Wonnemond

There’s no reason for me not writing these days.

There’s no good reason not to write, my high school Lit teacher used to say. She was young and beautiful and there were endless rumours of her seducing boys in my class. Sometimes I believed them. Sometimes I really didn’t want to. But something was certain. This was a woman with a secret. It didn’t take an expert to see it. Something bubbling, a darkness, a hint of danger. I’d watch her. I had little in the way of hiding myself those days, but I found mystery in people around me strangely thrilling.

She used to ask me what I wanted from life.

*

We’ve been traveling quite a lot and when we’re not traveling, we’re sleeping in, planting white geranium, watching old movies and it feels to me, waiting for something.

I read and read. Mostly about Romania and the Revolution these days, which reminds me of my childhood and makes me miss my parents so much that the feeling’s gained colour, taste and texture, and follows me around even in my dreams. There’s no such thing as one phone call away.

London is breathtaking and I’m back to being my 19 year old self. No matter what happens, who breaks my heart and how many days it’s been since my last cup of coffee, well, it’s enough to walk the streets and I feel better. Different city, different decade, same me.

I won an award at work a few weeks back. Sometimes it dawns on me that I have a job, that I’ve had jobs for ten years now and that I never seriously considered I would. That I can’t for the life of me pinpoint the moment I stepped into this grownup thing, if there ever was just one moment or if instead it’s one of those things that takes your world over bit by bit, like the Arctic melting.

Then sometimes it dawns on me that we’re living the time of our lives.

*

A couple of years ago, my Lit teacher and I reconnected. We exchanged a few emails, she actually put one of mine into one of her books (yup, published author here, people!), we even briefly met when I traveled to Romania for our high school reunion. Again she asked what I wanted from life (pretty much the same things I’d wanted when we first knew each other), she wanted to know if I ever wrote anymore (not really), made me promise I would, and last but not least, she wanted me to tell her about this boy who’d been in my class. What he’d been up to, what his girlfriend looked like, whether they looked happy. This is it, I thought. The secret, the bubbling.

I’d kissed that boy. We were carrying boxes across a parking lot, huge, TV-sized cardboard boxes filled with paper cups and plastic cutlery for a school event, and they were really light but impossible to manoeuvre between the parked cars, the wind was ruffling my dress and waving his jacket wide open and we kissed. We were sixteen. Our Lit teacher was waiting in the open door, arms reaching for one of the boxes.

Our lives are such strange, vaguely inhabited planets circling each other.

The Colour Green

Hi.

I always find it difficult to return to writing after I’ve been away for a while.

In a way, it feels like the least I can do is come back with stories to tell. Like it makes for a perfect excuse if I’ve been ignoring this place for the sake of some life altering experiences.

But the truth is, I haven’t been on any extraordinary adventures since we last read eachother.

I’m not at all sure what I’ve been doing these last couple of months, really. Just trying my best, I imagine, not to fall asleep at traffic lights or as I’m chopping onions for dinner. And yes, I’ve been on a few trips, celebrated another anniversary, seen a couple of Oscar-worthy movies. Read half a dozen books, sipped some glasses of wine, bought a few pairs of shoes. Longed for sunny mornings, worked for mortgage money, traded hopes and fears with other people, the usual stuff.

I didn’t lose anyone, didn’t get married, didn’t win the lottery. Just made it through a bunch of days, good and bad, and now it’s spring and they must have rinsed this city in a million waters, turned it inside out and hanged it to dry in the wind when we weren’t looking. Because suddenly, it’s so brand new and beautiful it breaks my heart.

It’s warm enough to walk to the train station in the evenings. Twenty something fast paced minutes along Piccadilly, counting heartbeats from Wren’s St James’s to Fortnum and Mason’s eau de nil blue window displays, onwards past the lights of The Ritz, then cutting through fields of daffodils in Green Park and past Buckingham Palace and its forests of selfie sticks. Armies of strangers safely sealed in our music bubbles, feet in trainers, work shoes in bags, we walk together, drinking in the streets of this new season, this new part of our lives.

I have a friend who’s been in a long distance relationship for many years, and he says that whilst there are things he doesn’t like about being on his own so much, one advantage is that he has a chance to think about things.

I get that.

Except in my case I really don’t think it’s my other half, I think it’s life itself that’s preventing me from thinking life over.

We’re making holiday plans again and again our place will be filled with friends every weekend for the forseeable future, our professional life is changing and our relationship is changing and we’re changing eachother and everyone else, I’m back to running and stretching my tissues every evening on an eau de nil yoga mat in our “baby room”, I’m quickly reading my way through my bedside bookpile and the Frech Revolution, growing basil and parsley and carnivorous plants in tiny terracotta pots on our window sill, I’m happy and in love and still very much afraid of everything that’s frightened me before.

Then I walk the streets and it feels like everything’s on pause for a while.

Spring!

Sun on a Saturday

 

These days, I feel old and young at the same time. Good old, so don’t worry. I know you’ve been reading my last couple of posts, about childhood friends and the past and missed opportunities, and are probably thinking I must be coming down with a case of the spring blues, but no. I think I may just be fine for now, as boring as that sounds.

It’s spring!!! I know, I know, exclamation marks are rarely necessary in these mildly exciting life stories of mine, but you know what, London in spring is the most extraordinary place, and I’d really need a million billion of these embarrassing little “!” to even begin to do it justice.

Our original Saturday plans (lunch with friends who aren’t really our friends but who we feel like we need to hang out with because we’re all Romanian and they just moved to London and are a bit traumatised by it all) fell through, so after breakfast V. and I got on the slowest bus in all of London if not on the planet, ready for a day of fun and games in Kew Gardens. Our Kew membership cards expire next month and we probably won’t be renewing them if we leave the flat, so I thought we might as well take advantage of our final no-entrance-fee couple of weeks. Conveniently, it’s orchid time in Kew these days, and the magnolia trees and daffodils are in full bloom, so you can imagine I was giddy with excitement.

Of course I’ll never admit this to my badminton nemesis V., but I was still a bit sore after a particularly soul crushing session on Friday. It didn’t stop me though from dragging him around the gardens for the larger part of four hours, as I ran to smell every flower and pose for what must have been a thousand super duper flattering and no doubt very natural looking photos, none of which, lucky you, I’ll be posting here today.

There were tons of people everywhere, families picnicking, kids playing ball or just running around chasing the geese, solitary artists sketching and painting under the magnolia trees, tentative if still long sleeve clad sunbathers sucking in the vitamin D, ice cream eaters, dog walkers and plenty of endless fields and pink petals to go around, so it didn’t really feel crowded at all, and V. and I had a chance to walk around and talk about all the embarrassing things I’d done during the week. Like how on Tuesday, after another traumatising flat viewing (thank God we didn’t take photos of that, you’d be scarred for life!), I just had to have a good old cry in the shower, cursing all flats, flat owners and estate agents in the world. Or like how I was walking to work one morning, reading (!!!) (Looks like I’m now pretty much addicted to exclamation marks, yay!), and a taxi almost ran me over and this random guy had to grab my shoulder and pull me back, a scenario I now experience at least three times a week. And let’s not forget about the time I called my mother to wish her Happy Mother’s Day (we celebrate it earlier in Romania), and she said she’d only be a happy mother once I’m finally married and pregnant with twins, then pretty much hung up on me. Fun. And. Games.

Before we left the garden, we stopped by the shop (Of course! It’s no like we’re saving for a new home or anything.) and I spent what must have felt like forever to V., looking at books, tea towels, handmade soaps and fridge magnets. I found a wonderfully illustrated hardcover edition of The Wind in the Willows, one of my favourite books as a child, which I almost bought, “for our kids”, before V. gave me one of his we-don’t-have-kids-yet-and-by-the-way-you’re-crazy look. I gave up on starting our descendants’ book collection and ended up buying not one, but two cookbooks, both super duper diet friendly or course (salads and chicken, and an exclamation mark!).

We wrapped the afternoon up with a late lunch at Ask Italian (I know, again? But V. was too tired and hungry to walk any further), where I tried to behave and stay true to my five-pounds-skinnier-or-bust plans, so I ordered the Chicken Caesar with a side of, well, water. By no means the Ask salad expert, I had no idea their Caesar is hardly a salad but this orgasmic crunchy crouton melted parmesan affair I soon gobbled up in a very unladylike manner.

With another badminton session coming up today (I lost. Again.), and a couple more next week, plus all the running around from one filthy, crazy expensive flat to the next, I’m not too worried about the thousand calories Chicken Caesar extravaganza though. I’m now off to conclude my lovely weekend with a sink of dirty dishes and half a pack of brussels sprouts I’ll no doubt transform into a Sunday dinner delicacy for one. In the meantime, have a look at some lovely photos V. took yesterday, and if you’d like to check my Weekend Away and Oxford on a Rainy Day posts again, I’ve uploaded some photos (also by V.) there as well.

Wishing you a great, brand new, exclamation mark worthy week!

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Oxford on a Rainy Day

When it comes to making plans together, it takes me and my friends at least a couple of days to pick a cinema or a restaurant. We start negotiating our weekend plans early on, on Tuesday or Wednesday, we fight about it for a couple of days, and by Friday night we’re back to square one, no compromise in sight and our friendship hanging by a very thin thread. I’ve always suspected adults are nothing but big boned, balding children, but this is ridiculous.

Before I go any further, I think it’s high time I introduced you to our weekend buddies. I’ll do it Amélie style, with likes and dislikes, because I’m cool like that. And lazy. (Don’t know Amélie? Go. Watch it. It’s got Paris streets and a travelling gnome.) So here it goes.

  • There’s Anda, a friend of V.’s from Uni. She likes: nature, geese, swans and complaining about how little money Dan makes. She hates: rain, cold, grass, walking and paying for anything.
  • Then there’s Dan, Anda’s husband. He likes: food, beer, TV and his living room sofa. He hates: Anda and everything Anda likes.
  • And then we’ve got Victor, a friend of mine from high school. He likes: food, beer, museums, castles and walking. He hates: girl talk and spending his weekends alone.
  • V. and I are easier to please I think, as the only thing we really hate is hanging out with couples who fight all the time.

By now you’re probably starting to get why it’s such a pain deciding on something to do together. At times I wonder why we haven’t given up already, but I guess the prospect of spending the rest of our weekends on this planet talking to ourselves in a funny voice, surrounded by ever growing packs of meowing cats, is more daunting than spending our weeks fighting about our weekends, and our weekends fighting about everything else. It’s a sad life.

Endless hours of Facebook bickering later, we finally decided long after midnight on Friday to spend Sunday together in Oxford. V. and I hadn’t been to Oxford yet, and we’d been meaning to go for a while, but the weather forecast for Sunday predicted the now customary weekend rains from hell, so I must admit I wasn’t jumping with joy at the thought.

On Sunday morning it thankfully seemed like the weather people got it wrong, so I invested a fair amount of time and effort into straightening my hair and picking my rather summerish, super duper feminine, perfectly color coded outfit. All was fine and dandy and V. and I were about to leave the flat (on time for once, go figure!), but one last look out the window and we discovered that within less than an hour the sky had turned pitch black. Dreading all the you’re-always-such-party-poopers! fighting, we didn’t dare even suggest cancelling the trip, but we did change into more rain from hell friendly outfits. Bye bye lacquered-flats-and-pretty-leather-jacket-one-must-keep-unzipped-to-show-off-the-lacey-top-underneath, hello mud-friendly-sneakers-and-unflattering-but-warm-and-fuzzy-hooded-windbreaker!

The plan was to meet the others at Blenheim Palace, the birthplace of Winston Churchill, an 18th century baroque masterpiece situated a 20 minute ride away from Oxford. It had been Victor’s suggestion, him being so much into palaces and all, and I must say I was really looking forward to it. By the time we’d parked our cars it was already cold and drizzling, so Anda was moaning about how she never wanted to come, and Dan was repeatedly telling her to shut up. Fun and games.

The Blenheim domain is absolutely beautiful. Endless green fields, beautifully maintained 18th century gardens, several lakes and ponds and a stunning waterfall, and of course the castle, one of the most imposing buildings of its kind I’ve seen in this country, intricately decorated and furnished on the inside, and absolutely stunning on the outside. We did a fair deal of strolling around, all the fighting and rain considered, and V. and I plan to go back as soon as the weather picks up and the flowers are in full bloom. (Unlike some parts of London, the daffodils in Blenheim hadn’t open yet.)

As it was getting way past lunchtime, we all agreed on something for once, and took off towards Oxford to find ourselves a nice Sunday roast friendly pub. But the guys were so hungry they decided they wouldn’t survive the 20 minute drive, so we stopped what felt like a couple of minutes later on Woodstock Road, at The Turnpike. Granted, it looked like the loveliest British pub you’ll ever come across, and the parking was super crowded, so my wet blonde brain could only assume the food was splendid too.

The place was absolutely packed but minutes later we managed to get a table for five. Hungry as we were, we would have probably been OK with eating on our feet, but the table was a nice surprise. V. and I ordered the Sunday roast and shared an Ultimate Chocolate Brownie Tower for desert (yup, it tasted as good as it sounds, and this comes from a reluctant chocolate fan!). We couldn’t help bickering as we ate, which I truly hope helps digestion, or else these weekends are going to be the end of my ideally proportioned figure!

It constantly dawns on me that some of the friends I have in this country are probably not the people I’d have picked to hang out with back home (Victor is one of the few exceptions, of course; I’m a sucker for obsessive castle enthusiasts). I know it sounds bad in so many ways, and I don’t like to think about it too much. But the thing is, I like peace and quiet. I guess that makes me boring, and oddly enough, boring is something I can live with these days. What I seem to be unable to live with is spending all my free time among people who are constantly unhappy with their lives and each other. I don’t like couples who fight in public, trying to draw us spectators into taking sides. Perhaps I’m simply not used to it, as V. and I are not the fighting kind. Perhaps I’m not used to it anymore. I grew up in a family of fighters, and it’s taken me a long, long time to put it behind me.

When I mentioned it to Anda one time, that our hanging out together seems to involve more fighting than anything else, she replied that I couldn’t understand what it was all like, V. and I not being married and stuff. Maybe, I said, and we left it at that. I didn’t feel like unwillingly starting another fight.

We finally made it to Oxford early in the evening. It was really raining by now, and V. took countless photos of me in my hooded penguin outfit, urging me into acting more miserable but ending up making me burst into laughter every time. We walked for a really short while, as everything worth visiting was already closing and the married half of our gang were having another one of their heated conversations. We need to come back, I told V. as we were getting into our car.

When we’d finally made it home, I got mad at him for leaving his dripping wet hoodie on our butter colored armchair. I was preparing my mad-breakup-time voice and was going to absolutely rip his guts out for it, but I glanced at his laptop screen and guess what, he was looking for Oxford hotels online. No fighting tonight, I thought, coughing my breakup voice away.

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Weekend Away

V. and I book a weekend away for our anniversary every year. Nothing too crazy, usually just a nice hotel not far from London, where we can spend some time away from our laptops, seeing the sights and enjoying fancy food we normally don’t get to try, boiled eggs and toast being the only culinary delights I pretend to be an expert at.

And though we try to leave the country for more exotic destinations for our longer summer and winter holidays, it’s always these short, always rainy anniversary weekend trips we seem to look forward to the most.

A couple of years back we went to Bournemouth, and stayed at a fancy hotel by the beach where we were pretty much the only guests, it being February and absolutely freezing. All over the resort, Chinese New Year decorations were still hanging from treetops and lamp posts, swaying above the deserted streets. We walked the beaches, took silly photos of each other on the pier, gawked in disbelief at the packs of surfers hitting the winter waves, and stuffed ourselves on three course seafood extravaganzas. Then last year, V. went behind my back and booked the honeymoon suite at Brighton’s Pelirocco, a tiny hotel famous for its (sexy) themed rooms. Ours had a round bed, mirrors on the ceiling, a jacuzzi, a !!! Stripping ! Pole ! In ! The ! Middle ! Of ! The ! Bedroom !!!, and really nice staff who’d surely witnessed lots of super duper interesting things throughout the years. Fun and games.

This year, clearly older and less adventurous than in our mirrors on the ceiling days, we settled for a more moderately exciting anniversary location, and picked the Donnington Hotel & Spa in Newbury. The plan was to walk around the countryside, maybe visit some of the National Trust houses in the area, and eat like savages.

On our way there on Friday, we stopped by Basildon Park & House, a National Trust property we’d read about online. It was sunny for once, though still freezing cold by my Romanian standards, so we walked around the parkland, me screeching with excitement every time we came across a patch of snowdrops or a suspiciously friendly pheasant. The Basildon Mansion is a beautifully restored 18th century home open to the public, so we strolled through the rooms for a while, admiring the intricate arhitecture and the furniture and art collection. The Downton Abbey 2013 Christmas Special was filmed here, and there’s a behind the scene exhibition including filming trivia, set photos, and some of the actresses’ dresses. I know very little about the series, but it didn’t stop me from enjoying the tour, taking hundreds of badly lighted photos in the process. The main Downton Abbey filming location, Highclere Castle, is not far from here and it looks stunning in online photos, but it only opens for visitors in April, so we didn’t go.

On our way out of Basildon, I stopped by their gardener’s shed, where they had a 1£ second hand paperback sale. As expected, I couldn’t help myself and got a copy of A. S. Byatt’s Possession, so V. spent the rest of our drive to the hotel mumbling about how my forever increasing and highly unstable by now book mountain will surely be the end of us. Death by paperback avalanche!

The Donnington is a lovely hotel surrounded by green fields on the outskirts of Newbury. It’s got a golf course and an apparently constantly overbooked spa-gym-pool health center. We’d taken advantage of a Groupon offer and booked an executive room with dinner on the first night and a bottle of wine on departure. The room was pretty much the size of our London flat, which is always a nice surprise, and was facing an endless grassy field. I was cold, of course, and as much as we both tried we couldn’t shut one of the windows, so V. went to reception to mention it. Minutes later, a not particularly muscular looking gentleman came and shut the window for us in half a second, much to V.’s surprise and my very vocal amusement.

We strolled around the hotel grounds for a while before dinner. It was slowly getting dark, a bunch of wild rabbits were running around the golf course and everything was so peaceful it felt like it wasn’t really happening to us. After dinner, an exquisite three-courses-and-the-best-wine-I’ve-ever-had affair, we hit the gym just before closing. I wasn’t in a particularly gym friendly mood, but I guess V. felt like he needed to redeem himself after the I’m-so-masculine-I-can’t-shut-a-window episode, so he spent close to an hour attempting to intimidate me into lifting some dubious looking weights. Why I have to suffer whenever his masculinity is threatened by a middle aged skinny man I’ll never know.

On Saturday we headed for The Vyne, another mansion belonging to the National Trust. The weather was splendid and the place was packed with rubber welly wearing visitors strolling around the gardens and into the forest, picnicking and feeding the swans. We walked and walked, then visited the mansion, another beautifully preserved Victorian home with no Downton Abbey references this time. We spent a fair amount of time in their second hand bookshop, where I got Istanbul ( Orhan Pamuk ) and Saturday ( Ian McEwan ), and V., surprise surprise!!!, got 6 ( SIX!!! ) books. I am delighted to admit, humanity, that my book madness seems to have rubbed onto my until not long ago very reluctant book reading/collecting partner. I consider my mission on this planet complete and am expecting my super duper reward any day now. And to celebrate this miraculous development, the moment we got back to London on Sunday I donated a tiny shelf exclusively to his growing collection: a total of 9 ( Nine, can you believe it? That’s almost like, well, ten! ) books including a muscle encyclopedia, a Driving for Idiots guide, and other super duper manly stuff.

We spent the rest of the day in Newbury, walking around the market, taking photos and shopping (I bought a pair of shoes, oh happy day!, while V. got enough chocolate to last us at least a couple of years from now). We had dinner in a lovely pub by the river, the waters so high after the recent floods they almost reached the window sill, and ended the evening with The Lego Movie at the local cinema. It was V.’s movie choice and I wasn’t too crazy about the idea, but he’d been so well behaved getting all those books for himself earlier, not to mention that I was still high on shoe shopping euphoria, that I couldn’t say no. On retrospect, I probably should have given it more thought, as now he’s driving me crazy singing the everything is awesome song all day long, and every time I tell him to shut it he changes the lines to everything is awesome EXCEPT YOU! We’ll see how awesome everything is when I mistakenly put half a dozen of my red socks into the washer with his precious whites. Just saying.

We got back to London on Sunday afternoon, just in time for the weather to turn grey again (just for the day, thank God, today is splendidly sunny again), and celebrated our return by ordering more pizza than I care to remember (we’ve got enough leftovers to feed a small family for the rest of the week) and watching a couple of South Park episodes. I’m back to work now and to what looks like spring. We’ve got badminton and tech conferences in the coming evenings but my zombie laptop has been fixed for the millionth time and will be arriving today, so hopefully I’ll be able to post here a bit more often.

Until then, wishing you lots of sun and super duper awesome things!

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