Wide Awake in Wonderland

We’re only dancing on this earth for a short while

The trouble with being born on Friday the 13th October 11, 2008

is that as much as you reject superstition, you possess a certain streak of vulnerability.

Throughout my childhood, the other kids would tell me I’d be dead by the time I was 13. I think we can probably thank the Friday the 13th movies (and maybe the Halloween movies a little bit, seeing as I was born in October) for that horrible nonsense. I don’t recall ever actually believing it, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit it wasn’t a little disconcerting. I do remember the first time I was able to respond, “I AM thirteen!” Then it my expiration date was upped to 16. Then 21. After that, I got wise and stopped mentioning I was born on Friday the 13th.

Meanwhile, as I believe I’ve told you, I collect sand. Previously, this was innocuous habit. Maybe even a little bit charming. Now it’s just burdensome – literally (my backpack ain’t carrying itself) and figuratively.

Santorini, where the buildings are white, the dogs are friendly, and the wind is howling, has not just black…but RED sand. RED. I once drug someone on a four-hour sun-scorched third-degree burn-inducing hike for some green sand. It goes without saying that I am no dilettante in that regard. In addition, red sand is a one-of-a-kind attraction. The closest thing I have is some dark orange sand from Moab (which also bares the distinction of being my only non-oceanic sand).

On the other hand, there’s a small part of me that struggles to induce reason. “You can come back,” it says. “The red sand isn’t going anywhere. You can get it another time. Who cares about sand? You don’t need the extra weight.”

This part is a fool. I hear the red grains calling to me. I am like the creepy monster thing in the Lord of the Rings movies: I MUST POSSESS A BAGGIE OF THE RED SAND.

Naturally, getting the red sand is no small chore. First there’s a volcano in the way. Admittedly, it’s been inactive since the 1940s. But still.

Secondly, it’s the off-season, and the guy from my accommodations (Niko) could be exaggerating, but he tells me that by bus it takes two buses in each direction and the timing works out that you spend almost six hours there. It’s warmish (22/low 70s), but six hours on any beach in any weather is too much for me.

Third, it’s almost my birthday. And memories of doom and gloom and untimely passings have come back to me unexpectedly. Not that I plan on going anywhere anytime soon. I think I’m just being prudent. You see, getting the sand requires renting an ATV (four-wheeler). Niko

claims this is like “driving a small car.” However, in response to my wild-eyed barrage of stupid questions, he’s advised that perhaps I wait a day until the wind dies down. Maybe I should go Monday – on my very own birthday – as “You have to be very careful in the wind so that you don’t not blow off the mountain.”

You don’t say?

In that regard, waiting sounds like good advice.

Nonetheless, barring certain disaster, I will rent the ATV and go for it on Monday. I can only imagine that some day when there’s a museum for the tourists to come and see where I lived, they will marvel at my extensive collection of sand.

(And it’s these kind of delusions that keep me going…)


Stylist to the Gypsies October 10, 2008

So every country has its class system. Sometimes it’s overt (take for example, India), and sometimes you have to read between the lines. A few nights ago, I was talking to a man from Malmo, Sweden (I’ve actually met three people from Malmo in the last week…and they’ve all been delightful, but that really has nothing to do with my point). Anyway, Rob was telling me that a lot of the Swedes go to Norway to work because the pay is so much higher. And then he added, with a particular glance in my direction, “We’re the Mexicans.” Touche.

For better or worse, where America has its huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the Balkans have the gypsies. In the various warnings I received to minimize my time in Bucharest (if not avoid it altogether), I was told in hushed tones, “It’s a town of 2 million people…and 500,000 of them are gypsies!!!!!!”

They stand out a little without even trying as they have a darker complexion than many of the Romanians and Bulgarians. This probably poses a challenge to any tourists with a St. Tropez tan.

However, it”s not all brown skin and black hair. What makes the gypsies notable is their fashion sensibility. If you ever wondered what happened to the hideous clothing of the seventies…look no further than Romania. Essentially, think about the ugliest couch you ever saw. And then imagine the polyester afghan your threw in the dumpster after the aunt that made it finally died. Throw in some fluorescent colors, bad mattresses, and maybe six or seven competing floral patterns. Don’t forget to use a large plastic bag as a suitcase! Now your gypsy look is complete.

So I started wondering, WHY ARE THEY DRESSING THIS WAY!? If you knew your blond hair and all-denim outfit made you the target of racism and prejudice, wouldn’t you maybe consider some black slacks or perhaps a subtle pair of khakis with a turtleneck? Would you still slip into the acid wash jacket with the same cavalier swagger?

And that’s how it happens that I find myself walking down the street behind a couple women looking like a 1972 flea market. and it dawns on me: THEY NEED ME. And if things don’t work out with my would-be illustrious and award-winning writing career, I’m thinking there could be a niche market as a  Gypsy  personal stylist? I could be their Coco Chanel. My mission would be to teach the value of flourescent floral patterns as an ACCENT. Sure a hot pink paisley head scarf is kicky, but maybe it would be better tied around the neck of your dog? Just a suggestion. No need to pull a knife. Maybe sleep on it?


Oh for crying out loud October 8, 2008

I suppose I can just sleep when I’m dead. Good morning from Romania, where last night I got MAYBE two hours. Infernal snoring (more like choking with respect to the guy in the bunk above me), kept me awake and semi-livid through the night.

Thus, I was more or less fully conscious (as much as I can be on that little sleep) when my alarm went off super early this morning. I changed out of my pajamas and into my clothes under the blankets. Then I got up and drug my stuff out into the hall.

As I was cinching everything down, I glanced at my watch and wondered why I woke myself up so early, as I had done most of my packing the night before. However, it gave me some time to make some tea in the kitchen and play with the calico kitten that materialized out of nowhere (or that perhaps I hallucinated?)

I made some toast and looked at my watch again. It was now 5:55 am. The girl at the hostel said I needed a cab by 6:10 or 6:15 in order to make my 6:41 train to Bucharest. She had said to come wake her at 6:00 and she’d call one for me.

I decided to eat my toast and then go rouse her. As I crept into the room, she said something I didn’t quite understand. “Excuse me?” I asked. “It’s too late,” she repeated. “You missed it.”

I glanced at my watch. “It’s 6:02. The train is at 6:41.” I smiled at her.

She showed me her cell phone, “It’s 6:27. It’s too late. You missed it.”

So, that’s the long way of telling you that my watch managed to stop for the first time in 10 weeks, and for only 25 minutes. Nonetheless, long enough to cause me to miss the stupid train.

Who knows? Maybe that train is due to be overtaken by a band of gypsies (they sure do hate and fear them here) or hit by a meteor or just really, really late?

So, now instead of an hour and 15 minute ‘layover’ in Bucharest, I’ll have a three minute stopover. Sounds stressful. And considering all these trains are always late, kind of unlikely.

However, this little snafu did allow me to enjoy the company of a fellow hosteler I’ll call Stinky. If Stinky’s parents knew he’d grow up to be a 50-something man wearing only silk boxers and eating toast slathered in margarine on a Thursday morning in a hostel kitchen, all the while emitting an odor so foul that his table mate (me) couldn’t dream of eating, well, they might have just thrown in the towel and named him Stinky. Or maybe given him to the gypsies? We’ll never know.

Wish me luck, as I try to figure out how to get myself to Sofia…



Things that go awry when you fail to read the fine print

All right, kids. Tonight’s post is going to be a bit abbreviated.

‘Why?’ you ask. Well, first off, tomorrow I am getting on the ‘local’ (i.e. stops at any field with more than five sheep or a petulant rooster) train from Brasov to Bucharest at 6:40 a.m.

And then – owing to Bucharest’s glowing reputation as the @$$hole of Eastern Europe – I head to Sofia, Bulgaria a mere two hours later . All told? SIXTEEN MOFO HOURS OF TRAVEL. The upside for you, loyal readers, is that I will have scads of time to share my deep thoughts (or not) and catch you up on my activities of the last few days. So long as Susie’s battery holds out, I’ll be typing it up. Anything to distract myself from the numbness in my butt.

The second reason for tonight’s brevity is what I’ve taken to calling Comaneci’s Revenge. Nothing against Nadia, but apparently Romania is one of those “don’t drink the water” countries. Oops.

Not sure how other people figure this kind of thing out, but I need to join that mailing list. I tend to operate on the ‘experiential learning’ model, which is fine so long as your digestive system doesn’t get a vote.