Контент 16+ As night and death come to us all, so does morning with its breakfast smells and crowing roosters and, if you are lucky, your lover’s first kiss of the day.
So it was with us, waking up at that truck-stop somewhere in Romania. I rose first, squired the dogs around and about the large parking area and border of woods, gave Liuba a peck on the cheek, and went to breakfast. There I met a woman, something of a receptionist and tutto fare in the restaurant who proved to be, in her way, the second coming of Sergei from Brest.
Her name was Simone and she was an average-looking young lady but that morning she seemed as beautiful as a swan on a shimmering lake. It’s good, I guess, that nowadays most people — young people, I should emphasize — can speak at least a smattering of English — and Simone could. Better yet, she proved to be one of those kindred souls you occasionally meet who is never a stranger, Simone took me under her wing and carefully explained how to find the main highway to Bucharest from which we could easily and smoothly glide straight down to Varna. She drew me a careful, lucid map, and later, after I convinced Liuba to eat a big breakfast also, Simone repeated her many acts of hospitality. Before we knew it, we were on our way, well-fed and rested. Jetting down an ‘autobahn’ as wide as an airport runway, heading towards the beckoning shadows of the Romanian capital.
Passing through a massive, unknown megapolis can be treacherous, and in Romanian towns and cities one comes repeatedly to what I call ’round-abouts’ — big circular obstructions that you must navigate around and then, keeping your wits about you at all times, instantly make the right choice and dive off down the correct route– sandwiched among three or four other options– which will put you on your way. Failure to do this can spell, if not disaster, for sure no less than a hell of a lot of trouble, confusion, and maddening inconvenience. The modern world, unlike the old one, is a lightning fast and ramrod straight proposition which doesn’t offer much provision to merely turn back and retrace your steps. One bite of the apple and off you go to the Hell you have plucked from the tree. So you might as well tell yourself: “Ah shit, I didn’t want to go to Bulgaria anyway. Switzerland will be fine.” Because that’s where you are fucking-well headed if you dart down the wrong bowling alley after the round-about…
I am a quick thinker on the road, Liuba much more methodical — and our slight language barrier (she being Russian and no more masterful in English than I am in her native tongue), while no problem in the kitchen or bedroom — sometimes leads to impromptu and decidedly rude shouting back and forth when barreling down the highway and suddenly faced with an enigma.. When in doubt, Liuba has this maniacal tendency simply to stop the car in the middle of the road, oblivious to the disbelieving cacophony of horns blaring “^%)*^##()*^)%$#I*))”, which in English translates into Fifty Shades of Gray of the words ” What the F-U-C-K are you doing, Woman ?!?!?!???” Liuba just ignores them while I sink down in my seat and turn green.
Needless to say, we made it to the Bulgarian border and beyond, or I wouldn’t be writing this today.
Again euphoria. Afterwards, not unexpectedly, the slow disintegration of such glittering energy. Gradually, the enervating hours endured on the Road and the sapping mountain semi-circles up-and-down, the disappearance of the day, and, too soon, the night. Surprise, surprise, thanks to our clever navigator, we ended up on some back road into Varna, visibility always impeded by the onrushing headlights of cars and trucks zipping towards and past us. And now and then some impatient bastard behind us eating our back bumper, wanting to squeeze us and make us go faster.
My discovery in life is that no matter where you are, there is always someone worth hating. Or am I just being too negative?
Ah but then, at long last — the sign “Welcome to Varna.”
For me it was pure, plain relief — the kind I always feel when the aircraft I am on finally safely lands. Then I understand that my whole body has been like a clenched first throughout all the airborne hours. Except for us, it had been six days of turbulence-upon-asphalt.
Innocently, I asked, “Liuba dear, do you remember how to get to our apartment?”
Answer: “Well, not exactly.”
Question: “Darling, do you have the address?”
Answer: “Not exactly.”
What Liuba DID remember was the general direction. The fact is, I had only been to Varna a single time, when we had searched for, found, and negotiated the purchase of the apartment we wanted. Liuba had returned a second time to finish off business (with the Russian agency) which the inexperienced realty lady had neglected to execute on our first visit. We had chosen Varna sight unseen because it was on the edge of the Black Sea, and the whole point of moving to Bulgaria was to protect Liuba’s health (as I have previously stated.). My experience in Bulgaria had been some years ago in Plovdiv, a small ancient city which I had liked very much.
Varna is a city of about 400,000 souls (depending on the season). The roads and streets have more ruptures than the face of someone who has survived a bad case of smallpox, and in the narrow, gnarled, and twisted center, finding a place to park is a real hoot. Bulgarians are a darker race than the Slavic-skinned Russians whose beauty I admire. They look more like Sicilians The mostly skin-headed guys, pumping iron in fitness centers (a religion) and chain-smoking afterwards, are either macho-malevolent or amiable, or both — the former when driving a car, the latter everywhere else. There is no money in the city, but no sense of want either. The people are ambidextrous in every walk of life, often turning their hands to driving a cab, selling winter firewood, and doing a bit of carpentry all in a day.
Our new apartment was perched on a hill and, though relatively small, nonetheless sported a magnificent wide balcony (which served almost as an extra room) that rendered a matchless view of the sea on the left and the city skyline on the right. The architecture of most of Varna could generously be described as “Old Soviet style” — if that conjures up any special imagery to my readers. If not, may I say that in daylight hours the urban aspect in general is dour and gray, like so much of Eastern Europe. I personally would call the decor of this panorama “Bolshevik Phlegm”. But at night the city lights do to the atmosphere what bright cosmetics under lamplight can do for a sallow old strumpet: Look how she comes to life !! Pass the bottle!! The comparison between Varna in the day and at night is like alka seltzer turning into champagne. Many nights I would spend admiring the Varna night from this balcony.
The problem was that our tawny-colored, compact, handsome apartment did not, in fact, have a particular address because it was buried amid other apartment houses along the rise of the hill. What there WAS was a very wide asphalt thoroughfare at the bottom (a race track for taxis) and a maze of intricate little alleyways at the top of the hill — which it was possible to reach if you knew which hill to drive up to the right or left of our new home and which turn to make to gain access to the lean little path you needed. This is what Liuba didn’t remember.
So, using my best (ingenious, actually) lateral thinking, I decided that we should hail a taxi, describe our location as best we could, and follow him there if he could figure out where we meant. Bear in mind, the fact of night-darkness was not working in our favor.
My stroke of inspiration worked and, astonishingly, in no time at all we were sitting at the bottom of our hill, the apartment perfectly visible among the shadows. We tipped the taxi guy and were again left to our own devices. I suggested parking and making our way up the ancient-looking sequence of stony, irregular steps to get us to the top.
Liuba had other ideas because she could see no reason why, physically and mentally wasted by weariness as we were, we should lug our many suitcases, etc., up those formidable steps.
“Let’s go the back way,” she confidently advised..
“Do you know how to get there?”
The next thing you know — and one wrong turn later — we were heading out of Varna and back towards Moscow.. &%#&&%)*^!!!
I ordered her to stop somewhere to get Zagorka and summoned another taxi. Back to the great wide boulevard at the bottom of the hill. And so, dogs in tow, up we went — no more illusions about finding the special alley at the top — toting as much as we could burden our arms with. Looking up, burning cigarette fastened to my mouth, heavy load under each arm, the sight of that dark building looked like the true House of God.
Of course what was left in the apartment when we at length arrived at our destination were only the bare essentials: kitchen table and chairs and bed. The previous owner had emptied the ashtray, so to speak.
And there was no electricity. But, boys and girls, I had the beer.
Gasping for breath, eyes adjusting to the gloom, we used our telephones to see what we were doing. Woozy, I grabbed a chair and went to the balcony, Zagorka beer in hand, followed by the always frisky dogs. This beer tasted even better than the Heineken in front of the do-nut shop two nights ago.
Before me, in living color, spread and stretched and sprawled the mysterious nocturnal playground of Varna. Maybe not quite the same expanse as Moscow, but I could see that it was still a place of dreams.
Who would I meet there? What would life be like? (In describing my life-status now, I often use metaphors like this: I am in the early evening of my life. I am in the autumn of my life — or maybe the early winter, depending on my mood — I have entered the season of old roses. Etc.
But really, you know, I don’t believe any of that BS. I am quite sure that death happens only to other people and that I will live forever. That’s what we all think, isn’t it?
Now I felt young again.
And just then, my ravel-haired wife found the correct circuit and the lights came on.
===Eric Richard Leroy===