Romania Days 6 -12.
The next morning, I don’t know if was the brains or something I’d done while running, but I couldn’t get out of bed. My right foot wouldn’t support any weight at all. Nothing. And there was no previous warning, either. The night before it was just fine. Then, of course, while I slept, I suppose things shifted out of place. I had two dark red spots near my sole on either side of the ankle and about two inches forward towards my toes. These turned to dark purple for several days. Lucky for me, I was able to begin putting weight on it out of sheer will, determination, and girly screams, so that by the time I had to walk down for breakfast, I could limp. But my foot was swollen. The 1600 mgs of ibuprofen helped to reduce the swelling, but nothing more. In fact, it wasn’t until the next day when I took a few hours off from work to put my foot up and wrap it that it went entirely back to normal. And then on Wednesday it was as if nothing had happened. Needless to say there was no more running.
On Wednesday night we went to Café Bihoreana for the first time and met Maria. Maria is a wide matron of a woman. There’s clear Romani blood running through her veins. Time has been an insensitive bitch to her features, but she is still a proud woman, capable of running a sizable restaurant. The café doesn’t have any English menus, so I found a young girl to help us translate. Imagine, eight of us asking over and over, “What’s this mean?” “And this? “And this?” Soon Maria came over and shooed the girl away so that she could attend us herself. She put her hands on my shoulders and spoke through me the entire evening. Everyone joked about it, but I thought it was fine. I was a gentle young American and was a great voice for her struggling English. And she answered all of our questions through me. We ordered wine and each of us was happy with our meals, even though the idea of medium rare cooked steak is something this part of the world doesn’t really understand. For myself, I had a Romanian house specialty of marinated white beans and pork. It was really spectacular. Also wonderful was the Pizza Putanescu which had a gloriously simple amount of anchovy juice waved above it to produce just the right amount of salty fish taste.
On the next night was an official dinner, supplied by our sponsors. We went out of town to Allegria Restaurant, which is part of a thermal spa resort. The food was probably the best. Then again, how can you go wrong when you stuff tenderloin with prosciutto and cheese, then bake it perfectly. The Romanians have a thing about serving two-meat meals. Last night I had chicken stuffed with sausage. At any time, meat is their primary meal, sometimes twice. The national joke is that pork is their national vegetable. The most common non-starchy vegetable to get is mushrooms, which I tried to get with every meal, usually grilled. At least it was something. A man has to try.
There’s also something about the Old World architecture that takes my breath away. If you take a look at my pictures, you will notice some of this. Coming from America, where nothing is really that old, some of the buildings I see are stunning. I’ve tried to capture some of the most interesting aspects, but as you can imagine, the camera lens just can’t capture what the human brain magnifies through our own optic lenses. It is at once spectacular, disappointing, gross, and a martial monument to more than fifty years of Soviet rule. The statuary in this country is amazing. They imbue cultural memory and heritage into stone, wood and steel. It seems as if ever hero, heroine, great man and/or woman was so honored. I know my own country has at least as many of these great people. I wish it didn’t take wars and devastation to impress upon our government the need for the honoring of the few. They under-appreciate their ability to promote greatness. I’ve seen the power of the monuments. I’ve been affected by them myself. Even here, in this old country I watched a young boy staring up at the statue of a great old warrior. I could only imagine the hopes and dreams the horse-backed soldier inspired. Maybe the idea of greatness will make that boy someone special, someone spectacular to lead the Romanian people into the middle of the 21st century in some as yet unknown miraculous achievement. I can only say from my own experience, that the Renaissance man I strive to be today was first imagined in the mind of a young child reader of tales of Prestor John, Tolkien, and the magnificence between the pages of DC and Marvel comics, all which commanded a particular ideal—one could become as badass as one wanted to be, if only one tried and overcame, and tried and overcame, and kept damn trying. I am here now because I kept trying and I imagine that the young boy I saw on that bleak Romanian day might become the same, if only because of an impression made from the sight of a raised sword and a howl of victory caught for eternity against the crucible of an ever revolving sky.
So I made the best of the situation. I was polite and a gentleman. I spoke when spoken to. The event started and I barely saw them. I ate the appetizer, which consisted of some pieces of salami, a local mortadella, cheese, radishes and a lonely green onion. Incidentally, I call them the Hammer and Sickle for a reason. Long the symbol of Soviet dominance the device is absent from any edifice in Eastern Europe. IT’s been scratched, clawed, drilled, beaten and exploded into extinction by the residents, relieved to finally be free of the tyrannical rule. But it is still in the psyche. And an age ago I was a young man who joined an army to defeat it. So when I think of this part of the world, the reality of what it is palimpsests upon my memory of what it was. So the girl who was clearly from Russian genes was the Sickle, while the Gypsy was the Sickle.
Everything was going splendidly until King Kong and Godzilla walked into the room. When they were sat at my table, I laughed out loud, because I knew that whatever pain and agony I was going to get from this intersection of our lives had just been exponentially increased to an infinite number which could only be calculated by the combined efforts of the ghost of Carl Sagan and the mind of Steven Hawking. They sat at the table, unrolled their arms, lit impossibly long cigarettes and blew the smoke towards me. I don’t know what I was supposed to do but I coughed. And I kept coughing until they blew their smoke a different way. Thus was our relationship.
Kong as it turned out was a recently anointed Ms. Romania. She seemed to stand eleven feet tall with thirteen foot legs. She was pretty in that way someone is pretty when you look at them from the side, but into her eyes your gaze passes straight on through to the wall behind.
Godzilla was another matter entirely. She was the matriarch and head of a modeling agency that spanned 140 girls and several dozen countries. She spoke English perfectly. She was smart. So smart, she noticed my wedding ring which I kept displaying prominently as if it were an adamantium shield of invisible supermodel protection. That’s when we began talking about my wife.
You might have heard of her, Yvonne Navarro Ochse. I am so proud and so in love with her that it is always a topic of conversation wherever I go. I’d already bragged about how great she is in the preceding week with Mark, Jimmy, James, and John. They told me about their wives and loves, and I couldn’t help but do the same. So it was with much pride that I began talking to this supermodel matriarch of supermodels about my wife: her beauty, accomplishments, and undying-never-ending love for dogs. We talked through the main double-meat course. Then amidst a chiropractor’s dream of twisted necks as every man in the room turned to watch them go, they left. And then, after the door had closed and each man had looked down at his food and glanced back at his wife, all of their eyes found me. I could see them wondering, imagining, carving me into a hero. And I sat there grinning slightly, knowing that for one moment I was Tony Soprano, Huggy Bear in “I’m Gonna Get You Sucka,” John Travolta, and more importantly, Weston Ochse, man married to the gosh-damn-hottest-chick in the known universe. They all wished that they were me for that second. They thought that they knew what was great about the moment. They thought they understood. But what they missed, what wasn’t part of my smile, was that my happiness and confidence were far less a result of my interaction with the women than it was the knowledge that I would soon be returning to the coolest chick in all the land.
So mark your calendars and celebrate next year the date that Weston defeated the Hammer and the Sickle and Godzilla and King Kong. And believe it or not, it was much easier than you could imagine. In fact, it took almost no effort at all.
Now it is Sunday. It’s warm and inviting outside, but I want nothing more than to be home. Traveling is always a joy for the first half of the trip. But I love who I am. I love where I live and who I live with. I want them near. I want them with me.
In a strange intergalactic convergence, “Nights in Rodanthe” was on HBO when I awoke this morning and I watched the last 45 minutes, even knowing in advance how miserable it was going to get. Yvonne and I had watched it in miniature on the back of an airplane seat earlier this year returning from England. There’s a line in the movie that I thought of when I asked my wife to marry me. In fact, I might have said it through my fumbling, bumbling proposal. It goes something like this, with Diane Lane the main character, talking to her daughter: “There's another kind of love. One that gives you the courage to be better than you are, not less than you are. One that makes you feel that anything is possible. I want you to know that you could have that. I want you to hold out for it.”
This is the love I have for my wife.
Thank you all for adventuring with me through Romania. But as good as this place is, it isn’t as good as the worst place in her arms. It’s time to go home.
Until next time we talk.
As they say in Romania, Buono Sera.
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