if”.

Usually, when I get into one of these, no matter how small the damage, I am completely compulsive about getting it fixed right away, to make my car look as good as new. For some reason, this time (and I “blame” Randy Pausch for this), I am fine with a scratch on my bumper, be it however monstrous looking (it’s pretty tacky!). This one time, I am really letting go of my control over “everything has to look just perfect or else I can’t sleep at night”, and just put this on hold for a bit.

I have trips to plan, work to do, life to live. The car works fine. The trunk is not damaged at all. Most importantly, I and the lady in the other car are FINE. She even admitted that it was her fault, but I don’t even think that. It was a complete accident, on both of our parts. I also think a can of paint will do the fix-up! So, no fretting at all.

This first time, I don’t really care whether I fix it today, this week or in the next year. As it happens, bumpers are not made of metal anymore, so it won’t even rust. Sure, it looks ugly, but I have decided that my car is not a mirror of who I am, after all. So, I will let go, and I am actually breathing easier because this one burden is off my shoulders.

Now, I know that a car’s purpose is to “get you from point A to point B. They are utilitarian devices, not expressions of social status”, as Pausch says it in Chapter 18 of his “The Last Lecture” book. And he continues: “… if your trashcan or wheelbarrow has a dent in it, you don’t buy a new one. Maybe that’s because we don’t use trashcans and wheelbarrows to communicate our social status or identity to others. (…) Not everything needs to be fixed.”

I love that lesson! He is so right. We get so wrapped up in the fact that our lives are not oh, just so perfect on the outside, we so hold on, teeth grinding, to our appearances, our pants are not razor-sharp, and our cars don’t have a bigger monthly payment than our homes.

And we miss the stuff that makes life real! We miss the “little” things, like the fact that we have a job to go to at all to spend long hours in; the fact that we can afford a car at all; the fact that we’re lucky to go from point A to point B without waiting for half an hour for the bus, or the train in the rain; the fact that we’re walking on our two feet, and moving right along from day to day, without having to wait for others to give us a ride.

So, this one time, I will just shrug, smile, and be grateful for what I do have. And the scratch can wait. And as I have said it before, and as I know this might just jinx me even worse: I am grateful for the band aids, some days. And for good books!

Friday, May 15, 2009

A Girl's Gotta Be Shallow ... Sometimes ...

(Or "Guilty Confessions")

So, I have had a crappy, long week. Too long!

Not particularly dramatic, but just little bugs here and there, biting at you, at your mood, and chipping away at your zeal. If I ever had any, to begin with, that is.

Work was horrible. It always is, but for grace and political reasons, I can't say much about that. Pretty soon this "lucky to have a job" high is going to stoop, and the simple unhappiness of it all is going to take over. Maybe. We're humans, after all, aren't we?!

Then, little bits of "situations" cropped up here and there. Humidity crept in all week long, making for bad hair days, sticky shirts and lots and lots of cranky time. Then, a day off for everyone but not for me (someone had to cover some shifts) set the tone of the week to "bitter". Then, I have to work this weekend. Blah ...

More news about friends being laid off - always bad. More news from home about family feuds, dramas, disloyalty, and quarrels. Asked for advice, but hesitant to give any: after all, who wants to have the responsibility of all that?? Then, relatives traveling over the Atlantic, and being unnecessarily "persecuted" in Germany, and then England, and then Canada. Oh, the curse of ever being an immigrant to the Western World! Sleepless nights, till I found out everyone was OK.

Then, Friday comes, and I was looking forward to dinner with friends, and a cold brew, and some relache time. Think again: 4:30PM strikes, and bugs start to crop up at work, and although I was planning to leave the premises at 5 PM, I had to stay till 6:30. Almost. My dinner with friends was at 6:30. When I left, I discovered my cell went dead, looking for signal in my bunker office. Cripes! Now, I had to go home, because I am on call this weekend, and tonight, and I cannot be away from a working phone. There goes my looking-forward-to dinner on Friday night.

So, I get home, all shaking from the last minute adrenaline rush from work, and letting my friends know that I will not be attending our get-together ... and I was seriously looking for SOMETHING - ANYTHING to make me feel disgustingly better! Something cheesy, and cheap, that required zero thought and zero brain involvement, and so embarrassing, and lame that will make me feel like I am refueling again! So, I reached out for my all-day-girl therapy, "Sex and the City" - I didn't care what season, I just wanted girl talk! So, I pulled out season 3 and started my marathon!

I accompanied that with fresh air (make that "Southern humid air", but still more alive than the fake a/c) from the outside , crickets chirping, lots of beef jerky snacks, while my taquitos were "baking" (err... de-freezing in the oven), and my mashed potatoes were heating up in the microwave.

All those snacks, fresh air, "sexy girl talk" episodes, and a beer later and it seems like the pressure of the week might be slightly releasing off of my bones. I EVEN did the unthinkable and had ONE square of milk chocolate I bought in Paris - I figured, let's see if it's true that chocolate takes away ALL the pressure of the world off of a girl's back. I don't think it did much for me! But it didn't ruin the mood, for sure. Hey, when a girl's desperate, she's got to do what she's got to do, right?!

I wish I could tell the world that I came home and went for a long walk, or did two hours of yoga and meditated for half of an hour and found enlightenment, or ... watched an inspiring documentary about Mother Teresa's resilience. But no, I ate my comfort food (mashed potatoes and beef jerky), I heated up some junk food (Mexican taquitos), and I watched a cheesy girl show (thank you, FOREVER, Andy!!), and I had a cheap-cheap American beer, and YES, I feel better!

I allowed myself to stoop THAT low, and come in touch with my cheesy self! After all, the brain needs some literal time off, once in a while, too. Like anything human, it's not made to last forever, and it needs a cold reboot.

Sheesh! I am still not done with this week, but I feel like I might have found another couple of gallons of fuel to feed me for the next two days!

That you, cheesiness, for being available.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

A Gastronomic Heritage

I do believe there is something about old ladies and tomatoes. Some sort of craving-affinity-love for tomatoes which "regular" folk just don't get. At least that's been my life: there is always, at some corner of my life a little ol' lady making conversation for minutes on end about some juicy tomato waiting on her when she gets home, to make it into a sandwich. And it's traveled with me across cultures, this tomato thing.

I grew up hating tomatoes. As a matter of fact, I was a terrible eater as a child. I'd fuss at pretty much everything: milk products, fruits, veggies or anything that contained them, sweets. My favorite foods were beans and bologna. That was it! Oh, and stuffed peppers. I was blessed with a mother that didn't fret too much about my eating disgusts. Her motto is: "You're not eating, it's your stomach that is empty. *shrug*". (very "insightful", eh?!) So, she didn't bother insist.

So, having all the freedom I wanted, I hated tomatoes along with all the other fruits and veggies there were. Until one summer.

We used to live in the mountains in the summer, when we were little - that is the subject of a whole anthology, for a later date. We used to live in houses with small quarters, share rooms with a lot of folks, and with electricity, but no bathrooms or any plumbing inside. People were self-sufficient, there: had animals, birds, land - to provide their own food daily. We just had to work for it. We ate what we grew or picked in the woods.

In the mountains, we used to live with my dad's godparents. These folks were so wonderful, in every which way, they sound like fairy tale people! Best marriage I have ever seen, older people, with their children grown, moved out and having kids of their own, with the patience of saints, and wisdom of sages!

I called his godmother "bica", which means "grandma" in Romanian. She was not really my grandma, but I have been ever so lucky to have several sets of family in my life.

"Bica" was not mom. She did fret about my not eating. A lot. She used to feed us fresh cheese and slices of tomato, with freshly baked bread every morning. For seven days straight, that's what you'd get for breakfast! Maybe you'd get some eggs, on weekends. Maybe, if it was not too hot to make a fire in the wood stove and cook them. It was usually: tomatoes and cheese for breakfast. I hated both. So, she let me be, for a day, two, a week. Maybe even a summer.

The following summer, she discovered I did not grow out of it. So, she sat next to me, and said: "I am not leaving here, until you eat every bit of tomato and cheese I put on your plate. Trust me: if something happens to you, I have enough money saved up, and I'll pay for you back to your dad. He won't fuss if something horrible does happen to you. So, eat up!". Somehow, in my 6 or 7 year old mind that ALL made sense.

Just like today, someone promises us "insurance" and it all makes us feel so much better (even if the car will still be totaled or the house burned down), I somehow knew that if she promises to pay for the whole me this really won't do any major harm! And she was right. Nothing ever did happen to me. And another beautiful thing that came out of it is that I have loved tomatoes ever since that very day. Still not a fan of cheese, but a 50% chance of a win, is a good deal! I think.

To this day, I buy tomatoes (a lot of them) in April - May. When the winter time is over and gorging on comfort food just because it's cold passes, and I want something light, healthy, guilt-free, yet rich and delish, I turn to tomatoes. I still eat them with a bit of salt and a drop of oil on them, just like she taught me to, and I think of my "bica" every time. I even cut them like her, holding them in my hand, rarely using a cutting board, all uneven slices, all various shapes. And she probably is smiling down on me, proud of her success, and that she didn't have to blow her savings on my account.

The whole thing now is a ritual that takes me back and makes me appreciate the simple foods, and simple gestures. We were not blood relatives, but it was important to her to do the right thing in this world, and teach a child to appreciate all that Earth has to give. She did it simply. I wish we found more people who would take the time to do simple and major things for those to come after us anymore.

Happy birthday, “bica”, wherever you are … and love, always …

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

What I Have Learned in Airports

These are some random notes, and thoughts I have gathered on my last trip on the wings of many planes (eight, to be exact). My emphasis is on "random" here. But anyone who's ever waited for a plane in long, endless hours will agree that your mind is going, and you notice all these things. It's an avalanche of thoughts ... and ... I am sure you can relate to most of these.

I swear that one day someone needs to write a compendium about what people learn in airports. We are all becoming so much more savvy and knowledgeable about what to do in the "oh, sh^t", time-limit situations airports force us to live in. That, and also we're experts in knowing human nature now. But let's see why ...

First off, I have learned that the meaning of such expressions as "short temper", "little patience" and "hot blooded" become absolute superlatives or absolute relatives in airports. You think you have a short temper, usually: in the airports it's at least half of what you think it is! Maybe 10% is more accurate ... This, I think, is the most amusing (and sad) find. Because airports and especially planes are some places we, as individuals, have zero control over. I am pretty sure that even if you were a pilot, you would have no control over when you take off. But still, people don't get it. And they yell, scream, threaten to sue, and the likes, when delays and cancellations happen.

And since we're speaking of delays and cancellations. I have seen planes being delayed for many random reasons. Some of them legitimate, some of them ... make you wonder: snow, rain, thunder, pilot is drunk, or not present at all, ice removing mechanism faulty in 100+ degree weather. But "wind" is a new thing for me. I have always thought (and I mean, I could have bet my life on it) that at hundreds of miles per hour speeds (not tens) that the airplane is capable of reaching, and when they make planes able to fly into hurricanes (???), wind (especially the one not mentioned to be a problem by meteorologists, like a tornado or something) is not an issue for planes. Hhmm... think again! So, yes, my whole trip was almost all messed up, all planes missed because my first plane (out of four) was being delayed by two hours because of winds. In a perfectly beautiful 75F, cloudless day.

And about those folks whose tempers are ever so short in airports: why are they louder than necessary? I mean, who cares, first of all, if they're mad? If someone did care, they would put them on a plane. But no, they're still here. And they scream, throw tantrums, while 50 other people are in the same boat, and guess what: that plane is still not moving. Conserve your energy, folks! Turning up the volume will do nothing but annoy whomever is concerned (is there anyone??) even more.

Also, these little angry people need to stop using "important" words, that mean nothing, but they do it for effect, to make sure they conveyed to all how mad they truly are. For instance, if you say " I'm gonna go there and literally smack that damn captain if we're not leaving. Literally." - I want to see you marching down to the cockpit and doing it, 'cause guess what: we're not leaving. Otherwise, hold off the "literally". Please.

I have asked myself many times, and still have not come up with an answer: why do they call it "cockpit". Hhmmm... I'll leave you with that one, on your own.

One other thing I have learned: it pays to be ridiculously early at the airport! Sure, your flight will be delayed, because ... who knows, The Phillies lost another game that day, right??, but ... you can get on flights delayed from earlier that might be empty! You're a step ahead of them! They think they can delay you further: guess what: you're there for their delayed flights. Not your own, but who cares: they fly you to the same spot! You win! All my life I have thought the ONLY way to succeed in life is to figure out how to trick life faster than it will trick you. 'Cause it will!

I have raved about the Paris airport before but one thing I didn't mention was: in Paris, they have free scotch (as in "whiskey") tasting in the airport! Yep. In one of their liquor stores, they have a huge table with all sorts of brands of scotch you can taste before you buy. What I have to say to that is: eat your heart out, open container law in the groceries of US! But ... "no pictures, 's'il vous plait", so I could not prove it.

I probably should write a whole chapter on this, but I'll just mention a couple of things: this should be under "Things only Romanians Do in Airports": they sit cross-legged on the floor, and eat sunflower seeds, while spitting the shells on a newspaper; they also listen to Gypsy music on their cellphones, with no headphones on, so everyone shares the joy ... err... dread ... of it ... ; or, sometimes they have a real life - like rooster singing "cock-a-doodle-doo" for their ring tone, which makes you wonder: who is bringing dinner alive on the plane. (?!?!?).
There is always a mixed feeling of embarrassment and of a certain familiarity when I run into my compatriots in airports, a familiarity that is sort of comforting, strangely enough.
Don't ask!!

What you also see in airports is people waiting. Such an overwhelming mass of them! I have always wondered what can humanity accomplish, if they can bottle up all the hours all the people spend waiting, between flights, in airports and use them for a project, somewhere... Could we discover another planet? A cure for a cancer or two, or ...?? Just time. Wasted. Material time, and material human force, talent and probably genius. On hold. For virtually ever. Just wondering ...

I have also now seen live music in airports: a cover band playing anything from 'I will survive' to Jimmy Buffett in the National terminal in Philly. My plane was on time, but ask a few folks that were about 24 hours late on going home what the live music did for their stress level. I would kill to know the answer.

You have probably seen my rant about water penury in airports before, but now I had to splurge, as I was craving really cool and really good (filtered) water: so I paid $3 for a bottle of water and $2 for a large order of fries! When water is more expensive than food, I reckon you know you've made it to ... civilization... ?! Again: think "Idiocracy" , the movie.

And still the number one "wow" of this past trip is just noticing impatience. Just people fretting, screaming, jumping up and down, cursing, for the very thing they can do nothing about: leaving the airport NOW! When will the supply of crappy service align with the (hopefully) very lesser expectations of the passengers, in this Post 9-11, "Brave New World" of flying ... I am not sure...

But pretty soon people will stop flying. Or some folks will start shooting. And I am not sure which one will come sooner. And I am not joking, either.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Where I Come From

Since I come from a far away land, a lot of people ask me “what is it like where you come from?”. That is a broader question that one can attempt to answer in a lifetime, and when you’re dealing with your familiar, it’s impossible to answer. Of course, folks here, especially those who have never been out of the country, cannot tell me what it’s like to be from “here”; all they have to tell me is “look around”. So I can never get any hints on what it is I am supposed to say to describe the world I come from …

I know it’s different than the one I live in here. I know, most times, why. But it’s hard to put into words.

I am sure one can google or wiki my home town and find out its location, its history, how old, how vast, how populated … That it used to be the capital city of the province of Moldova back when Romania didn’t exist; that one of the most famous and esteemed princes, Stefan cel Mare (later sanctified), had his residency in the castle built on the same foundation of now The Palace of Culture, back in the 15th century; that we have 13th, 14th and 15th century churches and monasteries, and buildings still standing; that we host the first printing press in Moldova that printed Romanian materials; that we have the oldest university in Romania (1860), the one I attended: Al. I. Cuza – and so forth…

But I am here to tell you about what I think about my home town. About what leaves with me every time I get on that plane, crying a river, filled with guilt, remorse, sadness and also pride, in a sick and very lonely way.

There are some things I always make a point of seeing when I get home. I do want to take a sightseeing trip around town, be it on foot (my favorite) or in a car, to see what’s new. I notice new buildings, streets that are wider, even gas stations and convenience stores that were never there before.

I try to see places that bring back memories. For instance, on some trips, I love visiting the grave yard. Not because my grandparents and other relatives are there, but because that’s the first place that ever gave me the depth and perspective of life, human condition, and eternity. That’s where I learned first where we’re all headed. It gave me purpose, and scope. I didn’t get to see it this time around, though.

Other places are streets we once lived on; or schools I attended. That, somehow, connects to where my life’s been – it gives me an itinerary to understand how I turned up this way, by “connecting the dots” of what was. I look at the blocks of crumbling concrete flats and remember the cold winters, where we slept with the coats on, or the hot summers, with no a/c, nor fans, where we would leave the water in the bathroom running, to cool off the dry, hot air; or dress the windows in bed sheets, so the sun won’t come in. I think of the close quarters we shared, and which never bothered us – and compare those with the three bedrooms I have now, for just me!

I notice the architecture, however old, or new, or crumbling... Did I notice it when I was there? Probably not. But now, it leaves with me. Every street corner is another dent in my brain - never to be erased. It's amazing what you do see, when you do want to see it. Pressured by limited time and craving belonging-ness, you open your eyes wider! And your heart ever more so ...

My sister and I in front of our elementary school

Al. I. Cuza University - my Alma Mater

I can tell you that I also go home to watch the physical love affair that people have with the food they make. It’s literally like love making: so attentive, and detailed, and sensual: there, it’s a big touching party! You touch everything. You knead, and wash, and clean, and soak up in aromas, and … You feel the food, before it enters your mouth. You clean the animal, you portion it, you think about what to cook now, what you can freeze, and you never once squint that “eew, that’s blood”, and “eew, that’s teeth”… We work with it all. With respect. And love. And patience. Much patience. We try not to waste much in our food. We use it all. My friend will tell you all about it. Just ask him how I eat a Boston Market chicken.

Laborious deliciousness: making stuffed grape leaves and cabbage rolls

Back home, people are always merry. Times have been tough and even tougher than now ever since I can remember. But if there is one thing that stays with me is that Romanians know how to party. For better, or worse, they find time, and food and drinks to gather up, and share the happiness or sorrow that bonds them. I find that Americans are more inclined to withdraw in their shells, and communicate less in times of sadness. Or party with everyone, but not really with the ones that matter, when they’re happy. Romanians stay close to family, close and distant, and gather up for chow and drinking for better or worse. You’re truly free to be whoever you are amongst those folks: after all, they’re truly your folk. Nothing to hide there. There is always forgiveness if you do happen to mess up! The sense of “blood community” strikes me back home, and gives me new juices to go on for another year: after all, I belong, somewhere in the world.

There is always a reason to celebrate and something
to make a spread out of, at my parents' house

I like revisiting places like my favorite city park, with wide alleyways and wooden benches. I like remembering first kisses, and love quarrels in those parks. I like seeing places where I grew up, or where I remember I had a favorite ice cream, back when I liked that, and where my grandfather used to take me when I skipped preschool!

I love going back for the pizza – the best I have had yet, without having been to Italy, let’s say! I love the street food, fresh, warm pastries that are welcome no matter how full you are: you cannot survive the smell alone – you MUST buy a couple of samples! Food is, again, part of your day, who you are, your routine. It smears the soul with good oils!

And of course, I go for my family. I go for the hugs that really mean something, and for the kisses that are sweeter that lovers’ ones. I go for their advice, and sometimes, I love going back for a good scolding, too! My dad usually criticizes everything I wear: I am either a hippy, or a bum, to him. Mom cries a lot. Cries for my bad luck with men, and my being alone, always … She doesn’t know that I take that as a scolding: that I cannot do any better than “this”. But mostly, I go for their spreads, and smiles. They’re loaded with love and honesty. And meaning! They always make my favorite foods, and display my favorite silverware, sheets, home d├ęcor, what have you. They’re the best! Their eyes full or tears, with “I’m going to miss you lots” written all over them travel with me for another two years! I even go for those eyes! To remember them, and know that they’re waiting for me – no matter what. They’re my safe shore!

So, I guess, in short, I come from a place of mixed architecture, that travels time-wise anywhere from the 13th century to the 21st; I come from a place of old churches and old schools. A place of chatty, happy people, and love, lots of it. I come from where the bread is always fresh and warm, and the wine is always sweet. A place of vast spreads, and poor but giving people.

Crumbling history ...

Iasi, my home town, is a city surrounded by seven hills. I come, thus, from a protected space. We were deemed as provincial “Moldovans” (which was an insult), but we felt safe, and proud. We had our history. How in the world I escaped this protected space, it’s still a mystery to me. And to this day, I long for that protection, in some form, every minute.

Home is where your bread is plenty ...

For more glimpses of what it’s like to go back home, visit the Wander World’s Photo Album, and enjoy!