Magic

He overheard us talking about California weather, and joined us at the table. An older man (than us), he asks us where we’re from. He’s from Canada, but he knows Orange County, and he has lived in New York. Asks us what we do, and immediately we’re friends.

He just wrote a book, and it is Kindle approved, ready for download. He tells me it’s not an easy process. He used to be a stunt man, among a life of many other stories. I won’t go into them, but his book is being looked at and adapted as a movie. Check this website out, then come back with a better picture of who I’m speaking to, before I write too at length to describe well enough.

http://www.gangsterwaysnovel.com/main.html

He asks me what I do – “You’re from California and New York, you must be some sort of artist.” He tells me I’d be perfect to help sell product placement in the United States for his movie, he needs someone smart (though I doubt my qualifications for that). He asks about my work, I share recent photos and “Painted Faces.”

“Your use of words, that is a treasure to read. You’re really going to go somewhere someday. And those pictures, you know I wouldn’t even see some of those things you capture.”

Aw, man, thanks!

“No really. You know, I wish I had your help with the book. See, I’m not a trained writer, not like you. But every major publisher that saw it kept saying the same thing. ‘Words are words. But when you can read and hear them words like they are coming out of your mouth, then you’ve created yourself a masterpiece.’ Anyone ever tell you that?”

(give me a quick sec while I grab my journal and jot that down)

He describes the opening scene to his movie in full detail, the background music included. And then asks my (my!) opinion on his two options for lead actor. Keep in mind, he’s actually talking to their agents. One, THE A-list actor, both first and last names four letters long. The other, oh you know, The Notebook heartthrob. And not which do I think is cuter, but which is the better business decision. Is one famous enough, have the box office draw, is the other worth his expense. Up and coming versus already up there. This analysis lasts a few minutes. My opinion. You’ve got to be kidding me.

I tell him to let me know when it’s shooting, if he needs someone to make the actors coffee. He laughs and tells me I’m far too qualified. I tell him I can’t believe we’re having this conversation.

Believe it.

He talks about product placement again, about selling movie rights, about four million dollar offers. “If they offer you four million, just think how much your idea is really worth.” I tell him I’d like to make forty dollars. He says there’s no doubt if i keep doing what I’m doing, I’ll make millions more. “You’ve got the magic.”

Hah. Well, we’ll see about that. But something tells me this little journey I’m on doesn’t end in three months.

On a train to Plovdiv, Bulgaria. The hostel in Sofia offered to make me reservations at a hostel in Plovdiv.

“Do I need to do anything?”

“Nope, just show up and smile.”

Strings

We’d been roommates for over a day now, myself and a mother-daughter duo. I wasn’t positive our relationship would get further than the initial “hola,” but then the daughter asked me where I was from, and over the next two hours and our plates of spaghetti, we talked. They, mother who speaks Spanish and little English, and daughter, 24, from Guadalajara. We best the language barrier, all of us working in the other’s first language (mom tells me to practice my Spanish with them), using hand movements to emphasize.

I’m asked if most Americans hate Mexicans, and we talk about being poor neighbors, the lack of travel and understanding on most people’s parts, and how relying on television news for global understanding causes problems. She talks with excitement about how the youth uses Internet to break down borders. She talks with frustration about the time she spent four hours filling out a tourist visa application for the United States (“I’m not trying to work in your country, I just want to see”), went to the bathroom and down the hall for twenty minutes, and came back to a timed-out application. Start again. Or travel Europe, that’s easier. She’s from Mexico, but she’ll meet the girl from Southern California in Bulgaria instead. She says I should visit her country next – she’s sorry she can’t visit mine. I am, too.

We talk about what we like to do. She designs, draws, works with sculpture. Wants to go back to school. I tell her I like to write and play with photography. I guess I “kinda” went to school for that. I share the hot air balloon photos with her mom. Mention childrens books as a current idea. “Ah, that is very important. Someone has to reach kids, it can be cartoon network, or it can be you.” She talks about getting antsy in one place too long, bouncing in her spot on the carpet to emphasize. “You like to write, travel is good. You sit at paper and stare (look of boredom), nothing will come. But you walk down the street, later shower, and… Lightbulb!”

This morning, as I lay in bed reading my email, she said good morning. “Do you like marionettes?” She pulls out two real, fantastically ornate puppets hung from wood crosses. She brings them with her everywhere. “I have more at home, I perform. These are just for play. I like to think, with people who don’t speak English, they are ice breaker.”

I’m in awe as I watch one walk across the hostel floor. I teach her the word “tangled.” Tell her I wish I had an ice breaker like that.

“You play that instrument?”

Oh that’s right, I’ve got my own strings. And now being stuck with Steve the Saaz is getting explained, in elementary English version. Let me note, the irony of this no-strings-attached, obligation free three months, with a string instrument I can’t get rid of on my back is not lost on me. He’s taken out, strings retightened, played for a moment. “Good thing it is light. I hope whoever learns to play that plays for you someday. It is beautiful.”

We talk more over breakfast and our journals. Mine, more and more a bulging travel scrapbook of ticket stubs and ATM receipts from when I took out 10,000 of the local currency (thank you, Serbia), short on actual journal writing. Hers, a page of Spanish-English vocabulary. A handwritten currency conversion chart from zero to one hundred euros. And page after page of drawings. Snakes, cars, water.

And oh my goodness, maps. She takes index card-size maps, grids them, and by hand expands entire countries in her journal, perfectly. Who am I to ask if I can take a picture of someone’s journal… But I had to. I’d never seen anything like it. She said it was okay, equally excited by my (very different) journal. She asks me about a train to Istanbul (but I’d flown) and by the end of that conversation, I’d assured her I’d be taking no more planes and miss no more landscapes. “Good.”

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But I wasn’t done meeting people in Sofia…

Tomatoes & Toast

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Phase One: Spain with Dad.
Barcelona -> Madrid -> Barcelona.
Phase Two: Eastern Europe with Andrea.
Istanbul -> Cappadocia -> Ankara -> Sofia -> Belgrade -> Sofia.

Tomatoes & Toast

A simple breakfast for a nervous stomach
Day one of traveling solo
The lounge is silent but for sounds of butter knives scraping bread
“Easy” plays notably louder than the previous song
Don’t you know “I want to be free to know the things I do are right”
But I’ve no shortage of freedom
No one talks
Two can bond over coffee but it helps to be awake
We’ll bond over a different drink tonight
We’ll toast to new friendships

It took until two but I ventured out
Ten minutes one way, ten minutes back
Turn slightly, repeat
A do-si-do about Bulgaria
No one there to jaywalk first, throw a protective arm in front of me
So I cross at green signs only
I wonder if I look lost
Probably not
Just like I’ve never seen a thrift store before
Or a dozen sex shops at once
I watch him buy some flowers
I wonder the special occasion of this Wednesday afternoon
Is it just a special someone
I pass one yarn store, another, one crowded one more
I remember I forgot I know how to knit
So pot holders for Christmas for everyone
Surprise

I found a coffee shop across from the hostel
We’d missed it last week right in front of our eyes
Too busy looking for one to see
Funny how that happens
I wandered away from it too far
Forgot where I’d left it just for a moment
Typical
But now I sit drinking what I think is a mug of espresso
It cost eighty cents
I’ll go back to the hostel and find the book exchange book written in English
Then walk some more, definitely talk some more
As Creeley said
“Now I’ve got time and space like a broken watch”

It’s day one of ninety-two
Here we go!

(to be continued)

Selective Reality

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“How much of this tan do you think is dirt?” I asked Andrea, four hours into our daytime train trip from Sofia to Belgrade.

The water at Hostel Mostel had been shut off and would be off the remainder of the day. We took our unshowered selves and backpacks the twenty minutes to the train station and bought the next tickets to Serbia. Plans we had already, though now leaving 12 hours sooner. Steve the baglama, de-mummified for his two flights as a carry-on, was abandoned in the hostel’s luggage closet. “We’ll play him everyday,” the girl at the main desk promised. We’ll be back for him in a week.

Ten hours on a train. An old-fashioned compartment train. Long… Especially when you flinch whenever the border patrol guy with gun and badge walks by out of unnecessary nerves, especially when you get admonished when your feet touch the surrounding four empty seats… Especially when you’re constantly getting stared in at.

A really long time to spend feeling dirty, with little distraction but looking at what has become of you.

“You know when leg hair gets long enough it’s soft? It’s a shame I’m just at stubble stage. Crossing my legs has gotten uncomfortable.”

“Just opened the window for a breeze. Got a whiff of me, closed it.”

“Thank goodness you can change some reality with Skype. Like framing. I’m not saying I cut out 50% of my forehead every time, I’m just saying someone called me billboard when I was 16.”

Just this morning, I though how nice it’d be to have you at home come visit. I’d love travel buddies these next few months.

But then I realized, only three weeks in to this walking everywhere everyday and eating weirdly lifestyle, my body is on its way to the size, shape and possible acne of 14-yr-old me. Like some weird American family sends its ninth grader to Serbian high school daily, with a massive “always-be-prepared” backpack.

Exhausted. I just tipped 200 dinar for dinner. I sure hope I did that conversion right.

More stories from Bulgaria and Serbia to come. For now, reality, and this time I was way too tired to be selective.

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Unity makes friends.

The translation of Bulgaria’s motto, according to our tour guide Dimeter this morning. Fitting, since I’ve been thinking about conversations we’ve had the past few days.

With Adam. He asked us about our homes, our towns, our families. Would we one day return to take care of our parents’ house when they age and no longer could, would it, the land and the possessions get passed down to us… Does that happen in America.

And when he asked Andrea why there was an apple on the front of her computer, and we explained about the major company Apple is. “But an apple is a fruit, and why is there a bite out of it?” Andrea passed the question on to me (you’re the PR girl) and I said something about logos and maybe the bite out of it is to prove it’s good for you, someone’s tried it and now you should. Later that night, I’d tease Adam for something he said earlier in the day (probably along the lines of “yeah because you think I look boring, of course you wouldn’t expect me to backpack with a baglama”) and he told me, “You’re dangerous. I must be careful, because you remember everything said to you. You should pretend you don’t know everything, even if you still use it, so people don’t know.”

And the absurd conversation we had with a competitive guy from Switzerland last night, imploring us to name one thing America is better at than the rest of the world, and mocking us when we couldn’t (wouldn’t). Not a fight we wanted to get into, a debate worth having, but don’t you dare be from Switzerland and say “we’re good at chocolate, and the best at making Swiss knives.” My restraint just barely directed my “who the $@!* else would be” to Andrea instead.

And when we returned from the bus station without tickets to Ankara on Sunday, to ask the cute little host if we could possibly stay one more night, and with a giggle she said “you didn’t have to check out, go back to bed!”

And Dimeter this morning, when he said something he admires about the American culture is that you can grow-up somewhere, go to school somewhere else, then live another place. How that mentality is uncommon here.

He asked me about being a political science student in America. He said it’s a really big deal to be one in Bulgaria. Explaining as well as I could about it and my real focus on communications (public relations) while trying not to explain how bogus of a political science major I really was, getting by on my ability to frame well-worded papers nicely, but never soaking in the content.

And the boy I met at breakfast this morning, traveling through Bulgaria by himself for a month. Nice enough guy, a musician (singer) who works at Starbucks, I just might have hugged this boy goodbye.

Anyway. Spending this morning listening to Dimeter talk about his doctoral studies had me thinking. It’s been nine months since I’ve been in a classroom and I’ve been feeling an itch for more school. Not surprising, as everyone whose known me for a year has seen it go from law school to creative writing MFA to Teach For America/Masters in Education to work/part-time MBA studies.

But with all this writing, travel and photography, going back to school for documentary filmmaking sounds fantastic at the moment.

It will be a fleeting thought, if not totally absurd. I did go to college originally in broadcast journalism.

But hey, I’d absolutely tell other people’s stories, if they’d let me.

-from my bunk in Bulgaria, though my mind is still out on that Cappadocia platform

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