Remember we used to travel by plane? Crossing continents and time zones. Slogging our sleep-deprived bodies through airports, our minds foggy and disoriented. Getting totally wasted and jet lagged. Remember? How we hated it. How we now wish we could get on a plane right this minute and GO SOMEWHERE! Who cares about jet lag?
All right, here’s a woozy little tale of one of my expat travel experiences, you know, anno sometime Before Covid.
So, one day . . .
I wake up in my bed in the USA and before I ever see a bed again it’s the evening of the next day and I’m on another continent sitting in a restaurant, sleep deprived, drooping, discombobulated. Flurries of a foreign language float in the air. Where am I? I’m vaguely aware of seeing a bare-breasted nymph frolicking on top of a barrel of grapes. What?
I’m in a hotel restaurant in Chișinău, the capital of the Republic of Moldova in Eastern Europe. I’m having dinner with my spouse and a Very Important Local Person. (My husband arrived in the country a few weeks ago to start a new job.) The two of them are talking business, which is good because I don’t have to and I can let my foggy brain be foggy all it wants. I’ll just smile and look
vacant mysterious. I’m wondering what happened to the half-naked nymph I thought I saw. Was I hallucinating?
What’s happening to my brain?
How many hours ago did I wake up in West Virginia, USA? Thirty. Thirty hours, filled with a) frantic house cleaning, b) a sleepless-across-the ocean-flight to Munich, Germany, and another one to Chișinău, Moldova, c) checking into this hotel and unpacking a little, and 4) a leaden-leg stagger around the centru of town with an exploratory visit to a supermarket, followed by 5) showering and finding dinner. (Actually, this is a picnic compared to a trip I once made from Amsterdam to Jakarta, Indonesia, alone with two small children, but never mind.)
I try to clear my woozy brain and take stock of my surroundings. The hotel restaurant is pleasant enough in its bland internationally generic way: white table cloths, gleaming silverware, candles. The menu too is full of internationally generic dishes. A generically pretty waitress approaches our table to take our orders. She sports a black mini skirt, a snazzy pin-striped vest over a white blouse and a sexy ponytail. I’m sure you’ve seen her around.
I order a glass of wine
Yes, I hear your collective groans from the far corners of the world. I know, it’s probably the worst thing to do in my unstable state of mind, but the hell with it, I want it. I choose a merlot from the selection offered. “Is it Moldovan?” I ask.
“Of course!” says she of the sexy ponytail. “It’s very good,” she adds proudly.
“Fantastic,” I say.
“What next?” she demands, pen at a-ready.
Oh, okay, I’m supposed to order the first course even before my preprandial drink? “I’ll have a green salad,” I tell her, going for the most generic one on the menu; please don’t judge me.
She writes it down. “What next?”
Efficient, aren’t we? Get the whole order down in one trip. Fortunately I’ve already decided to do the unthinkable: Order the fish. Here. In Moldova, a landlocked country awash in pork and chicken and lamb. I know, I know, but I ask you, what is life without a little (or a lot) of risk? Anyway, I’m probably dreaming this whole scenario and soon I’ll wake up in my American bed.
The thing is . . .
I’m a fish eater (omega 3 fatty acids and all that) and my worries about living here, apart from the condition of my future Moldovan mattress (see this mattress madness post) is the Moldovan fish situation. Mattresses and fish, we all have our worries, don’t we? Go ahead, tell me yours.
The menu offers sea bream. “Where does the fish come from?” I inquire. “The Black Sea?” Landlocked as Moldova may be, the sea is not far, across a tiny strip of Ukraine. I looked this up some time ago, I think. Did I?
Miss Ponytail is not sure. “The Baltic maybe,” she suggests. The Baltic is quite a distance away up north, but what do I know of commerce and transport and food business? Not much. Earlier in the supermarket I saw the fish on display, reposing on a bed of ice, looking fabulous — or at least as fabulous as dead fish can look. It gave me hope.
The wine arrives and I am happy to report here that it is perfectly nice, which is all the wine vocabulary I can muster at this moment, which is shameful for a writer, I know.
Can my jet-lagged, woozy, merlot-infused brain look into the future?
If so, I would know that soon I will go on wine tours, and discover, deep in an ancient wine cave, a stash of bottles owned by . . . Putin. I mean, how cool is that?
However, unaware of future Moldovan adventures, I sip and enjoy my wine, and watch as two tall, skinny girls with long flowing hair, dressed in long, black party dresses (très chic) enter the restaurant. One sits down at the piano, the other positions under her chin the violin she was carrying. Live music!
Now check this out . . .
It’s beginning to look like this restaurant is not quite as generic as my first impression had indicated. Glancing around, I catch sight of a huge painting of a sort not found in American family-friendly restaurants. It’s full of shocking images: Half naked people! Bare breasts!
The painting lives high up on a wall and depicts a decadent grape harvest festival, possibly of a pre-christian Moldovan era. A bare-breasted nymph frolics on top of a barrel full of grapes. (There she is!) A party of grape-leaf decorated workers in semi-undress dance around the barrel, breasts a-flopping and hair a-flowing. Muscular male backs and buttocks gleam in the sunlight, and all faces glow delirious with joy. Nearby another sexy maiden lounges seductively against a pillar, one full breast perkily on display. Frivolity and debauchery all around. One can imagine what is happening in the bushes.
Where am I?
Clearly not in the USA, where I last woke up, and where, now that I think about it, I forgot to clean my oven. I’m in Moldova, a wine country in Eastern Europe. I should be in bed, but instead I am in a restaurant, drinking wine.
My salad consumed, the fish arrives, tail and eyeballs and all. Fortunately I’ve been around a bit and have seen – if not eaten – many a fish eyeball. The grilled swimmer is tastefully arranged on a plate with lettuce and red cabbage. I dig in and rejoice to find that the sea bream is meaty and tasty, if slightly overcooked. But I am not complaining since here is proof there is more than canned sardines in my future. Canned sardines, as many of you expats and travelers will know, can be found in most nooks and crannies of the globe along with Coca Cola and Nescafé instant coffee.
What am I doing here?
I’m feeling rather surreal sitting here so far away from my American bed and uncleaned oven, eating fish in a landlocked country, listening to the Moldovan musical maidens playing a tune from West Side Story: Somewhere there’s a place for us, somewhere a place for us . . .
First place I want to be in now is my hotel bed; tomorrow I’ll go house hunting because we’ll be living here for a while. Let’s hope there is a place for us, somewhere a place for us, here in Moldova.
Then I’ll know where I am.
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Do you have a jet lag story? A moving-to-alien-shores story? I’d love to hear your tales!