Category Archives: Travel

Sleep-Less, in Warsaw

The pigeons of Warsaw are singing blues lullabies, at night.

Were I not on a week-long hangover, from my tightly wound nerves and a lack of sleep, I may have not even noticed them.  But on the first night of getting here, I’ve first slept through all of daylight — sore from soaring the skies above the Atlantic — and then risen to an unfamiliar (to my now native but still adopted land) sound.  The murmur resembled the noises of a submarine submerging into water; or, of a bored babe blowing bubbles through a straw into a half-full glass of milk he had no intention of drinking up:  Quick pops of air, my little darling, with your tender, mumbled giggles, in between.

Even the local insomniacs have given up on their daytime nightmares that chronically keep them awake.  They’ve all gone off to sleep, by now.  In this old city, murmuring with blues, I seem to be alone; and I pull through my groggy, swollen stupor — of changed time zone and altitudes in the last twenty four hours, of overcome little tragedies (“the circumstances”, as other people call them) in order to get here — and through the anticipation of a major turnaround in my life.  Here, I have come to meet my father.  Here, according the story, lies my redemption.  (You know, THE story.  Everyone has one.  Not necessarily a fairytale, and nothing particularly dignified — but something that we lug around, to make us special. Or, different, at least.  “The story.”)

But still:  The sound.  Not a single soul seems to be awake to explain its origin, right now.  And after a lifetime of aloneness, loneliness is not in the repertory of my moods (let alone of my fears).  So, yes, the sound:  Is it coming from the pipes of the town square fountain, waking up in the midst of its winter-long hibernation?  Or is it authored by a stray mama-cat — with twice the thickness of her fur, being a much wilder thing in this part of the world — and she is purring her recent litter to sleep, somewhere on the raspberry, tilted rooftop of the apartment building across the street?

And then from the hibernating memories of my childhood’s self (what’s the use to remember, when all I do — is move beyond “the circumstances”?  toward “the story”?), I connect the dots:  If the memory serves me right, this sound comes from a choir of feathery creatures flocking the buildings’ gutters and windowsills, resting on phone poles (they are too clumsy for the tight ropes of phone lines, and they leave those for the little guys, the sparrows).  And they are murmuring the town to sleep.  The air is quieter in this part of the world.  The streets are narrower and filled with lesser aggression.  So, their songs — and the other tunes of nature — are easier to hear.  And so they happen:  These little harmonies of cohabitation, the peaceful melodies of nonviolent living.  Quite exceptional for the new century of ours!

Not a footstep can be heard along the cobblestone roads:  The town has been hushed down by the song.  There is always an hour, one at sunrise and a couple at the end of each day, when the surfaces of these streets look clad in blue — a shade that has been coming through in photographs of my father’s face.  While cradling a cooling cup of coffee against my breast bone, I break down the color by the palettes, while peeking through the tule curtains, which aren’t a common practice in my adopted land, except in immigrant neighborhoods.  For, on the other side of the Atlantic, every thing and body is in love with white spaces.  Still, the ways of life here do not appear strange to me; and all the memories I’ve forcefully filed away are gently slipping out to the forefront, to the bluesy murmurs of Warsaw’s pigeons.  I know I’ve seen these colors in my childhood.  I know I’ve heard these sounds.

The windows are sweated from the inside, but they’re not frost painted yet.  (That — I do remember well:  my tracing the magical cold patterns with my chubby fingers, while waiting up for Father Frost’s arrival, on New Year’s Eve.)  The streets below look narrow and ancient; and even though they are of a more recent generation, no older than five decades, the cobble stones breathe with tales of one old civilization (and of its “story”).  Never again will these streets be evened out by another nation’s ideologues with unthinkable experiments in mind!  The gracious land of Poland is resting now; and tonight, despite the turmoil in my head (reflections of my immigrant life competing with the memories of my original self), this land appears sleeping, submerging into fluid of some peaceful bliss that’s well-deserved, good lord!  Good land!

In about an hour — after this shade of blue is dissipated by sunlight — the town will begin its waking with the sounds of women’s heels upon the cobble stones, shiny in the morning with black ice.  A few antique cars, going one way, then parking and unloading fresh produce to a couple of delicatessens, will follow.

Food hunting takes some time and expertise, around here:  You cannot swing by a giant, windowless supermarket and get all of your needs fulfilled at once, while losing track of time in a hypnosis of excess.  No.  You must take your time to learn your neighborhood by walking and match a specific store to each food category.  Liquor and fruit — a reasonable pairing — is sold out of narrow closets, crammed in between first floor apartments.  Milk and meats are paired together, but never fish:  Fish is sold a few blocks down, on a larger, two-way street (which must be easier for deliveries, I dare to theorize).  At each store, you twirl the packages and wrappings in your hands.  They come from neighboring countries, each speaking in a different language:  the little oddities that feed one’s curiosity despite one’s being jaded by age.  The banality of your basic needs somehow dissipates when curiosity of hunting is rewaken; and you aren’t embarrassed for asking questions.

There is seemingly never more than half a dozen of each product in stock; so, you’re doomed to settle on variety; and if the local stores run out of your preferred produce — you wait until the sound of the antique cars the next morning.  (Here, waiting no longer proposes a burdensome occurrence; because the town’s time has slowed down, according to my clock.  And there is suddenly an endless list of missing objectives, as I adopt the natives’ strolling pace along these peaceful, old streets, until the blue of sunset, at the end of each day, and sometimes past it.)

The three women cashiers at the liquor store across the street are always visibly amused at my crippled Polish.

“Tak, tak, tak,” they smile and nod, and hand each other their guesses of what I’m pointing at.

“No, no,” I panic.  “Apple… not a pear…  Um…  Yabloko?  Yeah?”  (I throw in some Russian, what the hell!)

Sometimes, I juggle English, when my original tongue fails.  They smile and give each other teasing looks.  I do not worry though:  They look like grandmothers, completely free of evil thoughts toward other people’s children.

This one, behind the liquor counter, looks mighty — like the type I’d call in case of a prognosis of some feminine disease, or just to share a round of shots for no reason than to avoid thinking of “the story” (“the circumstances”, as other people call them).  She looks like she can laugh for hours, her giant breasts vibrating with resonance of her chesty, smoker’s register.

“Mozh?” she forcefully tilts her head toward my male companion who’s at the moment pleasantly negotiating with the other two women — in the produce corner of this closet space — that after all, we won’t be needing any onions.

“But, thank you.  Um…  Dzieku-ya?  Yeah?”  (He’s a lot more willing than I am!  His “story” must be lighter.)

I shrug, roll up my eyes to reconsider, press my lips together into a sheepish smile (this mighty broad is a Catholic, judging by the amber cross around her sweaty neck), and then I shrug again.  What’s Polish for:  “It’s complicated”?  She gives me a preview of the silver crown in the right top corner of her mouth and lifts her thumb.  She approves — of him, or of my progressive sexual practices, from my adopted (but not native) land.  Her nails are filthy, and I love her!

The woman stocking the shelves at a larger deli down the street has also picked me for a foreigner.  No matter which tongue I utilize with her — I might as well be speaking in Chinese.  Her face communicates her single, stubborn point of view:  If Looks Could Kill…  I feel no residue of my self-protective aggression.  (I’m suddenly so tired of “the story”.)  But one thing I have learned with these unwilling types, resentful toward tourists — as demonstrated by the apathetic shrug of a gray-haired, handsome cabby, earlier this week, who turned down a handsome fare to the airport by refusing to communicate in any other language but his native:  They aren’t obliged to speak to me in Russian anymore.  I cannot blame them:  It’s a new world, indeed!  To each — his or her own politics of forgiveness.

“Yeah?”

The resentful woman still doesn’t get me.  I let her be, in dissonance with me.  I let them be.

The young barista with a boyish haircut at a packed coffee shop pretends to not understand my “pleases”, “yeses”, “thank yous”.  (A little cunty, if you ask me, she shoots down all of my attempts for grace.  But nothing I can do about that.  I let her be.)  While waiting for my order, a stunning couple gets my attention; and I forget about the slightly patronizing smile of the child behind the register, who’s probably spitting in my coffee.  The woman in the coupling is wearing an African headdress, and he — is gloriously giant.  I hear them murmuring in Polish to a nervous woman tourist:  When did the world get smaller?  And, more importantly, how much longer — until it becomes kinder, juster, too?

Still sleepless, I keep studying my street, through the tulle curtains:

An amber store is lazily glistening with all possible shades of yellow, some silver and glass.  The arch doorway of the watch repair store right next to it looks like a replica from an old fairytale:  I try to cast the face of the kind and fragile watchmaker who tinkers with the hands of time, inside; but all that comes to mind — is the one of my father, illuminated by the shades of blue.

His face — is kindness incarnated.  Mercy defined and grace continuously — stubbornly — resurrected, despite “the story”.  My father’s hands, affected now by age and years of living past “the circumstances”, have been the ones in charge of my chronology.  Like a magician, from ten time zones away, he has been gently tapping the wheels of my clock with pads of his aging fingers, to slow down the loss of our minutes.

If only our “story” would have some mercy!  And from the ends of now smaller world, we have been rushing to each other:  If only there’d be time enough!

“In the Name of Justice. In the Name of Fun. In the Name of the Father. In the Name of the Son.”

A native couple is cooing by the window.

Polish has always echoed of my native tongue, but with more softened corners of our consonants.  And even if it flies out in a loud form — like from the disgruntled clerk at Warsaw’s Central Station who hollered at the group of passengers that included my old man (that bitch whose Soviet-inspired perm I could’ve easily clawed out if it weren’t for the plexiglass between us!) — this language still flows and gurgles the prettiest, for my ears.  Within this week, Polish has become my path to lullabies; and now, I wish to learn it, so that I could always murmur its fairytales to my own sleepy firstborn.

Case in point:  The lovebirds with whom I’m sharing this train car for the duration of the 7-hour ride from Gdansk to Warsaw — are quite quickly putting me to sleep after our first ten minutes together.  Although I’m certain that the last three days of restless sleep that came from my fear of closing my eyes (so that I wouldn’t stop memorizing my father’s face, after a decade of our living in opposite hemispheres) have something to do with it, too.  But during this entire trip through Eastern Europe, I have been thoroughly calmed into surrender by the trustworthy national temperament of the Poles.  No other peoples I have ever encountered possess this much gentleness and grace (the Soviet-trained witch at the bus station who dared threatening my father’s dignity — is obviously excluded from this statement).

It is as if after centuries of oppression by every egomaniac who found this lovely country as the perfect place to start a war or their conquest of the world — after unthinkable tragedies the human race thought up and then imposed on these kind people — the good gods of this land have finally decided to protect them from all strife, until the next apocalypse that ends our civilization all together.  As far as the Poles go, I think that they have suffered enough to possibly reach their nation’s limits of paid dues.

It must be why for days and miles (oops, sorry:  kilometers) by now, I haven’t seen an unattractive native.  The kiddos are doll-like, with their giant eyes and smooth foreheads inside the halos of colorful scarves and fur-trimmed hoods of coats:  The beauty of their future generation must be the reward for all that suffering.  The women are mesmerizing with their luminous faces (without make-up, in most cases) and those Slavic cheekbones carved out of marble by Michelangelo himself (for surely, that guy must be god’s personal architect, these days).  The leftovers of the kitschy Soviet fashion are still occasionally noticeable on Warsaw’s streets:  in leopard colored fur coats and hair beehives set into unmovable mounts with sparkly hairspray, a tooth comb a curling iron.  And then, there are those women who suffer from the universal ailment of unhappy marriages and miserable living standards (those women age so fast!).  Also, a few have fallen victim to the mass fad of perpetual smoking (although the young are still not showing the consequences of it).  But for the most part, in their beauty, these women — are exceptional!

As for the Polish men, thus far I’ve found them wonderfully well-mannered, educated and non-aggressive.  Like this specimen still cooing at his lovely in my train car:  Incredibly gentle to the point of being effeminate, he keeps telling her the history of every local sight and landscape that we have passed behind our giant windows.  At one point, he gets up, adjusts his tweed jacket (while being childlike and a little nerdy in his gestures); and then reveals two homemade sandwiches (oops, sorry:  buterbrods) out of his shiny brown leather attache case.  When he starts talking on his cellphone to confirm the schedule of their connecting train, he sounds exceedingly polite and almost bitchy.  She giggles and looks at him sheepishly when he cuts off the customer service rep with his blade-like sarcasm.  He looks back at her, now encouraged and twice the man, and pats the top of her knee.

These lovebirds have been cooing at each other ever since I’ve entered the railroad car.  Between the two of them, she does most of the listening:  With a blissful expression on her face whose only stunning characteristic lies in the constellation of her beauty marks, occasionally she slips in a timid compliment in between his never ending sentences, while he continues lecturing.  He could be easily be an assistant professor or some brilliant history students at the top of his class.  (Um.  Sorry:  faculte.)  And when he delights her with his intellect, she breaks out into a ready laughter, too loud for her demure character.

Of course, were I to have my drathers, I would be sleeping in the dark and in utter silence.  But one:  It is the Eve of the New Year, after all (and the Poles are huge on celebrations — which must have something to do with their generosity, I suspect).  Two:  These kids are perfectly delightful.  But even though they can’t remind me of my younger self (for I have never had a young romance), I always stand defenseless in the name of kindness, if not love.

Besides, I have been softened by the events of this week’s trip.  The best, the smartest and the kindest man of my life — my father — has just departed from the coast of Gdansk:

The man to teach me my self-worth despite our sixteen-year long communication by phone and telepathically shared heartbeat.  The one to always offer help and not keep tabs on my mistakes or moments of helplessness.

The first to show me that power lies in kindness and that in my forgiveness — happens love.

The parent from whom I have inherited my sense of justice and the pursuit of harmony, my reason, generosity, compassion; and the very essence of my spirit — has offered me the best week of my life.

And our reunion just so happened to unfold — on Poland’s graceful land.

“All the Miles That Separate — Disappear Now, When I’m Dreaming of Your Face.”

It’s going to be about opening doors.

It started with our landing in Warsaw…

No, wait.  Scratch that!

It started with our boarding of the trans-Atlantic flight — that carried us to Vienna — and which I nearly missed due to a row of fuck-ups on behalf the domestic airline that took me to D.C.  One thing that I must say (in the domestic airline’s defense) is that the stewart who announced our landing did make a Christmas wish over the radio:  He asked that every soul on that plane allowed those of us, in danger of missing our flights, pass through the doors first.

“Yeah, right!” I thought.  “Like that’s gonna happen!”

My point exactly:  A family of South Koreans flying in first class were the first to get out of their seats and block our way.  And then, a miracle!  They sat.  Back.  Down.  And the entire plane remained seated, and we were given a priority.

Well, I’ll be damned:  Humanity!

I started running, checked the schedule of international departures on the go and followed the arrows to my gate.

“Say what?!  I have to catch a train?!  Fuck me!”

With ten minutes before the plane’s departure, I was still running alongside the moving walkway — and I was actually faster than the mellow well-dressed passengers, much better suited for this spotless place.

“Wien?” a flight attendant with a German accent intercepted me.

“YES!  WHERE?!” I was short of breath and seemingly out of my good manners.

“This way.  We have been waiting for you, m’am.”

Well, I’ll be damned:  What dignity!

A couple of other flight attendants who checked my boarding pass were equally as chill.  Effortlessly, I passed through a pair of sliding doors and entered possibly the biggest aircraft I’ve ever seen.  It was so giant that upon our landing (forgive the shortcut past the 9-hour flight here), TWO sets of exits opened to let us out.  And it was one of those aircrafts that involved stairs leading down to the foreign soil; and then, THREE shuttles — waiting to deliver us to the Passport Check Point.  So old-school!

After the silent man who stamped my visa page, there would be another security check, more doorless doorways and then another boarding, in the same old-school manner.  This time, it would involve ONE shuttle and ONE set of doors.

“Dzien dobry!” the flight attendants cooed at me at the entrance of a seemingly brand new plane.  They all had those gorgeous Polish noses, mellow faces and striking eyes.

Is this a European thing?  By now, I began to wonder.  This dignity, this slower manner that allowed for a well thought-out response:  Was this what other travelers insisted I experienced — by going to Europe?

And it would indeed turn out to be the pattern in this city:  In Warsaw’s every neighborhood, I would be treated with respect albeit some barely noticeable curiosity.  The women here — always so gorgeous, I would gladly subscribe to the world’s conviction that there were no equals to them, anywhere! — would look at me with some off-kilter fascination.  They wouldn’t be unkind at all, but they seemed to know I was one odd bird:  Sort of from around here — but not really.  Someone who understood them but, except for my communication via gentle manners I’d acquired with forgiveness, could barely respond.

Some men would be attracted but never spoke to me.  Most studied me modestly and never interfered.  One young and pretty creature stood aside, dumbfounded, and let me pass him.  A few turned heads — but never spoke up.  And no man would ever disrespect the woman he was with by being demonstrative with his curiosity at me.

Well, I’ll be damned:  Respect!

The doors to my cabdriver’s car (he looked so very much like my father):  Those doors just wouldn’t open.  And I had tried a couple of them.  My father’s kind lookalike, despite being in the midst of shuffling my bags, ran to assist me.  He would attempt to open those doors upon my final stop, as well; but I was too American in my capabilities to wait for him.

The doors leading to the concierge office were impossible to locate.  And only after going down a dodgy alley, with multicolored graffiti and smoking teenagers, did I finally locate the back door.  (The only woman in that group — gorgeous and not easily impressed — squinted her eyes at me.)

I yanked the door.  No luck.  Embarrassed to look back at the hip smokers, by now struck with silence, I buzzed the first key on the intercom.  Thankfully, someone chirped on the other end, and I was allowed to ascend.

The doors to our rented apartment required TWO sets of alarms and THREE sets of keys.  I waved and wiggled the keychain with my electronic pass in front of the red-lit eye for nearly five minutes before an older woman — again, gorgeous, mellow and smiling — quietly demonstrated how to do it.  The old fashioned key, like something out of my childhood’s fairytale, required some maneuvering in the lock.  Finally, I entered the spartan place that would become my home, for this week.

And this story about my random visit of Poland — where, after sixteen years, I would reunite with dad — would continue to be about doors:  The tubular, time-machine like doors of the shower; the heavy doors of every restaurant whose signs I could not decipher; the detailed doors of cozy cafes that would support my jet lag with their coffee; the wooden doors along the narrow cobble streets behind which I secretly wished to live (so that I could be closer — to dad); and the eventual folding doors of that ONE bus meant to bring my old man here —

TOMORROW!

I swear:  I’d conquer so many more doors — and miles — to get to you, today!

“Wait in Line, ‘Till Your Time. Ticking Clock. Everyone: STOP!”

Okay.  I cannot do the electronic check-in for my overseas flight.  I find that hard to believe.  But then again, it’s been at least sixteen years since I have left the country, so what do I know?

Fine, then.  Okay.

Get to the airport.  That’s pretty easy.  It’s a day after Christmas, and I ask my driver if he thinks a lot of people are going back to work this morning.

“Most should,” he says.  “But then, again, a lot of people are still off.”  He pauses.  “Of course, I’m always surprised when there is any traffic, on a day like this.”  Another pause:  “But that’s LA for ya!”

There is a layer of pink feather clouds, hanging above LAX.  It’s pretty, in an exhausted sort of way.  A few silver jets sparkle in the sky as they ascend diagonally.  What an ambition of the human spirit!  A civilization is a succession of wills.

I get out at the curb within the first meter of my terminal’s ground.  A giant Lincoln town car attempts to cut me off.

“Just run me ova’, why don’t cha?” I mouth out to its driver with a bluetooth in his ear.  Be it the black, floor-long winter coat or the tightly wound nerves (and both are quite suitable for the Eastern European winter), I suddenly feel every bit like the New Yorker I once was before defecting to this coast.

He sees me, doesn’t as much as wave.

A giant line of exhausted passengers outside — kids in silly Christmas sweaters and adults with wrinkly faces — who are waiting in front of the terminal’s sliding doors is just a small preview of the havoc I’m about to endure inside.  I do not really know on what grounds I’ve previously assumed that just because United has its own terminal, the flow of today’s events would be well practiced and smooth.

The lines inside are hideous.  I find the international portion of the airport and read its awning, “International One Hour Cut-Off.”  Someone’s ought to proofread this company’s syntax.

Breathe.  I still have almost two hours.

I walk over to the Self Check-In Machines.  One carry-on, a winter coat and a laptop.  To lug one’s baggage through life is a hideous choice.  Forgiveness, no matter how hard, is lighter.

“These are for passengers with only one carry-on,” a short woman on a walkie-talkie grumbles and then proceeds her way.

“Yes,” I watch her get back to the talkie.  “I am.  Indeed.  Just that.  M’am.”  She is no longer interested.

“TAP HERE TO BEGIN.”

I do.

“ENTER CONFIRMATION OR E-TICKET NUMBER.”

I find a six-digit combination in my printout.  That should do the trick.

“NO NUMBER FOUND IN THE SYSTEM.”

Okay.  I try another number.   Another random combination on the paper.

“NO NUMBER FOUND IN THE SYSTEM.”

You’ve GOT to be kidding!

Okay, okay, okay.  Stay chill.

With the most mellow smile that I can manage at this hour of sunrise, I approach the first visible uniformed personnel.  And in the background, I suddenly can hear a few hollering infants and some foreign tongues.

I wait my turn, approach the woman.  Explain the situation.

“You have to call?” she tells me in her thick Asian accent.

“Excuse me?”  (Okay.  Be kind.  It’s wiser, lighter.)

“You have to call — the company?”

Oh, fuck it.  I assume my place in line.  The young man in front of me is calm and utterly consumed by his iPad.  On his cart, I see a guitar with a lime-green bandana around the handle and one piece of carry-on.  Like me, he has forgiven.  A couple of hippies with mounts of luggage on their cart are making out ahead.  An Asian couple is demurely standing by and holding the handle of a tiny bag, not deserving to be called “a suitcase”.

“And don’t forget the tag?” the Asian attendant hands me two tongues of paper.  Apparently, she only responds with questions.

“Thanks for your help,” I say.  Mmm-hmm.  I’m glad she’s saved the day with these.

I’ve got less than thirty minutes to make it through this line.  We’re moving slowly.  The grumbling woman with a walkie-talkie reappears.  I notice that underneath her United blazer, she’s wearing a summer dress.  She, right away, begins to create order.

“Sir!  You cannot stand here!” she is demonstrative when speaking to a smartly suited Indian man who, just like me, is carrying no luggage.

“My flight leaves in an hour,” he sings in a way that’s expected from his heritage.  “And your ticket machines are broken!”

Okay!  So, it was NOT just me!  I glance at the now baffled Asian attendant.  It feels a little better to know I’m not a solitary idiot, afraid to ask for help.

“Somebody’s GOT to help us!” the Indian businessman continues singing, as if echoing my thoughts.  “Somebody’s got to do their job!”

“I’m doing mine just fine, sir!” the walkie-talkie woman grumbles and listens into her gargling apparatus.  “Anyone — to Mexico?” she hollers in a moment.

A few timid hands appear above our heads.  Their owners are ushered into the line behind the Indian man.

My check-in finally happens, and it happens exactly an hour before my scheduled flight.  Ivy — the mellow attendant who takes orders from the walkie-talkie woman in a summer dress, before she serves me — has done her job quite quickly (although she does appear to have typed a whole of a dissertation in order to issue my boarding passes.)

And in the next hour, I do remember Ivy gratefully when our entire gate is transferred to another one, where we, again, proceed our wait.  When, finally, we begin boarding:

“As you may have noticed,” a voice comes over the speakers, “we’re experiencing mechanical difficulties.  We’ve dealt with three different mechanics and shall be in the air as soon as we are done with our paperwork.”

Okay.  Stay positive.  Stay grateful and stay kind.  

I have about fifteen minutes to catch my connecting flight.

“I Want to… Thank You, Thank You. Thank You, Thank You.”

If this hour — or weather — were to happen back in LA-LA, I would be the only pedestrian seen for miles.

Well, at least I started off — as a pedestrian.  Having left my dear college comrade hibernating in the cocoon of her comforters inside the generously heated West Village apartment, I stepped out into the frosty morning with that blissful gratitude that came from knowing I had nowhere else to be:  Nowhere but here, in this City that left no human heart unaffected.  Because how ever New York — the Strange Iron and Steel Beauty — came off to others, indifference was never among Her effects.

That morning, I quickly understood:  In this City, I was in the minority.  Time moved relentlessly quicker for all others; and in my aimless, fancy free wandering, I belonged to neither the tourists nor the exhausted locals, who made it a point to survive Her every day.

The street sweeper, who was swinging his broom with enough intention to cause a flurry of broken black ice against my ankles and smoking simultaneously, gave me a queer eye, from underneath his Russian fur hat.  I had just passed him and made the mistake of smiling.

“Where is your coat, girl?” he growled in response, then puffed a visible cloud of nicotine in my face.  Yep, he was Russian alright, and not in the least bit entertained by my getup of a single turtleneck, a little red hat and thin running shoes, with funkily striped ankle socks peaking out of them.

“Can’t run in a coat,” I gleefully shrugged.  I was grinning.

Since when did I become so bouncy?  Back in the days of my aspiring to be a hardcore New Yorker, this Amelie character I was currently channeling would annoy the shit out of me.  But there I was:  Having gotten older, I had managed to also get lighter.  And if there were a single chronic mood of my soul — it would be its certain predisposition for gratitude.

To get my point across to the Russian, I began jogging lightly.  Right foot, left foot…  Ouch!  Ouch!  I hadn’t realized that my feet had gotten frozen in a matter of minutes of my being outside.  Stepping on my toes, as if leaping over tiny puddles, was my new running technique acquired back in Cali.  There, healthy living was merely a science; and I had actually studied it, not for the sake of getting off with others, at juice bars of some fancy, celebrity-ridden gyms of Hollywood — but for the sake of healing.

Fuck!  I didn’t even know I needed it, to tell you the truth, until I finally settled down into the natural flow of the local time, so different from New York’s.  It didn’t gnaw on my nerves and upset my inners.  Nah.  LA-LA had its own stresses and costs to the system, but at least there would be much more time — and space — to be a Self.

“‘Scuse me,” I sang out.  I made sure to smile.

(Seriously:  Who WAS that girl?!)

The bundled-up old woman, dragging her comatose Yorkie through the snow buried flowerbeds, looked back at me.  A thought had no time to form in my head before she granted me the dirties elevator look since the one I earned from a Kardashian lookalike, on my first Hollywood attempt to go clubbing.  (That young one assumed I was rubbing up against her man:  A short and hairy creature in rhinestoned jeans buying her girlfriends a round of pink drinks.  I, however, soaked from dancing my ass off next to the Go-Go Girls, was just leaning over the bar to ask for some water:  A request hated by the bartenders all around the world (but hated a little less than when I requested a cup of coffee).)

Upon my “‘Scuse me?”, not even a centimeter did the old woman move over.  Here, time and space had to be fought for; and considering she had to, most likely, persevere through mortal hell in order to own her rent-controlled apartment in Washington Square — the woman was highly unlikely to budge for my sake.

By that point, I could feel neither my toes nor my hands.  Still, it would take a lot more than a couple of dirty or simply baffled looks from the locals to snap me out of my grateful mood.

“Just look at this, would you?!” I kept thinking.

The perfectly aligned, naked and black with wetness trees were covered with sticky snow.  The skies were arguing with its fluffy clouds on whether to grant us some sun or snow that day.  The skeletons of Christmas trees littered an occasional side of the road, but the smell of trash and sewers had been put on hold until the next warmer front.

Left foot, right foot…  Right:  Ouch! ouch!  The black asphalt underneath my feet was sparkling with shards of ice.  Leaping over the tiny puddles and seemingly fallen down stars, off I went:  Navigating the seemingly different City unlike my former self claimed would have done.

But which one of us had changed more?

My every rhythmical exhale resulted in a visible cloud.  I was hardly the only pedestrian, but definitely the only runner seen for miles.  It was my new way of exploring new lands:  Right foot, then left.  Flying.  Slowing down only to zigzag in between the baffled, sleepy or plain disgruntled locals.

Grateful.

Right, left.  Right…

Yes:  Definitely grateful!

“We Found Love in a Hopeless Place. We Found Love in a Hope-Less Place.”

(Continued from December 6th, 2011.)

The merger to continue onto the 10-East looped around the graffitied walls, arid lawns and long dead flowerbeds.  With one-eighth of my gas tank, I was speeding and leaving the City — exhausted by traffic, lack of time and money, never-ending construction and unrealistic expectations of its dreamers — behind.

Right around Baldwin Park, the freeway got deceivingly wide:  We were free flyin’.  All of us!  For a couple more zip codes, a few expensive cars would still zoom by me.  But as Beemers and Benzes began to vanish like a mirage, I knew I was heading into the Inland Empire.  An occasional five- or six-car train would crawl alongside the freeway; but despite some drivers’ strange road manners, I felt grateful for being able to dictate my own speed of moving — and having the wheels with which to escape.

There stood that giant brown Wells Fargo building of some hideous shape unknown in geometry.  On the way back, I had learned to notice it every time.  Even at night, I see its sign illuminated by the seemingly never ending, moving headlights and the sparking skyline of the City in which I had finally learned to live.

No, not “survive”, like I used to, back on the East Coast — in my more youthful days, when I had better habits for chasing or persevering time.  Here, I had actually been living, on my own terms.  And the case of my unrealistic expectations from the clocks and the traffic of LA-LA had been getting worse.  But then, it was a commonly spread disease anyway.

My chosen radio station was still blasting:

“Ooh, sometimes:  I get a good feelin’!”  

Montclair’s malls sprawled out for miles.  They were the first to signify that I was no longer in my City.  I was leaving, chasing the clock; already late.  It would be something I had to get used to, from then on:  The nearly identical signs, imposed by the same corporations — over and over again! — would begin greeting me in every new city, from the side of the road.  Malls, malls, malls:  The only mode of entertainment.  In Montclair, the modestly covered-up two-tailed mermaid of Starbucks reminded me about my promise to deliver some sugar-coma costing drink to motha.  But then, they seemed to appear on my every other exhale, so I had time.  I checked my dashboard:  Shoulda gotten gas last night!

Mileages for Pomona’s exits began invading every road sign, from the top.  That’s always the half-way point.  In my old, two-cylinder clunker, climbing over this hill would have been a bitch.  So, I would find myself in the slowest two lanes, crammed into the moving wall of white trailer trucks.  And they would swing in and out of lane dividers and make my heart skip a beat.  But somehow, especially around wintertime, they appeared hideously beautiful.  From the furtherest left lane, I looked at the moving, swinging white wall.  This route belonged to them.  They were the common site of California’s self-sufficiency.  And I loved it.

The Forest Lawn Cemetery overlooking our hustle and bustle from up a significant hill had a habit for a serene appearance.  Perhaps, it’s because, in six years, I’d never seen a living human on its evenly green surface.  The white statues at its gate hung above the otherwise flat surface.  On every trip, I kept trying to figure out what they were:  Angels?  Warriors?  The Relieved Deceased?

Motha had always liked cemeteries.  This one seemed endless, so I’d better remember to bring her here, for a stroll.  Lately, she had been obsessing about transferring her parents’ remains from a vanishing town, in the Far East of Russia.

“Otherwise, they’d disappear,” she’d been saying.

Holding on.  That’s perfectly human.

“I wanted love!  I NEEDED love!  Most of all!  Most of all!”

The radio was beginning to struggle with its waves.

Pomona happened with its horse racing tracks and a major attraction for County Fairs.  After it, as always, I went blank until I came up on the convoluted exists of the Ontario Airport where I had originally landed, half a dozen years ago.  The exits for Rancho Cucamonga would never call the city by its name.  Too bad:  It was the only truly idillic land for miles to come.

The mountain range that came up on the horizon after the halfway point would be the only other place of peaceful beauty.  And it was looking mostly gray these days, with ice caps on top.  Below them, in the valley, laid a land where people struggled and survived.  But at least, time and traffic would move slower here.

The slightly tilted bridge of the 15-North onramp reminded me of a roller-coaster.  I hated those!  But there, I went:  Whee!

Then, another freeway, recently renovated — and my radio began sounding like shit.

“We found love in a hopeless place…” — it gargled.

Turn that scratchy shit off!  Get some gas!

I sped up.

Since the city limit of LA-LA, I hadn’t seen a single cop car, for sixty miles.  And motha’s exit was coming up.  I couldn’t believe I had pulled it off.

The gas light went on, while I was on the off-ramp negotiating my way behind a clunker of an uncertain make with horrifically smashed-in rear.

What this?!  A 7-Eleven gas station?  A wolf whistle came from behind me when I stepped one foot out of my car.

“Really?!” I looked back at two Mexican workers sitting on a curb.

“Hola!”

“Fuck off!”  I barked.

Yep:  I had arrived.

“I’ll Be Home for Christmas…” I think.

It started with a text:

“Bring warm clothes.  It is f…ing COLD outside and inside.”

Thanks, motha.

No more excuses could be fabricated for my resistance to visit her part of Cali; and unlike most children, I hadn’t fantasized about “getting out of LA” — for my sanity’s sake — and going “home”, since… well, never.  Home had to be wherever the fuck I landed, for at least two decades of my life now.  I hadn’t even let myself the martyrdom shtick since 1994.  It’s just the way our family’s shit sorted itself out.  So be it, eh?

Besides, each on their own, my old folks were kinda rad:  funny and very specific.  And as far as their parental duties were concerned, they had already done one hell of a job considering my Motha’land’s continuous turmoil.

This year, though, after missing all the major holidays in the last six months AND with my plans to avoid my daughterly obligations to visit for Christmas, motha’s birthday could NOT be missed.  Well…  Actually, it could.  And it was.  I had delayed my visit by nearly a week, but bargained that, on my visit, I would deliver a few make-up gifts.  And take her out to dinner.  And bring Starbucks.

So, there I was:  Waking up early, after pulling my chronic, city-livin’ all-nighter, and immediately checking my iPhone for work emails.  Anything to delay the reality of having to get out of bed and getting my ass rolling on the 10-East.  Not once, not twice, but half a dozen times I touched base with my boss, in the morning.  Look at me:  All diligent and nearly altruistic, just mere weeks before bloody Christmas!  While washing up — thirty minutes before my originally scheduled departure time — I missed a call from motha:

“Verra!  Call me vhen you starrt drrivingg.”

Okay, motha.  Will do.

But you know what I hadn’t done today yet?  Yoga!  I’d have to do that before I leave, because my centered self drove much better through every clusterfuck related to other people’s season of hysterical shopping.  So, I did that.

Ooh, and you know what else?  I’d better wash my car too.

In the bathroom of the carwash, another missed phone call from motha lit up my phone screen.

“I’m on my way,” I lied via a text:  My ride wasn’t even getting soaped yet.  “I can be there anywhere between 1:30 and 2:00.”  (Had I noticed:  The case of my unrealistic expectations from the clocks and the traffic of LA-LA had been getting worse?!)

In another thirty minutes, I finally climbed up — then down — onto 10 East.

“DOWNTOWN 12 MINUTES” — the first sign promised.

“I suppose I could still make it by my promised deadline,” a glimpse of hope inspired me to turn on some Christmas music.  “Hey, this ain’t so bad!” I thought and attempted to whistle along.  (I don’t know how to whistle, actually, so I was more like hissing along. Yeah.  I hissed along.)

Culver and Century City zipped by me.  (Or was it in the opposite order?  I had always confused the two.)  Downtown came up on me, in all of its newly built glory, in ten minutes.  Gorgeous!  Completely white and silver, it glistened in the sun.  I checked my car’s thermometer.  Sixty six degrees?  Really?  ‘Cause inside the greenhouse underneath my sunroof, it’s feeling closer to seventy two.  And, as instructed, I was now carrying only sweaters in my suitcase.

I rolled down the windows.  No, wait!  Too much wind.  I just washed my hair and it was doing its Medusa-in-a-Horrid-Mood routine.  With just the passenger window down, though, the car began sounding like a jet plane in the midst of a turbulent take-off.  Plus the smell of dust and endless construction smacked me out of my mood.  With one whack of my fist, I turned off the jolly tune on the radio station.

Too early for Christmas, after all!  Christmas was for other people, and their children heading “home”.

But I — was a busy working girl, wedging in some premature festivities into her life, and mostly out of guilt.

Scarlett Johansson fpr Vanity Fair

The orange diamonds of construction signs were sure to come up in a few minutes and right around the dodgy part of LA-LA, I noticed I was low on gas.

“Shit.  Shoulda done that last night!”

It’s the worst habit of mine:  Procrastinating with gas by thinking that there would be more hours in the next day of LA-LA.  I examined the eroded walls of abandoned warehouses on the side of the freeway and chipping road signs, mostly in Spanish, and decided to see how long my tank would last.

The traffic wasn’t really crawling yet, but I could see a corridor of break lights for at least quarter of a mile ahead of me.  Might be a while, but as we say in the Motha’land, “Whoever doesn’t risk — doesn’t get to drink champagne!”

The itch of my badass-ness needed some background music, so I smacked the radio again.

“Blame it on the ah, ah-ah-ah, ah-alcohol,” the new station blasted.  That’ll do for now.

The merger to continue onto the 10-East looped around the graffitied walls, arid lawns and long dead flowerbeds.  With one-eighth of my gas tank, I was speeding and leaving the City — exhausted by traffic, lack of time and money, never-ending construction and unrealistic expectations of its dreamers — behind.

(To Be Continued.)

“A Man Gets Tied Up to The Ground — He Gives The World Its Saddest Sound.”

(Continued from November 26th, 2011.)

“Make a wish,” he said.  “If you wish for something good — it WILL come true.”

I held the ring he gave me in the middle of my palm, and I stared at the open space caught in the center of its beaded circle.  It was made out of a tightly wound spiral of a single metallic line, as thin as a single hair on a horse’s mane.  I thought of my grandmother’s cuckoo clock whose pendulum she had stopped winding-up, suddenly one night.

Her husband, a retired fisherman, had gained himself a habit in his old age:  He’d climb up to the roof above their attic to watch the sunset every night.  There, he would witness the reunion of two unlikely lovers:  The sun would give up the ambition of its skies and melt into the waters of the Ocean beneath; and every such reunion would illuminate the old man’s eyes with colors of every precious stone in the world.

There, up on the rooftop, my grandmother would find him, when she returned home from work.

“My little darling boy!” she’d gosh.  “You’re too old for this game.”

She was eleven years his junior; but after a lifetime of waiting for the Ocean to return her lover, she hadn’t managed to forget her worries.  And even with his now aged body radiating heat in their mutual bed each night, she would dream up the nightmares of his untimely deaths.

“I’ve died so many times in your sleep, my baby lark,” he joked in the mornings, “I should be invincible by now.”

Still, the woman’s worrisome wrath turned her into a wild creature he preferred to never witness:  They were unlikely lovers, after all.  So, he’d smirk upon her scolding, obey and lithely descend.  Then, he would chase my grandmother into the corner bedroom of their modest hut.  And she would laugh.  Oh, how she would laugh!

One day, after she scolded him again, he slipped; and as she watched each grasp betray him, she suddenly expected that her lover could unfold his hidden wings and slowly swing downward, in a pattern of her cuckoo clock’s pendulum, or a child’s swing.  But he was an injured bird:  That’s why he could no longer go out to sea.

Upon the permanently wet ground, he crashed.  And on that night, she stopped winding-up the spiral inner workings of her clock.

“Well?  Did you make a wish?” the old Indian merchant asked me after I slipped his gift onto the ring finger of my left hand.

The beads rolled on the axis of the spiral and slid onto my finger like a perfect fit.  On its front, four silver colored beads made up a pattern of a four-petalled flower, or possibly a cross.  I bent the fingers of my hand to feel its form against my skin.  Under the light, the beads immediately shimmered.

“Well?  Did you?” the old, tiny man persisted.

Instead of answering him, I pressed the now ringed hand against my heart and nodded.

“See.  It is already coming true,” he said.

He was by now sitting in a lotus position on top of a lavender cloud.  It had earlier slipped out from behind the room with bamboo curtains, in the doorway, and it snuggled against his leg like a canine creature.  Before I knew it, the old man got a hold of the scruff of the cloud’s neck, and he reached down below — to help me up.

His hand was missing a ring finger.  How had I not noticed that before?  I studied his face for remnants of that story.  But it was not its time yet, so I got lost in between the wrinkles of his brown skin and followed them up to his eyes:

His eyes were two small suns, with amber colored rays.  The center of each iris was just a tiny purple dot, too narrow to fit in my reflection.  I looked for it though until the suns began to spin — each ray being a spoke on a wheel — faster and faster.

The spirals of the old man’s watch began unwinding, and we floated up through the layered clouds of time, up to the sunroof.  With a single gesture of his arm, the man unlatched the windowed frames.  He sat back down, shifted until his sit bones found their former markings in the lavender cloud; and when he turned to face me, I realized he had become a young lover of my own:  with jet black hair and a pair of smirking lips of that old fisherman who had stopped the spiral of the clock inside my grandma’s hut.

“I had a feeling about you,” he said and buried his four-fingered hand inside my loosened hair.  “You are the type to always wish — for good.”

“And You Want to Travel WITH Him, And You Want to Travel Blind.”

It was the smell of burning patchouli incense that brought me in here.

Come to think of it, my nose had been acting up all day.

Earlier, down the street, along the netted fence that safeguarded a preservation ground, it picked-up on a strong smell of fish.

The encyclopedia of marine aromas was familiar to me since birth:  Somehow, my people were always drawn to large bodies of water, albeit only a few of them actually knew how to swim.

“Fresh fish doesn’t smell,” my grandfather used to say.  The man was a fisherman.

And it was not the smell of processed fish that my nose sensed either.  That one I had learned early on in life, as well:  at the cannery of anchovies and sardines that my grandmother supervised, in the Far East of Russia.  With her badass temper and a crass sense of humor, she would walk the premises; and I would march in her footsteps, armed with a jar of black caviar and an aluminum spoon.  Grandma would always smell like lily-of-the-valley bouquet; and when in certain portions of the factory, the reek disgusted me out of my appetite, I would bury my nose into the skirt at the back of her knees.

“See, comrade!” the woman would be ripping a new one to manager of that particular department.  “Even my grandchild knows this is not a smell of good produce.  Fuckin’ fix it!”

So, no:  The earlier smell down the road did not belong to the byproducts of humans.  This particular scent belonged to the wild.  When my nose picked up on it, I could envision piles of fish carcasses and flakes of scales circling in the air, close to the ground.

Along the fence, tourists with heavy lenses of cameras were taking photographs.  Parents were instructing their children to pose while the adults watched them through the screens of their iPhones.

I looked in the direction of the attraction:  Seals were lounging on a small patch of a gated beach with sprawled seaweed and patches of red succulents.  Lazily, they were lying in the same direction with their glossy or fuzzy bodies, then take turns crawling into the Bay, for more feasts.  Aha!  That’s the smell!

When I began to run again, I could smell the musky scents of cheap perfume on older women and the sweat of other runners.  As I neared the Cannery Row, the flavors of caramel popcorn and spiced hot chocolate seduced me into slowing down.  Right around the corner, the street opened into an alley of shops and street vendors.  People carried cups of frozen yoghurt and oily paper bags of street food.  Children on sugar highs were biting into chocolate covered apples and nagging their parents for sips out of their hot paper cups.

When a familiar scent from my motha’s kitchen reached my activated nose, I wandered into a store that emanated it.

“What IS that?” I muttered as I sniffed the air and scanned the shop’s display for hints.

Armed with a giant cup of coffee I felt obliged to purchase there, I continued my walk, a few minutes later.  The smell of patchouli incense reached me from across the street, and before I was aware of my obedience, I was stepping over the threshold.

I first looked around for signs by the door:  “Am I allowed to bring drinks in here?”

But the rich colors of exotic textiles and seemingly ancient jewelry quickly distracted my eyes.  I began to cruise aimlessly around the store.  High above, rows of women’s capes clung to the walls.  Hemp threaded backpacks and sequined shoulder bags lined the shelves down below.  A rack of wraparound skirts attracted my attention.

“From Tibet,” a old brown man with striped gray and black beard said from behind the grass counter, in the corner.  I hadn’t noticed him till then.

Sheepishly lowering my cup that had been soothing my nose with a sharp scent of roasted coffee beans, I smiled at him.

“Good day,” the gentle man nodded.

“They’re very lovely,” I patted the adorned cotton.  I owed him at least that much.  I had followed a scent and was planning to make no purchases here.

The tiny man would return to his noninvasive silence of a meditating good heart.  His goods, however, would begin to tell me stories:  of dusty passages of India and and the small roads of Thailand, jam packed with traffic; of silky hair of Chinese seamstresses and the blistered dry hands of bead workers in the Kingdom of Bhutan.  The transcendent scent continued hanging above me like a cloud that, if I could straddle, would carry me to the magical land of the Far East, so close to the settlement of my people.

“Good choice,” the tiny man stood up to bag a pair of chandelier earrings the color of a frost bitten malbec grape.

“A man of two words,” I thought to myself and felt grateful for his manner.  “A good man!”

I lowered my gaze to the jewelry display with amber, rubies and turquoise.

“Have this,” he said, and in his wrinkled palm I saw a ring of a matching color.  I studied his face:  “Good luck,” he said.

I lowered my head.  “Thank you.  That’s very sweet.  Thank you.”  And I slipped on the ring.

“Make a wish,” he responded.  “If you wish for something good — it WILL come true.”

(To Be Continued.)

“We Were Born Before the Wind.”

It seemed like she was waiting for someone.  By the bench, at the top of a hilly lawn, the bottom of which met with the narrow gravelly passage occupied by the late morning joggers, she stood there, barely noticed by others.  An iron railing stretched on the other side of the path, and the bright blue waters of Monterey Bay seemed calm.  A forest of boat masts kept swaying in their metronome rhythm.  They clanked against each other with the hollow sound of empty water buckets or rusty church bells.  The shallow waters by the shore were navigated by a couple of paddle boarders and glossy baby seals.

Was it her beloved heading home?  Or was this just a mid-stop where she’d regroup for the next glorious flight of her freedom loving soul?  She stood like she belonged to no one — but the call of her nature, immune to the voices of fear or doubt.

The Northbound wind frolicked with her straight white hair.  I didn’t expect to see that texture on her body, but when I saw the handful of silky strands fly up on the side of her head, I stopped.  She remained motionless:  still and proud, slowly scanning the horizon with her focused eyes.

Just a few meters down, I myself had rested by a statue of a woman.  I couldn’t tell how long ago I had left my room without having a preplanned route through this small town by the Bay; for I myself had come here to rest in the unlikely lack of my own expectations — my fears, worries and doubts — and I had let the movements of the sun determine my activities that day.  So in its highest zenith, I departed from the four walls of my inn after the laughter of children — hyper way too early and fearlessly attacking the nearby pool — woke me up.

I began to run slowly at first, crossing through the traffic of drivers used to the unpredictable characters of pedestrians.  Not once did I resort to my city habits of negotiation by scowls or passive-aggressive gestures.  I bypassed the elders slowly walking, in groups, along the streets of boutique stores with hand-written signs for Christmas sales.  The smell of caffeine and caramel popcorn would trail behind young couples on their romantic getaways.  The joggers of the town were few and far between; so when I reached the narrow passage of the tree alley along the shoreline, I picked up my pace.

The wind kept playing with my fly-aways and untangling my tight hair bun.  A couple of times I turned my head in the direction of its flow and saw the mirage outlines of my most favorite Northern City.

“By the time I get there, I shall be free of fear,” I always think but then return to the predetermined pacing of my dreams.

I noticed the statue’s back at first:  A colonial dress peaked out from underneath a cape, and both were captured in the midst of their obedience to the same Northbound wind.

“A statue of a woman.  That’s a rarity.”

And I walked up to her.

It seemed like she was waiting for someone. Up from the pedestal, she focused her gaze on the horizon.  Her face was calm but gripped by prayer.  I knew that face:  It belonged to a lover who trusted that the wind would bring him back to her, unscathed.  And even if he were injured on his odyssey or tempted by another woman’s feasts, she trusted he would learn and be all the better for it, in the end.  Against her shoulder, she was leaning a wooden cross made of tree branches.

Santa Rosalia:  The Italian saint of fishermen.  She froze, in stone, in a perpetual state of beholding for other women’s men.  Throughout centuries, so many freedom-loving souls must have departed under her watch, and I could only hope that most of them returned.  But when the sea would claim them, did other women come here to confront her or to collect the final tales of their men dying fear-free?

I walked while thinking of her face.  And then, I saw the other awaiting creature.

When she began to walk downhill, she’d test the ground with each step.  With a balletic grace she’d stop at times, and study the horizon.  The wind began to tease her silky hair.  It took figure eight routes in between her legs, and taunted her to fly.

And so she did:  On a single rougher swoosh of the wind, she stretched her giant stork-white wings, gained height and began to soar, Northbound and fear-free.