Monday, July 25, 2016

A wedding in Bulgaria, monsoon in India and honeymoon in Rio

We just spent two eventful weeks in my homeland of Bulgaria, where we did absolutely nothing useful besides seeing family and friends, eating, drinking, shopping and playing golf and tennis. We arrived on a beautiful warm Saturday night after a 12-hour tortured Lufthansa flight, during which I was sandwiched in the middle seat in the middle of the plane, with Son’s sleeping head on my lap (more like, on my bladder). The child sleeps well on a plane. In fact, he does not wake up at all until we land. Which makes going to the bathroom a nightmare for me. At least I watched Zoolander 2, which, as you can imagine, was excellently terrible.

On Sunday, the Diplomat began exhibiting alarming signs of restlessness, explained only by desperate desire to play some sport. He even mentioned going to the new Sofia golf course, a proposal met with an icy stare by me. But the next day I capitulated, and after a lunch at Grandma’s, we embarked on the task of finding the damned golf place. It is newly built, and while everyone can point you in the right direction and tell you that it is a mere 20 min drive, no one really knows exactly where it is. My Mom bravely said that she will drive us, and so we all piled up in her car, along with a sullen Son, who’d rather stay home and play with the myriad of kids in front of the building. Nearly breathless with anticipation, the Diplomat was glued to the car window. We quickly got to the area where rumor had it the golf course was. And there the trail got cold. Nothing around suggested that there was or has even been a golf course there, or in which direction to go to search for one. We began asking. The first guy at a gas station sent us a few kilometers further down the road. The second guy at a car shop told us to turn around and go right back to the same spot, and turn left, from where it would be pretty obvious, he said. It wasn’t. We were in the middle of a village with no one around us. Suddenly we spotted a young woman with a lanyard and a formal looking ID dangling from it. We asked her and she exclaimed: “It’s right here!” and pointed to the nothingness behind us, and then rapidly disappeared. In utter disbelief, we tried out luck again and asked an aloof-looking man with faded blue pants held together by an old rope. He gave us a wild stare and silently pointed towards the sky. Finally, utterly exasperated, we asked an unassuming man on a dilapidated bicycle and a dainty hat whether he had ever heard anything about a golf course around there. He calmly gave us exact directions and rode off into the heat of the day. 15 minutes later we found it – in the middle of nowhere, really and with no signs whatsoever. We sent Mom and Son back home, and I kept the Diplomat company as he blissfully played the beautiful course.

While in Bulgaria, we were also lucky to go to the wedding of my closest cousin, which was pretty darn cool because 1) I have never been to a wedding in Bulgaria, 2) I like his wife, and 3) well, he is my cousin. In the midst of all the leisure and good food, the Diplomat and Son took off for India to see the In-Laws, while I devoted myself to fervent shopping and reconnecting with former middle-school classmates and various friends, while getting occasionally shafted by savvy cab drivers (don’t get me started). The Diplomat went to India, all ready and excited to continue his life of leisure on the swanky golf courses of Mumbai. Nature, however, was apparently concerned that he wasn’t spending enough time indoors, so it rained for seven days straight. It rained day and night, and some more in between. I kept receiving mournful pictures of thick rain and flooded streets. Monsoon ain’t for the faint of heart. Or those obsessed with golf. All in all, it was a time very well spent on all ends.

Son, as usual, thrives in Bulgaria. Speaking at times broken Bulgarian, he spends his days outside playing with the kids in front of the building and the innumerous kittens residing there. Apparently, the garden besides our apartment building had turned into a halfway house for libertine single cat moms, and at the time I was in Sofia, there were at least five of them, each with a litter of cute fluffy babies (brimming with lice) much to all the kids’ (and mine) delight. We thus left him with Grandma for the next two months and came back to Brazil to face the Olympics and enjoy free time like newlyweds.

It just so happened that recently was also our 13th wedding anniversary. To start off the celebrations, I booked us a couples’ massage at the Rio Sheraton hotel, in one of the most gorgeous spas that I have ever seen, perched on top of cliffs overlooking the fabulous Rio beach line. It has a luxurious common lounge with floor-to-ceiling windows, and delicious petit fours. The massages themselves are, of course, excellent. It is only fair albeit a bit embarrassing to admit that the Diplomat and I are addicted to that spa. (It does help that our health insurance, in a fit of genius, covers massages, recognizing their immense benefits for one’s wellbeing and kind disposition.) We go there often enough that the spa staff and its manager actually know us. Thus, it made all the sense in the world that we will go and have a massage in the spa for the special occasion, so earlier that day, I had called to make an appointment and did mention that it was our anniversary. After the sumptuous one-hour massage (ruined partially by the sonorous snoring of the Diplomat occasionally puncturing the serene silence), we put on the white robes and stumbled back, dazed, into the common lounge, only to by greeted by the splendid sight of a bottle of champagne, strawberries, cream, and chocolates, along with the smiling staff of the spa, congratulating us. See, that is why I love that place – they have class! And champagne! From there, after a solid dose of the champagne, we went on to one of the best restaurants in Rio, Lasai, which serves cuisine that I can’t really describe. Stuff with foams and sauces and tiny things mixed into bigger things and surrounded by some other things in surprising combinations, served in odd plates or on stones, all absolutely creative and incredibly delicious. Also, atrociously expensive but by then you are too full and drunk to care. It was a pretty good anniversary.

We have exactly one month left in stunning Brazil. Our ample possessions were packed out last week (typically that happens just a few days before one leaves post, but because of the Olympics, the Consulate had to pack us out way in advance since no one here would really work once the Games begin). As is Foreign Service custom, once our stuff is gone, the Consulate delivers to you the notorious “welcome kit,” which varies in quality and form all over the world, and depends largely on the creativity and taste of the General Services officer at that post. The idea is to give you enough household goods that you’d be able to survive in the empty living space until your own stuff arrives, things like pots and pans, cutlery, glasses, linen. In Dhaka, we got sheets with negative thread count and blankets made of what could only be described as horsehair. In Rio, we have fluffy blankets and nice sheets, but also pillows about 2 mm thin. Also, no wine glasses but a top notch grater. Seriously! But all over the world, no matter how many plates (usually 4) or trashcans (1) you get, regardless of whether you receive a working iron or a colander, or whether the pots and pans were actually washed by their previous owner or come with who-know-what grit caked on them, you will invariably get a snazzy 22-inch Coby TV smaller than your computer screen. We all get this welcome kit upon our arrival at post while waiting for our own crap to arrive, and then again once our crap is packed and shipped off. And so, depending on how long it takes for your own oversized TV to arrive or how much more you have left at post, you get to spend some quality time huddled around the tiny screen. But fear not, courageous Foreign Service Officers! There is light at the end of the TV tunnel – apparently, apart from the Foreign Service General Services Offices around the world, no one else was buying the tiny, exotic TVs and in 2013, after a costly dispute with Phillips, Coby Electronics went out of business. So, once these TVs finally give out, we might all get upgraded to - oh, call me frivolous! - 28-inch non-Coby TVs in our welcome kits! Until then, however, keep huddling!