The Green Demon

Have you ever been visited by the Green Demon of jealousy? I was once and it felt horrible! I recently told the story to a friend; she insisted that I write its down – here goes.

In my life as a museum professional, I’ve been fortunate to participate in conferences around the world (see Oct 18 & 24 posts). When I just started working, I saved my tax returns and used them for work travel. In a few instances, the conference organizers offered to pay speakers’ expenses. This was the case for conferences in Bucharest (2006) and Moscow (2013). Sometime between these two meetings, a call for papers crossed my desktop for a seminar that had something to do with “Changing the Teaching Culture about the Balkans.” What better venue to talk about the role of museum education, one area in which I had lots of experience.

My graduate school best friend (Gsbf) sojourned in the museum world while seeking a more desirable university teaching position. I sent her the notice thinking we could travel together if both of our proposals were accepted.

A while after submitting my proposal, I was at my desk when an urgent email from Gsbf popped up – she excitedly shared that her presentation had been accepted! My pea brain started spinning. What? I had much more museum experience than she had! Why was mine not accepted? And there it started – the Green Demon. I felt the not-so-slow creep of vivid, dark green moving up my chest, to my neck, to my face (I’m not kidding, it was almost palpable, yet all imaginary).

Before the Green Demon consumed me entirely, I collected myself and somehow returned to my work, whatever I was engaged in. I’m sure that remnants of the Green remained. The questions certainly did. How could this happen to me? The conference was my idea!

It was a short drive home that afternoon. I probably picked up our daughter at school. Everything was a blur as the questions continued rolling around in my head and I worked to push back the Green.

My husband greeted me with some urgency … the organizers of the meeting had phoned (long distance, pre-cell phones) … my e-mail invitation had bounced! They wanted me! The final dregs of the Green Demon were vanquished. How embarrassed I felt that jealousy of my very well-deserving Gsbf and her achievements. I still laugh when I remember the very real feeling of being consumed by a slow wash of extremely strong, unwanted emotions.

Has this happened to you? Can you laugh at the memory?

Oh, the conference, I failed to mention that it was a remarkable opportunity for the both of us at an unforgettably significant time. The conference was organized by the Vlataton Initiative of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew (the Orthodox Pope, if you’re not familiar with the Orthodox Church). We convened in Sofia, Bulgaria. Gsbf flew to Miami and we flew together.

Our hotel – Castle Hrankov (http://castle-hrankov.cityhotelssofia.com/en/) – was an oddly modern, sprawling, castle-like structure overlooking the city. Apparently, it was owned by Israelis and offered their fellow citizens a place to get away to gamble. After settling into our rooms, all participants present were summoned by the organizer – Father Paul – to gather in the hotel lobby. Television crews were on hand with all sorts of pomp and circumstance for the arrival of his Eminence, Bartholomew the Patriarch. This was the first formal meeting of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch and the Bulgarian Orthodox Patriarch in who knows how many years. When the cameras stopped rolling, we were told, “The party’s over!”

The conference was quite interesting. The majority of the speakers came from the Balkans – Albania, Bulgaria, Greece, Romania, Serbia, Turkey, and elsewhere. Many were clerics with some scholars and educators as well. Gsbf and I were the only American participants, the only Jewish participants in a very ecumenical group, and among the very few female participants. We were also the only museum professionals. Before it all started, we were able to go into town to visit the Jewish museum in the Central Synagogue.

During the conference we were feted and taken to a few specially organized art exhibitions. Our “folkloric” dinner was hosted at the lovely Watermill restaurant

( http://vodenitzata.com/en/ ).

The conference ended on a nearly indescribable historic note. Remember, Bulgaria is seven hours ahead of the US. The proceedings ended around noon Sofia time. Gsbf, another woman, and I were downtown for retail therapy when a call came from Fr. Paul. He told us to go immediately to a nearby café for the news. There we watched in silence as the 2nd plane few into the World Trade Center. Paralyzed, immobilized, surrounded by young Bulgarians in the same state, we were transfixed. It was September 11, 2001.

The headline on the Sofia Echo vividly represented the shock felt around the world.

Sometime later, we returned to the hotel. Over lunch, our newly-met colleagues offered words of shocked condolence, what else could be said? Slowly, they departed, returning to their homes. Fr. Paul offered Gsbf and me lodging in the convent in Greece, an offer we would have taken up almost any other time. We were unsure how we could book return tickets from Greece and remained in our Castle.

As you can imagine, it took several days, with help from our husbands to get us a flight via Warsaw to Newark and then our respective homes. In the intervening days, we wandered around historic sites in the city and took a bus trip to nearby historic Plovdiv. Gsbf returned to the synagogue for Shabbat services while I persisted in wrangling with the airlines. The memory remains alive as the day it happened.

This post is about strong emotions and memories. They are feelings and experiences we should share if we are able to. They continue to shape our lives.

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