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.

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