Don’t get me wrong, I am a tolerant person. I don’t criticize (although I might gossip about) someone’s sexual preference or behavior, I don’t resent other ethnicities (and how could I, a hodge-podge of Hungarian, Romanian and Jew, with some French vaudeville thrown in for good measure way up my family tree, and some stolid Saxon burghers up a different branch), and I keep my mouth mostly shut about religion, although I am pretty vehemently pro the Catholic church (in its Eastern incarnation).
So overall, you could say I am tolerant, in the sense of open to different ideas, interpretations, cultural experiences or people. But there are some things that break the limits of my tolerance, and Romania’s callous disregard of the good name of its citizens is one of the foremost.
In brief, I’ve had it with being ashamed of my national origins for no other reason than that we release a slew of uneducated, uncivilized, immoral people and set them loose upon other nations in bands, and when their lack of education, courtesy and morality inevitably leads to conflict, we step back and say: we are a poor country, freedom of circulation is a guaranteed right, these are the consequences of policies that have been imposed upon us and other BS.
From where I am standing, a crime is a crime and a felony is a felony. If squatting on public land is a felony, it should be punished as such. If stealing is a crime, then it should so be sanctioned. The argument of hunger is pathetic (as in appealing to pathos) but logically invalid, as long as we preach the common good and not individual satisfaction. It is not to my benefit that someone steals from me, and it is not in the general interest to admit that the satisfaction of one’s needs is an extenuating circumstance. Or else we’ll end up with rapists excusing themselves on the basis of their irresistible urge. And I honestly do not care what are the ethnic origins of a felon. One skin color or another is no more of an extenuating circumstance than an urge is. In a tolerant, modern society, people should neither be encouraged nor excused on the basis of their ethnicity. To do that is to legitimize racism. And if this country does that, then I no longer tolerate it.
Romania is based upon an expired social contract, where the few compromise on their individual goals for the greater common good. Except that the good is no longer common, it’s proprietary and it belongs to those that make no compromises.
So here I sit, excusing myself for being a native of Romania to all of my acquaintances abroad, carefully differentiating myself from those that they now expel, from those that live in squalid camps, from those that stretch the social contract to no end, only to let it rebound upon the rest of us. Tight in my little country, I “benefit” from the slurs that others heap upon us, from the limited freedom of work in this EU we have so proudly joined, from their mistrust. And all the while, the government that I pay from my own pockets does and says nothing but a bunch of crock.
Call me intolerant, but I’ve had it.
I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love,
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.
So says T.S. Eliot.
My friend R. and I used to have lengthy chats last year, many of which touched on the subject of hope. Hope is pernicious, she wrote, fingers clacking definitively on the keyboard. Hope does not exist, hope is deception, an unwillingness to accept the logical flow of events: action and consequence. Hope is the mistaken belief that something beyond yourself will step in and widen your range of choices, insert a positive event, or erase a negative.
Hope, I counteracted, fingers matching the speed of her typing on the keyboard, is our last resort against the evils of the world. In illness, we hope, when downtrodden, we hope, when broke, we hope, and the shining beacon of hope is what gives us the energy to surpass the difficulties. Hope, that last inhabitant of Pandora’s box, is the antidote against all that is bad.
Hmm, R. wrote, grinning wickedly as she prepared for the final counterargument, I wonder why it was in Pandora’s box in the first place. Wasn’t that a collection of all the evils?
That got me started thinking about hope, and my rapport with it. It used to be that I was its biggest devotee. Hope was the cure-all, in the way in which terminal patients expect a miracle drug. But the problem with hope perceived as a universal medicine, was that my hope was absurd. Unloved, I was hoping that the object of my affection would suddenly find it in his heart to return mine. Broke, I was hoping for a windfall. Sick, I was hoping to wake up and find all my aches gone, without taking a single pill. As if the act of hoping itself was enough to change reality. As if no action was needed, as if others had no hopes or actions of their own.
It is then that I felt the truth of Eliot’s quote. Hope is not expecting some fairy tale idea to come true, it is waiting for your actions to come to fruition. It is a matter of readiness: if chances are offered, being ready to risk, if opportunities arise, being ready to take them, if love occurs, being ready to embrace it.
Hope is now an awareness of the endless realm of possibilities, and the readiness to exploit them.
And for that, I must thank R. and T. S. Elliot.
And if you asking me what I have readied myself for, I’ll tell you: change and love. And I do not hope that they will happen. I know they will. If I am smart enough to see the possibilities and follow through.
Memories are not places. Memories are people and places and the sparks of feeling that connect them together. So I have no memories of Morocco.
I have pictures that tell of deserts and pools, oases and hotels, cars and camels. I am in a few of those pictures, but they feel unreal, as if I had skillfully Photoshopped myself into the sandy environment.
I have traces: my peeling feet, legacy of a sunburn, fading henna flowers on my hands, stubborn grains of sand in shoes and bags.
But there are no feelings to connect me to Morocco. The distance between me and the week I have spent in Morocco is as vast as the unfailingly yellow and ocher landscape of the mountains and desert of the country. The compartment that was set aside for storing Moroccan memories is nearly empty, a hollow the size of my expectations for enjoyment, populated by vague snippets of wonder and puzzlement. One memory, and one memory alone is vivid enough, and it rattles inside this hollow like a ball in a bowl, each bang against the sides echoing loudly and painfully. A nondescript train station at mid-morning, two people, and six words thrown over the shoulder instead of good bye. No context offered, no reply possible. In retrospect no other ending was fitting. When one makes choices against the grain, the only likely outcome is the negative. And this trip was perhaps the most uncharacteristic thing I have ever done.
I do not travel halfway around the world to meet someone I haven’t seen for many years, and trust him with my enjoyment and well-being.
I do not sit in the backseat of a car observing the landscape while conversation happens in a language I do n0t know.
I do not spend hours in uncomfortable silence.
I do not apologize for my dietary choices, and I do not strain to swallow my food because I’ve been reproached about the damage my tastes cause to the environment.
I do not bathe in the sea alone.
I do not exchange stock phrases in a fake breezy tone.
I do not feel guilty for responding to a repeated, and insisted invitation.
And most of all, I do not ever go on holiday so that I can fall asleep crying every night, or hide my tears behind sunglasses for endless hours.
And yet I did it all in Morocco.
I am classifying Morocco as a mistake, never to be revisited, but always to be felt. I did not expect the country to be so sordid, half-built, swallowed by debris and Chinese goods. I did not expect to be constrained by my attire and embarrassed by my body. But most of all I did not expect to feel so cold, so isolated, as if I was in a glass bubble and I was watching the country, its people, my host, from the unwelcome vantage point of one who is not wanted. I unwittingly effaced myself. I had no bon mots, no smiles, no ironies, no stories for an entire week. I wanted to touch, and I held back, wanted to speak, and kept silent, wanted to laugh, and cried instead. A week passed without me in it, the body present, but the spirit elsewhere, in an attempt against being stifled by the silence, the aloofness, the alienation.
To say I was unhappy is to minimize the depth of my discomfort. My trust in my own wisdom is erroded, my trust in others crumbled to its barest foundations. I am hurt, and I am angry at myself for feeling so. I do not know how to be other than gracious about the experience, but I am seething with rage at myself for not calling rudeness by its rightful name, for accepting unacceptable behavior, for letting things happen and not fighting back.
No, memories are not places. Memories are people and places and the sparks of feeling that connect them together.
So I have no memories of Morocco.
Just one bitter feeling, and the sting of tears on my cheek.
Sometime last year I played a drinking game, the infamous “I have never”. Many bottles were emptied that night as our I have never revolved around the sexual “taboos” of our society and generation, which it seems we were all assiduously breaching.
I could have saved us all some money and embarrassment by list some of my tamer, and yet more painful, I have nevers.
I have never fallen in love at first sight.
I have never received a delivery of flowers.
I have never been surprised by a romantic evening.
I have never had a guy ask for my phone number.
I have never had “a first date”.
I have never had a guy say “I love you” first.
I have never told a man he was a jerk for treating me badly.
And the list is endless…
I’m spending the night in what used to be my home, cat-sitting. It’s a joyful time, because I miss my cat every day, and the time that has passed since I left him the custody of my ex has done nothing to alleviate the sorrow of life without kitty.
But it’s a weird time. The house feels like home, in the way that only a place that you fixed up yourself can feel, and it’s achingly familiar. The mustard colored doors and the blue ones, the silver light fixture with mustard colored insides that so exactly matches the doors. The cheap green plastic shelves that I’ve bought when I got my first Bucharest apartment and carried with me everywhere, except the last move. The light cotton window treatments that his mom made, after we’d scoured the stores for three weeks and managed to agree on exactly one fabric. The lamp in the closet, that still flickers until the bulb is tightened. The bed, which I took with me, but my ex replaced with an identical one so the room still looks the same. Funnily enough, even the brands in the kitchen are the same, as if my past choices have educated taste, or set a standard.
There are subtle differences though. The smells, not foreign, but one-sided. His scent, with a slight whiff of catfood from the kitchen, with no hint of my perfume anywhere. The bathroom, filled with the blue and silver colored toiletries that announce that a man lives here. The spaces that used to be filled with my knick knacks, now sorely empty, the antique dinner cart I took away. And the cat, diffident and a bit distant, treading warily, but knowing that this presence in the house is me, that I used to belong here, but also knowing that my presence is somehow wrong.
It’s a joyful time, while I drink in every little cat position, every gesture, every stretch and every crunch that is so cute, so sweet, so typical of my baby.
And so I wonder why I’m tearing up.
I work a lot.
Well, that’s an understatement.
I work a lot for pay that is decent, but not commensurate with, well, anything. But I get a lot of satisfaction out of making things work, with low budgets, and tortuous procedures and short lead times. In short, I love my work.
Is it my life? Yes, it is, and it has always been so, by choice in large measure. I find joy at the end of the day, when I am tired and cranky, and the deadlines looming next week are impossible mountains to climb, but still I know that I’ve created, and organized and managed things in the way that I see as good, and professional, and effective. My frustration with work is ever and always the impossibility to produce something that reaches my standards within the time allotted, or with the resources allotted. And yet, I rest easy knowing that I’ve done, not my best, but well by objective, and outside standards. That defines me, as much an anything ever can.
But is it my whole life? Not by a longshot.
My whole life has reading in it. Voracious reading of anything fantasy, sci-fi, historical or historical romance that i can lay my greedy hands on. With reading I travel, to the Hidden City, to Middle Earth, to Elantris, with reading I am a female warrior, the mother of a goddess. a budding magician, a thief, an insect-kinden, and I take flights of imagination as bold as the 1960’s space adventures. Houston, Houston, do you read? (Btw, wonderful story by James Tiptree junior, who, btw, was a woman).
And I have salsa. The music, the dance, the people, the projects. The project to dance better, or to direct a story told through Latin dancing, the project to teach other less-than-talented folk such as my self. 1,2, 3, 5, 6, 7.
And I have cooking. Improvising recipes on weekends, discovering wild rice, and honey mustard and pomegranate.
And I have friends.
And family that I love to spend time with.
So how is that not a full, fulfilled life?
In 2010, for reasons as yet unknown, I’ve discovered / rediscovered some incredible songs that echo my moods, my values, and what I think music should do: move you. Move you to dance, to sing, to cry, to laugh, to think. Here they are, embed and all, as a testimony to my romantic soul, and my eclectic taste in music.
1. Nana Caymmi – Nao se esqueca de mim – I first heard it in a Brazilian soap opera that I unashamedly watched, and I keep listening to it since, because I too cannot erase long lost loves from my heart and mind and hope that somewhere, some way, I am part of the life of the people who have meant so much to me.
2. Dolly Parton – Jolene – I kinda always knew this song existed, but never properly listened. And then I read online that people were listening to it again due to a snippet played on 90210’s new season. I’d heard the snippet (I watch the new 90210 because I grew into womanhood with the old one) but it didn’t strike me. However, the original did, and it’s one of my ambitions to sing it on stage with a band (or at least karaoke).
3. Malena – Adriana Varela – This is a renewal of an old admiration for Adriana Varela, and a profound liking for her interpretation of Malena. I guess the song spoke to me again when I restarted singing, because it speaks of shadow-filled voices, and the pain imbued in the bandoneon, and pouring your heart out in verses.
4. Maria Tanase – Blestem (Curse) because it embodies, in a sorrowful voice, all my rage at the hurt of love and abandonment .
5. Maria Dolores Pradera – Pa todo el ano – This has ever been my theme song. The one that speaks about hurt and dealing in destructive ways, and ruin and spite and love. It’s rediscovered, because I did not need its sadness until last spring, but now I do.
Por tu amor que tanto quiero y tanto extraño
Que me sirvan otra copa y muchs mas
Que me sirvan de una vez pa todo el año
Que me quiero seriamente emborrachar
Si te cuentan que me vieron bien borracha
Orgullosamente diles que es por ti
Porque yo tendre el valor de no negarlo
Gritare que por tu amor me estoy matando
Y sabran que por tus besos me perdi
Para de hoy en adelante ya el amor no me interesa
Cantare por todo el mundo
Mi dolor y mi tristeza
Porque se que de este golpe
Ya no voy a levantarme
Aunque yo no lo quisiera
Voy a morirme de amor
But Maria Dolores has some other songs which are entirely appropriate (and musically amazing)
Fallaste corazon – of course you have failed my heart…
Hace un ano – it’s been a year and a bit, and the healing is not complete.
Hace un año que yo tuve una ilusión
Hace un año que hoy se cumple en éste día
Recordando que en tus brazos me dormía
Y yo inocente, muy confiada te entregué mi corazón.
Ese tiempo tan feliz no volverá
Mi cariño lo pagaste con traiciones
Me has dejado sólo crueles decepciones
Pero anda ingrata, como pagas otra así te pagará.
El recuerdo de tu amor quiero olvidar
Te quisiera yo borrar del pensamiento
Me quisiera emborrachar de sentimiento
Pero es inútil, que borracha más y más me he de acordar.
Hace un año que yo tuve una ilusión