Saturday, February 1, 2014

Our Winter Love: Thailand Anniversary and Return to Bucharest

One year ago today, Nadine and I were at the Phuket International Hospital (PIH) in Thailand.  Nadine was recovering from her surgeries, and I was still in the process of mine.  Our two weeks at PIH are a cloud of memories overlapping and intermixing.  Days and nights blended together as we moved in a fog from one medical procedure to another, one meal to another.  Confined to our beds for many days, we would watch movies, read books, and listen to music.

It is very human to identify a piece of music with a time and a place.  At some point during our weeks of recuperation, an old instrumental piece from the 1960s came streaming over the Internet from MPBN in Maine.  It was Bill Pursell's Our Winter Love.  I then found it on YouTube and listened to it again and again.  Released from PIH, I would sit on the balcony at the Aspasia Resort, looking out on the beach and the blue sea with the strains of this music surrounding me.  An odd choice, perhaps, but Our Winter Love came to symbolize for me the time that Nadine and I spent in Thailand.  I have but to hear it to be transported back to Phuket.

View from the Aspasia, January 2013
I have not written much of late.  That was inevitable when I accepted the presidency of GLIFAA, the LGBT rights association representing LGBT employees at the State Department and other U.S. foreign affairs agencies.  The GLIFAA presidency is nearly a full time job in and of itself.  Combine it with a full time day job and watch all leisure time disappear.  It's a very good thing that I enjoy and am gratified by both of my jobs.  I do miss writing here, however, and move forward in the knowledge that another change will come in my life late next summer that will again give me the time to write.

Despite the pace of work, Our Winter Love also applies to this winter.  December and January have been filled with good news both for me personally and for those I love.  Although I was working a shift on both Christmas and New Year's Days, I felt my small student-style apartment in Takoma Park was infused with love.  I had my own candlelit Christmas dinner the day after Christmas.  My son and his girlfriend sat on one side of the table.  Next to me sat a gentle man who has entered my life these past several months.  A wonderful holiday feeling and smell hung in the air.  It was a beautiful Christmas.

Having worked through Christmas and New Year's, I finally got my own break when I flew home to Bucharest on January 5.  Riding into the city from Otopeni Airport, I had tears in my eyes.  Bucharest still feels like home, much more so than my temporary abode in suburban Washington.  I looked out the window of my taxi at each familiar site as we approached the center.  Nothing had changed.  It was as though I had never left.

Holiday Lights Are Still Lit in Bucharest Until January 6
I no longer have an Embassy-provided home in Bucharest, but I rented a small apartment for two weeks not far away, just off Piata Victoriei.  Exhausted from the flight, I fell into a deep sleep on the couch and didn't hear when my dear young friend PE knocked on the door.  Rather, she told me afterward that she was banging on the door and had taken fright when I did not answer.  She was in the administrator's office to ask about "the American woman who arrived today," when I finally woke up and saw that she had been calling.  In a minute she was back at my door, and I was able to give the biggest hug I have to someone I had dearly missed these seven months.

My Homecoming Open House in Bucharest
For two weeks I felt I was back in my family with friends coming and going.  We had a reunion open house the Saturday after my arrival.  It might not have been on the scale of the parties I used to hold, but the same warm feeling was there with most friends not leaving until well after midnight.  Another day I went to the Embassy "just for 2-3 hours". . . or so I thought.  I spent most of a day there sitting and visiting with the local staff that had worked with me and with my American friends who are still there.  Another day I went to ACCEPT, the Romanian LGBT rights organization, for most of an afternoon.  I went to my favorite hairdresser -- the only one who truly understands my hair -- and visited Mirela, the magical electrologist of Bucharest.  PE and I went shopping together just like old times.

With Nadine on a Cold Day in Chisinau
Moldova, of course, was not going to allow me to come so close and not pay a visit there as well.  I flew up to Chisinau on a Monday morning and spent two and a half days there.  I had chosen my dates well, arriving in Chisinau on Old New Year's Eve.  Nadine, Dan, and I celebrated the Old New Year together with their friends, and on Old New Year's Day we went together to a Finnish sauna to bake out the old and make room for the new.  Nadine and I reminisced about Thailand, Our Winter Love playing in my head.  We agreed that we must return there one day and truly visit that magical land that we saw largely from our hospital window and from the balcony of the Aspasia.

I knew before I went that two weeks would go by in a flash and that I would again miss my friends.  I have no regrets.  It's far better to miss friends whom one has been able to see and hug at least briefly than to live only with a memory from a year ago.  

Of this I am certain, Bucharest is still home.  I hope ardently that it will also be my future home.  It is where I came to be myself, whole at last, living my life as it always should have been lived.  As Pascal Mercier writes and as is portrayed on the screen in Night Train to Lisbon --
We leave something of ourselves behind when we leave a place.  We stay there, even though we go away.  And there are things in us that we can find again only by going back there.
I am again in Washington today, back in the hustle of work and GLIFAA.  It is gratifying work, and I stay in touch with my friends overseas as best I can.  I pause for a moment and allow the mind to wander.  Our Winter Love starts to play in my head, and there I am, on the beach in Thailand with Nadine or walking the streets of Bucharest with friends so close that they have become family.

To all my friends and family in Romania and Moldova, Robyn sends her winter love.  Ne vedem mai tarzio.  We will see each other again soon.  

* * * * * * * * * * * *

For those who have not heard Our Winter Love, listen now and imagine me with Nadine sitting on a balcony a year ago in Phuket.