Sunday, December 13, 2009

In Foreground

Not to forget. This is the primal purpose of writing. Mine, at least. I’d forgotten Bucharest, like one forgets the name of an actor. What is it, Tom-something...? A momentary lapse of memory and then it comes back, in pieces that put together make a memory. One memory, like a page from a book I am leafing through without much interest. One, like a drawer with things thrown potpourri inside, that has to be forced to close so we seldom open it because, well, things fall out. And it’s just too complicated.

The subway has been renamed. I almost missed mine because a nasal voice in the ceilings spoke a destination I hadn’t heard of. But I hopped in, at the last minute, long after the conductor had informed that the doors were closing, and he probably scolded me under his breath, seeing me in his rearview mirror. Names with communist resonance have been replaced by benign names of abstract concepts and anonymous pedagogues I learned of when consulting the encyclopedia of Romanian relics. Fears are always in the names, the wrongs ignored, should there be no veneers thrust in our faces for dramatic reaction. If we don’t see them they’re not there. It’s always names we have to fight. Words. We have swords for those, different tiles to cover up old titles of subway stations. Or not even that – adhesive bands will do, as I’ve seen. We’re damn brave when it comes to words. And then we’ll say, as if it’s always been this way, that this train is traveling to “Precision!”

After I saw you to the bus station, left you with the precious books I brought you, I walked home. High Heels cafe is as stilted as its name advertises, the windows a moving caricature of authenticity. People inside talk hungrily, affectedly, as if they’re saying witty things, making funny jokes. Their partners are playing along, responding with hilarity at the prompts, faces stretched from ear to ear, meanwhile checking their watch under the table. To get to the eerie tunnel that takes me to my street I pass a sex shop. Neon lights spell its name vertically. They have redone this one too, I see, in all glass windows, candidness that says we’re not so prudish after all.

The eerie tunnel’s now only an alley, for two thirds have been occupied by a new edifice, a makeshift house for the workers who are drilling down the road. There’s a sensor light on the corner of the house that lasts exactly two seconds. In the quiet darkness of the grey tunnel the light scares you more than a human presence would. And then my street, albeit now throttled by tall new buildings, is an eerie tunnel in itself. Hot steam comes out of a sewer, dissolves into the cold air, and as I walk through it for a couple of seconds it envelopes me and I’m warm. And then my nose turns numb again, liquid forming at its tip, and it’s getting ready to snow, which it does the next morning. Now it’s winter proper, I suppose, even in this city that’s, in all its foibles, the antipode of pure white.

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