Northern Thailand

Shabby wooden houses, flowers of all colors, temples – golden temples, wooden temples, white temples, papaya and bananas growing up in trees, guesthouses by the riverside, an old aristocratic house turned into a museum, monks in orange and hill tribe people dressed in traditional clothes, fields of rice, elephants – riding and getting to know them,  orchids hanging out of trees… well, this is the northern Thailand I saw – and lived. Enjoy it!

Scaring and partying – Afroz style

September time in Afroz. Life is quiet and the winter seems to be silently creeping in. To scare it away, we had, on Friday, the 13th, a loud and noisy “Scary Party”! On the soundtrack of the movie “Rosemary’s Baby”, most adequately provided by our vampire DJ Kaifi, we dressed up in Margarita’s hand-made clothes, put glitter on our cheeks and make-up on our faces, and we partied away, barefooted under the stars! Perhaps, for the last time this season…

PS:Some of the pictures have little comments under them.

Afroz, here I come!

Last evening in Athens. I pack everything, make a list of things not-to-forget in the morning, take a note of how to get to the airport. In the morning I am going to fly from Athens to Mytilini, the capital of the Greek island Lesbos. And from Mytilini, I will have to arrive to Afroz, my next destination and home for the next few months, around 80 km on the other side of the island.

To get to Afroz, one option would be to take the bus from the Mytilini airport. However, considering that the last bus of the day is scheduled some 20 minutes after my flight’s landing time, it is very probable I will miss it. If so, either I would have to take a 85 euro taxi or.. do not know yet. The people from the Afroz center told me that they will announce me if there is another person coming from Mytilini the same day, to share a taxi. After packing, I check my e-mail one last time: no news from Afroz – probably no one else is coming. It then occurs to me that I could stay one night in Mytilini and catch the next day’s bus – and probably one night of accommodation would be the same price or even cheaper than the taxi. I liked the idea of discovering this city, capital of the island of Lesbos – now, that I got used to staying a few days in one place, then packing, saying goodbye and going to somewhere else, the idea of stopping one night in Mytilini, finding a place to stay, unpacking, staying the night and leaving in the morning, did not even seem tiresome – the traveller in me seems to have got awaken. Last year, when returning to Bucharest at the end of my holidays in Afroz, I was surprised to see in Mytilini some very beautiful beginning-of-the-20th-century buildings, with an air of aristocracy, ease and holiday spirit. The idea of taking pictures of the city in the warm light of the afternoon sun instantly seduced me.

Thinking of Mytilini, I remember that one of my friends living on the island told me once that he knew somebody owning a little hotel in Mytilini. So I decid to write him and the Afroz center asking for information on accommodation in Mytilini and call it a night. Not really knowing where I will be sleeping the next night – but I find myself in peace with that. One thing I keep practicing in this trip: trying not to think about something that I cannot solve in that very second. Sometimes you don’t have enough information, sometimes it is just not the moment to take a decision, other times, even if you could decide in advance what to do, you don’t know what you would like more to do when the time comes. So I developed a kind of preliminary analysis of any problem that presents to me: is it anything I can do about it now? What? So when I have to plan something, to solve something, I do whatever I can do about it in that very moment. If nothing can be done, I take all the information I need and then I let it be. I don’t think about it anymore. To try to predict what would happen is just a waste of time. For instance, there is no need to try to think about whether or not I will catch the bus in Mytilini and what I would do if I don’t – there is no point in trying to decide what I will do tomorrow, in Mytilini, when me, I am here, in Athens, just finishing to pack. I will see it when the time comes. There is no need to worry about it or overthink it. I am sure what I have just wrote will bring a smile on the faces of my friends – people knowing me as a person who likes to plan, organize, make to-do-lists, trying to foresee how things would go and have a plan about it and – why not say it? – a somewhat controlling person. I am not pretending that this part of me has completely disappeared. Just that I am now tasting and practicing a new way of being, of living. And you know what? I am really enjoying it: just letting go, letting life unfold, giving up the control a little bit.

Well, having finished everything, I set my alarm clock and go to sleep. But I find I cannot fall asleep as easily as I usually do. I am tossing around, moving in bed, with a big smile on my face: I feel excited as a child before his first day of school! I don’t even know exactly why. Maybe in another post I will tell you more about my Afroz experience last year and the sense of freedom, joy and peace I felt then. But that was then, this is now. I was opened to the fact that this year I may not like it at all, that three months is a lot of time to stay in one place, that this year I would be working full time in the center, so maybe the feeling of it would be totally different… Well, if I don’t like it, I will leave sooner to Thailand or even back to Romania, if I feel like it! And that is all.

I finally fall asleep and wake up 3 minutes before the alarm rings. I close my luggage, eat and check my e-mail again – no reply from Lesbos. Well, I’ll see in Mytilini what to do. I give a last goodbye hug to my cousin and her beautiful little child and set off to the airport. I almost miss the bus station where I have to change for the metro: as the doors of the bus open, I ask “Metro?” to a guy with a big luggage near me (he must know!). He replies in English he does not know and another person going down says “Yes, yes, here, metro!”. I go down and after a few moments I hear behind me the guy with the big luggage: “Hello! Actually, I have to thank you: I was, me too, going to the metro, but did not know I have to go down there”. I find out he is French, back-packing for one month in Greece, going to Penepolis by train. We say goodbye at the metro and each go our own way.

I take the metro and, when almost to the airport, I get a telephone call from a Greek number and a voice says “Hi” in Romanian. I am confused at the beginning, but I finally understand it is the Romanian friend who is also working in Afroz for the summer. She tells me that Tameer, the person running the center of whom I have a wonderful warm memory from last year, is going to Mytilini by car to do some shopping for the center and that he could pick me up from the airport. I would just have to wait two hours or so. I take the number, I say many thank you-s and a very happy “See you soon!”. I close the telephone and I cannot help smiling, with my lips, with my eyes, with all my being. The old man in front of me must think I am crazy! I look at the window and smile, I look around me and I cannot seem to put my lips in a “normal” position. Not that I try very hard. I feel I am happy. And that the air around me is happy and vibrating with joy and gratefulness! Because it is sunny and warm, because I am going to a Greek island, because life has a way of solving everything (if you let it), because friends are waiting for me, because I feel protected and loved and taken care of. Because I love.. Not exactly sure what, but I do! :)

I finish writing this post in a taverna right next to the Mytilini airport, where I wait for Tameer. I see the sea across the street, olive trees and flowers, I look at the cats moving around me and the two children who are playing digging their hands in the grass and dirt in front of the restaurant.

I will close with some words I read in the airplane this morning and which, today maybe more than in any other day, speak to me:

“Live this moment, live this moment as totally as possible, and suddenly you will come to realize if you live it totally, it is solved. There is no need to solve it. Life is not a problem, it is a mystery to be lived. If you live it totally it is solved, and you come out of it beautiful, enriched, with new treasures of your being opened, but nothing hanging around you. Then you move in another moment with that freshness, with this totalness, intensity, so that another moment is lived – and solved.” Osho – Intimacy

Life is not a problem, it is a mystery to be lived…

Little pieces of Lyon

I didn’t feel very much like leaving Aix-en-Provence: my next destination was Lyon, towards the center of France. Although I was eager to meet again my former colleagues (6 years ago I took a master course at the University of Nancy and some of my ex-colleagues were now living in Lyon), lots of rain and grey clouds were forecasted for Lyon. And in Aix-en-Provence, the weather was warm and gentle, and a house with roses, cherry trees and good friends was opening to me.

Well, finally here I am, on my ride found on a car-sharing site, 100 km away from Lyon, and the blue sunny sky turns to clouds and rain. I smile: my trip will take me north from so on, so I’d better get used to that!

I am left in one of the main squares of the city, a few hours before the friend who was hosting me comes back from work. So I have plenty of time to take the metro towards her house and find it. But before going into the metro I notice that on the last floor of the building where the metro station is, a “suspended garden” is supposed to be. I take my luggage and go up. Looking at the Ibis Hotel through the fig tree leaves, I think about other fig trees I will see later, in the summer, on the Greek island of Lesbos. Who knows what people and stories wait for me on the way until then…

Arriving close to the house of my friend, something tells me to take a little detour and go towards the riverside. And I find here the weekly local market, with fresh vegetables, fruits, flowers, home-made sweets and local products. I slowly walk through it, enjoying the smells and sounds of the market. It’s been some time since I did not do that… After buying a bouquet of flowers for my friend, I go and sit by the river for a little while. A young boy and a girl are chatting in front of the water. A few rays of sun come out of the clouds and light the surface of the water. I felt good.. I felt like Lyon was saying “welcome” guessing that I was visiting it for the first time.

 

I spent the next few days meeting my former colleagues, talking about what happened in our lives since we last saw each other, having wine and cheese for dinner, visiting Lyon and hearing its stories, drinking beer on a boat and talking some more about life, politics, philosophy, Romania, France. My heart was full of smiles and ready to set for my next location: Nancy.

In Provence…

My next destination was Aix-en-Provence, the temporary home of my friend Roxana. And by temporary, I mean that she is going to work as a researcher at the Aix-en-Provence University only for a few months, returning afterwards to Verona, were she is doing a PhD in law.

Roxana and I met while working at a Bucharest law firm and we soon discovered that, before coming to Bucharest, we had both lived in Iasi and even went to the same high school. Even if we don’t have similar personalities or, sometimes, not even the same ideas on life and the world, we always had a very good time together, whether exchanging legal arguments, agreeing or disagreeing on philosophy or ideas from the latest book we were reading or just having shots and dancing in Gaia (i.e.: a Bucharest club). So I was really happy she moved to France and that I could meet her during this tour of France of mine.

After the cold and windy days of the Cote d’Azur, Aix-en-Provence welcomed me with a warm and friendly sun that kept on shining all the time I was there. And this made me stay one day more than planned, just enjoying the peace and quiet of the house with garden Roxana was living in, taking “sun baths” (as the French put it), eating cherries from the cherry tree in the back of the house and trying to cure the cold I had caught (ironically, you might say) in Nice.

My last night there was a combination of warm weather, Bordeaux wine, stars and moon seen from the window of Roxana’s room, singing songs, wonderful conversation and an impromptu photo shoot.


Meet you some other time, in some other place, friend. May your journey be smiling and full of insights!

Recipe for one perfect Cote d’Azur day

Firsts of all, you take one late breakfast, eaten at ease, with freshly baked baguette, orange juice, milk coffee with milk foam (home made foam, that is – my little guilty pleasure, for which I took from Romania my very own milk-foam-maker) and, of course, the newspaper (even though the only happy-matching-our-mood piece of news we could find in it was about the Cannes festival). You add in a little walk in the old center of Nice, not forgetting on the way to enjoy and smell the flowers and that scent that only the Mediterranean sea seems to have. You mix it with a high view over Nice. You also though in there a little waterfall, silverish reflections of the sea, a narcissistic moment in front of the camera and a French coffee under a tree sharing your thoughts on the latest book you read. You stir everything very well and then you absolutely have to let it rest by the seaside. In the meanwhile, you watch little Ema laughing and crawling on the pebbles (being careful not to let her eat one of them – she seems to enjoy that very much), listen to the sea or just look at the boats leaving the port…

Note: In order for this recipe to work, it is essential to have one main ingredient: a very good friend, a wonderfully open-hearted and beautiful person that will share with you all of this.

My Persian experience

I don’t know how much I could tell you so far of the great love I felt growing in my heart while I was in Iran. Iran is a country you go to for its history (and I mean 2500 year old history), in which you discover true jewels of architecture and beauty, but in which you feel in love with the people you meet..

I am not speaking only of my friend Sara’s family (and she has a wonderfully big family: a family reunion with the close relatives only from her father’s side, uncles and cousins, was a gathering of at least 25 people) – who was always kind, warm, welcoming me with smiles coming from their hearts, not only their lips. But women on the streets were looking at me and smiling, in the bus a woman insisted on giving me a place to sit down, in Shiraz our guide offered to bring me a pair of shoes if mine would get broken, every time I was buying something – and it was obvious that I did not understand much of the banknotes (they had just cut some zeros, but the banknotes were still in the old currency) – people were very careful to give me the right change and let me understand that they gave me the right change.. Of course, you will also have guys that were saying things or trying to speak to me in English just because they saw I was a foreign girl, more approachable than Iranians girls in their minds. But besides that, or even including that, Iranians are a people that I saw truly eager to communicate with the outside world, to know and to welcome foreigners and to show themselves as they truly are, warm, curious, kind, beautiful people, not like the westerners generally imagine then to be.

I also loved the food, with dishes cooked for 3 or 4 hours with lemons and dry fruits, with sweets that are not very sweet, but rather flavored, with all kinds of fresh fruits, all grown in Iran, from green lemons and figs to the most ordinary (for me) fruits, cherries, apples, cucumbers (and yes, in Iran the cucumber is eaten rather like a fruit than a vegetable).

I absolutely love the Persian traditional music and I keep listening to Sedigh Sharif, Salar Aghili or Taje Esfahani..

And I love many other things about Iran. Some of them are in the pictures below, with some little explanations under them.

And others are in this other gallery, no explanation needed. Just enjoy :)

Sunset at the edge of the world

(written during my trip in Iran, 25 April – 12 May 2013)

Shiraz-8970Coming back from Shiraz. Watching through the window of the bus as the sun is falling, fading, slowly, behind the mountains. The light filtered through the clouds has a delicate beautiful feeling to it. To the east, the sky is still blue and the white clouds receive faint reflections of red and orange and pink – hints of the revolution happening on the other side of the sky, on the other side of the world.

It seems as if we are moving towards the sun, as if the road is going to disappear into the incandescent light in front of us. I look at the sun through the corridor of the bus. Back here it’s still a normal world, with people chatting, listening to music, with clocks, days, years, distances, buses and meaning. But there, into the light, everything disappears into nothingness. And this light bewilders me, enraptures me with hypnotic power. I cannot turn my eyes away, I cannot run away from the immense force of this incandescent black whole which seems to absorb everything.

Shiraz-8985

And fast, almost without me noticing, the sun fades behind the mountains. The last piece of it disappears behind the horizon, as an eye slowly closing, leaving behind it wonderful warm colors of red, orange and grey. The ground gets dark, fading into the night, but the sky still keeps for some time the memory of the incredible turmoil which just has happened to the west.

I start thinking about my life, about where I am now in my life. Yes, I am really in Iran, I am really on a trip around the world. And in this moment I am alone – it is me, just me. There is nothing and nobody else, all that I can feel now inside of me is all I have; and I will carry it with me around the world. I feel utterly free and utterly alone – in the same time. But I am ok with this feeling of loneliness: I always thought that in the end we are alone, that in this world you can share moments with others, but that ultimately, in our most inner self, in our core hearts, we will be alone.

I thing about my future life, about what it would be. I wouldn’t like this trip that I am taking, now, at 30, to be the highlight of my life. I am thinking why not take another sabbatical year when I am 60? Wouldn’t that be nice? I try to open up my heart and my senses and to probe the future in order to understand how this other one-year trip would be like. How would I be like at 60? How would I taste then a trip around the world?

And I start sensing in my body that part of me that experiences the world and that I feel will remain the same throughout my life. As if I can feel that woman traveling around the world at 60 in the body of the 30 year-old woman who is now coming back from Shiraz and looking at the colors of the sunset. I feel that my most inner self, that part of me that in this moment I start feeling, that I let expand and inhabit me, will not change. It will be the same.

And, instantly, I feel terrified. As if I am on the top of a cliff and I am about to jump into fin air. 60 seems so much closer to death. Another 10 or 20 years. Close to the not-being, to the unknown. I feel the ground disappearing from under my feet. My heart stops beating for a few seconds and I cannot breathe. I feel the death that is in my body.

This is how it should be, I know. Death is inevitably braided in our bodies the day we are born. And it is not that I think that existence stops when the body dies. But I do think that after death there is a different existence, a different way of experiencing life. And the woman I am now, the 60-year-old woman that I feel in my body, they love this life and they love living it, with all its ups and downs, its suffering and joy.

I bring air into my lungs and breathe slowly, with the pain and the memory of death still inside of me. After having occupied my whole being, my whole body, the feeling of all this naturally and gradually disappears.

It has been a long time since I didn’t live such an acute feeling of death. I almost thought that this fear of dying faded away or was replaced with my trust into the existence. How foolish sometimes we are. As every fear or pattern that we have inside of us, it is still there. Maybe it does not have (anymore) the power to dictate your every movement, maybe it is just so dim that you cannot see it in the light of every day life. But in the shivering light of the sunset it can re-appear. It is there, it will always be there. And all I can do is acknowledge it. Let it be and witness it.

Shiraz, Hafez’s home

(written during my trip in Iran, 25 April – 12 May 2013)

Foreword: Many of the historical sites I visited in Iran accompanied their guest’s visit by traditional music, played from loud speakers spread around the place. I truly enjoyed this, merging with all my senses into the Persian culture, letting the air, the sun, the sounds fill me, enchant me. I listened to Iranian traditional music while writing this post. So I invite you, too, to listen this song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yyv1Y7wtrkM.

There are two things for which people come to Shiraz: one is Persepolis; the other one is Hafez’s tomb. Having lived in the14th century, Hafez is Iran’s most loved and cherished poet.

During my short visit in Shiraz, I went to Hafez’s tomb two times. After coming back from Persepolis, new friends I made during that trip proposed to go out. And naturally (I was later to find out) our first stop was the large garden where Hafez’s tomb is located. Until 22.30 or 23.00, when the garden closes, groups of young and old people are coming and going, walking around, drinking chai at the traditional café or just sitting close to the tomb of Hafez and reading, aloud or just for themselves, his poems. Actually, this is what impressed me the most: the tomb is not a place that Iranians come to visit, but rather a place to come and meditate, a place where people act with the reverence and respect I am used seeing back home in monasteries and churches. Iranians, I am told, trust that Hafez can provide them with answers to questions about their life and the future. Ever since hundreds of years ago, people would come to his tomb, randomly open his book of poems and read the first poem they lay their eye upon: the poem would be the answer to their question. Kings who were contemplating attacking new territories, pregnant women wanting to find out if their baby is a boy or a girl, young girls wishing to know when they would marry… Even more, every house is bound to have a book of Hafez’s poems and whenever a member of the family would have a doubt about something, they would turn to beloved Hafez for an answer.

I loved Shiraz: a city full of gardens, a bit lazy and slow, reminding me of my hometown Iasi..

Ancient Persia

(written during my trip in Iran, 25 April – 12 May 2013)

We waked up early in the morning to go to Persepolis. One day before I had arrived to Shiraz, a city in the southern part of Iran, famous for being close to the historic site of Persepolis and for having been the home to the tomb of Hafez, the great Persian poet.

Under the bright Iranian sun, we merged for one day into the long history of ancient Persia, starting with the Necropolis, where the tombs of Darius I the Great, Darius II and other Persian kings were carved into the stone of the mountain more than 2500 years ago. Then we visited Persepolis, the capital of ancient Persia, burnt down following the conquest of Alexander the Great, and the ziggurat shaped tomb of Cyrus the Great. In between, I rode for the first time in my life a camel (well a horse too, because the guy with the camel kept insisting, showing the horse: “pictures, pictures!”).

While I was walking by the stone carved silhouettes of the Persian soldiers, images of the same figures from my old history books came back to me – at that time I had never thought I would see them so close… I thought about my high school history teacher, evoking in class the figure of Darius the Great. He loved so much the Ancient period that instead of 2 or 3 months, we studied it for an entire year… Here, Mr. Busnosu, this one is for you!