Sunday, February 12, 2017

A General Malaise

It's Saturday, nearly five p.m. and my husband just got out of bed.  He's been feeling puny this week, nothing serious - just a general malaise as we call it, that mildly affects all systems. Perhaps a cumulative effect due to the daily gray weather and daily gray news. I know how contagious this malady can be so just after a late breakfast this morning, I bundled up and headed out to find something in the world to make me smile.

I chose Piaţa Domenii, the open-air produce market at about five minutes' drive (or 20 minutes' walk) from our apartment.  Usually I'd walk, but we've been under about two feet of snow for over a month now and the going is a lot more complicated, especially coming home with shopping bags. While the sidewalks are usually shoveled, often it's only to a single-track path making it difficult to come head-on with someone. The street snow barely resembles snow anymore. It's a gritty, gray sand littered with cigarette butts and splashes of dog pee on the banks. This is tired, depth-of-winter snow that bears no resemble to the pristine flakes as it arrived. I decide to take the car instead. 

Piaţa Domenii is a perennial favorite spot and reliable mood lifter. In other seasons, it overflows with colors and varieties of fruit, vegetables, plants, honey and nuts. This time of year only the hearty onions, apples and root vegetables are on display on the wide wooden tables; the more fragile produce is tucked away to protect it from the sub-freezing temps. I ask for a bunch of bananas from a vendor who uncovers a box beneath two fleece blankets like I'm buying kittens. Even the butter lettuce is snuggled under cover. 

Summer fruits

September mums

Easy to guess what time of year this is!
Christmas tree trunks whittled to size.
But more than just the fresh produce for sale, the market has a tangibly friendly, welcoming atmosphere.  No bartering or randomly varying prices, no resentful cashiers - just smiles and often a "Let me just throw in an extra carrot to make it an even 3 lei"  from a vendor, or sometimes an "I'm all out, but Mihai down on the left has some great-looking raspberries today" cooperative feel. And they can always make change - something every taxi driver in the city should know actually is possible. 

Encircling the produce stands are rows of little shops selling pet supplies, coffees and teas, clothing, eggs, cheeses, furs, olives and house goods. I pop into one for a new broom handle and sponges, then to the next for cat kibble.  Going to Domenii leaves me with very little left on the list for the supermarket, which makes me happy. I also visit the frame shop with some small watercolors I'm thinking of framing. The owner picks out the mats and frames and estimates less than $20 for the pair. Boy I'm going to miss that in five months. 

Quickly I'm back home and putting away the groceries.  Toby and my husband are still crashed out in/on the bed.  Restless and with a lot of day left, I toss some bread-ends into a plastic bag, put on my knee-high snow boots and walk over to Herastrau Park, virtually across the street from our apartment building. The park is the only place left in the city with fluffy, white snow.  At 271 acres, it's easy to find solitude here, even in summer. And at just 19 degrees outside- I find that I'm sharing the wide lanes, wandering paths, lake shore and tall stands of oaks with only about a dozen people.  I head directly to a place I told my husband to look for me if he ever feared I'd had a nervous breakdown. It's the Japanese Garden, which in summer is slightly depressing as the charming foot bridges are arching over empty water features and the life-size bonzai of Japanese pine have been left unpruned. But under a blanket of white - all is forgiven. The glen of blooming cherry trees stands bare and completely silent, void of a single leaf to rustle in the breeze. I join them, standing motionless, staring at the trees like a campfire. When the rest of the world is so noisy, this is where I retreat. 

Japanese Garden

View through the cherry tree glen to the Arc de Triumf with its new flag, already beginning to shred in the winter wind.

Cherry tree glen on fire in autumn. 
reluctantly leave the garden and follow the lane about a quarter mile to the lake's edge. Clusters of seagulls, pigeons and crows sit, puffed up and still in the center of the frozen surface.  I'm not sure why it's better to be out there than on land, maybe they also just want to be undisturbed, in their own space. Alongside a hole in the ice are a few seagulls with two fish they've managed to extract from the water.  I've never heard such a disturbing, hyena-like laughing from them as they hold the carcasses down with the feet and rip at them like grizzlies.  In a little protected, narrowing area of the lake are dozens of ducks.  In other seasons, there are black and white swans here as well, but now it's just the sturdy mallards. From the bridge above them, I rip up and toss down the bread ends to them. Unfortunately, some of the greedy seagulls catch wind of this and swoop in to grab the chunks before they hit the water.  I suppose seagulls are people too, but after witnessing the fish carnage - I'm more inclined to help out the mild-mannered ducks instead. 

Seagulls on the frozen lake in Herastrau Park with the Free Press building in the background. 
Mallards about to have lunch.
With the bread gone, it's time to start for home.  I'm pleasantly surprised to find the gogosi stand open for business. While I'm not in the mood for their little fried donut bites drizzled in caramel or chocolate topping right now - a cup of hot mulled wine (vin fiert) is irresistible. $1.25 is well spent warming my hands and belly. 

Gogosi, grilled corn on the cob and hot wine - oh my!

Finally, I pass a tired-looking father pulling his two sons on a sleigh.  He stops and asks me if I know the way to the little hill, which is well across the park, unfortunately. 

I look down the long lane of bare trees and take in perhaps my last view of the park so white and still. We only have five months left in Bucharest and this snow won't last too much longer.  This time next year, maybe when I'm having trouble sleeping and want a pleasant memory to quiet my thoughts - I'll imagine what's for sale seven time zones away at Piaţa Domenii, or drift into a wintry day, nearly alone in Herastrau. 

Man, I'm REALLY going to miss this place.

Herastrau Park under a fresh snow dumping.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

No Comment

Let me introduce you to my "Bucket o' Cr@p" law. 

It's a theory I came upon years ago and have yet to find an exception.  I believe everyone has a bucket to carry with them every day and fill with their worries. Examples: My 14 year old self worried about looking dorky line dancing during recess and why she couldn't get her hair to feather back. My 50 year old self worries about climate change, aging parents, why can't I sleep at night? Is this the right career for me? Why hasn't Toby peed in 12 hours, maybe he's blocked? Why can't we all just get along? Ohh, don't even get me started on politics! Etc etc etc.

But - whether big or small, relatively frivolous or life-threatening - everyone's worries will expand to fill their bucket. Be honest, when was the last time anyone looked around the room that is their life and said, "Yup, we're good here. There's nothing to be done" and just took a nap. It simply doesn't happen; the bucket must always be full. It's the Bucket o' Cr@p law and it can't be denied. 

God I love Romania, 'cause you can BUY your own tub o' crap in the market. For real!
But lately - it's just been too much.  Given the daily barrage of things to worry, get angry, get sad, or get sentimental about - it seems my bucket now runneth over and I'm left feeling like this.

I like to manage the contents of my bucket by writing. Ideas and clarity come to me in times of quiet - like when I'm not sleeping in the middle of the night, something that has been happening a lot - and writing it all down lets me organize my thoughts and get to the heart of what's bugging me.  

So with everything that's happening - why haven't I been writing about it?  Why haven't I been clever and insightful and offer my views on how daily events are affecting a diplomat's daily life and work? (And I don't just mean in the U.S. - check out what's going on blocks away from our apartment, too!) 

First, even if I were to try to keep up with the torrent of world topics to respond to, there's also this:

Blogs and Social Media: In addition to following the Hatch Act, employees are required to clear personal communication, including blogs and social media postings, through Public Affairs if said communication pertains to current U.S. foreign policy. 3 FAM 4173, 3 FAM 4174, and 3 FAM 4176 go into much greater detail on this requirement. The bottom line, though, is that if you wish to post something pertaining to current U.S. foreign policy (such as the January 27, 2017 Executive Order titled “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States”) on your personal social media account or blog, then you must have the post cleared. The appropriate reviewing office then has two business days to get back to you with any objections regarding a social media post or five days for a blog post. If the Department has no objections or does not respond within the allotted time, you can publish the post but still must ensure that it contains no classified material and that it does not claim to represent the official position of the Department or the USG.

Hmmm... that sounds like a lot of work and I probably shouldn't add, "Find new job" to my bucket. 

That's why I haven't written in a while.

This all leaves me wanting to enjoy only the really simple, like watching the pigeons on my balcony or the snow melt off the neighbor's roof and go plop! into his back yard. Just anything that doesn't require a reaction, an action, a response, an emotion. 

I simply can't outrage anymore. 

I don't think this is just me, either.  I've noticed lately that Facebook is filling up even more than usual with videos of a rabbit eating a dandelion, a dwarf goat jumping in place. In the Bucharest Metro stations, which have TV screens for those waiting on the platform, they're showing "A moment of fresh air for your eyes" followed by a minute long video of a breeze waving through a field of high grass, fish in a river, a guy powder skiing through a glade.  Ahhh...

That's about all I'm capable of processing about now. Something REAL, something lasting. The bucket just needs to be let be for a while.

Saturday, December 31, 2016


Just days before Christmas, we lost our Dodger. 

He was 18.5 years old and a member of the family since I brought him (and his nearly identical sister Daphne) home in a basket at six weeks old.  In re-reading my post from last year (read here) when Daphne died, I see that I can't explain any differently the pain of such a loss nor the additional difficulty of having it happen while living abroad. Therefore I'd simply like to write about my buddy. 

Dodger and I had grown very close over the past few years. Partly due to his age and partly because since joining the State Department, he settled into the life of an indoor cat with far less independent time outside. I've seen him successfully through radioactive iodine treatment for hyperthyroidism, kidney disease, and in Bogota five years ago, during a routine vet visit, he had an anaphylactic reaction to an injection and I watched what I feared were his last yowl and gasp for breath. Clearly they weren't, thanks to the fast actions of my vet and a veterinary ICU hospital just minutes away. (Trust me, I still relive those "what-if" horrors in my mind.)  Then last September he suffered a blood clot that reduced his control over his hindquarters greatly. Fortunately, he was able to re-gain a lot of strength and mobility over time and moved around the apartment as "Wobbles the Cat," even getting up onto the bed and couch, first with help of steps and then a ramp of cushions. However, he began to depend on us more and more. 

On Halloween, he had another set-back, reducing his mobility even more. Finally, on December 23rd, I came into the living room in the morning to feed the boys and start the day only to find Dodgy on his couch crying and crying.  He was unable to sit or stand on his own and for the first time - he seemed to be in pain. The vet came into the clinic an hour before opening hours to see him and after her exam, gave us various options for tests, possible MRIs or ultrasounds of his heart, and various medications we could try to keep him going through Christmas. Only when pushed to be brutally honest did she acknowledge that the very best result we could hope for would be that he returned to how he was the night before. And that chance was slim. Her best guess was that he had a stroke, perhaps caused by another clot. 

I remembered a time about seven or eight years ago when my beautiful black mare "Babe" was worsening with a chronic disease.  I'd be caring for her through her decline for over two years and in a conversation with my husband about when it might be "time" for her, I defended her by noting that she still had a few good days each week.  When my husband asked me if I wanted to wait until she only had bad days, I realized that she would never become a new blossom again. I was only watering a brown plant. She was never going to GET BETTER, and instead of preserving her life, I was only prolonging her inevitable death out of my own reluctance to say goodbye, out of guilt, and out of fear of my own pain and sadness.  These weren't the right reasons.

So instead of exploring all the options and their accompanying false hopes - I remembered Babe's lesson. The vet gave Dodger a pain reliever and sedative to help him feel more comfortable, told us to take him home and just be with him and then come back mid-day with our decision.  He spent his last hours on our bed with us and with Toby, the sun streaming through the window from a blue-sky winter day to warm his fur and old bones. I talked to him, we looked each other straight in the eyes and I just petted him and petted him and petted him. He was relaxed and breathing easily, but the pain reliever had only slightly muted his cries. With that, we knew our decision.

It seemed impossible to know when to stand up, when to put him in his carrier, when to point the car back towards the clinic. It just seemed easier to sit there and stroke him for one last minute. But eventually we did move. My husband and step-daughter were there with me as the vet talked us through the procedure. When he took his last breath, he was already in a deep sleep and felt nothing. The people he knew, loved and trusted were right with him until the end, which is the most any of us can hope for. For the second time in just over a year, I said goodbye and asked for the forgiveness from someone I loved as much as any human family member.  

I will leave you with pictures spanning nearly two decades of memories. He was our Dodger, Dodgy, D-Man, Dodger-Gee (after we watched "Slumdog Millionaire"), Heavy-D, and briefly for an unexplained reason after watching the History Channel, Robert E. Lee. The man in the gray striped pajamas. 
Our friend. 

With Nutmeg in his favorite spot.

Always the mom-cat of the family, Daphne seeing to Dodger's hard to reach spots.

Dodger (left) and Daphne learning how to heat the house.

The only kind of mouse he ever caught. 

Cool-cat at Christmas years ago with his luxurious ruff. 

Spring time under our blooming plum tree. We sprinkled Daphne's ashes in this garden this summer.  

After a good BBQ, the grill-licking and napping commenced. 

All an old guy needs is a basket and a sunny spot in Mexico. 
I never thought Toby would be the last one standing. The tiny kitten adopted from a teenage girl with a box in front of the grocery store late one night on the way home from work. The one I was "Just going to foster until I find the right owner because, well, I already have two kittens."  


Signing off for now,

Tabby in Tow