Some Years Back, Honey Encountered Some Bulgarian Communists

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May 31, 2010 · Posted in Notes from Above Ground 

NOTES FROM ABOVE GROUND

By Honey van Blossom

One evening, I walked on the pedestrian path on the west side of Silver Lake. Several tall eucalyptus and conifers grew inside the fence. The reflections of streetlights on the other side of the lake looked like white and yellow poles in the almost black water.

A slender young man had his feet in the fence links and reached toward its top. A young woman stood on the path near him.

“There’s barbed wire on top,” I said to the man. “You can’t get over the fence.”

“I don’t want to get over the fence,” he said. “I want to be able to see the moon on the water without interference.”

I teach at a state university. Mostly, I like students so much because the young refresh my old soul. Also, the students arrive in my classroom after they spent years having learned nothing with any evident value in the Los Angeles Unified School District so that teaching makes me seem like a sorcerer. Once a young man told me he visited LA’s Skid Row and climbed a fence to get into an abandoned building to see if the homeless could be sheltered inside of it. “Proffesor,” he wrote in a message, “I am so exited!”

The moon came up over the hill – huge, yellow and misshapen as if it were itself watery – and a road of yellow light opened through the lake’s surface.

“It’s so big,” the woman said.

“The moon isn’t really bigger,” I said. “It’s an angular size illusion. The moon appears larger on the horizon than it does when it’s higher in the sky.”

I wanted to explain everything then, starting with the night I stood in the alley of windows outside of the compartments of the Orient Express at night in 1967 and saw moonlight reflected on the Maritsa River as the train passed it.

I had boarded the train at Haydar Pasha on a winter afternoon with my then husband, that one named Mohammed von Münchausen.

All of my husbands have been named Baron von Münchausen because all of them have been prodigious liars. There were three Richards — Richard the first, whom I no longer recall, Richard the second, a history professor, and Richard of the hairy tongue. I once had three Armenian husbands at the same time once simply because I got away with it. Marvelous Marv von Munchausen was a German baseball player who drove a Cadillac with a trunk that looked as if it contained bodies but which did not. My present husband tells me he is tired of being called von Munchausen.

Winters in Istanbul were mild, and I wore a light coat over a dark blue pants suit made with thin wool, and I wore fashionable snakeskin boots that went up to my knees.

Our finances were not good. Mohammed had borrowed money to start a construction business not far from Kars to build a dam for the Turkish government. The first thing he learned was there were no construction cranes, so he bought a book on cranes that was written in French.

He thought he spoke French because his mother Magda the Mendacious believed she spoke French. Actually, neither Mohammed nor his mother spoke any language well but instead mangled Greek, Turkish, German, English and French, sometimes mixing up all the languages. It was as if they had no native language. (My Greek is limited to words that sound like “Okie” and “American Gorl.”) My husband found a book written in French that explained how to build construction machinery.

Mohammed and I spoke Turkish with each other but my Turkish was flawed because I could not remember important distinctions between words. One Turkish word, for instance, that means “to wring” sounded to me the same as a similar looking word that means, “to fuck.” The word that means “cucumber” could not be used in polite company because cucumber meant “penis” in vernacular Turkish. Even when I attempted to curse on purpose, the words came out wrong, and I once said, “I shit in your grandfather’s mouth,” instead of “I jump into your grandfather’s mouth.”

One time, I had been leaning over the balcony that jutted over the Bosporus at the point where Helle fell from the Golden Fleece, when I saw a raggedy village man standing below me with a knife held in one of his grubby hands that glinted in the sunlight.

I correctly intuited that he was there for me, and that he felt he had to avenge someone’s honor for something I had misspoken, so I covered my head with a flowered scarf to conceal my blond hair and put on one of Magda the Mendacious’s trench coats, and I went down the stairs into the street and melted into the crowd of passers-by.

With the help of a dictionary, I translated the technical book, and Mohammed used it to design cranes for the project but he had to use donkeys to haul them to the project site.

Wolves ate the donkeys, and Mohammed bought his workers motorbikes, which were made in Turkey, and which did not work. Nothing stamped with the initials “TM,” for Turk Mali, served its intended function.

Buildings collapsed. Buttons fell off clothing. A Turkish factory made pantyhose that only fit women with one leg swollen by poliomyelitis and the other swollen with elephantiasis.

His creditors arrived at our apartment to find we had removed all the furniture but for one small table with a Koran lying on it. In frustrated outrage, they informed the customs official that our automobile ““ a 1966 Mercedes Benz ““ had arrived in Turkey without our having paid the customs duty. The police arranged to have the Mercedes taken on a flatcar and deposited in Svilengrad in Bulgaria.

The Mercedes had been our one remaining asset. We needed to sell it to pay for passage on a bus to Luxemburg to catch Air Icelandic to New York so we could start over. I called my old friends from my striptease artiste days in Belgium, who arranged for me to dance Salome’s Dance of the Seven Veils for a nice sum of money in Bosnia-Herzogovina.

A taxi stopped in front of our building to pick us up. Magda ran out after us with a bucket of cold water to throw on the taxi, and she threw it calling out in her eldritch scream, “Go and come like water!” She threw it on me by mistake.

The train stopped in Svilengrad in the early morning. The station was empty when we arrived.

The customs official, a large woman with short hair wearing a heavy winter coat that had a tiny hammer and sickle badge pinned to its lapel, appeared from nowhere. She refused payment because we didn’t have any Bulgarian money.

Mohammed took a bus to the town and found a grocery store but the only things on the shelves were three jars of rose petal jelly and one jar of pickled vegetables, and a box of salt. He came across a bank, but only one teller was in it, and the teller had no money. The teller picked up the handle to a primitive black telephone and cranked it with a lever and yelled into it, “Sofia! Sofia!”

I waited in the station, sitting under an oil painting of a man carrying a loaf of bread. The sign next to me read, “Defense de fumer.”

It was very cold in Bulgaria, much colder than it had been in Istanbul, and my still wet clothing froze on me. I hadn’t had anything to eat for three days because we needed to use all of our money to retrieve the Mercedes.

The station filled with people. They wore odd clothes: hand sewn shoes, a World War I English Army uniform, towering wool hats. Trains arrived. No one got off them. Trains left, and no one got on them. The people sat opposite me patiently, staring.

I was, to say the least, disoriented by cold, hunger and a growing sense of unease, and I misread the sign to mean “Defend Smoking.” I assumed that Communists did everything the opposite of what Capitalists did, so that reading made sense to me. I chain smoked Marlboros furiously to show I was a Communist.

Mohammed sat on a return bus from the town. The entire remaining population of Svilengrad got on the bus with him. The man sharing the bus seat with Mohammed said in Turkish, “How could you be married to a Capitalist?”

Mohammed said I was a Russian, but the Bulgarian said, “Don’t lie. We’ve all seen her passport.”

“You’re right,” Mohammed said. “She’s a Capitalist pig. She lied to me and said she was a Russian.”

When we finally paid the customs official, she drove the Mercedes out behind the station and broke the side window with her fist.

Mohammed drove gently through the throng of people, and I held the pane of glass on the passenger side with my hands. The glass fell out and freezing air came into the car. He stopped and put his jacket over the front of the engine to keep the engine warm.

The police detained us twice before we left Bulgaria. Whenever they began to search me, I vomited on them, so they let us go after expressing their disgust.

On our return trip, Mohammed got out and hitched a ride with a drunken Turkish engineer who was smuggling a car. I could not then drive stick shift, so the Mercedes lurched in little humps, and the Turkish customs took the car apart with screwdrivers looking for drugs. I thought the cat in the customs building was an electric cat full of rainbows.

I explained in English that I was a Belgian dietician, and that no one smuggles drugs into Turkey. After seven hours, they raised the gate and let the car into Turkey, where I crashed and left it in a ditch and ran after a bus full of Turkish workers, who whispered they would rape me.

When the bus stopped in Edirne, I put my hair under a worker’s cap I’d stolen and ran from it to a hotel, where I thought Mohammed might find me. By then, I hadn’t eaten in two weeks and was as thin as a boy.

In the hotel room, I saw that the radiators were full of rainbows and knew I had lost my mind. I saw a mailman walking in the street below the hotel windows and I was afraid of him. I was afraid of mailmen for years after that.

When we returned home at last, Magda opened the apartment door and said in English, “The grandchildren taught me English. Hello How Are You Baby?”

I said in English, “I’m fine. How are you?”

“Twilight zone,” she said. “Thank you very mach Baby.”

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw my younger daughter’s pigtail swing heavily from side to side as she ran to hide in a closet.

“Is she passing a wave over me?” Magda asked, because she was far from stupid.

“Oh, no,” I said. “That’s correct. That’s what you say.”

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