Sunday, August 28, 2011

Tears for a Colonel

I've already written about becoming more wistful, misty-eyed since beginning HRT in June, but I had not experienced the torrent of uncontrollable tears that I have heard others describe.  That changed today.

This morning I had a beautiful waking dream.  It must have been 1970 or 1971, and in my dream I woke in the basement family room of my oldest sister's house in Oxon Hill, MD.  I was on one of her orange couches, where I always slept when we came to visit.  My nephew, then scarcely ten years old came bouncing into the room, and I thought he looked so funny in his plastic frame glasses.  (That's the pot calling the kettle black, as I also wore large plastic frame glasses back then.)  Then my brother-in-law breezed in, running to grab something from the back, followed by my sister.  I felt so wonderful that I both laughed and cried to think what wonderful times those were even if I was not able to talk to anyone about my deepest troubles.

I woke fully to find myself in my bed here in Bucharest, happily sobbing uncontrollably and not able to stop.  I would just get the tears to slow, and then I would think of my nephew again as he was in those days and as the fine man he has become.  Again I was reaching for the Kleenex.

My nephew is a full army colonel today with his own family and young children.  He has not said so to me directly, but I don't think he fully approves of these changes in his uncle.  That's OK.  I remember how he cried at my wedding in 1982, and my own tears start again.

By the time the floodgates closed, I had a large pile of Kleenex on the floor.  I got up, dressed, and went for an easy early morning bike ride around the Bucharest Sea.

Now, as I write these words, my eyes again become misty.  This is for you, nephew, tears for a colonel.



CSC: The Only Limitations Are the Ones You Bring with You -- or -- So How Far Back Does This Go? (Part 5)

Back from my first overseas adventure in the Soviet Union, in the fall of 1978 I was out of graduate school and in need of a job.  At the time I thought I would just find something, anything, that would allow me to get by for two or three years and figure things out.  Little did I know I was about to enter upon a career that lasted more than 25 years.

There it was, a full page ad in the Washington Post in August or September of 1978:
Wanted:  Physicists, astronomers, and mathematicians with BS or higher degrees who know a little about programming to work on contracts with Goddard Space Flight Center. 
I'm sure the real words of that ad were punchier, but that was the gist of it.  I interviewed in October and started work the Monday after Thanksgiving, moving to Maryland and finding a room in a shared group house.  On $14,000/year starting salary, I couldn't afford an apartment of my own.

CSC loved slogans.  "CSC:  Part of it, proud of it," was the most common one in corporate advertisements and on posters, but the one I liked most was:
CSC:  The only limitations are the ones you bring with you.
How funny I thought that slogan was then, how much like the Soviet propaganda I had seen everywhere that summer.  As the years went by, however, I came to see it not just as funny, but also as an ironically truthful description of my own life.

I've already described the fun I had through the years at CSC doing flight dynamics and attitude determination for missions starting with Magsat and ending with Hubble Space Telescope.  I'm still friends with several of the people I met on my first day on the job in 1978, and some of them may be reading this today.  Although we decry the heartlessness of corporate America, I felt that at least in work, I had a family, a wonderful group of people to work with and to laugh with.
Part of our "Tacky" Crew on the PASS Project for Hubble Space Telescope

In my personal life, I was willing myself to be normal.  Here I am, at the start of a new job, living on my own with my own income, and with a clear path ahead if only. . . .

Lifespring, one of the EST-like self-improvement programs of the early 1980s, became the rage at CSC in 1980.  One of the senior CSC analysts, in fact the very one who had interviewed me in 1978, took me out to lunch, trying to talk me into signing up for "The Basic."  I resisted, but then he got me.  "I know what your life is like," he said.  "You go home to your hobbies, but I don't think you have ever gone on a date.  You are all alone."  I still said no, but then to spite him called Lifespring myself and registered the next day.

Over the next year I did the whole program.  "The Basic" was followed by "IPE intermediate" and then "TC advanced."  I now look back and think of Lifespring as psychology without a license conducted by charismatic facilitators whose real loyalty is to the company's bottom line, but Lifespring influenced me in dramatic ways that set my path for better or worse -- and I really do mean for both the very best and the very worst -- for years to come.

In the "TC advanced" program, we had small groups in which we were to help each other on our most important personal issues.  Of course, I said not a word about the issue, but I willingly jumped at my group's suggestion that what I needed most was to date as many women as I could over the months of the program.  No one could believe that I was still a virgin, in fact had never masturbated, and had never been on a real date.  I became the group's mascot, as both the men and women urged me on, encouraging me at every step.  I loved the attention, and I more than anyone else wanted this to work.  "Surely my problem is that I have never even tried to live a normal life, isn't it?  Surely if I start to meet women as men meet women, I will find what it is that I have never felt or understood?"  Or, as Jennifer Finney Boylan wrote so simply two decades later, surely "Love will cure me?"

I filled and overfulfilled the plan.  Well, OK, I was no Casanova, but over three or four months I had gone on at least a dozen full-fledged dates.  My small group was all over me with cheers and hugs the day I announced I had lost my virginity.

So what was wrong with this picture?  The night when I gave up my virginity, I felt it was all backwards.  The roles were wrong.  I did everything to give pleasure that I had read or been told about, but when the time came for my own pleasure, I found I couldn't care less.  I wanted to be caressed and held in the way I had been doing the holding and caressing.  As my partner started to look and wonder what was wrong, I closed my eyes and imagined a  complete role reversal.  Only then was I able to continue.  That's the way it was that night, and that's the way it has been ever since.  Of course, I said not a word.  Surely, with time this will change?

I remember being taken one evening to Shepherd Park, a raw strip club on Georgia Avenue near the DC line.  I had never been to such a club before.  As the friend who brought me sat back with his beer to enjoy the show, I looked around and saw that the other guys in the dark club seemed to be having a wonderful time watching, tipping, and yelling encouragement to the dancers.  I felt nothing, just a sense of wonder that anyone would come to such a show and commiseration with the bored expressions on the faces of the dancers.  But I had earned another stripe on my road to normalcy.

Finally, one evening I was in the Lifespring office, making calls to people who had been to a guest event, trying to convince them to sign up for the full program.  It was a slimy job that I did not enjoy, but eventually I made one call that was different.  The young woman who answered had a slight accent, so after the Lifespring pitch, I asked where she was from.  I found out she was a history graduate student doing research for a Ph.D.  I forgot about Lifespring and started to talk about my own travels in the Soviet Union.  We met face to face several weeks later at another Lifespring event, and eventually I invited her for dinner and to see the full six-hour Soviet film version of "War and Peace."  I joined her at a political rally protesting U.S. involvement in Nicaragua or wherever it was that we were intervening at the time.  "Wow," I thought, "Maybe this is what it's about, friendship based on mutual interests and caring?"

We were married in the summer of 1982.  It was the best and worst decision of my life, and I suspect my spouse would say the same.  We have a wonderful grown son, now age 22 and quite the independent, cultured, graceful, successful young man that every parent dreams of.  We loved, we cried, we took care of aging relatives in their final days, and we made our home in Silver Spring the envy of our neighbors through never ending fix-it projects and renovations.

I entered the marriage without saying a word about my internal struggle, so convinced I was that through marriage and love and building a family, I would cure myself.  "It" would simply go away, never to trouble me again.  I could not have been more wrong. . . .

* * * * * * * * * *

This is all I will say concerning my marriage that lasted from 1982 through 2007, although our divorce was final only in 2010 and was followed by post-divorce litigation that lasted into this year.  I will, of course, write about what happened to me and the consequences through these years, but I respect my ex-spouse's privacy and feelings.  I will never mention her name, where she came from, where she is today, or anything else that could even hint at her identity.  I can only hope that someday there will be peace between us, that we can be in the same room for our son's marriage or for the birth of a grandchild.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

How We Kidnapped Irina Nita

Did you know that we kidnapped Irina Nita?  Now, before any of my Romanian readers call the police or ask Interpol to put out an all points bulletin, I hasten to inform you that Irina asked us to kidnap her.  We only complied with her request by hijacking the Washington portion of the International Visitors Leadership (IVL) program that has just taken her to the U.S. for three weeks.

My readers outside Romania are probably asking, "Who is Irina Nita and what is this about kidnapping and hijacking?"  Let me explain.

Irina Nita is executive director of ACCEPT, the Romanian national NGO for advancement of LGBT rights.  I've had some involvement with ACCEPT for several months now, but I only met Irina about three weeks ago when I sat down to interview her for my U.S. Embassy report on the current situation and prospects for transgender individuals in Romania.  At the end of our conversation, I asked if there was anything I could do for her, and she proceeded to tell me that she hopes to organize a specialist conference on transgender legal and medical issues in Bucharest next year.  She said should would like to have American participation in this workshop but had no knowledge of or contacts in the U.S. transgender community.  She asked if I could help her.  She then added that she was about to travel to the U.S. on an IVL program sponsored by the U.S. State Department.

That was all I needed to get started on a hijack plan, but I knew I could not do it alone.  I'm a beginner at this sort of thing, and I needed professional help for an operation of this sort.  I turned to my "Oceans Eleven" team consisting of Anne Vonhof at the Office of Personnel Management, Chloe Schwenke at USAID, Shannon Doyle at MAGIC-DC, and my good Foreign Service friend Kay.  They assembled the list of U.S. experts on transgender issues for Irina to meet.  Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies (GLIFAA) with leadership from Policy Chief Paul Kim anointed us an ad-hoc GLIFAA committee.  With that title, I approached the Public Diplomacy office at Embassy Bucharest.  I got a cool reception at first and was told that Irina's schedule was already fixed with little possibility for change.  I insisted, however, and they sent on our list of additional meetings to the program office in Washington.

A few days later I received an e-mail from Meg Poole at Meridian House.  Meg, it turns out, was in charge of Irina's program.  Not only was the Washington portion of the program not fixed, Meg was having trouble reaching anyone to set up meetings during the summer vacation season.  Anne jumped right in with names and telephone numbers for people she knew were available.  Mara Keisling from the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) started calling Meg as well, saying she was ready to meet Irina at almost any time or place.  Kay stepped forward to host a luncheon for Irina with a number of transgender activists and specialists in attendance.  In the end, we got transgender-related meetings set up for Irina at the Human Rights Campaign, USAID, NCTE, the Whitman Walker Clinic, and at a number of other organizations and government offices.

Irina will also travel to Atlanta, San Francisco, Des Moines, Atlanta, and Albany, New York, on what will be mainly an LGB itinerary.  The Washington component, however, now has a decidedly T shade that it would not have had otherwise.  At Irina's request we successfully cracked our way into an existing USG program and rearranged the parts.  Never before have I so thoroughly enjoyed being part of a hijacking.

Travel well, Irina.  Drum bun.  It's "wheels up" in Bucharest.  We'll see you in a few weeks.

PS -- Anne Vonhof managed to open more closed doors for us in Washington than I thought possible.  The next time I stand in front of a locked bank vault, I want Anne next to me to speak the magic words.


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Under Transylvanian Moons -- or -- So How Far Back Does This Go? (Part 4)

I just spent a weekend near Sighisoara in the heart of Transylvania.  It was a homecoming of sorts to a place I never thought I would see again.  I was there once before, 33 years ago to the week in August 1978.

This brings me to the second passion of my life, one that helped me to survive and find meaning when I was not yet ready to come to terms with myself.  When I left UVa in 1976, I was at the start of my first great personal purge even if at the time I did not know that this was the term.  Having failed to overcome my fears in college, I decided I could will this away if I just worked hard enough at it.  That would be much simpler, wouldn't it, than coming out and dealing with the consequences?  Over the next two years of graduate school at Yale, I was able to keep that resolve, more or less, but my interest in astronomy and in almost everything else waned.  After two years, I decided that was it, that I was not PhD material.  I took my MS degree in the spring of 1978 with no clear idea what I would do next.

What carried me through were things Russian.  Incurable romantic, I first fell in love with things Russian when I saw the movie Doctor Zhivago in the late 1960s.  Then I read short stories in translation in high school and began learning about Russian history.  How strange, I thought, that a country and a people could evolve to be so different from us in the mid-20th century USA.  When I entered UVa in 1972 and was told I had to take a language, I chose Russian.

I regretted my choice a few times that first year.  Russian was far harder than any of the physics or math courses I took, but after two years I realized I was starting to get somewhere.  It took me two months to work through Turgenev's First Love (Первая любовь) on my own, but from there I kept going.  I wanted to read Chekhov, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and Bulgakov in the original.  By the time I took my UVa degree in 1976, I had a double major:  physics-astronomy and Russian language and literature.  At Yale there was a young émigré actress who tried to put together a small amateur theater group.  I was to play Bayan in Mayakovsky's The Bedbug (Клоп).  We never did get that production to stage, but I still remember some of my lines.  Олег Баян от счастья пьян.  I also learned that as shy and scared as I was, there was at least one forum where I could lose my inhibitions.

At loose ends in the summer of 1978, I heard of an eccentric Russian language professor from Boston College who ran a small touring company called Pioneer Travel (www.pioneerrussia.com/about_pioneer.php) that ran summer driving and camping tours across the Soviet Union from the Baltic to the Black Sea.  I got the last seat available on one of the four VW minivans that were to set out that summer, and I camped out in Boston's Logan Airport to get a $99 first come, first served ticket on PanAm to Amsterdam.

Part of our Merry Little Crew, 1978
From the Netherlands we made our way through Germany and Scandinavia, finally crossing into the Soviet Union from Finland.  A few hours after crossing the border, I found myself walking the streets of Leningrad at this, the height of the White Nights.  I felt I had landed on another planet.  Everything, absolutely everything was so different from what I had grown up with.  I remember clearly trying to explain to one of the first Russians I met what were the strange things, such as driver's license and a checkbook, that I was carrying with me.  I remember how hard many of the people I met tried to explain to me their reality.  It was the beginning of a love affair that has never died.

Transylvania by Train & Bike 2011
I have come to think of the transgender journey as one of transitioning cultures, traveling from one country to another.  We grow up in one culture and are expected to abide by its rules and strictures, but if we prepare ourselves well enough for the journey, we can live in another culture and come to feel as comfortable in it as in the culture we were born into, perhaps even more so.  It was walking the streets of Leningrad in the summer of 1978 that I first came to feel on my own skin that the reality I had been surrounded by since birth was not the only reality.  I knew and could see with my own eyes that the Soviet system was deeply flawed, but I also saw that there was a positive side I had never known about, a side that was missing from my own society.

Transylvanian Country Roads
I will have cause to come back again and again to things Russian and the role they played in helping me find my way both then and later, but for now let me return to Transylvania.

We crossed the border from the Soviet Union into Romania on August 17.  My friends in Romania may be particularly surprised to read my first impressions from my journal that day:
It was perhaps 6:00pm that we entered our first large Romanian town, Bacau.  I must have forgotten what life was like outside the Soviet Union, for I was shocked at what I saw here.  The main street was clean, wide, and modern.  The buildings were new and stylish, unaffected by Soviet instant aging.  Store windows were filled with consumer goods; the people were well dressed.  Most surprising, there were no long Soviet lines.

Clock Tower in Saschiz
The next day we drove on to Sighisoara and wandered the ancient, non-touristed  streets of the old town in the fading evening twilight.  I felt I had gone back through the centuries.  We camped that night under a full moon.

With Ancha, 2011
What would I have thought then if anyone told me I would return to Transylvania exactly 33 years later?  More than this, at that time when I was doing my best to bury my transgender side, could I have imagined that on this return visit I would be betwixt and between, but more Robyn than my former self?  It was a beautiful, tranquil weekend of riding my bicycle through the lush, rolling hills, enjoying long talks with the inn-keeper Ancha, and just being at peace.  The moon was full.  Another circle had closed.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

WahooWa! -- or -- So How Far Back Does This Go? (Part 3)

In Part 1 of "So How Far Back Does this Go?" I wrote:
Let me return to the diary I kept in college.  I  never did "find myself tearing out these two pages at some time in the future," but the entire volume I kept in 1975 is missing.  That was the year in which I made my first abortive attempt to come out, dressing in public and corresponding with the gender clinic at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore.  I know I wrote my heart out that year.
1972-76 for me were the years of "WahooWa!" -- the rallying cry of the University of Virginia.  I traded New York City for sleepy Charlottesville, Virgina, the home of UVa, the "Princeton of the South," known also as The University or Mr. Jefferson's University.  Thomas Jefferson's home Monticello is here, and it is said that Mr. Jefferson -- he always was and always will be Mr. Jefferson to students -- watched through a telescope as the university he designed was built in the valley below his home.  In my mind I can almost see him at the eyepiece, studying at a distance to see if his architectural plans were being followed.

The Lawn at The University
For most Americans the college years are a chance to spread one's wings and start living a semi-independent life in a dormitory or apartment and learning what it means to open a bank account, cook one's own dinner, and in general find out just what is involved in living on one's own.  It is a time of experimentation and wildness along with study and preparation for a future life.

I entered The University to fulfill my dream of becoming an astronomer.  I chose a joint major in physics and astronomy.  I took my first paying job as a night observer at the Leander McCormick Observatory with its historic 19th century, 26-inch Alvan Clark refracting telescope.  I worked shifts that went from sunset to 10pm or from 2am to sunrise.  During those shifts I had the observatory to myself as I loaded photographic plates and maneuvered the telescope to photograph star fields for the Astronomy Department's parallax program to determine star distances.  Although Virginia is a southern state, it could get very cold in that unheated dome on winter nights.  Sometimes I would welcome a bank of clouds that would give me an excuse to retreat to the heated office next door.  There I would rummage through drawers and cabinets, a treasure trove of astronomical history.  I was always on my own, and I was often dressed entirely in female clothing.

In Charlottesville I no longer had my sister's wardrobe to experiment with, but I had my own bank account and could buy what I wanted.  I was too afraid to go into the women's departments at local stores, but I lived for the mail order catalogs from Sears and Montgomery Wards.  I would save my money, place my order, and wait for the notice in the mailbox that I should come to the post office to pick up a parcel.

Leander McCormick Observatory
I was still young, shy, and scared.  I dressed at home and at work and on the three mile walk to and from the observatory.  On those walks I would choose the darkest path where I was pretty sure I wouldn't meet anyone.  Terrified of encountering a professor or classmate who knew me, I would turn on my heels and walk the other way if I saw anyone coming in my direction.  I did not understand that I could have passed easily with just a little work.  Back then, contact was to be avoided.  If there was a knock on the door of my apartment, I would pretend I was not home.  No one was allowed into this secret world, a world that scared me to death even as I wished it could be my world in reality.

And as this was going on in my private life, I took the full math sequence through partial differential equations and physics through quantum mechanics.  I fell in love with the Russian language.  (That is a story for another installment.)  I wasn't in the top tier of students by any means, but when I "took my degree" -- UVa-speak for graduation -- it was with high honors.

When the weather was nice, I loved to read the New York Times on Sunday afternoons in one of the formal gardens on the university grounds.  A watershed event in my life took place one Sunday in 1975 when the New York Times Review of Books published a review of Conundrum by Jan Morris.  I remember shaking from excitement.  Just from the review I understood that I was not alone.  Transsexualism was not just Christine Jorgensen, a character in a Gore Vidal novel, and a handful of rumors.  Here was a respected British writer and journalist -- a person who had ascended Everest with Hillary in 1953 -- who was writing openly and honestly about her transition from James to Jan in mid-life.

At the Focal Plane of the 26-inch Refractor
When Conundrum made it to the University's Alderman Library, I read it cover to cover in a single sitting.  I was enthralled and in tears.  In the weeks to come I wrote and wrote in my diary as I got the nerve to read everything I could about transsexuality in the university's science and medical libraries.  In the pre-Internet days, everything depended on the library, and UVa had good ones.  I learned of a Gender Identity Clinic at Johns Hopkins and wrote there, receiving back an invitation to come in and talk.

But I never followed through.  Even when I learned that sexual reassignment surgery (SRS) was being performed at the UVa medical center, I was too afraid to walk through the door.  The only son of my father, a self-made man who had great expectations for his children, I could not overcome the fear of coming out.  In my high school years I would write notes to my Dad, telling him things I was too fearful to tell him face to face.  I would place the notes in his briefcase, only to retrieve them later for fear that they might actually be read.  With that level of fear, how was I going to talk about THIS out loud?  There were no support groups for gays that I knew of in Charlottesville, let along transgender, a word that hadn't even been coined yet.  I would feel ashamed to knock on the door of a psychologist.  Who would stand behind me?  Who would hold my hand?  Surely everyone would abandon me, declaring me insane?  Maybe they would be right to think me so?

This, my first non-coming out, turned into my first purge.  I had been accepted for graduate school at Yale, and in a matter of weeks my Mom, Dad, and sisters would be coming to Charlottesville for my graduation and to pack me up for the move north.  I gathered together my small wardrobe, carefully wrapping everything into bundles, and walked a long distance to a deposit them in a dumpster from which I knew I would not be able to retrieve them.

Looking back today, I wish I could hug that young, scared person who was me in 1976.  Little did she know how much she would have to go through, how many torments lay in store, how much she would hurt and how she would hurt those she loved.  It's probably good she didn't know.  It would have been too much to bear.

I went off to New Haven, Connecticut, fully purged and with a simplistic belief that I could just wish this away by paying it no mind and keeping my eyes on the task at hand.  Being "cured" seemed so much easier and desirable than dealing with this.

But my interest in astronomy flagged as my romance for the night sky met the reality of a Ph.D. program.  My overall interest in living fell to a low that I would try to hide with a smile.  I could purge my wardrobe, but I could not purge my mind.  It's then that I began to think of transsexuality as the white noise of my life.  Like the 3-deg background radiation that permeates the Universe in all directions as an echo of the Big Bang, so this was everywhere.  The best I could do was drown out the noise with other noise that comes with over-achievement and overwork.  I didn't know then that I had begun a cycle, that just over a decade later I would feel a life and death necessity of talking to someone, to anyone who would listen and help ease the pain.  When I finally did cross that line, the results were even more terrible than I had feared in 1976. . . .

But that is a story for another installment of "So How Far Back Does this Go?"  Like most Americans, I look back with nostalgia at my college years, and I have a special place in my heart for Charlottesville, The University, and Leander McCormick Observatory.  For the first time I timidly tried to be me, and for a brief moment I got close.  My "WahooWa" was a timid, scared one, but I look back now and realize that as timid as it was, the voice was really, truly mine.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Interlude: Bucharest by Bicycle


Graffiti:  Moldova is Romania
Many old friends and colleagues from my years on Hubble are probably wondering, "Is she still riding that bicycle, or has this T thing taken over her life with the speed of a overloaded tandem careening down a mountain road without brakes?"  To all assembled lovers of two wheels I hereby declare, I'm still riding.
1989 Revolution Began Near Here
There's a deeply embedded T side to my riding a bicycle that almost no one would have guessed, but I will get to that in one of my "So How Far Back Does this Go?" entries.  For the moment I just want to share the joy of riding in Bucharest, where this summer I have again become an urban cyclist as I once was for many years in the Washington, DC, area.  I ride my bike to the Embassy in the morning.  It's not even three miles from my home, but having the bicycle at work means I'm ready to go when the workday ends.  I ride to my electrologist appointments, I ride to the market, and I ride just to explore Bucharest and the immediate countryside.  Unlike in Tashkent, where I had an $800USD Honda with no gas gauge, I own no motorized transportation here, and thus the inspiration to ride is all the greater.

Ceausescu's People's Palace
Concert Hall
Mind you, this is urban cycling, not a pleasant ride in the park, although there are also some very beautiful parks.  Bucharest is a very busy city with too many cars, not much infrastructure, and too many drivers in a hurry.  As in the Soviet Union, cars were out of reach to all except the lucky and well-positioned during communist times.  This all changed after the revolutions of the late 1980s.  When Ceausescu fell in December 1989 and the doors of capitalism opened wide, the Romanian love affair with the automobile began and has not abated despite gridlock traffic and excellent, fast public transit.  Everyone just has to own a car.  It's a status symbol of wealth and well-being.

Chased by a Truck
Old Town
Riding a bike in central Bucharest on a workday is about the same as riding in Manhattan or in downtown Washington, DC, during rush hour.  There is a laughable system of bike lanes on sidewalks that is entirely unusable because of pedestrians and cars parked on the sidewalks.  (I could mount my soapbox and lecture that bike lanes on sidewalks are dangerous by definition and should be banned everywhere, but I'll resist the temptation. . . .) That means I'm in the traffic lanes with the cars and trucks just as I used to be in the U.S. and as I still appear on the cover of the Maryland Bicycle Safety Guide.  Since there are scarcely any hills in Bucharest, I'm able to keep up with the motorized traffic for extended spurts.  In the very center sometimes it is impossible even for a bicycle to make headway in the gridlock, and then I find myself walking the bike on the sidewalk with the pedestrians.
Romania's Arc de Triomphe
As always, riding a bicycle is a great way to explore, and that's what I like most on weekends.  I've been here long enough now that I don't mind getting lost and then figuring out how to get back on familiar ground.  Some of the nicest districts are those I discover by accident.  Bucharest was once known as the Paris of the East, and there are still back streets where one can find the atmosphere of the inter-war city that once was.

A Quieter Ride
Will I continue riding when the snows of winter come?  Probably not.  I did that for years in the U.S., but I will now let you in on a secret:  it's not fun.  There is nothing like a 35F (2C) rain to soak and chill a body to the bone.  (The trick, as Peter O'Toole says in Lawrence of Arabia, was in not minding it.)  Here I will enjoy the warm, long days of summer riding and switch to metro, bus, trolley, and tram for the bad winter days. 

Astronomers' Street
Question for future thought:  Should I trade in my trusty Atlantis for a Terry? My bicycling friends will smile and say, "So, she had to end on a T note after all, didn't she?"