My grandparent’s house is on Strada Galileo Galilei, and the cross street is Emil Zola. I’ve always loved this. I wish streets in Canada were so literary and scientific. There’s a tram line that goes down Victor Hugo, a couple blocks away, with old trams that well-off Western European countries disposed of when they upgraded.
The trams go by and I’m struck by the fact that most of the drivers are women. Middle-aged women. I ask my mom about this and she’s nonplussed.
Well yeah, she says. Everyone had a job in communism.
Okay sure, but how many women do you see driving buses at home? Not many.
It’s hot and there’s no shade. It feels like it’s 40 degrees in the sun. But at least it’s not humid. We walk to the corner store that’s closest to the house and are greeted with shelves and shelves of cabbage and cauliflower. It’s delightful. And jarring. Not what I expected to see in a corner store. We are looking for a treat, so the cabbage, while quirky, does not meet our needs.
We landed the day before. My parents drove for five hours in a borrowed car to pick us up at the Budapest airport. We flew in from Vancouver, with a three hour layover in Amsterdam, and then drove the five hours to Timisoara right after landing.
Just after crossing the Romanian border, we pulled over at a gas station in what felt like the middle of nowhere. I remember sun and a lot of dust. A flat landscape. I went to use the bathroom, but there was an out of service sign strung up blocking the hallway. Then a man came out, obviously having ignored the sign. So, I thought, this is a semi-lawless country, I’ll be like the locals and ignore the sign.
Everything was in working order, until I tried to leave and the door wouldn’t open. The lock was jammed. Oh shit. I was stuck. I banged on the door, but it was around the corner and away from the rest of the store so no one heard me. The out of service sign blocked others from coming over. I waited. I banged on the door some more. I yelled. Surely someone from my family will come and rescue me. I just had to wait for enough time to pass so that they went from giving me privacy in case I was having travel related stomach issues to coming to see if I was okay. That took about ten minutes.
My mom came and saved me. She got the gas station attendant to jimmy the lock and let me out. They both pointed to the out of service sign, they must have thought I was a dummy from the new world who didn’t know how these things worked.
I got myself a dark chocolate caramel Magnum ice cream bar as a reward for surviving my first Romanian bathroom and sat on the curb in the hot sunset light and tried to eat it before it dripped and pooled at my feet. Then we all got back into the car for the last leg of the long trip home.
I had never noticed Magnum ice cream in Canada before and thought it was a Romanian thing until I came back and saw them everywhere. Now when I eat one, I think of the time I got locked in a gas station bathroom within 5 minutes of entering Romania for the first time in my adult life.