Cien Años de Soledad

By the time I got my hands on my first Marquez book, everybody I knew had already read them all.

I was halfway through my first year at Uni and was traveling to my hometown after an exam. It had been snowing for days and the city looked brand new for once, though I knew it wouldn’t be for long. Snow is never snow in a big city. It feels like it just ended there by mistake, like a lost piece of luggage in the wrong airport. I was awfully tired, I’d pulled another all nighter and was looking forward to a good sleep on the train. But then there were the books.

I’d bought the new hardcover editions of Love in the Time of Cholera and A Hundred Years of Solitude the day before, from a street vendor who’d opened shop under an overhanging roof on University Street. I never could resist a snow covered book. And there was always such a flow of interesting people on that street, tall, handsome, mysterious students walking back and forth from one faculty building to the next. Buying those books everybody who was anybody was talking about felt only natural, carrying them against my chest through the snowstorm, in plain sight, made me feel sophisticated and like I was finally fitting in somewhere.

It makes me smile now. My relationship with Garcia Marquez was built upon superficial dreams of finding myself an intellectual looking boyfriend, in the middle of a crowded, snow covered street.

Sunk in my seat in the overheated train car, I took Love in the Time of Cholera out of my bag and started reading. Just for a little while, I thought, then I’d let it fall in my lap, the title conveniently visible just in case some well read, attractive young stranger looking for a meaningful relationship happened to walk by. Then I’d finally fall asleep. White, endless fields were running past the windows and it was slowly getting dark. This kid was falling in love with a beautiful girl, in a steamy, decaying port city by the Caribbean Sea.

By the time I got home, I was more than halfway through the book and hadn’t slept at all.

Dad picked me up from the train station. In our small town, a hundred miles closer to the mountains, the night was frozen and the snow looked like it was there to stay. Ladder climbing people were hanging tiny yellow Christmas lights along the street as we drove by. There was pop music and talk of road closures on the radio, and in a faraway cholera infested town, people were falling in love for life.

Is it strange that I remember the how, when and where of every Marquez book I ever read? Does it say things about me, this? That I never can keep track of friends’ birthdays or favourite colours, but I remember that the title was slightly embossed on the A Hundred Years of Solitude dust cover, and it was catching the light in a certain way?

Years later, I read Living to Tell the Tale in between fancy dinners, romantic walks and breakfasts in bed along this man I’d found. I’d dyed my hair a brave strawberry blonde, I’d gotten a job, I finally had an intellectual, mysterious beau of my own, things were good. As I was reading this book, it dawned on me that maybe, just maybe and as scary and completely insane as it sounded, what I really wanted to do was to write. Somewhere along the way, perhaps precisely because I’d read Marquez later than everybody else, I’d taken a wrong turn, and here I was now, this person with a story to tell and no means to tell it. Now of course, I wouldn’t be a writer, I told myself, like a proper, responsible grownup. But I could be. If I wanted. I could try, even if I failed. In fact, I could try that, and another thing, like Impressionist finger painting, or learning Japanese, at the same time. I could do more than change the colour of my hair and eat toast in bed. Months later, I left my job, my country and my beloved collection of Marquez books, and moved to London.

When I learned he’d passed away last night, I was folding laundry. My phone blinked with the news from the Guardian app, and I jumped to look at it, forever worried about the Ukraine crisis, flight MH370 and the rise in London property prices.

Marquez died, I told V, phone still in hand above the mountain of unfolded t-shirts, and he must have known it was something big, though I doubt the name sounded even in the least familiar to him.

I read all his books, I said. He came and gave me a hug as I just stood there, because he knows me, and knows there’ll always be things he won’t understand about me. Pain caused by the death of a stranger whose made-up stories I read once when there was nothing good on TV. You’ll find another writer to love, he said, and I said yes, because how could I have explained it to him, when I wasn’t a teller of tales myself, and I had no Marquez books in this country, not even one, to hold tight against my chest and feel like I finally belonged.

A Story of Lunch Breaks

This is how my office life works.

I get in precisely 13 minutes late every morning (a mix of unfortunate company shuttle timetables and my need to press snooze exactly six times before I finally crawl out of bed, don’t ask). I throw my backpack under the desk, then run to my supposedly super-duper-secure-but-I-suspect-it’s-made-of-recycled-cardboard locker to get my laptop. Yes, we all dutifully lock our laptops, magic mice, broken staplers and strawberry scented hand lotions before we leave the place in the evening. It’s company policy they say, though I suspect it’s exclusively based on everybody’s reluctance to leave their belongings unguarded when there’s a sticky-fingers Romanian (yours truly!) roaming free on the premises.

Valuable hardware finally plugged in and my hands freshly covered in strawberry flavoured pomade, I eventually deign to go over my inbox, check the outpour of life changing stuff people are posting on Facebook, and dive into the ever informative online tabloids. I know, I know, I’m not the psycho-hard-working bumblebee you all fantasized I was??? Oh, the horror!

The truth is that my super duper exciting project has recently been finalized and delivered. And yes, it’s been crazy hard work and I’ve had my someone-please-bludgeon-me-with-my-keyboard moments throughout, but that doesn’t really explain why these days everybody seems to think that I deserve a bit of a break, and they haven’t given me anything new to sink my teeth into. So recently, my day to day geeky adventures in the office have made room for endless, soul-wrenching, pure boredom.

By 10:15 in the morning, I’m already bored out of my mind and looking forward to the few distractions of the day: slow paced trips to the water cooler, a minor bug getting everybody deliciously frantic for half a second or so  (talking about website bugs here, people, no self respecting insect would waste its time buzzing around our bore of an office!), and lunch breaks.

Lunch break is when I get to walk out of the building and stroll down the parking lot for a minute long, car fume flavoured trip to the office canteen. People walk around said parking lot carrying piping hot plates and sharp cutlery back to their screen topped desks (why eat with others in a purposely designed, food spillage friendly space, when you can rush back and stuff yourself in front of your Facebook feed?), you run into really fit looking fellows, plates filled with mountains of mayonnaise drenched chips and end up hating your leaf-eating-yet-somehow-still-fatty self, it’s wonderful.

Now, this repetitive, tasty, it-finally-feels-like-I’m-doing-something-even-if-it’s-only-chewing canteen adventure would be the happiest time of my day, except for the fact that the entire staff, most of my fellow eaters, and I suspect the canteen furniture as well, hate my guts.

It’s not even my fault, you know. I’m a no fuss, always-chew-with-your-mouth-shut kind of gal. But I’ve had the bad luck of going to lunch accompanied by absolutely crazy people, and I’m now being labeled crazy myself by association.

Take Paul for example. Now, he may be one of my regular fellow lunch buddies, but he really shouldn’t be allowed to eat in public places. And I’m not talking about a fun and games, informal interdiction. Nope. There should be a law, an actual law preventing Paul from ordering and consuming food outside of his own kitchen.

He’s the kind of person who will take half an hour to order a burger. Remember Meg Ryan’s character in When Harry Met Sally? (most of you are probably to young for that reference, but anyway) Well, Paul is psycho Meg Ryan times six when it comes to ordering food. He needs all beansprouts picked out of his stir fry with special tweezers, and dutifully disposed of in a perfectly sealed, ozone layer friendly container. He needs his onion rings to be precisely 1.4 inches in diameter and to be fried into perfection until they’ve reached the one and only acceptable onion ring color, GoldenRod, or, for geeky Web Design connoisseurs like himself, #DAA520. His chips need in no circumstances touch his peas, and would ideally be imported from different continents and cooked in separate kitchens, in Evian water held at room temperature sixteen days in advance. Well, you get the picture. Every. Chef’s. Nightmare.

My other lunch partner is David. Now David, he may look like a regular guy from afar, but he is the clumsiest, most dangerous to society and to himself person you’ll ever meet. He must have dropped and smashed at least a dozen plates in the few months we’ve been having lunch together. He leaned over the soup bar (to better inhale the flavours, of course!), and his glasses fell off his nose and into the soup pot. Twice! Have you ever tried dragging around the tallest, most badly coordinated human being? Through a cramped canteen during lunch hour rush? While his glasses are covered in steaming tomato soup? No piece of cake, I tell you.

Apart from the soup incidents though, David has had a plethora of cutlery induced burns, cuts and bruises, and just a couple of weeks back he stumbled over his own two feet and fell against the open salad bar, smashing the glass panel above it  to pieces and making the entire canteen unusable for the rest of the day. No one really cares for food and a side of glass chips, thank you very much.

Now, thankfully, David’s managed not to kill anybody, or himself (yet!), and Paul has still got a bit to go until he turns the staff and fellow queuers completely suicidal, but my association with them crazy people has definitely affected my previously immaculate canteen status.

I walk in, the calm before the storm, the bearer of bad tidings. They hide the knives, bring out the first aid kits, the super absorbant kitchen towels, light a bunch of zen friendly incense sticks and start praying for strength. They give me the stink-eye, of course, and the smallest, greasiest portions, which is fair enough I suppose.

Always super duper, glass-half-full optimistic as you know me, I’m hoping all this will shape me into a stronger (and slimmer!) version of myself, so I have yet to dump my reliably psychotic lunch partners and try solo eating. Am I a good friend or what?

Lunch was rather miraculously uneventful today, but David and I are off to the cash machines soon, so if I don’t post anything in the next couple of days, he’s probably gotten us both kidnapped and/or dismembered. In which case I’d better take this opportunity and wish you all Easter celebrating people Happy Holidays, and everybody else a lovely, sunny, mishap free weekend!

On Writing

“I’m a salami writer. I try to write good salami, but salami is salami. You can’t sell it as caviar.”

Stephen King

*

The first time I ever wrote anything, I was eight.

The teacher had given us this big deal, read-in-front-of-the-class assignment, a page long composition about spring. I was terrified. The other kids had all come up with these pretty-word descriptions of snow melting and fields turning green in the sun, while I’d made up this crazy story about a snowdrop being picked and torn away from his family by a florist’s apprentice, and his adventures across town as he tries to escape and make his way back to the woods.

She’d fail me, I knew it. She’d grab me by the shoulder like you grab a pot off the hob, she’d lead me to the Principal’s office and sit me down in one of those chairs where your feet dangle half a meter above the floor, then they’d both make me listen to everything that was wrong about me. It would take hours. I wouldn’t make it home in time for dinner, of course. Mother and Father would find out, then the neighbours, the bus driver, people in the streets. They’d point their fingers at me, whispering bad whispers behind my back.

They published my snowdrop adventure in the local paper on Mother’s Day. Father gave me his fountain pen, the red one with the gold plated tip. This was something I could do, I figured. Writing. It was something. I mean sure, it wasn’t like doing six cartwheels in a row or climbing to the top of the monkey bars with your eyes closed, but it was something.

*

I was thirteen when I entered the Regional Romanian Literature competition. Mother walked me to the venue, this strange school with smaller windows and narrower, darker corridors than what I was used to. As we were waiting outside the entrance, a bunch of kids and grownups thrown unacceptably close together in what could only have been a very cruel game, Mother leaned to whisper something into my ear.

Don’t let me down.

The title said composition on the topic of your choice, and I blinked. I’d never known so much freedom.

I chose to describe the moment I knew I was no longer a child. Three hours later, I walked out of the stuffy classroom and the windowless little school, more exhausted than I’d ever felt in my life. It was tough, this writing about yourself business.

It had snowed throughout the exam and now the snow reached up to my knees, which almost never happened in our town anymore. I made my way home on my own, breathing in the cold and the snowflakes, feeling like a cheat. Who did I think I was kidding? I was still very much a child, my essay had been nothing but a shameless lie. A no-longer-a-child person would not feel so intimidated by their own mother, nor would they find so much joy in leaping through the snow.

I won first prize but I never forgot nor forgave myself the lie, and I wasn’t too keen on writing competitions from then onwards. Plus, High School was starting. The plan was to be good at High School, to be really, six-cartwheels-in-a-row good at High School, and writing lies upon lies no one cared about wasn’t going to help me achieve it.

*

On the eve of our graduation, my closest friend C was going through a really difficult patch. I’d been thinking about this for a while, how maybe I really wasn’t built to be someone’s friend, because I didn’t always know what or when to say to make the pain go away. When faced with other people’s tragedies, I’d just sit there, staring blankly, waiting for them to somehow fill the silence, to talk or cry themselves out of it. I’d think about C countless times a day, I’d go to sleep with him on my mind, I’d come up with a million different plans to fix all his problems and then, when we were finally together, I was mute and helpless and drowning in guilt.

So one night I wrote him a story. In truly characteristic, crazy fashion, I wrote him an entire notebook of a story, more than a hundred pages of my messy handwriting by now more used to handling differential calculus and organic chemistry reactions than endless made up histories. It wasn’t even about him, or at least something to entertain him and take his mind off things, but more the story of my life since I’d met him. I would always be a self centred writer, it seemed.

I remember finishing, shutting the notebook closed, scribbling “a gift is a gift” on the front cover, blowing it dry, and throwing it into my backpack to give it to C the next day. I wish I knew why the “gift” thing, but it’s been almost 11 years since, and though you’d think we never really forget the most important things in our lives, it’s not always true.

*

I’m doing the Blogging 201 Daily Assignments these days. I must say, blogging events aren’t the kind of stuff I normally get involved in (if one should even generalize like this after only eight months of on and off blogging business), but I’ve entered this particular one hoping it will be the impulse I need to come up with more and better writing. It’s supposed to teach me how to bring relevant content to my readers and grow my online presence, and I must admit these are intimidating sounding things that I’ve not given any thought whatsoever to since I started this writing for strangers adventure.

So anyway. Today’s assignment is meant to have us think about why we write, what we want to achieve through it, and what we can do to make it better.

I’ve been thinking long and hard about this, and I wish I had an absolutely extraordinary answer to why I write and how I plan to develop this space. But as I was cracking my brains to come up with something super duper inspiring, all I could think about was this Antonio Machado quote I recently came across on someone’s Facebook page. I know, until not long ago I used to be at least as outraged as you are now that I’m apparently getting all of my daily inspiration off of people’s Facebook walls, but I have since made my peace with it.

Anyway, I digress. Machado wrote: Wanderer, there is no road, the road is made by walking. – and I think it very much applies to how I feel about this blog and writing on it. 

I write for the writing. I have no idea where it will take me, or if there’s even a destination in sight. It’s not particularly funny, informative, insightful, hell, it’s nothing but salami writing, really. But it’s something, it really is something, isn’t it?

Alone With Everybody

If you must know, I am most definitely not depressed.

But you know what? There are days for writing, and then there are days for reading Bukowski.

*

Alone With Everybody

the flesh covers the bone
and they put a mind
in there and
sometimes a soul,
and the women break
vases against the walls
and the men drink too
much
and nobody finds the
one
but keep
looking
crawling in and out
of beds.
flesh covers
the bone and the
flesh searches
for more than
flesh.

Charles Bukowski

642 Things to Write About #3 – Back to the Future

Write your own Back to the Future moment: Describe how your parents met and how those tiny details set the stage for their relationship and your existence.

She’d picked the curtains herself. They didn’t have many fabrics to choose from, and she’d have liked something classy, something in a colour with an exciting name. Ecru. Fallow. Metallic Sunburst. I simply adore your curtains, her girlfriends from the hospital would exclaim the moment they’d walk in and she’d reply, a hint of a smile on her lips: Oh, those old things? Just some Fallow velvet I had lying around.

There was no velvet on stock anywhere. Nothing Ecru either. So she settled for four meters of light pink, white heart patterned cotton. More fit for a doll’s house, she thought, checking and rechecking the fabric parcel in her carrier bag after she’d left the shop, testing its softness with the tip of her index finger as she was waiting for the lights to turn green, picturing the folds she’d meticulously arrange every morning as she’d draw the curtains open, unwilling to settle for anything less than the perfect amount of sunlight, perfectly falling on her perfectly dusted new shelves.

She sew them and hung them up the same day. Hours later, nestled in her only armchair, a dusty flowered tapestry affair she’d inherited from her parents, she was sipping her afternoon coffee, a bullet sized orange crayon scratching away at the Microbiology course book in her lap. Every so often, her eyes would slip away from the page, only to rest on the pink curtains again. This was it. This was her home. She’d finally fled the nest and was really alone now, absolutely alone, but the world was brand new and shiny and she wasn’t afraid.

They met that very evening, the thump of his fist on her door frightening her to the bone. The world was a dangerous place really, and even more so for a young woman like herself hardly prepared for a life on her own, she thought, silently making her way down the corridor to spy through the peep-hole. A young man, his eyebrows plunged into a dreadful frown. Treacherous creatures, she reflected, determined to pretend she wasn’t in and get back to her reading.

For a moment there, it seemed like her life would go on along its safe, pink curtained path. She could almost see herself doing just fine, growing old there in her hand me down armchair, filtered rosy light digging wrinkles into the skin around her eyes.

Open up, I know you’re in there!

Now she was scared. He meant business, this man. He’d kick the door down and burst into her home, grab her by her shoulders and shake her. Her mind flashed back to course book anatomy prints. Everything meant to protect her seemed so uselessly fragile when up against this man’s fists and nails. What difference could a couple of ribs and layers of bloody tissue make in the face of a man’s wrath? He’d just reach inside her chest cavity and pull her heart out, there was nothing to it really.

I’ve got water pouring down my walls, do you hear? Open the hell up!

Water? What on earth was he talking about, this savage, violent killer of women, who’d picked her of all people to rip apart. And then she remembered. She’d planned a long, cinnamon scented bath in celebration of her new curtains. She’d even poured the salts in the tub, a pinch more than she normally allowed herself, but it was a special day, it really was. She’d turned the tap on and it was probably still running, a couple of hours later, dripping cinnamon scented bubbles down the walls of this dangerous man.

She opened the door, her heart thumping like a bird in a cage. The sudden draft made the curtains flutter, messing up their perfect folds. Steaming water was slowly flowing from under the bathroom door, spreading down the hall like a badly kept secret. Years later, I’d be cutting up the heart patterned fabric into a million Barbie doll summer dresses.


642 Things to Write About is a book of writing prompts lovely V got me a couple of years back.