Language is a slippery thing. Seventeen years of forgetting words and phrases, and then only a matter of days to have it come slipping back, in my sleep, in my subconscious.
We’re in Romania, the country I have been gently coaxing Vinnie to come to, ever since we were first married. My first love, and the place where I once-upon-a-time, thought I would live…until marriage and children and a whole life that appeared when I let go of planning and just started living.
Here now, as we’re walking the streets, I’ll listen to the chatter around me, happily clinging to the conversations I can follow. When we’re ordering out on our own, I introduce myself with broken Romanian and tell them that I want to try to speak, and ask them to forgive me my poor attempt. And when I’m walking on trails or up over the dusty grounds of Medieval fortresses, I have phrases slip back into my head and my heart. Stai putin. Mai incet.
They’re phrases I had long forgotten, but that are resurfacing now. They are words that I once used over and over again, with the children I worked with in Sighisoara, or with the adults who spoke too quickly and to whom I would ask, “vorbesti mai incet, te rog. Vreau sa inteleg mai bine!” (Talk slower, please, I want to understand better.)
But now, in the quiet of my heart, they come back to me as gentle nudges, small waves, reminders to please, slow down. To wait.
We live a life of rush-rush-rush. At home, every day is a countdown, it seems, of things to accomplish, and the great question of whether or not I will.
But here, we are only passersby and we are given the gift of time.
The innkeeper who greeted us in Sighisoara wore a sweaty blue tee-shirt and a pair of well-worn flip flops. He flagged us down from the end of his driveway as we wove our way around the narrow city streets. “Vorbesti Romaneste?” He asked, leaning down to the car window.
“Da, dar, foarte mic,” I think I managed, or I may have garbled it with some Spanish that still lingers in the back of my brain from high school courses taken over twenty years ago.
He then spoke with me quickly and as though I had full understanding.
And, the amazing thing was, I did. Not everything, but the broad strokes, the questions asked of my children, would they like to play in the backyard? Would they like to put a sticker on the map? Had I been to Romania before?
We talked, through my broken attempts at speaking, and through his rushed and jovial banter, and then when Vinnie arrived in with our luggage, he poured us each small shots of his homemade plum brandy – a Romanian speciality.
The rest of the night would be a blur of Booking.com mixups and scrambling to find yet another place to stay – but the interactions with the innkeeper and his wife were so wonderful that when we past them the next day, my children all asked if they could go in and talk to them, to let them know that we are happy here.
I know that they didn’t understand everything that I said, and I know that I certainly missed nuances in his banter, but…smiles transcend many things, and an understanding heart can trump the anxiety of reaching out.
Mai incet, anxious heart.
Stai putin, te rog.
Noi sa fi bine.
We will be fine.
Here, there is time to take to think. There is time to take to talk to one another, to sit around and chat with old friends, to make new ones. There is time to stroll and time to drive long winding country roads through mountains and valleys. There is time to pull over and take pictures of all of the things that your heart simply cannot hold on its own.
No on here is waiting for me to take their pictures. No one here is asking anything of me, but to enjoy.
My children and husband and I have seen castles, we’ve visited palaces, we’ve hiked mountaintops, we’ve done cable cars, we’ve strolled the same markets I strolled through nearly two decades ago. We’ve eaten well in high-end restaurants in posh city neighborhoods, (treating our children to meals that we could never justify for a family of six back home) and we’ve eaten well with placintas cu mere or branza from street venders. We’ve had amazing homemade fare in backyards and toasted with many more glasses of wine and brandy, among friends, new and old.
And we still have a week to go.
Mai incet, time. Stai putin, just a little longer.
I’m just getting the hang of this whole vacation language, now.