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alternate titles to this post:
– „i just want to post something i wrote at some point, so there!”
– „it’s not a personal blog until it gets embarrassing”
– „if it’s embarassing, you could’ve at least made it interesting”
– „the most non-feminist thing i wrote this year”
proceed with patience.
He asked, where did you get this from? On a bench in the Botanical Garden, full summer, my head in his lap, him playing with my necklace. The containment of his voice told me it wasn’t the first time he’d noticed it, just the moment he’d chosen to bring it up. There’s Cyrillic on the back of your cross, he said, tracing it with a fingertip, and so I jerked upright to look at the cross, as if for the first time.
I didn’t remember when I’d gotten it or started wearing it on the silver chain along with other good luck omens. It must have come from my grandma, I said. No, she’d never been to Russia – but maybe it’s normal for Orthodox crosses to have Cyrillic on them? No, I didn’t know: I’d never thought of it before. Should I have?
I’d carried these tiny signs against my skin for years, my fingers flying up to touch, my eyes at times obviously registering the letters – спасиисохрани – and my mind still not wondering what or why. He said it was a traditional religious phrase: Sauve moi, garde moi, and I retranslated into English instantly. We scramble all the time between English and French with detours into Romanian or Russian. Sometimes this still strikes me as strange, sometimes it’s just what we do.
We were in love, and that was supposed to conquer all. I hadn’t believed that for years, and I had to start believing it again. Save me, keep me safe. I liked how the words were related, yet the concepts diverged: there’s nothing safe about salvation – the leap of faith, the break with old routines. This love of mine, although changing me deeply, was also bringing back things I’d thought forgotten.
When we’d met he’d asked, and by that time I already knew I liked him, so where are you from? Nothing special, everybody asks that. Of course he was Russian (his tone spelled “of course”, and I approved), with his accent and his Slavic face. And me? I think there are no typical Romanian features, except in retrospect, I said, and to that he smiled even larger: oh, you’re Orthodox!
As a child I went to church with Grandma every Sunday, kneeled in the women’s pew, sang along, examined the aged ladies’ faces and memorized details on the icons, the old bronze and fading colors. I read the Bible like a story book, painted Easter eggs, tidied family graves in the cemetery, sang carols at Christmas. Then it was over just like that, a thing that only makes sense in context. I’d been a social Orthodox the way people are social smokers or drinkers. My grandma’s village was far away and was dying.
After I met him I had the impulse to try that again, be a believer all the way. Not having stepped into a church in years, there I was looking them up on the map of Montreal. I turned up a Romanian church a few blocks away from me and went one early summer morning. It felt like back home, all the indescribable reasons why I’d gone away – so half an hour in I turned back and left – fume of candles, sweat coated in perfume, bent silhouettes in their Sunday best and fragments of my language trailing behind. I didn’t tell him this. What I told him was: religion is just the golden aura surrounding its culture; my Orthodoxy is not exactly your Orthodoxy. We have different Christmases, different New Years. Romanians abandoned Slavonic in church service, we abandoned Cyrillic a century and a half ago. We are a small nation, bending with the times. And me, I’m neither this or that, neither here nor there. It broke my heart a little every time he said he understood.
Save me, keep me safe. I used to say my prayers every evening before bedtime. To consider missing that would be as disturbing as saying I miss home. I wrote to Grandma to say I’d gone to church, and to ask about my little silver cross. She wrote back to say she remembered. The village priest had brought her the cross from a pilgrimage to a Moldavian monastery forty-something years ago, and she sewed it in the lining of my father’s overcoat. She found it years later, while mending his broken pockets, and put it aside for her grandchild, me, not yet born.
People here in Canada say wow, that’s a nice chain. Some touch it on impulse, sifting the metallic cluster through their fingers. I’ve had some remarking I was a Christian, with satisfaction as if this reinforced their own faith, which I don’t mind. But the moment he pointed out the Cyrillic, a current of recognition and panic crossed me.
Spasi i sahrani. I saw myself standing in the pew at the Russian church in Nowhere, Ontario, and someday in Some Other Place, Russia. I would have Russian Orthodox children, I who had run away would be anchored again in a family and tradition, and this felt like something I wasn’t equipped to fight. Salvation and safety was in starting from the words.
Language has always been my territory. I moved in the world dancing among phrases and grammar structures, not expertly but in awe. I’d gotten English and French and been enamoured with each in turn. It made sense that my new love would manifest through a language so particular and akin to religion.
A new language probably happens less than a new city, less than a new love in the average person’s life. That day I went online to learn the Cyrillic. These days I’m taking Russian classes and learning extra with textbooks and CDs. He’s in Toronto now, his voice in French over the phone barely real. I don’t know what will happen with us. But built inside the Russian I’m acquiring there are permanent undertones of love, yes, and prayer, yes, and housekeeping.
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there is one, THE russian store in montreal. not that i’m an expert, but that’s the place everybody seems to have heard of, or send you to when you ask. i only went there once with d. last summer, then in winter once and now, this week. i mean it’s fun.
it’s at plamondon, so from my work i need to go west and change metro lines. but it’s right by the station. surrounded by asian shops and swarmed by such a colorful population that i could never guess as to the actual componence of the neighbourhood – which is alright. inside, first thing i heard was a romanian mother scolding her child. then various forms of slavic languages (not yet trained to tell whether it’s all russian). a black lady with a violet turban was looking at the pickles – no idea whether she was just a tourist like me, i hope not.
i finally had time to spend reading the labels. in writing it’s easier for me, because i can tell polish at a glance (of course! all those zbwzyczky) and also the difference between ukrainian and russian. beside food, they have a small section of books (indifferent paperbacks, maybe romance and crime) and of cosmetics. i’m seriously much better at discovering what is what just from labels, than i was back in february. i just got „fun food” though: armenian bread (for melanie! she was happy, she said they eat it in the old country, but not here), a bunch of selected candy, 2 huge bags of sweet corn sticks, letonian sprot (i learnt that from d! they’re from riga, where he was born), polish processed cheese and the only romanian product in the store : a bag of Eugenias.( for the non-romanians : it’s sort of a cocoa cream cookie, but for us it’s legend.) oh, and a box of chicory, which i have no idea how to use.(maybe i’ll enlist melanie later to go for herrings and pickled stuff or jams…things are not expensive, and then, there’s the illusion of being on an Eastern Planet complete in itself. priceless.)
„daite, pajalusta,” the cashier said, gesturing to my bags.
дайте пoжалуйста – she said. 🙂 i smiled and held the bags to her as if i’d won the raffle.
двадцать три восемьдесят…something, she said, and because i was scrunching my eyes calculating in my head, she repeated the price in french.
then i took three russian newspapers – „our gazette”, „east/west” and something else. i read the anecdote page on the metro, feeling a bit of an impostor and eating the candy with the squirrel on the wrapper. this visit – a short and smiling and violent encounter. from the moment the light hit through on the plamondon stairs, two different layers of nostalgia netted me and clogged me down. that, plus daydreaming plus the frisson the contact with a foreign language always gives me. i’m restarting russian classes next week anyway, so.
two of my main concerns lately: i can`t get back to writing `properly` – mmm, literarily; and i can`t really blog i.e. say what is going on, even if i want to. so out of these combined, resulted a hybrid that`s sort of a semi-poem. i shrug and post it:
end of may 2011 –
here`s the poem i owe you/ i thought about rhyming, but it’s more important/to get it out any old way: /to each, their own priorities.
it’s rainy, still raining; my cherry red/rubber boots march past armies of tulips/no time to go swimming at the local pool/i compensate by walking lots, and eat my vegetables.
my new room faces north, a backyard/of spiralled stairs. far from the metro/but it’s big, cheap, the roommate is tidy. /i furnished it all from the streets.
i haven’t been to parc jarry lately/some lost things glow in my head like dead stars/i took up coffee again – at 8 a.m./i sip my first cup in the kitchen/ working hard on not feeling guilty.
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i’m learning spanish – i started 5 days ago. because it’s the one thing i can do to cope with stuff. this is my alternative to dieting: it goes easy, gives me early satisfaction, makes me feel like i’m doing something. keeps me busy on my way to work. mind you, i don’t know how much learning i’m actually doing…since it’s assumed that as romanian i was supposed to be fluent in spanish already anyway…but if the end result is progress-in-language-speaking, i.e. i can add spanish to my CV in good conscience, then cool.
there is a challenge too. of course. i’ve dared myself to learn it in one year. so by april ’12 i should be like a level 7-8. doable, i guess. besides, i go on with the russian and i should get at least to beginner-intermediate this year. gah. things that are generally very muddled can become very simple. limpid. i’m washing dishes, saying to myself : i don’t speak well, but i can speak a little russian/spanish. i like spring. i don’t like to drink too much coffee. the windows are big. the door is white and the walls are yellow. can you help me? maybe you can try to call me. in russian, then in spanish. on a loop, then searching for other sentences i can say in both languages. yay fun.
i am moving out of this place – it was sold, and cynthia is moving in with her boyfriend. i have 2 or 3 months to get out – i’d prefer to be installed somewhere at least beginning of june. of course i don’t want to go, but once it’s over, it’s better to get it over with asap. i don’t want to get out of the plateau…i want to stay in the francophone area, but not really pie IX, y’know? so far all the room posts that look good are for april 1st.
remind me why i didn’t want to live with hipsters. i think it’s time i was reminded of that.
or i could go tomorrow and rent d.’s old room in villeray – last month it was still ‘for rent’ and i bet no one took it in the mean time.
ok, stop it. basta por hoy, like my textbook would tell me.
no, you’re not getting the break-up story here, sorry. it’s a one-on-one exclusive. i know it’s me – carmen (eyeroll) – so i’m supposed to be blabbing about the sacredest stuff, mais quand même! instead i can tell you about the funny things that happened after.
i am trying to get the things right this time. (and because of this, i’m sometimes remembering all the other times or non-times with rage. so many wasted years because of no closure.) it’s still incredible for me how guilty i feel of my own unhappiness, to the extent where i feel compelled to report it to the entire world. after 2 weeks, it reached facebook status status. so things can only calm down from here on.
but i did the right things, and the cliche things. i talked to friends who are chat/skype/phone-accessible, i asked for and received good advice. that helped, just being fascinated again by how complex relationship things are. i am still acting a bit detached, as if it’s an experiment in recovery.
i drank a bottle of wine alone in the dark one night, ate a whole icecream container another night (ah, while watching ‘american idol’, forgot to mention). the only thing i didn’t feel like doing much was buying stuff. or getting out of the house. which is also not entirely abnormal if you consider my paycheck or the weather lately. so the official version is that i’m…dealing with it.
now about this dealing: i just want to know when it’s going to be over. i want to make a list, a plan of action, to set deadlines. i mean that is what i did. i was so feverish and irritated the first 2-3 days after: waste of time, i kept mumbling to myself. this is what these days/weeks/months are.
they say i have to say hi to the cute guy at the bus stop. butt into someone’s peaceful reading at the library. attend social events. activate my network. yeah, when it feels alright to do that, i will. i don’t think i’m passing up opportunities that were designed for me. i don’t want to be desperate. i want to be ok on my own.
there was a suicide on the metro line last week – i wasn’t on the metro that hit the person, but my roommate was. she was pretty shaken. i was just annoyed about the metro being blocked, although when you hear „un accident sur la ligne orange cause une interruption de service” as opposed to ralentissement du service, you kind of know what it means. but i didn’t let myself think of it until cynthia told me.
and it’s the cold, the too-late cold that gets into the bones to the core.
also, i returned home last night and because it was freezing indoors and sinister i was planning to cook with the radio on. i looked for my headphones to hook up my cellphone and i realized that d. had taken them by mistake and left his own, which i have no use for. i can’t explain better, but the impossibility of playing top40 music and hearing distinct québécois voices RIGHT THAT INSTANT was a pretty big hit to my mood. the silence was so creepy and absurd – then i realized why. cynthia’s perruche was dead, stiff on the bottom of his cage.
we don’t know how he died. sudden heart attack is one version. i panicked a bit and called cyn…then i packed the body and took it out. somehow i fell asleep reading feministe. in the morning the snow was covering a quarter of my tall window, and kept coming down with the blizzard. i sat down at the table with coffee in the birdless livingroom. 7 am. and i had a good cry.
now it`s all going to be better.
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chic gamine – les echos
manu chao&tonino carotone – me cago en el amor
moriarty – jimmy
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