Sometimes a journey can last a lifetime. Our journey to Jerusalem did. And it also lasted a year. And also six weeks. And also ten days. And also 24 hours.
We had been talking for years about moving here. On and off, we kept wondering why most of our friends are here, and we aren’t. Why we insist on inflicting the harsh Eastern European climate on ourselves. Why we live in a city where A. has nothing to entice and challenge him. Why we keep visiting here, but never stay.
A year ago exactly, at the end of January 2011, as we were riding the bus from Eilat to Jerusalem having just crossed the Egyptian border, with the intention of grabbing our things from a friend’s house and running to the airport to go home, we suddenly made a pact we would put an end to this. A year from now, we vowed, we would move here for good. We started telling everyone we knew, to make it impossible to go back on the decision. We started our preparations… no, that we didn’t do. This we put off. Instead, we traveled. Just talking about the move was enough, just prefacing most of our future tense sentences with “when we move,” or “while we’re still here”. We had a chance to secure visas here in August, then in November, but neither worked out.
Six weeks ago A. had to go to Russia. Things had become critical there, and his presence was needed. There were also the visa troubles to attend to, and that, too, pushed him to the country he was trying, almost, to denounce. It transpired that he had to stay there for an entire month. I went out there for the latter half of it to share this time, and together amid the snow, we said our thorough goodbyes to our friends, which did not bring as much pain as it could have. Soon, thought we, we would never have to see snow again. And soon enough our loved ones would come visit.
Ten days ago we were finally in Vilnius again. There was a daunting task ahead of us: we hadn’t begun our packing, and nothing was to be left in the apartment we were leasing out. Not to mention that we still had no visa. The anticipated frantic scramble led me to escalating hysteria before even the first carton was opened to pile books inside. The house I had accustomed myself to seeing as my refuge, my shelter, was now at a late stage of a decaying disease which was robbing it of its personality, its ourness. Our pictures were removed, and empty frames gaped at me from the walls with embarrassing woodenness. Every meeting with every friend or relative reeked of finality. I had my goodbye roda at capoeira class and did not tear up, though I had fully expected to. This was it. It was snowing non-stop, and I felt as if my heart’s city was cleansing itself of me, covering itself up after our prolonged amorous encounter. We took a train to freezing Minsk and after a measured amount of humiliation returned the same day with passports bearing Israeli visas.
On Wednesday, our physical journey began. We loaded all of our possessions into a minivan. The cat was trembling in his plastic confinement, driven into shock by the tribulations he sensed were ahead. A good eight hours later, we were in a dingy room on the outskirts of Minsk. I dealt with the unreal reality by immersing myself in work. After four hours of sleep we continued on the next leg of the trip, which was the scariest flight I’d ever experienced because it was obviously the scariest thing the cat had ever experienced. On the plane, I read John Green’s new novel, The Fault In Our Stars. By landing-time, the cat was screaming and foaming at the mouth, he had soiled himself and left a deep gash in my hand in his attempt to flee, and I was suddenly crying, either because of the book, his suffering, or the realization that only then began to dawn, that we had left home for good.
Ironically, Welcome Home was the motto of the afternoon. Having cleaned up the poor beast, we were carted to an old and homemade-looking absorption center, where we were cooed over, given coffee, and handed our first papers and some cash. Then followed a cab ride with fellow new Jerusalemites, one of them a slightly jaded-sounding American poet, another – a red-cheeked turtle. Finally, the journey was over. All of them were. It was suddenly clear that the journey, for me, was an end in itself. All of the emotional, physical, and financial investment had led to this point in time, and nothing else. It came as a surprise that after moving here, we also had to live here.
I am sipping hot water now, wrapped in someone’s warm poncho, wearing untied shoes, in a red armchair in the corner of a friend’s house. I spent the morning working on stylist interviews and Turkish Jewish music, while A. was out and people were playing vaguely French tunes on an accordion and the battered organ downstairs. There is work to do and our own apartment to find. There are places to go and people to meet. The cat is fine. Winter’s bleak sunshine is filling the yard. It is exceptionally cold. It is shabbat.
I find a closed space full of Uzbek people difficult to tolerate, as was repeatedly proven on trains and planes this week. Another startling discovery is that I am similarly averse to closed spaces full of Indians. This is because (a) I am a notoriously xenophobic European, or (b) I can’t stand it when people speak loudly and interminably to each other when they’re too close to me and I am trying to sleep. The correct answer, for those who find it difficult to follow, is (b).
This point was established by a girl and older man at Tashkent’s train station where we were spending the night on metal chairs and had unwisely left a gap between us, in which the girl unscrupulously plopped down and proceeded to chatter in what sounded like a succession of the same highly irritating syllables to her husband/father/unspecified male liaison until I raised my head groggily from my backpack-in-lap sleep arrangement, which caused her to say cheerfully “Oh sorry, miss, I must have woken you!” – then turn right back to her conversation.
The point was driven home further by the four Muslim Indians we shared a compartment with on the way to Samarkand, who kept speaking about Allah in patronizing, sermon-like voices, and one of whom was prone to talking loudly for 40 to 90-minute stretches at a time. (“Young man, are you Muslim? Christian? Tourist? There are Muslim historic sites where we’re going, I thought you might like to know,” was their only communiqué to us save for offering crisps and “Hello, miss” when we ran into them at said historic site later in the day.)
It was stamped and finalized by the man sitting behind us on the plane home, who for the entire time of boarding kept telling each and every passenger that the plane was not full, so everyone should sit anywhere free, which I took to be a technique to insure a neighbor-free flight, until someone did sit down next to him despite several hints to the effect of underbooking, which turned him round, ostensibly, and he spent the best part of the flight talking to his neighbor loudly in a grating voice while I was operating on very few hours of sleep and being kicked regularly in the small of the back by the neighbor and leaned on by the guy in front.
Not to mention the constant line-cutting and the train rides where we were subjected to televisions blaring Uzbek and Russian series at full volume. Maybe I only take these things so hard when I’m sleep-deprived and experiencing invasions of my physical and sensory personal space. However, there is no explaining away the fact that I did not find life in Uzbekistan comfortable in many ways. It became increasingly obvious that while I may not be a xenophobic European, I certainly am a pampered European who likes her streets paved and lit, and solves any and all problems via Visa cards and internet. Where neither option is available, I am flummoxed.
No amount of beautiful architecture interspersed with picturesque quarters can help me brave the old town of Bukhara at night after a day of rain, for my hipster-European sneakers are ill-suited to sliding in the mud and trying to avoid winding mid-street aryks (irrigation ditches). Food that induces cramps and constant awareness of my entire digestive tract, added to the fact that not a single man and only about a third of the local women look attractive*, plus hordes of small children who turn into beggars at the sight of foreigners, chirping “hilow” and “bonzhor”, and once even following us for two blocks begging in a droning monotone and stroking our arms in a disturbing manner, and I’m sure you’ll be asking how I managed to enjoy any of the trip.
The answer to that lies in the terrain of impressionistic prose, to which I lean when writing about the better things in life (hence, incidentally, the lack of report about Venice; perhaps when I’m there again and not so stunned by the universal beauty of it that I can find something to complain about in the beginning). Most of the things I liked, however, go back to the same: all of it being so very unusual and different.
The insular organization of the cities (slum –> expansive stone square, home to three towering madāris –> slum known as “the old mahala”, i.e. “the old quarter” –> another religious complex –> etc.) is not what I’m used to in my more frequent destinations, where narrow, inbred character and architectural polish are distributed evenly throughout most streets. Not that the slums do not encroach on the immaculate palaces. They establish themselves in the shape of souvenir stalls, punctuating the yard of every mosque and madrasah, as well as their immediate environs. Small wonder, as tourists rarely venture into the slums themselves, prefering the ancient and monumental to the living and breathing.
The life experience is also as different as can be. Twice, a friend and I wandered to a chaikhana with the rather urgent purpose of working each on our respective assignment, and found ourselves instead chugging endless cups of tea, talking and leaning back on the bench, affected by the blissful slow atmosphere of the place, the view of the pond framed by magnificent buildings, and the twang of rubābs from the speakers in the trees overhead. Countless times we bought things or stayed and admired things, or listened to stories we otherwise wouldn’t have, lured in by the Arabian Nights accents and inflections of the locals and turns of phrase like “do not go away, a present for you” after buying a dress, or “half-price for you now, the evening bazaar” (at 5 pm, because at 6 it’s dark and everything closes). In our Soviet childhoods, everything to do with Aladdin and Harun al-Rashid was spoken with the same lilt and set against the same white, sandy, and blue backdrop. I find this very hard to resist, so I listen, gaze, and buy away.
In Uzbekistan, one is constantly amazed at how much can be built from very little. This goes for the food, which, while disagreeing with me and being largely meat-based, is nonetheless varied and interesting, comprised though it is of vegetables, rice, and the ubiquitous flatbread. This goes also for the local handicrafts, most woven or embroidered, mere fabrics and thread blossoming in delicate, intricate, colorful designs which made me stare. I saw an Afghan carpet resembling Native American ones, the pattern only a sparse set of chevron stripes and arrows, but I would have paid dearly for it, such was the aesthetic impact. Luckily, it was in a museum, not a shop, and I didn’t see any knock-offs, though I did look.
The list of other things which impressed me is very long, comprising such things as the strikingly welcoming style of communication at all hours of the day and night, the matter-of-fact kindness, the homes and communal buildings and their surprising similarity, the divine fruit and nuts, the abundance of kittens, the Jewish community, which like everywhere else has merged entirely with its surroundings, adopting all the prominent traits of the local culture and becoming an interesting local blend of Uzbek-faced Jewish people called either variations of Rovshan and Alisher or something deeply archaic and Biblical, who typically consider a medieval poetry recital a wedding reception kind of entertainment on a par with singing and dancing, and night-time readings in Jewish texts led by one of the most charming, most charismatic geniuses I’ve met.
I do not, however, have enough pages left in this notebook, the plane is very shaky (I doubt I’ll be able to read my handwriting after), and the gabber behind me has (temporarily?) shut up, so that’s a sorely needed opportunity to catch up on the work I was in no mood to do in Bukhara.
P.S. When I got up to stretch my legs after writing this, I saw that the young man who’d been leaning on me the entire time was whiling away the time by drawing impeccably even patterns of arches and minarets in his notebook. The unfathomable aesthetic sense of these people! One’s only left to wonder why they dress in pleather, velour, and rhinestone-studded jersey all the time.
*Credit where credit is due: the 1/3 of the women who are beautiful, are so in a stunning, uncompromising way.
Yeah I’m here, who said I wasn’t.
This has been a month of firsts for me. A. and I trekked to Cairo from Jerusalem. As we were shuddering through our five-hour ride in a speeding van in the dark desert, it suddenly struck us that it was not just a new city we were about to experience, and not merely a new country. In fact, it was an entire continent. The word “Africa” had always seemed so distant. Actually, it still does. And yet we were a train ride away from Chad or Niger, places hitherto synonymous with “unreachable”, and therefore “unreal”. As was the entire experience. We were sitting in the back of a van full of sleeping Egyptians, having a whispered argument about the Suez channel and whether we’d crossed it or not. Later, we found out we had.
We were there just before the current tumultuous events, by the way, and might have been among the last people to see Meseti’s beautiful wooden boat intact. The toy world found on Meseti’s sarcophagus, with the wooden models still wearing scraps of fabric for skirts as they went about their toy lives, was one of the things to leave the most profound impression on me. Funny how some things get at you. When they said there were people injured, even dead, I was, for want of a better word, concerned. But when this boat appeared in the news, broken, I cried. Suddenly, it became so very real to me that some kind of a world was crashing down.
Before that, for the first time in my life (that I can recall at least), I went to the Israel Museum. We didn’t spend too much time there, due to my embarrassingly short attention span and the sheer visual overload that the place inflicts on an unsuspecting citizen. However, we did see some awfully old and/or beautiful things. Including some sandal nails from some time B.C. Let me reiterate: funny how some things get at you. Small things. These are the nails that held someone’s shoes together, as he or she walked this land two millennia ago. These are the dried-up dates someone neglected to eat at dinner. 2,000 years ago. “Eat your dates,” said his or her mother then in a language I can speak now, “They’re healthy.”
Having returned from two weeks of intensive travel, I felt overcome by sluggishness. The snow, the early darkness, the thick clothing and clunky shoes, the freezing office were all extremely conducive to going home at 7 pm feeling like the day was over and spending five hours with the computer. So at some point I begged my brother for help and he graciously agreed to walk me by the hand to his capoeira class. The first time was last Monday. Last Wednesday I did a headstand. On my head. Using my hands for support. To support the bits of my body that weren’t supported by my head. This, obviously, was not something I’d anticipated doing. Not to worry, I’ve not been brilliant with the rest of it. Still. A month of firsts indeed.
For some reason, this post is begging for an ending that may seem a bit of a non-sequitur, but follows the rest perfectly in my head. Today I learned, or remembered, that Buddy Holly died at twenty-three. After which, I listened to “That’ll be the day” several times, thinking, I’m twenty-four. Twenty-four and a half this past January. It’s 2011. And there still are things in the world for me to do for the first time.
How come when you’re preparing to travel so many people surface immediately with urgent requests? Why is it those people have so many things they need taken to precisely the same country you’re going to at precisely the same moment you’re going there? And what, pray tell, is wrong with mail? Why do we have all these options, Fedex, UPS, DHL, and whatnot, only to have people calling me up two days before a trip to say, hi, you don’t know me, but I heard you were going somewhere, would you mind taking something for someone?
Now, there used to be a perfect loophole: luggage limits. Sorry, wish I could help, but I’ve only got 20 kilos, and my swimsuit alone weighs four. But now people have learned to say first thing, it’s not too heavy! Just a package! But it’s very important it gets to him. So I’m left with no socially acceptable way to decline. Sure, sure, I mumble, go ahead, what’s in it? Oh, just five books. About half a kilo each. So two and a half, maybe three. Six, of course it turns out, delivered to my door with sincere thanks and apologies for the inconvenience. When did it become okay to burden someone with a package a third of their entire luggage in size as long as you say thanks and sorry?
Then, of course, someone else needs to send something, and a third person, and before long we’re running our own little delivery service. If only we just had to stick it in our suitcase and get it there. But then we also need to make sure it’s picked up, right? So we get to this country were we are only going to stay a week, and before you can say “exploited” we’re on the phone with people, arranging meetings. Yeah, they say, tomorrow’s not good for me, how about you come round Monday? Lady, but you’re not the only one I’m carrying parcels for, I’ve got my rounds! I’ve got the books for Jack, and the money for Jill, and there’s also that package for the relatives! Do you mind, this is supposed to be a vacation!
By the time we’re done packing, our luggage has less contents that belong to us than those that don’t. How fun, then, to talk to security officers at the airport! Yeah, I packed this on my own. Yes, it’s all mine. No, nobody gave me anything for anyone, who do you take me for, of course not. Of course.
We’ve been planning to have a winter vacation this year, so when I got a nice fat envelope for a translation—really, I’ve never held such a thick wad of bills before, although don’t be mistaken, it’s because they paid me in twenties—we decided to get the plane tickets right away, to have the largest expense behind us.
Usually, this kind of thing is my responsibility, so I logged on to the online booking page and selected the flight we’d set our hearts on already, one with two very long connections in Vienna, so we’d have the additional treat of spending an afternoon and a night in a magnificent city we’d never seen before. Once the flight was booked, the website gave me a printable receipt, and I immediately wired the money over to the agency. Meanwhile, the e-ticket arrived to my inbox. It said: 9 Jan V. to T. via Kiev, connection 5 hrs; 21 Jan T. to V. via Kiev, connection 7 hrs.
Now, Kiev is a city we have most definitely been to before. In particular, we’ve enjoyed its fabulous airport, reminiscent of the train station in A.’s native provincial town in Russia. We’ve actually missed a flight home from Kiev once and had to take an overnight train because we’d made the mistake of thinking that a cab would get us from the city to the airport in an hour and a half. It is obvious now that a five-hour connection would be just about enough to get down town and back without stopping, and provided there’s no traffic.
Well, there was nothing to do but pick up the phone and call the booking agency. Hello, I said, I have a problem with reservation #xxxxxxx. Yes, the one that says NO CANCELLATIONS NO EXCHANGES NO REFUNDS underneath the four-digit price. Yes, I booked it myself just now. Yes, I’ve already paid for it. Yes, I’d like to cancel that, please. Why yes, I’d love a discount code to the same amount on my next purchase with you! Thank you!—After this highly improbable act of mercy on the part of the clerk, I only had to wait for my code to come in and re-book.
The next day (yesterday), the code was sitting there in my inbox, and I rushed gleefully back to the booking page. This time, I double-checked where I was clicking on, and made sure to get Vienna and the long connection, not the option listed right below it, of a mere 40-minute transfer in Vienna’s unfamiliar airport (we wouldn’t want any discomfort the second time round, right?). The tickets were booked, the price difference paid, the confirmation mailed to me, and happy announcements made to our friends in Destination Country.
Today I decided to tell our friend in Vienna, who was a big part of the reason for this whole NO KIEV WE WANT VIENNA hullabaloo, the times of our arrivals. January 9th is the day we’re flying there. The day we’re flying back, deliberated over for over a week with regard to our lonely cats and our limited leave from work, is January 21st. Except that I’d marked this as the day we fly out, so most of the journey would be on the 22nd. A Saturday. When A. can’t fly because he has severe Judaism. On an unrelated note, I hate religion.
To sum up, this, children, is why I shouldn’t be permitted to do things. Especially things involving money, where a mistake would (and will) cost upwards of $200 to fix. Oh, and that lovely second night in Vienna? Will be all mine to enjoy. Alone.
The airport smells of palm trees. A Filipino cleaning lady is sitting in the empty corridor, rocking back and forth with a note and a cellphone in her hand. Are you beseder, okay?, I ask in Hebrew. She looks up uncertainly. Hebrew no, sorry, she says. English? Russian?, I ask. Ruski, she lights up. Is everything horosho, okay? Do you need help? She sighs and gets up to point at something for me. No no, I protest, I help you, yes? You need? She rocks her head slowly, turns to her supplies cart, hangs about for a while then pushes it off down a passage.
Jerusalem smells of spicy meat, hot asphalt, something sweet. At night it smells of flowers fluttering in the light wind from the hills. It does not smell of figs, though when I come out into the courtyard they are sticky under my bare feet. Sadeh?, asks the postman. No, I reply. Water bill in their name, he says. I shrug – okay. Sign here, he says, giving me the bill in an envelope, smaller than the one already on the mirror, in someone else’s name, placed there by somebody other than me.
I like the way time works here (night is just day with the lights switched off, it comes so early and everything takes so little notice of it), the smells and the tastes. Israel tastes to me like breakfast dairy, like freshly baked pita bread of which I eat entirely too much, like the salt of the sea in which I bathe entirely too little, like the curried meats I don’t eat anymore, but their taste lingers, like bottled water, like fresh fruit of so many names and colours.
The airport in our city is a tiny one, consisting of two halls: pre-check-in and post-check-in (with a duty free kiosk with alcohol and chocolate). The lavatories have a storey to themselves, glorious expanses with numerous stalls and mirrors on every wall, so that one can watch oneself from every angle and see in reality how one becomes a crowd in and outside oneself. There are echoes and soap in every dispenser.
There are no people downstairs. That is because there are not so many people generally in the airport. For instance, there is never a shortage of power outlets, despite their rather limited quantity. This might be a sign of outstanding human flow management; they do seem to be able to fill the planes, at least to a certain extent.
Miraculously, however, there are always familiar faces at the airport. Those faces usually have certain distinctive features, placing them in a certain, evidently almost nomadic, ethnic group. ‘Hi,’ says High Ranking Community Executive. ‘Have you seen Notorious Religious Figure? I’m sort of hiding from him.’ ‘Hi,’ you say. ‘Yeah, I’ve seen him. Good thing he doesn’t recognize me.’
‘Hi,’ says Notorious Religious Figure. ‘What is your name? Where did you spend Important Traditional Holiday?’ ‘Hello,’ you say. ‘We went to Religious Organization #2.’ ‘Ohh,’ a resounding groan. ‘Why did you go there? Did you not know I had a beautiful celebration which was entirely free?’ By this time Religious Figure is already towering imposingly over your seat on the plane. You feel somewhat responsible for calming him down so that he does not scare the other passengers. ‘We found out too late,’ you say. The plane takes off.
In the transit airport you try to keep an eye on the Figure, but the next plane is flying to the Holy Land, so he is lost in the throng of his likes, engaged in Vigorous Religious Activity against the darkening window looking out on the departure field, full of lights planes flickering cars workers luggage trucks things. You are halfway there, at least you’ve already caught up with the holylandish laid-back attitude towards time. Your flight is being delayed, there’s time to read. The Religious Activity ought to have been performed several hours ago, but Providence must not disregard time zones. There’s time to read.
Number of days spent in Ukraine: 7
Number of cities visited: ~11
Number of hostile encounters with local police: 2.5
Number of trains missed: 2
Number of times addressed as a boy: 2 (‘How old are you, lad?’ – while boarding a train; ‘You, boy, what do you think you’re doing?’ – for sitting on a windowsill)
Average temperature outside: 5C (41F)
Number of warm(ish) garments packed: 1.5
Cumulative weight of dirt removed from body and clothes upon return: ~725 pounds
Cumulative weight of bread eaten instead of food over the week: ~3 tons
Number of dubious compliments received from close ones: close to infinity
Number of laughs and amount of fun had on the trip: even closer to infinity
Number of photos brought back: ~320 (but, State of Flickr account: expired; Level of comfort with Picasa: zero)
Number of pages to study for one of three classes tomorrow: 30
Things missed most: privacy, sleep, local friends, bath products, razors, nail clippers, warm sweaters, clean jeans, the gym, real coffee, e-mail, J.S.Foer’s Everything is Illuminated, Will & Grace, my language classes
Things missed least: the other classes, the orthodontist, distance from friends, deadlines
This post is supposed to be a reflection of my current condition, which is: overtired, under-healed from a cold, very cranky. Unfortunately, there are no adequate literary means for that in my possession, so if you usually need to read words to yourself quietly (no need to be embarrassed here), use a croaky voice and interject every second sentence with a mighty sniff. Otherwise, feel free to imagine me doing it for you. Now, on to the point.
Some relationships have what we may call a differentiation point. For example, that point in a conversation between two people who have so far been nothing but charmed by each other, when there comes the question of age and the reply is (a couple decades) short of the expected. Or when two people are conversing and one mentions casually that English is not his or her first language. From that point on, nothing is ever the same. The one is plagued by questions (God, did I just compliment her choice of entree? Does that make me a pedophile?? or, Was this a good joke or a bad mistake? How do I correct it and remain PC?) while the other is usually just thinking WHY DID I BLAB THAT! The past relationship is no more.
For me, this point is probably the braces and the reasons behind them. Despite my fairly evident tendency to overshare online, when it comes to real people I would rather their knowledge of the issue were directly proportionate to our closeness. That is, the vast majority of the people I encounter should remain completely ignorant. It is just that when you tell people that you are going through more or less what their grandparents went through just recently, it tends to cast a certain tinge on their further way of relating to you.
With that in mind, imagine my elation at the news that the route of our upcoming teaching trip to Ukraine will include every Jewish guesthouse from the capital onwards. A little insight into our millenia-old culture: a Jewish guesthouse means gender-based rooms of six or more, with shared bathrooms. What you are thinking if you are a healthy, octogenarian-health-issue-less person, is – how the Gehenna will this couple survive a week of separation without that taking a toll on their marriage and eventually leading to painful divorce?? Commendable care for our union which we appreciate, and why did I not think of that? Because all I heard was, shared bathrooms, ringing in my ears like ‘Next!’ at the executioner’s office.
In my view, there are two ways this could go. One, being forced to brush in public, letting people observe my hour-long mutant procedure with the teeth. Okay, who am I kidding, this stage is long past. Still, the sight of braces being brushed, however briefly, is blood-chilling and will certainly reveal more than desirable about me. The other way is to em-brace (oh, hilarious) the situation and avoid brushing my teeth altogether, which would result by the end of the trip in me smelling like the indigenous people of Ukraine – that meant in the best possible way, but having in mind that there are very few possible good ways of meaning that. A bonus option has been generously offered by A.; that is to use him as a bouncer to drive everyone out of the public bathroom and then guard me through my dental hygiene. If ever you wondered what true chivalry was, this is it.
All that said, one might suggest this is blown wildly out of proportion. One might insinuate even that this post is about nothing at all. One might be right, but then one is cordially invited to a) find other things for me to blog about; b) find another way for me to express my worries about everything and nothing, currently aggravated beyond crayzeee with threee eee’s; or c) kindly bugger off.
For the past several days my mind has been an informational and emotional Alcatraz: plenty of treasure on the inside, nothing ever gets out. The trip was so overwhelming and so tiring that I felt as though my ability to share had been swept away. I was all left back there, exhausted.
Every time I’d close my eyes, I’d immediately fall asleep and see people laughing, frowning, waving at me. My favourite girls in dresses wet with seawater, my dear boys with stubble on their chins and hoarse voices from the singing and the endless arguing. I saw countless breathtaking Crimean views – mountains, plains, the sea – but none as beautiful as my friends. Then, again and again, I’d force myself awake and find myself alone, hundreds of miles away from the people I regard as my world.
I thought I needed a timeout to get back on track, but it seems like that timeout could go on forever. So I’m easing myself into normalcy, browsing Etsy, working out, editing photos (half-thinking of selling some prints), drinking Coffee of the Week at the Coffee Inn, following Olympic basketball (Lithuania lost to Spain in the semi-finals, bah), watching Wall-E (the cuteness!), reading all your blogs, trying on my own blogging hat once again. Welcome back, me.
Hello everyone, I’m sorry I’m away all the time with no posts and hardly any comments. Lots of things have been happening, among others: A’s 22nd, my first sort-of-wedding gig, A teaching me to swim, lots of inner turmoil, and mad preparations for the camp we are now leaving to work in.
We’re flying to Odessa in the morning, then taking an overnight bus to the actual place of the camp. It will hopefully be two wonderful Crimean weeks in the mountains by the sea, and when we come back I’ll have stories to tell, pictures to post, and lots of time to catch up on all your blogs.
Make sure you enjoy the summer and eat lots of greens. You’ll regret it if you don’t – December will come and there will be no veggies, however hard you crave them! (Unless you go to the supermarket and buy some mummified imported stuff, but that’s neither here nor there.) Okay, bye now.
Dear diary, it’s been a while. In these past couple of weeks the following things happened:
1) our third wedding anniversary. Last poll showed we are both still pleased with the arrangement, so yeah, staying married for now. If this sounds cynical to you, rest assured we had lots of time for sappy professions of love as we boarded and rode an overnight train to Moscow. How creative is a second-class sleeping carriage for an anniversary venue?
2) we had a seminar in Moscow for work. You might have gathered as much already. After all, we only ever go to Russia, where most of our friends and all of A’s family live, for work. It seems that all we did this week was ride various trains and buses, wait for people, and argue with them. Oh, and goof around, of course. After all, these are the people we love.
3) I turned 22. A gloomy day it was indeed, despite the numerous gifts and celebratory text messages I got. I’d never spent my birthday bickering with people about insignificant aspects of reading texts with children before, and I’d rather it didn’t happen ever again. Oh, and we were hungry most of that day. And I didn’t get a birthday cake, which is plain sinful.
4) I read ‘A Midsummer-night’s Dream’ for the first time from beginning to end, and most of Neal Stephenson’s ‘Quicksilver’, and there are two more books of his Baroque Cycle remaining to read, and Pratchett’s latest, ‘Making Money’. Nothing bad about that.
What did you do? This is not a rhetorical question.
This trip turned out to be a learning trip. It was so rich with revelations there was practically no room left for much else.
I learned once again about real friendship, which doesn’t always need to involve personal presence, but is all the more exciting when it does. A friendship I value is a lucky, tricky, strange, full, and happy convergence of two people who couldn’t be more different or more alike. I am lucky to have several of these.
I learned about being the object of the emotions other people usually evoke in myself: concern, kindness, incomprehension, puzzlement, impatience, endless patience, affection, and a desire to share. I haven’t thought much about the way I react to these, and it is probably time to give it more consideration.
I learned a very important lesson about coping with loneliness. I was by myself a lot on the trip, however this was not the self-sufficient solitude of choice, but rather the desolate loneliness of choicelessness. The hours I spent this way left me despairing, with nothing to apply myself to, scared. I want to avoid these.
Finally, I learned something about writing. Someone gave me ‘Lost in Translation’ by Eva Hoffman to read, and the slow, soft, reflective style of someone who went through assimilating a whole new language as their main means of self-expression is an epiphany for me. There is much food for thought in this.
Good thing nobody reads this blog, because otherwise I would have to apologize for being N/A all the time these days. Partly, time is to blame – I am finally starting to lose the momentum I gained by taking part in NaBloPoMo last year. But largely it’s like this lyric (points if you can identify it without using Google):
So, take this down:
I just feel so beat
and I think it’s time
to admit defeat
I thought I got mine
but that uphill climbing
is never through.
I think the song is about relationships and suchlike, but I am taking the liberty to apply it to matters more mundane, id est, the end of term. Ten exams, people. Ten freaking exams which, I’ll have you know, I’ve been acing so far, and that made me exhausted enough to fail my driving test. You heard it here first.
I am devastated about the driving, and have been falling asleep and/or bursting in tears at random times for a while now, which behaviour is usually restricted to times of severe PMS, but evidently, exams have the same effect on me. (Soon they should be issuing a governmental ban on whining on blogs, have faith.)
There is only one exam left tomorrow, after which, no matter the result, I am packing up and taking a train to glorious St. Petersburg where some of the most fabulous people I know happen to reside. The shop called today to say that my lens has been fixed – just in time and free of charge. So photos shall abound forsooth.