With a little luck I did trick my old lizard into spending another day with her feet propped up, sewing. The swelling has gone down dramatically. But her temper flared up and a tornado of recriminations sprouted with more force than the blood the other night. Here is, in no particular order, a list of my trespasses:
I buy expensive dresses that look funny.
I canceled her appointment with the doctor who injects stem cells into people’s knees. (My bad, I figured healing the cracked skin and reducing the swelling was more important).
I was rude to the repairman who came to fix the outdoor fountain. (Not true. He was rude to me. But according to my old lizard I am never respectful enough).
I failed to buy her house dresses (do they seriously still sell such a thing?) and instead bought pizza for the aunts, which was expensive. As a form of protest my lizard refused to eat the pizza. So did grandma.
I did laundry on a Friday. (Sinful, very very sinful).
The temper tantrum subsided once I brought her ice cream. Not to be outdone, grandma threw a huge fit, with screaming and thrashing about: “Lord, take me to my grave! I cannot stand this anymore! I want to be with my loved ones! Why won’t you take me, Lord?” She says such things so often we’re almost used to it. Of course, last night when she tripped and almost fell but didn’t she sang a very different tune: “Thank you, Lord, for helping me and saving my life.” Well, I suppose a diva has a right to be terminally indecisive. Especially at 96.
“Bring me some warm milk, I want to dip the pretzel in it,” grandma said, biting into the fresh sesame covrig I bought her. I warmed the milk and brought it. It’s a classic Romanian school kid’s lunch, milk and bread, and I figured there was no harm in her having this instead of the soup the aunts were heating up. Especially since she seemed to enjoy it a lot.
I decided, not for the first time, to let the old ladies misbehave in fun ways if they choose to. After all, they are ancient, they won’t live forever no matter what I do, and there’s be no point in living forever anyway if they can’t have a good time. Bring on the coffee and chocolate (grandma’s favorite treats), the sesame covrigi, and all the other little luxuries one can enjoy at such an advanced age. My lizard, for example, enjoyed refusing to see the cardiologist my cousin offered to take her to today. I saw no harm in this little rebellion as the likelihood she needs a cardiologist is small, and the unwelcome outing would have stressed her out. Instead I tricked her into fixing my favorite black skirt I bought years ago in Barcelona, which is falling apart. She loves sewing and it’s one of the few activities for which she actually props her feet up which dramatically reduces the swelling. Win win.
And now if you’ll excuse me I’ll go tempt grandma with additional sweets. “Your body is not a temple. It’s an amusement park. Enjoy the ride.” It’s what Anthony Bourdain said, and as the whole world is sad today at his unexpected demise (how heartbreaking that one so brilliant could be so depressed), I figure we shall honor him by making sure that an amusement park circa 1922 with miraculously functioning rides still lives up to its full potential. I believe there’s some Italian pastry thing in the pantry. Meanwhile, in her room, the old lizard sews with gusto.
“If you don’t eat your omelet, I won’t give you ice cream!” I told my old lizard. It was one of my most effective threats. After the incident late last night, when she scratched her leg and blood started gushing all over the place and I freaked out, I’d been pleading with her in all kinds of ways to stay in bed with her legs propped up and generally rest and behave. She was good about eating milk and biscuits in the morning, but resisted the bed rest regimen. Several aunts came by today and most made fun of me for having two patients under my care, one more stubborn and opinionated than the other.
“The patient in bed 1 is misbehaving!” they said. It’s true that both patients are impatient. As to the old lizard, she mostly needs to stay off her feet and rest. The blood was a freak accident but surely the scariest situation I’ve ever been in. Hopefully conditions will improve tomorrow.
“I could’ve been dead!” my old lizard cried. “I could’ve died in my sleep and laid there in my bed cold and dead, and none of you unworthy lasses would have suspected a thing!” That is entirely untrue. I checked on her repeatedly and she was sleeping peacefully, her fist balled on her pillow, her breath deep and regular. It’s true that she was still sleeping when I left the house at 1:30pm to go to the museum, but dead she was not. In fact, I was pleased she was resting. I enjoyed feeding grandma her breakfast of milk and biscuits followed by sweet coffee, and I enjoyed not waking the old lizard. The other aunts who came after I left didn’t wake her up either. She slept until after 3pm.
“That is unheard of! Didn’t any if you worry? Didn’t you realize I was half dead? I never sleep this late!” she protested. Hm. Not sure about that. I am convinced she is nocturnal. She was talking to herself so late into the night, I had to use earplugs to sleep.
Other than that, things are as they are. Grandma comes up with creative ways to work her imminent death into any line of conversation. The mannequins downtown are still all dressed as brides and they look like something out of a horror movie. The museum was lovely, its windows wide open to the scent of linden blossoms, the art inside magnificent. I made a new friend, a painter. We talked about how much good art originated here, around Craiova, how the landscape is a source of magic: Brancusi, Victor Brauner, Tzuculescu, to name a few, all came from here or through here.
When I got home everybody was screaming, the nocturnal lizard blaming us all for her prolonged hibernation, grandma going on and on about death, and demanding I no longer go out. Except to buy biscuits. She needs more biscuits. Though it’s doubtful she’ll live long enough to eat a whole package.
Something weird happens whenever I visit the 100-year-old house I grew up in, where the old ladies live. There’s always a plumbing emergency while I’m here. These things don’t happen at other times, but whenever I visit, pipes seem to burst, that type of stuff. Water seeping through walls. Or, case in point, water gushing through the pavement in our yard.
I wondered if perhaps there’s a significance to these water emergencies, if the old house is trying to tell me something. I even wondered if the house is mad at me for staying away too long. I asked a witch friend and she asked her pendulum. The pendulum said no. The house is not mad at me, and for that I’m glad. I love my house and I like to think that it loves me back.
In fact, upon reading up on the significance of water and plumbing issues, I came to the conclusion that the house is excited that I’m here. Water is flow. Energy. Change. Chi. What I discovered is that when the energy is stale and good chi moves in, there can literally be an overflow. Perhaps the mythical snake that guards the house was slumbering and it woke up when I got here, uncoiled itself and did a little dance, thus shaking the old pipes.
We are expecting expert plumbing help tomorrow.
Meanwhile grandma talks about death and eats chocolate, my old lizard seeks information on cutting edge treatments for her knees (stem cell injections, anyone?), and the feral cat that lives on top of the garage sneaks food scraps to her kittens. Days seem endless here. No wonder the poor snake dozed off. I will try my very best to provide some kind of entertainment.
I’m finally here. The old ladies are very old. They are shriveling up, like raisins, becoming smaller and smaller. I assume their intention is to vanish altogether some day.
The people on the train all talked about various illnesses, hospitals, doctors. It rained during the trip and once I got here the old ladies found it best for me to wear a sweater. For once they liked my dress, a long white dress a friend gave me in Barcelona. They seem to also approve of my shape and size, which is rare. “Not skinny, not fat,” they proclaimed. Then they thought better of it: “Maybe still a little too skinny.”
They fed me rice with boiled carrots, that resembled rice I used to eat as a child, also roast chicken, and a salad that was very sweet. We gave some scraps to the feral cat that comes to visit looking for food. “This cat is very ugly,” the old ladies said. “We preferred the blonde one, but it’s been gone for years.”
What I did today: drank Turkish coffee, spent many hours with one of my favorite aunts, saw an old friend from elementary school. It was a Sunday that stretched in the typical endless way of Sundays, and yet at some point I forgot what day of the week it is. I suppose travel can do that.
Tomorrow I’m going to see my old ladies. I wanted to go on Wednesday but they complained they might be dead by then. I suppose a flair for drama runs in the family.
It’s my last day here, and torn between my sadness to leave and the happy knowledge that I am ready to move on from this beautiful city plagued with the cognitive dissonance of needing tourism but hating tourists, I decided to do something special. I decided to allow myself a sense of perspective. Literally. And so I climbed all the way to the Tibidabo, the mysterious church that looks down on Barcelona from a mountain top and is lit up at night. The trip involves a special train, a steep trek up a street full of very posh villas, then a cable car ride of sorts. It’s a bit cumbersome, and so I hadn’t gone there in the last ten years. It’s worth it, though, if you want to see all of Barcelona. You can even, with a little luck, catch a glimpse of Frank Gehry’s fish. Also, there’s a vintage amusement park up on the mountain, and the air is very fresh. It’s a nice place to spend an afternoon, and a nice place to say goodbye. A nice place, too, to take stock, file a few things away, and get ready for new adventures.
Meanwhile, for even more of a sense of perspective, check out the lovely pictures my friend at Amsterdamian took of me while I was visiting. She can work magic with her camera! It’s funny what she drew out of me. The best was that she showed me some wonderful places that really put me in a good mood. It was, perhaps, the best day of my trip so far! It is a good reminder, that while Barcelona is lovely, life is at its sunniest when creative minds use their skills to perform acts of magic.