The Best Way to Celebrate Your Birthday
The best way to celebrate your birthday is a a very subjective topic, but here you will find a little bit for everyone.
I had the alarm for seven because I wanted to feel like a serious man on that artificially special day. I was up at six due to some high pitched sounds coming from the jail windows across the street. Later I found out one of the freshly arrested pickpockets had added significant strain to his booking process by spitting in the face of an officer of law. It was rumored the officer deserved it. Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t, it has never mattered. Temper beats logic in the small hours of the night, and the law loses its patience especially when temper is drunk. Bow.
Anyway my better half had taken an independent decision, to turn off the alarm. I found out at eight, feeling overslept and heavy. She explained it was for my well being and on that ‘special day’ I deserved the extra hour of senseless and thoughtless darkness. Well, she had a smile on her face, so once again my decisions had been made for me in good faith.
I pissed, brushed and put on my last almost-clean clothes. I stood at the kitchen window of our rented apartment in this foreign city, looking at a sizable church. A church in a city of mosques. A thought snuck out of my head: that everything has at least double meaning. Often more than double. And if it has infinite meanings, we call it art.
Time to go. I was bound for the laundry lady that we found randomly while walking on some back streets the day before, because we have been traveling for a while and I wanted to wear clean clothes today. I walked still mildly unsettled about my hour delay. I walked by the small park we’ve passed several times before and slowed down to scout for an appropriate place to bury a bottle of scotch in the night to come. I considered a bushy garden brick corner and smiled. It has been chosen. The universe immediately started making more sense now that I had a clear agenda for this day, and night.
I continued with uplifted spirits and reached the laundry lady. The shanty basement door was bolted and locked. I was too early. I felt better for sleeping in.
I decided to wait so I could wear clean clothes today. I lingered by the ruins of a pink house, covered in graffiti with giant holes in the walls and a tree was growing inside the roofless structure along with many other inedible greens. Piles of garbage sourced from the missing door, years into making. The neighboring lived-in houses were not in much better condition.
I walked to the nearest bakery and ordered a burek and a coffee. The counter man was profoundly indifferent and avoided eye contact. It suited me well. I had some time to waste so it occurred to me to write everything that has happened and would happen today. So I started this log.
After I finished eating and writing I went back to the basement but it was still closed. I took the capital decision to abort and regroup at our rooms, take a shower and come back. So I did. On my third attempt my clothes were ready I brought then back at our rooms and put underwear on for a change.
We ate breakfast with forced merriment. Bitterness from my mother, indifference from my brother and never ending clutter from my lady. It started raining but I insisted that water falling from the sky will not stop us from getting to the Modern. The local museum of modern art on the far side of town in a posh neighborhood. We took the tram but still got wet in the gap between the tram door and the museum entrance.
The Modern proved to be a delight. There was a giant cruse ship docked by its windows. It was fifteen stories tall and looked like a floating building, indeed. The Modern was two floors filled with work by local and international artists. It had a respectable Middle Eastern section which stood out. It had lots of video installations in dark rooms. One of them was of a lady in a evening dress trapped inside a statue mold. She had a chisel and a hammer and worked her way out one hit at a time. The hammer and chisel were gently strapped to her wrists. I couldn’t leave before she successfully freed herself from the mold and applauds followed. My entourage was speeding ahead glancing and moving on. An hour before I finish they inform me that they will be waiting at the cafe. A wonderful cafe indeed. After my tour I stood in the middle of the main painting gallery and felt like home. I didn’t want to leave.
On our way out I bought a postcard and a pencil.
We walked two streets back to a famed sweets shop we discovered on the way there. We ordered a selection of delights and settled in. Giant television screens looped on the process of making the pastries, the famed owner showing how you can read a newspaper through the magically transparent sheets of dough.
Off we went again walking vaguely in the direction of the river, looking for the tram. We came up to a walking bridge and decided to go across. We took pictures and mused over the row of fisherman at their leisure. On the far side of the bridge were the ferry docks that we have heard of. They took tourists on a two hour cruse abound the strait. We were lucky because one of the boats was about leave. We paid the boatman and boarded. My lady expressed her opinion that the boat on the the exit dock looks better than ours. Then she got busy taking picture. My mother liked it as well. My brother stuck to his image, passively indifferent. I took mental notes.
Ottoman era mansions doted the coast. A massive bridge connection two continents. Giant container carriers indifferent to the cold murky waters slid by. Small yachts light as feathers bounced about. Summer homes doped by the sway of the sea. The ferry turned around, we could not stay at sea forever. The way back was slightly dimmer but enjoyable enough.
We landed happy and hungry for more pleasant experiences. We walked across a small square in front of a busy street market. There was a row of shoe shining stands all in tune with identical pyramids of brass lidded jars. Jars full of murky shades of black, grey and brown. My black casuals had suffered from the rain in the morning and one of the gypsies shoe-shines did not fail to point that out. I had never had my shoes shined so I thought why not reduce the load off my bucket list. The gypsy was mildly condescending and pushy trying to sell me anything from the better polish to shoe inserts and ferry tickets. He ignored my trivial remarks put my shoes back on tied the laces and lit a cigarette. I handed him the money and got up feeling cheated by this tourist attraction. My bucket list was happy.
We decided to walk back to our rooms to recharge and change for diner. I knew the physical direction but not the way. So we zigzagged up and down the hills stumbling on places we have already visited guiding us forward. It took as about thirty minutes to get there. We walked by the barber shop we passed by everyday in an out. My beard was over a month old and I had never had a straight razor shave so walked and asked the barber if he would take a walk in. He smiled left the gentleman in the chair for a moment and offered me a cup of tea. I gladly took it, my entourage refused and sat about the couch. A couple of sips on the tea later they all decided to wait for me in our rooms and get a head start on powdering up. It was me and the cup of tea waiting for my turn to get a straight razor shave in a foreign city. I felt like a citizen of the world.
Highlight: The Best Way to Celebrate Your Birthday
My turn came and I sat on the chair. I didn’t speak the language nor the local barber spoke any international tongue. Perfect conditions to skip small talk and think. He spread the foam and with a few swift moves in less than minute shaved off my sizable beard. Washed my face, applied cologne, massaged my shoulders and shook my hand. I was as good as new, rested and ready for the rest of my life. I smiled back, payed and walked slowly up the street.
more by MILEN VASILEV
photograph by Rafael Fabricio