Category Archives: Once upon a time when I was living in Bucharest…

Florence, a city like no other..., Once upon a time when I was living in Bucharest..., Stories from the crypt of life

Once upon a time I gave up on people

Ever since I was a child, I loved observing humans. I loved the way they talked, the way they walked, acted, thought, innovated, struggled, prevailed. Whenever there was a problem that needed solving, I was there to help. Of course, most of the time I made a bigger mess than needed. Thus, over the years, close family and friends discouraged my actions telling me that sooner or later I will be disappointed, that some day I will understand the cruelty of the world we are living in and give up. I knew they were probably right, but….

Friends broke my heart, colleagues took advantage of my willingness to always be there and still it seemed I would never learn, using what others called my favorite excuse: ” I never expect anything back, therefore I can’t be disappointed.” Until one day…

I was in my last year of University, preparing for my dissertation and also had just got admitted to a second University that year. The Universities were 300 kilometers apart, so my life was mostly spent in between 3 hour train rides. It was one of the best and worst years of my life. On that particular day, I had just taken an exam and ran to take another one the next morning. I got on the train and tried to find an empty compartment to study. The train was packed. I was just about to give up on my search and light a cigarette on the train’s hallway, when I saw him. An old men, sleeping in an empty compartment. I grabbed my backpack and went in, filled with hope. He would sleep the whole way, I would be able to study in peace. After an hour I felt confident. The texts weren’t that hard and if I was lucky I could probably even close my eyes for half an hour.

The old man started twisting and turning. I looked at him for five minutes trying to guess what kind of man he was. He looked over 60 years old, his breath reeked of alcohol. Still, there was something in his expression that made me smile. One more twist, one more turn. A bill fell out of his pocket and landed right in front of my shoes. It was the equivalent of 150 euros. I was a student, money were always a luxury. I could have paid ten train rides with that money, eat for a month, buy new books, go out with my friends, eat, eat, eat. I could have… but maybe he could have done the same thing. Maybe that was the only money he had for the entire month. Maybe…

I picked up the bill from the floor and reached for the old man’s arm. At first I shook him gently, but when he didn’t even move an inch I pushed him a little harder. Startled, he jumped up and looked into my eyes confused.

“I’m sorry to wake you up” I said ” but this fell out of your pocket”.

He grabbed the bill, shoved it deep into his pocket and asked: “Are you just giving the money back to me?”

I nodded in approval, smiling. What followed marked me for weeks, months to come.

“Are you stupid? Are you crazy? How can anyone be so retarded? You are 20 something right? From the books in front of you I guess you are a student. You don’t have money! You could spend the next week living like a queen!”

I was shocked, but he continued to shout.

“You, my dear, are the perfect example why humanity doesn’t work! Do you expect a thank you? Do you think that if you did this good deed, life will be more gentle or fair to you? Do you think I am grateful? You are just another hypocritical little bitch who will regret every act of kindness you did in your life. This money is drinking money for me; it would have been survival money for you. Or who knows, you may as well be a drinking bitch too!”

After screaming the last sentence, he turned around, laid back in his seat and closed his eyes to go back to sleep. For him it was over; for me it was just the beginning. Was he right? Was my family right? Were my friends right? Was I stupid? I tried to shake the weight of his words away, but I couldn’t stop feeling disappointed. Maybe I did expect gratitude? Maybe the smile a normal person would have given me for returning their money would have been my reward. Maybe humans weren’t as fascinating as I thought. Suddenly a wave of anger ran through my body. I wasn’t going to help anyone, ever again. It was decided; I was to blend in and believe that people were cruel and sooner or later they will hurt you for no reason at all.

I kept my word for almost three years; three years thinking only about my needs, not caring about others, pretending to be someone else. Until one evening….Walking back from work with a friend, I saw a drunk old man, muttering words, unable to stand up on his feet. I passed him by, but couldn’t help to look back. My friend told me to walk away and stop thinking about that foolish drunk. “What if he has a family that is looking for him? What if he is lost?” I whispered almost to myself.

Pointless to say what I did next but from that moment on I stopped thinking about what other people expected from me. Would I be disappointed? Probably! Am I a fool? I am almost sure of that. What I am certain of is that humans are worth it; that maybe I hurt someone once; that I surely disappointed a lot of people.

Humans are beautiful. They just lack confidence in themselves. Humans are beasts. They need a constant reminder to look into their souls. Who knows, maybe that old man from the train was so angry because someone reminded him that humans can also be kind. And yes, humans will hurt you for no reason at all, but do you expect them to be grateful or just follow your own path?

Florence, a city like no other..., Once upon a time when I was living in Bucharest...

A place I used to call home

We forget the places we come from. We keep into our thoughts and memories certain smells, some mental pictures and moments, the faces of the people we love. We pretend to remember and to know what is happening in those places even if we are far away and disconnected from that world. The fact is that we only remember what we choose to and never the reality that is played everyday in the lives of the people who are left behind.

I am back to the place I used to call home and I remember now. I remember how much I used to love this house. I remember how we assembled all the furniture and the comfort of the couch that hosted my tears and smiles over the years. I remember how I used to pace the kitchen floor thinking that it was the most beautiful place in the world. I remember our first Christmas here and my 25th birthday spent at the kitchen table with good friends eating dinner. I remember the dreams we forged in this place, the kisses, the parties, the smell of good food and incredible sweets. I remember the despair, the long discussions in the middle of the night, packing and unpacking after every long trip in different parts of the country. I remember how we decided to completely change our lives on the same couch I am sitting now and the following painful months before we were reunited as a family again. I remember and can feel everything now.

Coming back to this house that witnessed so much, is joy and sadness at the same time. I am everything I set out to be when I packed the last boxes and moved away never planning to come back. This place confirms my decision and fills my heart with melancholy and maybe a little bit of pain. It’s hard to face your past and your last memories within the walls you chose to be your family’s first home. After tasting all the good and bad memories, there is only one image that dwells into my thoughts: my final moments of loneliness here. Never in my life have I felt a greater pain than that of sitting alone in a home we had build ourselves, struggling and fighting the thought of leaving my country, my city, the people I love. Being alone, packing our memories in cardboard boxes, sealing them and putting them away in a dark place, sleeping in a big empty bed, isolating myself from the rest of the world, sitting on the terrace breathing in the cigarette smoke feeling empty and abandoned. That is the last memory I shared with this place.

Now, after so many years, after building so many new, wonderful memories, this empty house smiles back at me and tells me: “I told you so!”  No longer my home, but still a big part of me.

365 days of my life, Once upon a time when I was living in Bucharest..., Raising Ephia to become my friend

Day 294 – Spring is officially here!

I love the first day of March. It’s a special day for me ever since I was a kid. In my country, traditionally, everyone gives out a particular gift today, especially to girls. The gift consists in a small brooch, tied with a red and white string that you have to wear the entire month. Ten years ago I started taking off the brooch, but never stopped wearing the string on my wrist.

This is one of those days when I really miss being in Bucharest. Everyone is smiling, every women is holding huge flower bouquets, you can buy snowdrops from any corner of the street, there are fairs everywhere and red and white is the predominant color. Oh, boy, do I miss snowdrops. They are my favorite flowers in the world, the only flower that can make me dream and stand still for hours, just admiring it. I don’t get to enjoy snowdrops here and no one wears a red and white string on their wrist, which kind of makes me a freak when I go out on the 1st of March and smile, showing off my string to anyone I encounter.

Today I compensated the lack of snowdrops with a great outing with Ephia. She is going to be one of the stars in an photo exhibit soon (details coming up), so today she had a lot of fun playing while her picture was being taken and I was enjoying a nice cappuccino in excellent company. Even the sun came out to salute us for a couple of hours, so I guess March will be a good month this year.

These being said, may you all have a fairy-tale kind of spring, surrounded by lots of smiles, hugs and many, many flowers. Happy 1st of March everyone!!!!!

365 days of my life, Once upon a time when I was living in Bucharest...

Day 167 – Some facts about my snow

There are not a lot of things that I miss from back home, but one of the things I have on that short list is snow. Winters in my country are this magical fairy tale and snowing is exactly as described in children’s stories.There is also that after snowing part with the slime, the bogs, and insane traffic, which no one loves and I won’t mention; I will pretend it doesn’t exist for the next couple of minutes.

On one of my many bus rides today, I took out my phone and browsed the news feed on Facebook, and there it was, the perfect snow looking back at me from a friend’s picture, winking and calling me outside to play. I looked out the window and what do you know, a sunny day in Florence and at least 25 Celsius degrees outside. Well, the prices you have to pay to live in this city are starting to become impossible hahaha. That picture took me back for five minutes and I remembered my childhood, when there weren’t so many cars to squash all that beautiful snow, make it dirty and finally transforming it into a filthy puddle. Those were the days when we would go outside, build snowmen and steal carrots for their noses, all of us tucked into a tone of clothes with rubber boots and four pairs of socks on our feet, but still managed to get home freezing and wet. We were the happiest children on Earth from my perspective and I used to love to wake up in the middle of the night only to watch the snow fall down slowly from the grayish, cloudy sky.

After that five minutes of time traveling, I looked back outside the window, mentally waved at Ponte Vecchio that was shining in the light of the sunset and remembered that although I miss those winters, I don’t miss the cold that comes with them. I wish it would snow here this winter, so I can introduce Ephia to some snowflakes and why not to our own built snowman. Maybe I will get my wish by the end of the year, meanwhile, back home in Bucharest the snow is covering everything in its path and people are already talking about winter tires which kind of makes me laugh.

So what do you think guys? Any snow in Florence this year? Should we import some and build something amazing with it? I can provide the carrots, I don’t have to steal them anymore.

365 days of my life, Once upon a time when I was living in Bucharest...

Day 139 – Riding the bus

These last couple of weeks I have been forced to take the bus a lot to get around. I used to love taking the bus, especially back home in Bucharest, where riding the bus can become a small adventure if done in the middle of traffic rush hours. I used to read tones of books on the bus, because an under thirty minutes bus ride didn’t exist and of course at least another twenty minutes metro ride to reach my destination. I miss the metro sometimes, especially during the summer when everything you need is to crawl in one of those wholes that man kind dug for travelling purposes, to hide from the dry heat that Bucharest is blessed with every year.

Ever since I was blessed with a car (I know now that is a blessing), I forgot the disadvantages a bus ride has. First of all your schedule is decided by others and sometimes what used to be a ten minute drive, becomes an hour with the bus. Second of all, you are stripped of all your comfort and you have to share your space, your feelings, your urgent phone calls with all the strangers around you and they too are very generous and share their smells and thoughts with you. The bike is always a good option in Florence, but cars are very mean and sometimes it’s more dangerous than it seems. So, anyway, in Florence, it’s rather easier than back home to get around by bus, because in the city areas where traffic becomes mad, buses have a special lane and I for one kind of enjoy flying passed the suckers in cars waiting for the never-ending red semaphore lights to turn green. The problem is I love being in traffic when driving (I know, I am weird that way), just because it used to allow me time to stand still and think and we never force ourselves to stand still and just think anymore. In the bus though, you have your elderly people, and it seems to not matter in which country you are, they all act the same. They all have this unique desire to ride the bus when people go to work or come back from work and the space is cramped and you feel like a match in an over crowded match box. The funniest thing is when you see them running after the bus like real athletes and a soon as they step foot in it they become needy and helpless. Of course you have to give them your seat, because you are a polite and well raised person, so you watch them, sitting down, and all the tired from work people hanging like clothes on a string, some almost falling asleep, some grinning because of the pain of standing up after 12 hours of work, some smiling because the next stop is theirs. And you know what all these people must think in their heads? Why don’t I have a fucking car? (hahahaha) I remember when I was pregnant I had to take the bus a lot and at some point, when my belly became so big that poked every one around, tears were almost making their way on my cheeks because of the pain of standing up, and none of the hypnotized people sitting down offered me their seat. It’s so funny to watch them how they look away intentionally or pretend not to hear or see you because of the book and headphones distracting them. I’ve never encountered this type of ignorance and dis-consideration else where but here and although I am bad mouthing the elders too, they were the only ones who would stand up and offer me their seat back then. Such good times to remember!

Also the pleasure of reading in the bus was also taken away from me, the moment I realized I cannot concentrate and enjoy it anymore with all the sounds and the smells and the poking around me. All in all what I am trying to say is that there is a time and place for everything and either if you pass from walking to taking the bus, to riding a bike or to a car, the thing is you grow from one level to another and taking one step back is always cruel and hard even if you used to enjoy that step. The only bus I love in Florence is the one that spins around in my neighborhood; it’s always empty, the drivers are always smiling and it never fails to take me home in less than five minutes. For all the rest, I hate you so much and I can’t wait to see the day (soon enough) when I will be sitting at the red semaphore lights and watch you pass me by on your special lane, with your overwhelming matches poking inside, and I will smile and think that I would rather have a comfortable hour in traffic than ten minutes in a match box.

365 days of my life, Once upon a time when I was living in Bucharest...

Day 73 – A story about nothing

What would a story about nothing sound like? Many, many years ago, I had to take a simple exam that would have assured me a very nice job. I was the best of the best and I had to take a written test and then have a final interview with two prestigious teachers. I was so confident, that I didn’t even bother to check my answers after the written exam and it turned out I was right: I did perfect. The next day, the day of the interview, I wasn’t nervous at all. I just went in and patiently waited my turn, having a huge smile on my face that said: “I got this!”. On the chair in front of me there was a small guy, about my age, that was biting his nails and whispering something to himself. I said hi to him although I knew it was between me and him; he was the enemy.

After ten minutes they called us inside and our seats were next to each other while facing the two teachers. The room was a perfect square and the furniture included four chairs, a table between us and them, a huge library filled with heavy books and a giant clock on the wall in front of me. That clock was to become my nothing. First we had to introduce ourselves and I did a better job than the other guy, but the clock kept staring at me. The next step was a round of questions and we each had five minutes to answer. He used his five minutes wisely, talking rarely and clearly, not wasting any second to impress the ones judging us. When I got my turn, I felt pale. I had never been nervous at exams or interviews in my entire life and I knew this wasn’t the case either, but that giant clock… The teachers asked me the first question and when their mouths stopped pushing words out into the room, silence made its presence. The only thing I have heard was the tick-tock of the clock. I never heard the question, I didn’t know the answer, because my brain had stopped and processed only the tick-tock.

“- Mrs. Ela, are you with us? Can you answer the question, please?

–       I… (tick-tock) I… (tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock)

–       Do you want us to move on to the next question?

–       I… (tick-tock) guess so (tick-tock).”

I could feel the satisfaction that raised the corners of my opponent’s lips into a devilish smile, I could feel the disappointment into the teacher’s eyes, I knew I was failing and still, screaming at myself inside, slapping my face to wake up didn’t work and I felt as if I was brain dead except the tick-tock of the clock on the wall. I had never failed in my life until then, so I had no idea what feeling failing leaves you with. My five minutes were up and although we had a couple more rounds to go it was pointless for me to go on, I couldn’t even look anywhere else anymore except at that fucking giant… tick-tock.

When I left the building and I had to face D, my tears were rolling undisturbed on my cheeks. I hardly ever cry; I was taught that crying is an act of weakness, so my eyes have limited tears supplies. We never spoke until we arrived into the metro station and I kept crying and crying, not being able to stop, not being able to tell him what’s wrong, not being able to understand what happened. I finally swallowed my tears, wiped them off with my sleeves, like any respectable lady, and told him about my first failure in life. He smiled at me, then his eyes got bigger, the way they get when he suddenly has a brilliant idea, and said:

“ – Can you imagine a screenplay about your story?

–       What story? Didn’t you hear me? I just stood there like an idiot; I did nothing.

–       Exactly; a story about nothing, while a giant clock on a wall stares at you and goes tick-tock, tick-tock.”

365 days of my life, Once upon a time when I was living in Bucharest...

Day 72 – The kind of person I “used” to be

I seem to be a very different person than I was three years ago. That is not even a little bit true, but because I am more constrained by time and life priorities than back then, this seems to be the general opinion (even mine sometimes). Today, me and my better half took a ride down the memory lane and remembered one of my adventures.

I had just moved to Florence and everything seemed to shape in a natural way: nice house, nice job, lots of free time and lots of Martini’s after work hours. After six months, I got a little home sick and just wanted to jump on a plane and spend at least two hours in my beautiful Bucharest. Of course you can’t do that if you have no reason at all so, I started spending all my free time, browsing the internet to find any kind of event that needed my attention and presence back home. I couldn’t find anything for a long time and a lot of Martini drinks until… my favorite band posted an announcement that they will be singing in a private club two weeks from that date. I was set and my plan was being forged; I waited for D to come home and informed him that I had to, I just had to go to that concert, that it could be my last chance to see them perform and a lot of nonsense reasons which I can’t even remember right now. The next day my flight was booked and I couldn’t wait to get on that plane. Needless to say that those two weeks of waiting were as long as two years in my head and I couldn’t concentrate on anything else. Friday afternoon I was waiting in the airport of Rome, thinking that I got my wish: I had one night to spend in Bucharest, only one night; the next morning I had to be on the flight back. My excitement was off the charts and I think at some point I felt like brain was going to explode because of all the mixed feelings and emotions. When I stepped foot in Bucharest, I wanted to just scream to everyone that I am home, but I had no time for that and also my people get a little nervous when they see freaks like me expressing themselves. So I ran into the parking lot where my cousin was waiting to pick me up. Because I have a tone of friends and family members and they all love me (or at least that is what I want to believe), this trip was supposed to be a secret. I didn’t have the heart to tell only some of them, so I chose very carefully what to do and not hurting other people’s feelings in the process. I decided to tell only one person who was never willing to share me with anyone else that also ensuring that my secret will be safe. We met downtown and practically ran to the club where the concert was held. When we went into the club, the first impact was that everyone was smoking and although while waiting in the airport that was one of the first things I dreamed of doing, when I saw everyone smoking inside it seemed very weird and wrong. I lit a cigarette, but I remember feeling very uncomfortable and putting it out after three drags. I spent that night like it was my last night in Bucharest, like that was my last concert and my last adventure: singing at the concert (if screaming counts as singing), and then just drinking coffee after coffee downtown, constantly changing bars every thirty minutes, breathing that polluted air, admiring all the buildings, absorbing every word that my friend was telling me. When I got to the airport at 8 am, I was exhausted but very happy. D was waiting for me at the airport and because I landed in Pisa the first thing we did was to grab a coffee while watching the waves from the Marina di Pisa and telling him all about my adventure.

That is the kind of person some people say I am not anymore, but I can assure you that if given the opportunity that person is still in there, waiting at the airport to spend a night partying in Bucharest or anywhere else in the world. So, don’t make false assumptions, I can surprise the hell out of you.

P.S. I have to share one of the songs of the band I was talking about. I would fly a thousand times just to hear them play.

365 days of my life, Florence, a city like no other..., Once upon a time when I was living in Bucharest...

Day 10 – A little bit homesick

As I was saying here, a few months ago I have designed an application where I reviewed and visited the coolest pubs in Florence. Today I had the chance to be in one of my favorites again, James Joyce. You can find it on Via Lungarno Cellini 1, and it opens at 4 pm every day. This pub has everything for everyone and gives a good vibe for one to start the evening.

The thing that I like most about it is because it reminds me of home and although I would never go back and live there, Bucharest has a way of calling you back for at least a visit or two. All the narrow streets down town, filled with bars, and pubs, and old fashion restaurants, are like vintage marvels, thrown into a big bowl like in a magic trick. I had a taste of my old life today, sipping from my coke and smoking a cigarette, and I must tell you it was a pretty interesting life. Hopping on buses to be on time at the next class I had to teach, swearing like a truck driver in traffic only to smile afterwards when I would have reached my destination, lounging in bookshops drinking coffee and smoking while reading everything in sight, meeting up with friends for concerts or gossip; but the thing I loved most and I also miss most is my beloved park, where you can find the most beautiful terrace with such an obvious name: At the Library. I used to spend hours, just sitting there with my laptop and writing short stories, having coffee after coffee, smile after smile and tear after tear when I was done.

That is the only thing that I couldn’t find to replace in Florence and maybe that’s why sometimes Bucharest calls me back and whispers in my imagination that it misses my stories and my laughs. Here is my old inspiration source: At the Library (La Biblioteca).

03-biblioteca-bar-loungephoto credits for this photo –  http://wickedsista.wordpress.com/tag/herastrau-park/

Once upon a time when I was living in Bucharest...

Little brave drivers…

I feel compelled to talk about my hometown, Bucharest. I have so many memories, funny and sad stories and sometimes just the way it grew on me comes to mind; so I must share…let’s explore Bucharest from my perspective with its ups and downs…

First of all Bucharest is not a city but THE city were all brave drivers in the world live in… if you ever drove in Bucharest and stayed alive you are a hero… Bucharest’s drivers are very “patient” due to the long (unthinkable) hours spent in traffic… the best  hours to drive for “fun” are 7 am and 6 pm… you could even catch a coffee with the colleague from the next lane, the light would hit green (at least 10 times)and you would never have to worry about moving your car… it sounds terrifying but  it’s actually a good thing… rush hours are the only hours one from Bucharest has time to think… the rest of the time they are all kept busy by this gigantic and charming capital.

Let’s imagine that a non-resident has the nerve to role his tires among those heroes… they are “welcomed” with lots of “kind” words and a separate lane will be available for them (the tram’s tracks)… I was one of those brave Bucharest drivers so I had never experienced that kind of “hospitality” until 2 years ago when we drove into the city with an Italian registered car… so, we (me and my better half) had the nerve to go out in traffic with a foreign licence… disaster struck instantly… we found ourselves, in less than 3 minutes, on the counter flow lane, almost in the middle of the intersection and on the tram’s tracks… great huh? a soon as we got home (safely) I decided to use the other car, that had local licence plates and surprise, surprise for the next two weeks I had the best time in traffic…

All these aside, if you wake up in the middle of the night, and you want to go for a drive, just you and the stupid band on your player that you can’t get over with and you just want to play the same stupid song over and over again, this is the city to do it in… and then, after a while, when you get tired of chasing the lonely lanes and stopping at the bored traffic lights, you just pull over in the big parking lot in front of the Palace of Parliament  and  stare like an idiot because it’s a mastodon of beauty… so take a look… are you staring?

The Palace of Parliament