Friday, 27 June 98
More Language NO-NOs
Next week I will supervise the Revenue Maximization workshop that I designed
and assembled so I once again face the issue of communicating across a
cultural divide. Most of the work will be done by Romanian public officials
that I have selected and trained for this workshop so I am safe from most
of the usual pitfalls but I will be doing some introductory speaking so
I have to think about the phrasings I will use. I have decided that, in
general, any phrase that cannot be translated word for word should be
avoided. Your interpreter might recognize the phrase but do you wish your
communications to be at such risk? Also any phrase of recent origin or
trendiness should also be avoided. Here are some fairly common phrases
I will not be using:
Off the cuff
Off the reservation
Off his rocker
Pushing the envelope
Stirring the pot
Holding down the fort
A great kick off
Opens up the floor for discussion
More bang for the buck.
The problem is real: Jim Gordon told me that he had told a group of Romanian
government officials that he wanted them to get "more bang for the
buck" and when his phrase was translated everyone laughed. He asked
the interpreter what had happened and she said that since she wasn't sure
what he had meant, she translated it as "either plant the trees or
he wants them back."
Romanian Comments and Their History and Neighbors
Dana Dima told me that Vlad the Impaler was very strict as a disciplinarian.
Theft became unknown -- for a while. You could leave a bag of gold on
a bridge and no one would touch it for weeks because his punishments were
so severe. She went on to say that it is said that the Turks enjoyed his
punishment -- at least for the first 20 centimeters. ;-)
Romanians like the Turks better than the Russians -- or perhaps they dislike
the Turks less. At least when you paid the Turks, they went away. The
Russians stayed and demanded more. The Russians have occupied Romanian
territory periodically since at least 1812 when they seized Bessarabia
for the first (?) time.
One Romanian I know says of the Russians: "They like to get drunk
with you. They put their arm around your shoulder and 'You are my best
friend. I love you.' And then an order comes to have you executed. They
are very upset and they cry. 'You are my best friend! I will never be
happy again. See, this is worse for me than for you!' And then they shoot
you. The Russians are not liked here.
The Food Front
I find that I spend an enormous amount of time discussing food with the
other expats in the office. We talk of restaurants, their quality and
menus. We talk of "food sitings" such as "I heard that
you can get peanut butter at the Amzei market." When one of us leaves
for the States and is returning, we all place orders: Grand Marnier for
one, cheddar cheese for another, Salteens for someone else.
The good news is that scarcity here is being replaced by intermittent
availability. The problem is how to find things: The fine art of shopping.
We all have our favorite places. I visit La Formi at least weekly looking
for new additions to the stock. Last week I found Boursin cheese with
black pepper. I bought almost the entire supply since it was sure to be
gone when I looked for it again. And that is what happened: neither the
Boursin nor the nice salted crackers I bought to eat it with are there
Just today I heard a report of salted butter. Gotta go check it out.
Ciao for now,
Tuesday 30 June 98
The longer you are away from home the more you realize that you are like
a bush that has been replanted and many small roots -- and some big ones
-- have been dislocated from their accustomed places; some are even torn.
Only gradually do you discover that, while the bush may be well-watered
and in good sun, something has changed, something is not quite right.
You sense a malaise. It affects your ability to have a balanced view.
A return to original soil is what is called for.
But before I was to go home, I had to superintend two training programs
that were given in Vale cu Pesti, Valley of the Fish, a modest training
facility in a lovely location beside a lake, Lacul Vidraru, high in the
in the Fagarash mountains, part of the southern Carpathians.
The day was hot as we drove across the flat plain leading to the mountain
pass. One guy fainted and we had one breakdown. It was an average trip
and we arrived late.
Lacul Vidraru was created by the construction of a high dam. It is long
and edged by pine covered hills that descend steeply to the water's edge.
The colors change with the position of the sun and clouds and the view
is lovely. They say of the lake that when the dam was constructed, the
lake water covered a village and its church and that when on the lake
you can hear sounds from below: the church bells and the chanting from
religious services. It sounds to me like a way to go fishing on Sunday
and still be religious.
Getting to the training center is an experience in its own right. When
you leave the plain you start a series of hairpin turns, snaking roads
and precipitous drops. Stones that fall from the cliff above litter the
road and short segments are partially washed out. The vertical rise on
one side and fall on the other are equally sharp. After a while the evergreens
are everywhere and since the site is 2,000 meters high, the air is cool
and the moisture from the plain condenses by rising. The precipitation
is frequent and often beautifully punctuated by lightening.
Above, the Curtea de Arges
Monastary Church containing the graves of Romanian monarchs.
Curtea de Arges, the city nearest the entrance to the mountain pass,
is the home of the Monastery Church built in 1520 which is the final resting
place of Romania's short line of monarchs. With fascinating towers that
seem twisted, it is the most beautiful church that I visited in Romania.
Inside, along with two Prussian-born kings, is buried Queen Marie, a grand
daughter of Victoria. The British royal house did get around.
Interestingly, the farms in the area were not collectivized and you can
see the cows coming home, cows with bloated bladders aching for relief,
with teats taught, stiff with warm milk. Chickens, geese, horses, mules,
fruit orchards, and grain fields, all watered by the Arges River. Perky
houses, brightly painted. It was like Communism never existed here, at
The Monastery Church was built by Neagoe Bessarab, one of the great leaders
of Romanian history, and is set in a lovely garden. Like so many of the
churches in Romania, it is on a small scale. There are no cathedrals in
this part of the country.
They tell a story about the church's master builder, Manole, saying that
every morning the work of the day before was found undone, bricks knocked
off walls. They could make no progress. They were told that for the work
to go ahead, they had to take the next woman who brought them food and
immure her in the wall. The next woman turned out to be Ana, the wife
of Manole, the master builder. His actions express a greater dedication
to his profession than to his marriage. The spot where she is supposed
to be immured is marked and visitors are invited to touch it and see if
it is not always damp from her tears.
Above, the image of Queen
Marie, granddaughter of Queen Vicotoria.
What goes around, comes around -- even in the 16th century. When the
church was completed, the Master Builder was in the tower and the workmen
removed all the stairs. Trapped and facing starvation, it is said that
he made of pair of wings and flew out the window, only to crash a few
hundred meters away. A spring flows from the spot to this day. They say
that the water has beneficial effects on the eyes.
I talked about this with some Romanians and they approved of Ana's contribution
to a lovely monument to their culture. "After all, her death resulted
in something very beautiful, something that we are proud of."
I like great architecture too but there are limits to how they should
Wednesday 01 July 98
The Truth About Dracula
There is no Dracula. The whole idea was concocted out of whole cloth by
an Irish consumptive who wanted to set a wild tale in a place that no
one in England knew anything about. That is why Bram Stoke chose Romania,
at the far corner of Europe as the locale.
He got the name Dracula from a historical figure, Vlad Tepesh, also known
as Vlad the Impaler, who was called by the Turks, "Vlad Dracul"
because 1) in Turkish dracul means "evil" and 2) they hated
his guts for defeating them so many times.
Vlad Tepesh was a fierce ruler for a fierce time, the 16th century. He
died in bed -- but only after having been betrayed to the Turks by a servant.
Perhaps the servant was put out by the extremity of Vlad's punishments
for the "usual" crimes, theft, etc. The punishments were so
severe that there were hardly any crimes.
Whatever else he might have been, Vlad was a fearless warrior who (mostly)
warred against the national enemy, the Ottoman Turks. He knew a lot about
the Turks first hand since he had been one of the many hostages which
the Turks took in between the outbreaks of war against the Romanian principalities.
He later used all his knowledge to defeat much larger Turkish armies.
In one case he stampeded horses dragging lit torches through the Turkish
camp late at night and ran screaming (in Turkish) that "the Romanians
were attacking." The Turks were so surprised and confused that they
fought each other. The Romanians then did the mop up.
In another instance Vlad, nearly alone, was pursued by a Turkish army
that had defeated him. He took refuge in Cetetana Poianena and summoned
the local elders. They advised him that he should escape on a horse with
the shoes removed. "But the Turks will follow my trail," he
said. "Not if the shoes have been refastened backwards," was
the reply. He did it and confused the Turks long enough for him to gather
troops from Transylvania on the other side of the mountains and catch
the Turks in the rear.
The view from Cetetana
Poianena suggests its height above the river bed.
Cetetana Poianena is militarily significant because it is built on top
of a swiftly rising hill situated in the Arges River valley just before
it exits the Carpathians. So steep is the slop on one side that construction
material was hoisted using ropes and pulleys. The fortress Vlad built
was attacked by the Turks but never captured. Over the centuries, the
Carpathians turned out to be Romania's only reliable ally.
The ruins of Cetetana Poianena are still there. I visited one evening
after the training day had concluded. It is 1,600 steps to reach it and
all but 37 go up. Quite a walk but the views from the fortress are spectacular.
Email Math Quiz
Calculate the height of Cetetana Poianena above the river assuming that
each riser is five inches high and the first step is 16 feet above the
river surface. Be sure to express your answer in meters. Hint: 1 meter
= 39.37 inches.