Контент 16+ Having been roused by early patrons from our brief snooze opposite the do-nut shop, Liuba — grumpy — the dogs — cheerful and questioning — and I– mottle-eyed and grizzled from not shaving — remembered the job at hand, so Liuba cranked up the engine again and we resumed our travels, pretty much as vague and stunned in our sensibilities as we had been during the early phase of our disaster in Brest.
We stopped for coffee, then Liuba again fiddled with the navigator, and after a few hours of typically excruciating roads, we at last set foot (or wheels) in Romania. For me, this represented a small triumph because, somehow, I felt that the worst of the journey was over. (A thoroughly misguided perception.)
Romania seemed appealing for a number of reasons. For one thing, this country remains pure in that it is not overrun by boisterous, moneyed imperialists from the USA and UK, etc. Secondly, it is the last chunk of geography to cross before reaching Bulgaria (very important to us at the time), and thirdly, because I confess to a long fascination with the mysterious intrigues of Romanian culture and history. Of course, all the Dracula stuff and the multitude of strange and beautiful old castles sprinkled amid the Romanian mountains and forests are alluring, but I know also that it is the land of the gypsies.
Everybody hates the gypsies. Except me. Yeah, I have heard a slew of terrible stories about how gypsies are all drug dealers and hypnotists and thieves. And yeah I have been approached many times by gypsy women carrying somnolent babies either doped or dead. (You have noticed how they NEVER cry?). As I have since found out, there are also many gypsies in Bulgaria and it is true that when they are not wandering around as perpetual nomads, they live in squalor. There is such a ‘community’ even in Varna. Gypsy children have glowing eyes, like the Children of the Corn in the Stephen King story that became a famous film. They are sensuous and duplicitous from an early age — charming in a way that some people find hideous, and as quick off the mark as a pack of rats. And yet…I have smiled at them and looked into those glowing eyes, and they smile back at me. As if they sense something. As if they sense that I am not the enemy. And then I see a softness appear. If you think I am crazy, go ahead.
Long ago in Firenze, I used to sit in the piazza, and there was one gyspy woman — late twenties or early thirties — who used to come to me. The teeth that weren’t missing were mostly gold, and clearly, she was not a woman that ‘respectable’ people would ever consort with, yet — and this is just me, I have no explanation nor need to offer one — there was something I found wildly erotic about her. She was, I think, the kind of woman who would lie down with you, swallow you whole, and then rob every stitch from you afterwards. Grotesquely comely, naturally vivacious, and, by roots and trade, dangerous I guess that’s why I still remember her.
Moreover, the non-gypsy Romanian women I knew, casually or simply from observing at a distance while I lived in Italy (many immigrate there and seem to pick up the Italian language very easily), all seemed to have a kind of voluptuous and borderline sleazy sexuality that was very different from the more stately and refined Italians — but just as exciting. Again, no explanation for these perceptions of mine is possible unless, I suppose, you would hire a psychiatric doctor to shrink my head. To such therapy, I would reply that if I have a mental disease here, I do not wish to be cured.
Anyway, we entered the seemingly endless ebb and flow of hills, mountains and valleys that sprawl across Romania and many of those villages were roughshod yet somehow twinkling places where you could go to hide from the world. At one point in the afternoon, we pulled off the road into a field, walked the dogs, and — at last putting paid to hours of frustrated bickering brought on by fatigue — reclined the car-seats and more or less passed out for an hour or two. As we woke, we felt oddly refreshed.
Functioning while being extremely tired is a thing of the spirit, like an old-time blues band riding buses in Southern America, or those pre-Elizabethan theater-troupers of long, long yesteryear barnstorming among the English towns, stopping to put up their makeshift stages, performing their thespian comedies and blood-curdling dramas, passing the hat, swilling down the cider, and pressing on. For many people in this world getting tired isn’t an option. In fact, you get so tired you don’t feel tired any more. It is like a dream. And when you speak, you see the words literally float out of your mouth, hover in the air like drunken birds, and then abruptly dart into the cavities of your listener’s ears.
By nightfall, the soulless dark again made the whooshing trucks seem more fearful, and our stupor-like jolly mood was disintegrating. It had begun to look like there would be no hotels, no decent stopping points, only a long night’s journey into day.
But then came the second miracle (Sergei, referred to in a previous blog) was the first. In America, the highways are punctuated periodically was what are called “truck stops’, Long distance truckers, in a way rather similar to dedicated bikers, seem to form a community. Even if they don’t know each other, they know each other. They ramble and thunder across great distances, often from coast to coast, and here and there appear very basic, no-frills roadside establishments where they can eat and sleep. No Chateaubriand or Steak Florentine but rather the hearty grub of lumberjacks. Sated, most of them just crash in their trucks, usually in some back-area space behind the seat. There are of course ‘road-whores’ who lurk around these truck-stops to accommodate the men. The cops usually don’t fuck with them; they are just part of the landscape.
So, as we combed along the wrinkles of the road, all hope having been lost, I spotted a Big Truck ‘complex’ with a restaurant attached which seemed reminiscent of one of those American dine-and-recline, blow-your-nose-and-repose, shit-and-spit spots along the endless highways of the Red, White, and Blue. A voice inside me said, “Pull over.”
I did, overriding my wife’s cynicism, and went in.
“We have dogs. Big dogs. We are tired and hungry. Do you have a room we can crash in?”
“No problem,” the young Romanian guy said. And this time it worked; this time there was no dish-water hag in a night-gown on the stairs to refuse us. The boy showed me to a perfectly clean little room with a TV and said in his broken but proud English, “Make yourselves at home.”
“I can get a meal in the restaurant?”
“And a beer,” he answered.
We parked around the other side, and I guided poor Liuba and the now grateful dogs to our quarters.
Then I went to the restaurant, scarfed down the brightest, coldest beer in the land, and ate delicious food like a madman on a rampage.
“Tender is the Night” wrote F. Scott Fitzgerald.
You bet. The people in this restaurant all had inside them some nocturnal energy or melody of delight that they sang to me with their unguarded eyes, and they were friendly without affectation. And it proved once again that, amid all calamity and discouragement, angels are flitting everywhere, like sparrows in the green trees of springtime. You just have to wait and look, with your heart wide open.
The only thing missing now was a wild and handsome gypsy woman with golden teeth to recount the story of all that has been and tell the fortune of what is to come. But what I had instead was my wife and my dogs, and they were more than enough to send me to sleep among the gods.
===Eric Richard Leroy===