30 Mar 98
Today we have to decide on transportation for the trip to Baia-Mare, a
city that is NNW of Bucharest and literally at the other end of the country.
The choices include plane, train and car. There is one plane a week that
leaves on Monday morning (if you can get tickets) or you can take a 10
hour car ride or you can take the overnight train leaving Bucharest at
9 PM. Returning is even more fun.
When you are there, there is not very much to do, primarily the mineral
museum and a few old structures. The city is described as the worst of
"socialist realism" (unlike Slobozia which has a pleasant appearance
for a small city). The nearest interesting thing is 3 hours by car. Considering
the need for a return to your starting point, not a lot you can do unless
you have some time to spend.
Trading superstitions: Here, opening an umbrella indoors is not bad luck
but whistling indoors brings bad luck (in Moldova bad financial luck).
"The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away." Friday and Tuesday
the 13th are bad days. Life is tough in Romania.
It is a comment on the American inability to act rationally that the French
Embassy, as an act of mercy, allows their doctors to treat Americans because
the American Embassy refuses to do so. This in a city alleged to have
250,000 dogs. The number that are rabid is unknown. What would you do
if you were bitten by a street dog?
Ticket scalping in this town has reached a high art form. Groups will
buy ALL the tickets to a popular movie and then scalp them in front of
the theater -- for a markup. Very entrepreneurial and somewhat frustrating
if you want to see the movie.
There is a very active theater life in Bucharest: I saw signs for the
ever famous Asleplandu-l Pe Godot de Samuel Becket and "Purcele"
dupa "La Pucea l'oreille" de Georges Feydeau. They are both
favorites of mine.
Tuesday, 31 Mar 98
Today I went to Slobozia, a city of about 120,000 that is two hours east
of Bucharest. When we reached the outskirts we stopped at "Dallas
Ranch," one of the stranger post-Communist experiences in Romania.
The story goes that someone, by bribes and other indelicate means, got
enough money to build a highly eccentric "theme park" on the
outskirts of Slobozia, apparent under the assumption that people would
flock there to see the fifteen story Eiffel Tower replica (I am NOT kidding,
I have seen it rising like an oil derrick across the plain), and the reproduction
of buildings from the Dallas TV show. The guy is now in jail.
Above, the replica of the
Eiffel Tower that was constructed outside Slobozia, Romania.
An amusing aside
about the training: I was asked to say a few welcoming words to the participants,
so I said, "On behalf of USAID and Chemonics, I welcome you to the
third in a series of training programs. Our hope is that these programs
will help you in implementing democracy in Romania." I then sit down
and listen to the translation which went on and on, containing many more
words than I said.
When the translator finished, I said to her, "I didn't use that many
words," and she said to me, "Ceausescu was known to contradict
his interpreter. I advise you caution." Romanian life and times.
Bait and Switch: At the hotel where we stayed, linen napkins are placed
at each setting, then someone comes and takes them away. I fantasized
grabbing my napkin from the waiter and tugging on it, screaming, "No,
no! Let me have my napkin!" The replacement (already at the setting)
is a piece of single ply paper, stiff, non absorbent. This is the case
all over Romania.
My hotel room was an interesting experience. I could only distinguish
the floor mat from the bath towel by width. The bath towel seemed to have
a sand paper quality and in length was exactly one inch short of the size
of my waist. Part of roughing it here is shaving in the nude.
Sunday, 5 Apr 98
I went out for breakfast and ate in a patiserie. I came back to my apartment
and read the New York Times for March 22. The tenuous umbilical cords
to home. Went out at 12:30 to walk to Piatza Universitate to meet Tony,
an on-line friend of mine. I had posted to a couple of European listservs
(electronic mailing lists) the fact that I was a mono-lingual American
who would be visiting Bucharest and asked about where to go and what to
do. I got about five responses and Tony's was one.
We had kept up our "penpalship" and I invited him and another
person, Adrian [try not to get confused, there are MANY Adrians in Romania,
this is a new one], to dinner to thank them for their help. Well, Tony
informs me that an invitation to dinner is a big deal here in Romania
and that it would make him indebted to me and blah, blah, blah [Romanian
translation: blah, blah, blah] it was a big deal and he wasn't really
sure he could accept the responsibility of having dinner with me. I confirmed
with others that eating out is for the top ten percent of the population
only so such an invitation is an event here.
We eventually got this sorted out and he agreed that since Saturday the
day before was his birthday, he could consider the dinner as a birthday
gift and not be in my debt for everlasting time. He asked where and when
and I suggested under the rotating clock in University Place. He agreed
to the place but set the time at 1 PM so he could be sure to get enough
I arrived early so I used the time to locate a restaurant that is open
and then walk back to the revolving clock. I stood under the revolving
clock and did some people watching. This is a major place to meet other
since it is a big piatza on a main drag with numerous tram, trolley bus
and bus routes on the street and an exit from the Metro as well.
So I watched men waiting for women, groups of men waiting for friends,
women waiting for men. As I got the lay of the land, I watched each person
eventually meet someone and go somewhere else. But no Tony. I was not
surprised having expected, in my more paranoid moments, a sting operation,
involving the KGB and blackmail, to get American secrets. I waited 30
minutes and decided to go to the Museum of the Peasants.
The museum is interesting but I could have gotten more out of it if there
had been English translations. Costumes, gateways, pottery, fabrics, etc.
The basement had the most fascinating exhibit. News papers from 1948-49
plastered on the walls, oil paintings of Lenin and Stalin, metal busts
of same. About 8 paintings of one man who I guess to be the first communist
president of Romania, you know, what's-his-name.
I walk home and get relaxed. The phone rings. It's Tony, very apologetic;
he had been there but on the other side of the square under the clock
in front of the Intercontinental -- though it doesn't rotate. He has an
interesting voice so I was inclined to believe him. And, after all, he
had written me such nice emails.
So we were to meet at 5:30 for dinner. In his email acceptance of my invitation
he had said that he would wear a certain kind of jeans but the word wasn't
a brand name so I was wondering if I would be able to pick him out. He
had sent me a picture of him but his image was so small in it that I doubted
that I would recognize him. I had sent him a picture of me with very close
cropped hair so he had the advantage on me. He had even emailed me a compliment
on my picture.
I heard a choir singing down below. Very pleasant choral music. It grew
louder and I looked down from my balcony to see a religious procession
passing below. At first I assumed it was a Romanian Orthodox church procession
but when I could read the signs they are carrying it is clear that it
is the Catholic Church in Romania that is celebrating Palm Sunday. Corroborative
evidence was given by the fact that the people who were not in the choir
were not singing.
For the second time in the same day, I am under the rotating clock. This
time Tony walks up to me and we go to the Cotton Club which was open but
completely empty. We talked. He has a British pronunciation but speaks
very clearly with an excellent vocabulary. He finds English easy to learn
but has problems with French and German (minor, I bet). He has black hair
and is about 5' 8' tall. He told me that he had meant what he said in
his emails, that he really enjoyed meeting me and he went home. He sent
me a nice email later. We may get together again.