The Pain and the Agony (of Owning a Set of Knees)

I send weekly emails to my friends and family back home. Sometimes I am going to post them here. They have been edited to ensure that certain private details never see the light of day!

And yes, this one refers to events which are several months old.

“How have you enjoyed Romania?” turns out to not be the easiest question to answer when moving through passport control. It’s not a matter of answering honestly (my answer would be “Yes”). Rather, it’s the fact that any answer is likely to get a weird response.

For example, the first time I left Romania (to attend a workshop in Venice a month after I arrived) the passport officer looked at me with a certain dismay on his face when I habitually (but honestly) “Yes.”

“Really?” he asked, looking at my passport a second time, presumably looking for evidence that I was engaged in criminal activities.

The second time, when I jetted off to keynote at the University of Padova in late 2016 (for I was always going to Italy back then), the passport officer’s response to my “Yes” was to say “You can’t have been here very long then.”

Needless to say, passport officers seem to have a very low opinion of their country (as do Romanian taxi drivers, from my experience).

Now, one cannot begrudge Romanians being surprised at Westerners not having a bad time here. But worrying about being able to leave the country and still come back makes going to the airport an exercise in an exercise in low-level anxiety.

For the record, I still say “Yes”, but now with an increasingly jaunty tone. I suspect I am not helping.

Pavements in Bucharest are treacherous, as my rather skinless knee can attest. I was running along Boulevard Decebel (named after the last Dacian king) when my foot decided that colliding with a slightly upraised cobblestone would be a grand idea. My body joined in the fun, deciding physics dictates that if motion has stopped with the left foot, that doesn’t mean the upper body should follow suit. Indeed, wouldn’t it be grand if the upper body kept moving forward, whilst arcing towards the ground?

My arms where having none of this, however. My hindbrain spurred itself into action (to the hindbrain all sudden capers like this are a bad idea), and directed that my arms must spring forward to arrest my fall.

Thus, in the space of just a few seconds I went from running to sliding to the realisation that I was on the ground. And there was pain.

You might think that Auckland is fairly battered by storms, but that’s nothing compared to Bucharest. Despite yearly winters, in which banks of snow reach several metres in height, and sudden springs where the temperature jumps a good 12 to 17 degrees in the space of a few days, Bucharest’s drains cannot cope with water. Any water. Especially not the melting snow. Rather, the water sits there and slowly degrades the roads, the pavements, and the houses.

Which leads to raised cobblestones and running accidents.

Now, the problem with being forty is that the body doesn’t heal like it did. Before I went away (literally the night before) I stubbed my toe in what a police report would doubtlessly describe as a “violent manner.” That lead to several weeks of walking very awkwardly, and when the toe healed I was left with a knee which ached as I walked because, well, I had been walking awkwardly with that leg and thus I had sprained the muscles around my kneecap. So, after a month of not running, what did I do? Fall over and hurt the other knee.

Expect to find me, on my return, with somewhat fewer limbs than I started. I’m obviously not able to be responsible for the requisite set of two arms and two legs anymore.

So, why am I at the airport? To visit Sofia for the fourth time in order to collect my visa, of course. It’s a one night trip, with what promises to be a ten minute meeting at 9am tomorrow morning. The thought of the trip is less exciting than it is… Boring? It’s not that Sofia is dull city to visit; far from it. However I’ve done all the things a tourist need do in Sofia, so the fact my flight leaves at 8pm means I’m not entirely sure how I will spend my day. Presumably it will be in some cafe, as I get on with the work that needs doing. I have at least three presentations to prepare and it turns out they do not write themselves.

Still, Sofia has seen some great brainstorming on my part; I came up with the idea that eventually became my highest prestige paper (published in Synthese) at a vegan restaurant in Sofia. I cracked how to parse talk of keeping secrets in a cafe there just a month ago. Thus, I have high hopes that tomorrow will be replete with exciting work. In fact, it kind of needs to be, because tomorrow it will be raining, and I don’t fancy wandering the streets of Sofia in the pouring rain with this rather damaged knee.

International travel. It can be so so glamorous.


Lee says:

“I cracked how to parse talk of keeping secrets in a cafe there just a month ago.”

Do tell. This couldn’t be that keeping secrets includes intentional non-revelation when the inquirery-context plus a person willing to reveal “the truth, the whole truth and only the truth” would volunteer these, not merely active deception when investigated and even questioned.

I’m almost finished with my first paper on secrecy, but I need to get that edited volume to the publisher finished before I do the final edits on the current paper; as such my definition of keeping secrets will remain private until some time in late July. But the definition is not as wordy as the one you present. It resembles to a certain extent definitions found in the literature on informational privacy (even though I think being privative and being secretive are quite different).