Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Capturing Fall

The above video was prodused by Totoran Bogdan, a student in the the school where I worked in Petrosani, Colegiul Tehnic "Dimitrie Leonida"The pictures used in the film were taken by a former colleague and great friend Ioan Ilea Ernest. 

It used to be done by raking leaves into a big pile next to a tree, climbing up in the tree, letting yourself go and enjoying that feeling of being in a cloud.  Evidently we grow and that pile will no longer support our weight but we still manage to capture the magnificence of fall.  Whether it be the bright colors popping out in the landscape, the crumbling of leaves under your feet (or rake), the taste in the air when the first cold separates the seasons, or one of the early games of the highly anticipated football season, fall is a season highly anticipated by many and at times seems all too short. 

The Romanian fall of 2011 came like a slap in the face.  Rain had totally held off in the two months leading up to the abrupt changing of the seasons, making a difficult living for the buretar (mushroom picker).  Suddenly the weather changed from t-shirt to hoodie and beanie, and a couple days later clouds rolled and the rain began to fall.  Unfortunately for the runners of Bucharest, the Bucharest International Marathon was scheduled for that first day of cold rain.  Despite the gloomy weather I had to leave the apartment early that morning to catch the start of the race as it took place in the closest square, a two minute walk away.  Seeing the runners warming up in their spandex get-ups and their skimpy shorts took me back to that one year, in eighth grade, when I captured the fall by running cross-country.  The air in Bucharest had the same bite to it, the same taste as those cross-country meets.  I remembered the warm-up exercises, the black Lifa beanie handed down from my older brother, and the skimpy shorts that we had to wear.  Since those first few days of the 2011 fall I’ve been taking any chance that I can to appreciate the season, knowing that the leaves fall in the blink of an eye and that a cold, dark, but beautiful winter will soon descend on Romania. 

In the past three years capturing fall for me has taken place through a camera lens.  I’m no pro at taking pictures but I like to do it and it gives me one more excuse to get out and appreciate my surroundings regardless of the season.  I was recently looking through the only pictures that were ever on my ipod, which consisted of pictures taken during my last fall in the states.  They include some pretty rockin Halloween pictures of Jay and Silent Bob but also some fall shots of the finger-lakes region of New York.  The colors on the surrounding hills created a scene that I thought I might have to give up for a couple of years while I’m abroad.  It turns out that those beautiful fall colors were very present and even more vibrant in the region of Romania where I was placed.  Walking through the Jiet Canyon or the Jiu Gorge the bright colors of fall surround you on all sides and at times seem to cover you.  The best time to take shots is when you see those great colors with the perfect blue background of the sky on a clear sunny day.  As that cool wind blows by your cheek you’re reminded of the beauty in the changing of the seasons, a feeling that can’t be captured by even the greatest camera lenses. 

Living in the big city now, I knew that I would experience a different kind of fall season.  Rather than beautiful rolling hills surrounding me every day, I have concrete blocks, streets, cars, and too many people to appreciate.  Luckily for me I live in a pretty green city.  There are still trees in between the blocks, beautiful parks, nice architecture and opportunities to get out and see the countryside.  For a couple nice sunny weeks October and November the wind would blow leaves into my path while riding my bike to work in the morning.  The major highlight of this fall was having the opportunity to join a dedicated group of environmental volunteers in planting more trees so that future generations can experience the joys that I have experienced in the past and will continue to experience in years to come.  

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

November Riding

 After one of my later days spent at the office I headed home to find a number of hazards on my way.  

  • Hazard number 1, my confidence:  During the past couple of rides home I have chosen to pick up my cell phone and return calls that were missed earlier in the day.  Not the safest thing to do while cruising down somewhat busy streets with parked cars lining both sides at night.  
  • Hazard number 2, the door opening:  This evening was my first experience of this but I have heard some horror stories.  You’re riding down the street, following the rules, maybe going a little fast when… the driver’s side door of the car on your right opens, you hit it, and you go flying.  
  • Hazard number 3, pedestrians:  We’re all just trying to get where we need to go and with the hap-hazard parking of the wonderful drivers of Bucharest we just have to come out of nowhere at times skirting our way between vehicles.  
  • Hazard number 4 and by far the most dangerous in my mind, dogs:  Night has fallen and that normally peaceful street with the school on the corner turns into a hunting ground with packs of dogs searching for food or maybe just some excitement to pass the time, something to chase before it gets so late that they have to chase themselves. 

Well soon after successfully dodging hazards number 2 and 3 as they came within seconds of each other, I chose to give up on talking on the phone, putting a temporary end to hazard number 1.  Since I tend to ride rather slowly around town it was easy enough to dodge 2 and 3, but being my first “opening door” experience I was a bit shocked.  

The slow riding ends when approached with hazard number 4.  Ever since bike riding began in Bucharest hazard number 4 has haunted nearly anyone who dares to take to the small streets on two wheels.  There came a point when I finally found my perfect route to work.  The route took a relatively straight path, it stuck to the small streets, and it kept me out of high traffic areas, both foot and vehicle traffic.  The one thing that caused me to change that perfect course was that one dog, near that one block, always waiting there to chase me down the street.  Luckily I found a decent detour that allows me to avoid the dog without significantly changing my course.  
A lesson learned almost two years ago in Petrosani was that at night time in Romania those peaceful streets can turn ugly with the barking beasts hot on your trail.  After slowly passing the general school I began to hear barking that I thought was safely contained behind a fence.  From 5 to 7 angry barking dogs ran out from under the barrier and come after me nearly surrounding my bike as I began to speed up down the street.  Such moments are the most dangerous on a bike here because when you are thinking about the angry barking dogs inching closer and closer to your ankles you’re not thinking about cars pulling out or the intersection up ahead.  I guess you don’t really have to worry about dodging other pedestrians though.  I got away. 
After getting through a ride home like the one I had this evening, many cyclist would be proud of themselves.  They just managed to skirt disaster coming at them from a number of angles without really even trying.  No sweat, “floare la ureche” as the Romanians say.  For me it was quite a humbling experience.  My slow cruising of the small streets method has been reinforced as well as the need to have a heightened sense of awareness after darkness falls.  Now that the clocks have changed, these new lessons will come in handy on a daily (nightly) basis either until springtime comes or until the snow drives me off the roads.