“Put it in the fridge for now,” my old lizard said about the bottle of milk the milkman delivered this morning. “I’ll boil it when I get back in touch with myself.” This could be any day now. Though some evidence suggests that she’s spent nearly a century trying to achieve this. She even has long conversations with herself daily, but apparently they’re no use. Luckily some of life’s matters are not as complex: “I was hoping you’d go out and buy some covrigi,” she said. “I want two sesame ones.” I was more than happy to fulfill this request. I even dared conquer my embarrassment and took a picture of the girl dispensing the fresh warm covrigi, houses and storefronts from across the street reflected in the window. One can even see the dreadful omnipresent bridal gowns they sell in the old part of town here, and I think they offer an interesting juxtaposition to the girl in her white uniform. She was much friendlier than the woman who’s been selling me covrigi in Bucharest.
Nobody came to visit us today and though there was plenty to do – grandma’s meals, and a plethora of dirty dishes my old lizard keeps producing – I had some time on my hands to search all over the house. I like to look in every cupboard, every closet, and every drawer. Everything smells very interesting – a combination of moth balls, lavender, and Turkish green apple soap. The contents are never surprising, but still, it can be a fun exercise. I didn’t find my childhood drawings of chickens. Someone must have thrown them out, as the whole family is rather unsentimental about my art. I did, however, find some of my old school homework and one of my favorite books about a little blue pig – Schweinchen Jo. I was not a stellar student, didn’t get the awards my mom wanted me to get, but I had neat handwriting and always a lot of imagination. Also, I drew excellent chickens. If only someone had deemed them worth keeping!
Today marks the beginning of Taurus season, and I awoke with a new energy. I’m very proud of my astral beast! Bulky and sluggish as it is, it is a good beast, firmly grounded and loyal – though it’s best not to test its patience.
In the old ladies’ house things progressed as usual – meaning with absolutely no rhyme or reason. My lizard (an Aquarian lady who always does as she pleases – something that can be trying for the Bull who prefers a certain type of structure) was tired of her vacation and descended the stairs to the kitchen where she took several hours preparing grandma’s coffee. Grandma (a Virgo) got dressed very neatly and dispensed lots of criticism to us all – Virgo’s gift to the world, which Taurus doesn’t always appreciate, except I’ve always had a special weakness for grandma and nothing she ever says upsets me. I wish that were true for the rest of the family, as some of our relatives frequently leave in tears. My younger aunt who comes to help them out is an Aquarius like the lizard, though a lot more efficient. Like most Aquarians she is very funny and today she had me laughing so hard it hurt when she told me about my old lizard’s exploits while I was gone. The trouble is that the old ladies can’t hear a thing, and even when we gossip about very exciting stuff, they have trouble joining in. The other conundrum is: If you can’t hear her and she can’t hear you, how do you fight with your sister? Since the most salient jabs can’t properly be received, the house is dominated by a strained sort of peace. I wish I could teach them sign language.
In which I’m in charge of feeding everyone: two very old ladies, three stray cats of indeterminate ages, and a whole constellation of birds big and small. My lucky coup was getting grandma’s coffee just right. Coffee is of the utmost importance to her – as it is to me. But we have different preferences of exactly how we like to take this magical beverage. I know how she wants it but she doesn’t fully trust me. She insisted the old lizard is the only one who can make her coffee. I told her the lizard is on vacation.
After she drank what I brought she told me it was good. I took the empty cup downstairs and though I hadn’t adhered to strict fortune telling protocol I did look at her grinds. I saw a seated woman dressed in white. Her head was the head of a bird. That’s a very good omen.
The lizard continued her vacation by doing whatever she felt like doing, mostly hanging out in her room sewing or reading things she’s already read. Grandma was disgusted by her absence and commented: “If I were like her, snakes would eat me.” She has quite the obsession with snakes. I don’t know why. There are absolutely none here. Then she started wondering out loud about the best possible weather to die in.
Also, I went up to the attic. It smells like old wood and is quite lovely. It’s always been my favorite room in the house.
In which I travel halfway around the world in order to have a 95-year-old tell me she doesn’t like my outfit. The day started with pigeons loving on each other outside my window, and continued with a three-hour train ride to Craiova, where my grandma and my old lizard live. 97 and 95 respectively, the two are sisters 👯 who live together and quarrel every day. Right now, for example, my old lizard is trying to watch TV and grandma, who can’t hear a thing, asks her every 2 minutes is it isn’t maybe time for them to go to bed. Why bedtime needs to be a synchronized experience I have no clue.
As for me, all the clothes I brought with me on the trip, including my beautiful green dress from Tangerine, have been declared by the old lizard to be fit for the circus. Grandma doesn’t really care what I wear, but she did ask me about 50 times what I ate, also told me about 50 times that I need to come back home from where I live, which according to her is “at the ass of the world,” and that I better do so before she dies. I expect a lot of creative discussions of death tomorrow.
I developed a little routine on my walks through the city. I like to eat covrigi in two different places (and if you don’t know what they are, you need to read my first novel, Dogs with Bagels, and its follow-up, Lost Path to Solitude). I buy my first covrig at University Square. I ask for a sesame seed one, and the lady serving me, always the same one, gives it to me with an attitude like I’m wasting her time. My second covrig is more expensive: it has sunflower seeds on it, and as I eat the fresh tender dough, the seeds fall into the paper bag. I love fishing them out and eating them later. I like to sit on a park bench enjoying the second covrig. My friends, the pigeons, come to investigate, but I don’t share my treat. In my defense, they are fat and well cared for and I often see people feeding them.
This all is very pleasant, but to keep things interesting, tonight I went to an art auction. It was quite exciting, the room abuzz with energy. They auctioned off contemporary Romanian paintings, some by artists I was familiar with. The most expensive one went for € 50,000. The room was full of bidders, then some bids came in from online or over the phone. It felt good to be part of it, to soak up the energy. But my favorite was my walk home. I’ve always loved Bucharest at night. All the covrig stands were closed, except for one, which seemed very lively. I resolve to try it soon.
Still obsessed with urban pigeons, I spent a long time today trying to take pictures of their shadows. I also took a long walk, went to my favorite bookstore, then later sat on a bench in the park. There I got to watch the pigeons some more. I also got to see a beautiful raven. It was perched on top of a fountain, a piece of dried bread in its beak, which it soaked in the water so it could eat it. Ravens are obviously very intelligent birds.
I also remembered that one of the houses by the park is part of my inspiration for The Adventures of Miss Vulpe. I can picture Louise’s parties in that house, and later Ana’s antics.
Today I bought watercolor paper. I also bought two absolutely ginormous bouquets of lilac. The whole house is scented with it. But it now seems irrelevant as everyone’s heartbroken about the fire at Notre Dame cathedral. I found a picture of it taken two years ago, during a very short trip to Paris, when I took a long walk at midnight. I have no pictures of it from this trip, when I only saw it in passing from the bus.
Today it rained. I still walked around to reconnect with the city – and also to get a little exercise. I saw some new books in bookstores, looked at what’s playing in theaters, went on a futile search for watercolor paper. Three of the stores I used to buy it from no longer sell anything I like. My dad said he’ll take me to an art supply place he knows of on Monday.
My favorite thing about my long rainy walk were the pigeons. I love urban pigeons, and the ones in Bucharest are fat, plentiful, and very vocal. I wonder if the rain upsets them.
I’m back in Bucharest and there are red tulips in every room of the house. They smell like spring. It wasn’t a very long journey, but I feel tired. I’m in the room facing the street, where I can hear the streetcars. I love the streetcars. My dad warned that they start up at 4:30 in the morning, but tangled up in my dreams, their sound is very sweet to me. The tulips on the credenza are so unbelievably beautiful and the whole room smells like them. I think I’ll sleep very well tonight.