When Transience met Permanence

The booming sound of the giant speakers was pounding us all.

I’ve been tortured by concert speakers before, but the warm butter way in which the violin layered itself over the bass sent chills down my spine. People all around me were waving their arms in the air and jumping, their feet touching the pavement for just enough bounce to leap again. This muggy Bucharest May night was the perfect backdrop for Gogol Bordello to rip into “Immigrant punk“, their wonderful track about alienation.

Music has often been a solitary experience for me, a personal exile I craved to share with others, but rarely could. On that night, bobbing, bumping and bruising with my friends, it was no longer just mine. As the band sang “Immigrant punk,” I remember grabbing Tibi and Jo, who had suspended themselves on the guardrail, by the shoulders and kissing them on the head. (Luiza was next, and Lavi must have received similar treatment at some point during the show.)

On stage, Eugene Hutz sang:

Of course we immigrants wanna sing all night long
Don’t you know the singing saves the troubled soul?

Yes, Gogol Bordello is a fun band and their Bucharest gig was an awesome concert. But this post isn’t (just) about them.

A couple of weeks back I was rushing home from the neighborhood supermarket hauling a vacuum cleaner. I had just had an air conditioning unit installed and I had debris all over my rug. The men who installed it had a horrid fight with my super (too pretentious a designation for the Romanian equivalent but I’ll go with it) and the two parties even traded threats like “Go hang yourself,” “I’ll head-butt you in the mouth,” or “I’ll slap you with the back of my hand and you’ll go to sleep for five minutes.

Social hysteria aside, as I started sucking up the dust I realized that the AC unit, along with the new fridge and stove that I had bought a few days before, was more than just a shiny addition to my Bucharest apartment. It was one of those pathetic cries for permanence that some people—me for instance—answer by buying domestic appliances.

I say this because everything is still about being ‘here’ as opposed to ‘there.’ Everything is still about no longer being a visitor. Everything is still about re-claiming the idea of home. Everything is still about being in control of a new, yet familiar, reality.

One of the saddest things I have come to realize is that all of the above are my responsibility and I have to do all this (largely) by myself.

You see, I blush when people mention the United States because I perk up no matter how disconnected from the conversation I might have been. And it’s not because I’m one of those “America is the land of honey and milk” preachers; it’s because for a long time America was home. So when people want to talk about the reality I’m familiar with, I start buzzing. “Yes, please please please please. Let’s talk about America. What can I tell you? Is there anything you want to know? Can I tell you something even though you might not care?”

I told Lavi I’m still largely a visitor being shown around the streets on Bucharest. Sure, I know those streets like my back pockets, but they are not my streets (yet). They are their streets and I follow their lead. And what’s most irritating is that I can’t show them MY streets, can’t have them drink in my bars, sleep in my bed, use my toothpaste (or even my toothbrush), or go to my concerts.

I will soon own these streets myself and I will become one of them. But they will never become one of me because they never experienced my reality with me. I know it’s childish (and corny) to think I’m losing something of my American experience by not being able to convey it to others, but I feel this deeply.

The childish kisses I gave my friends Friday were both an acceptance of this natural process of loss and a small thank you note for the work they do as guides.

There is a Bright Eyes song (music talks about a lot of things) that says:

All your friends and sedatives mean well, but make it worse
Every reassurance just magnifies the doubt
Better find yourself a place to level out

I think I know what that means, or at least I know what it means to me. I “leveled out” as Eugene Hutz and Gogol Bordello crashed on the heads of a couple of thousand screaming Romanians at Arenele Romane.

I might not be “home” yet, but I don’t feel like a transient gypsy anymore.

Somehow, on a muggy night, at an outdoor rock show in Bucharest, I have traded transience for permanence.

And such.

Can you see us? Sure you can–we’re on the bottom left of the screen, where the yellow shirt becomes illuminated about 11 seconds in. Yes, I’m the one wearing yellow.

4 Responses to “When Transience met Permanence”

  1. I see you!!!

    How did you get this youtube so quickly? The wonder of the modern era…

    We miss you here. I hope you have a great birthday coming up!

    While you are buying appliances, I am shedding them. It is liberating to try to get rid of as much of your stuff as you can. I’ve never owned so little stuff before in my life!

  2. You so the sweet to thank be with you.

  3. ” I know it’s childish (and corny) to think I’m losing something of my American experience by not being able to convey it to others, but I feel this deeply.”

    🙂 yeah, I remember that, along countless conversations I started with “You know, back in Urbana I used to/there was this great little place on Fifth/we always did this or that after a show…” which hardly described anything and were devoid of meaning somehow.

    I let go one day in spring, while in Underworld with Jo and Tibi. It came naturally, and I am pretty sure alcohol had nothing to do with it. I just suddenly felt like I belonged to the when and the where. Or something.

  4. Fabulously well put, I should say! Thank you, for writing! It’s good to know that u are not alone, and somebody else is experiencing the same sort of feeling as you.
    After reading your posts I dare say you enjoyed your time in the States to the max. Even more than me, I should say for reasons it is not worth spending the time to explain right here.
    However, it’s interesting to see how you went ahead and bought home appliances.
    I did almost the same stuff. I bought bedroom furniture a week after my return to Bucharest, right before buying Christmas presents…
    And this was out of a need to own smth after switching apts and houses (3 in 3 years), buying and discarding Goodwill furniture, let alone hand-me-down sort of type vacuum cleaners, irons and things of that sort…
    Basically, After almost 6 months since my return home, I cannot really define Bucharest as home, although it’s been my home since I was born. Funny huh, how 3 years of one’s life (spent in the States) can define you better than the many more years that basically represent your life…
    What’s even funnier is that people are listening to your stories, and seem to understand, or at least they make efforts to relate. Only there is nothing to relate to for them. When you try to explain this to a conational who’s never been away from home, or even worse to a friend who spent years abroad (be it in the States or Europe) but who never ceased to identify his home with Bucharest/Romania, it is like having a monologue. That is the sad, honest truth.
    It’s sort of like the same thing of trying to explain to an American, that is making him/er understand why exactly “super” is “too pretentious a designation for the Romanian equivalent” to quote yor exact words. For an American to understand the exact meaning of your statement, would be impossible unless he or she has lived or met or seen the Romanian super….haha

    Anyways, I hope my post helped you. As yours helped me.
    I am equally amazed and pleasantly surprised to see that you are going through the same process and experiencing your return home in the same way I am. Although you fit right in in the US, and you felt so at home and all, you are having a hard time thinking of your present home as “home”.

    Keep up the good work though. Keep buying home appliances, furniture or whatever you might need. It works. With time your apt will definitely look like home and will give you that permanence feeling you long for…
    Thanks for writing!

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