The former city hall
that is now a historical artifacts museum.
--Thursday, 15 April 99--
The hotel was directly on the Black Sea and had a lovely view of Constanta
to the north. In the morning I took a walk around the part of the old
city near the hotel. I found Ovidiu Square which has the Romanesque former
city hall converted into a museum of classical sculpture that has been
unearthed in the area.
The square is named after Ovid, a famous Roman poet of classical times
who was exiled here by the Emperor. His obsequious letters begging permission
to return to Rome have survived to this day. I had read once that he was
exiled because of the enemies he made with his biting, satirical poems
but a local official told me that Ovid had also had an affair with the
Emperor's sister, something of which the Emperor disapproved of even more
This portion of the Black Sea has a long history of occupations. The Greeks
were followed by the Romans and much later by the Bulgarians and then
the Turks. All of these groups left evidence of their time there: a few
blocks away from Ovidiu Square, the minarets of the few remaining mosques
punctuate the sky.
One of the functioning
mosques in Constanta.
Later that day, Irina and I took the train to back to Bucharest;
we had been in Constanta for 22 hours. When we got to the city, Irina
told me that the PA system in the train station had announced that you
should not buy beer or other drinks from vendors on the train as the drinks
may be drugged and you may be robbed.
--Friday, 16 April 99--
Tonight a Romanian friend of mine introduced me to a Serbian student by
the name of Daniel. We talked about a lot of things but inevitably we
had a discussion of the bombing of Serbia. Daniel was very polite and
didn't become strident but he still pretty much toed the official Serbian
line: the bombing was a violation of international law, etc., etc. Once
again, there was no mention of the Kosovars. When I asked about why hundreds
of thousands of ethnic Albanians had fled Kosovo, he claimed that they
were driven out by the bombing. He simply could not believe that his country
had done anything wrong. We had to agree to disagree.
--Sunday 18 April 99--
I awoke at 7:15 am but there was no hot water. It comes on at 7 am during
the week, why not on week ends? I took a walk in Cismigiu Park and saw
a 10-year old boy sleeping on a park bench. I left some money on the bench
Then for four hours I wrote the core text for the proposal to USAID. I
wanted to meet friends for a walk in the park so I hurried myself. Enter
Murphy's Law. With 20 minutes to go, I tried to telecommunicate from my
apartment. No go; While I could dial out the computer could not. I called
the office to be sure the guard would let me in and walked over there
only to find that I had left a crucial phone coupler at home. So I walked
home and back with the coupler. Then I had AOL address problems. Nearly
a nightmare but I got it done.
Then I rushed to the Metro to Herastrau Park to spend the afternoon with
my friends. Fortunately, they were indifferent to my lateness. We sat
in the sun near the entrance and talked about what we might do. After
more than an hour, we walked to the less used portion of Herastrau to
walk around since it had fewer people. Altogether a pleasant time.
--Monday, 19 April 99--
I am glad this is not my first trip to Bucharest. Everything this time
around seems so rushed, so frantic that I don't seem to have the time
to savor the city, to view it with an appreciative eye. Very little seems
to have changed since last July. Oh, some things have. The work on the
National Library and the Athenaeum is finished and the construction barricades
are gone; the Blocul Batistei is topped off and has a glass facade; a
restaurant has closed here and another opened there but it seems that
very little has changed in the nine months I have been gone. If I had
more time to look and visit fresh parts of the city, I may not think this.
But maybe, just maybe, my impression is accurate. The few comments I have
heard about change have been on the lack of it or the negative character
it has had. Someone said that since last summer the lei has been gradually
loosing its value against the dollar. Then in the two months before my
arrival there was a crisis. When I left the lei was 6,500 to the dollar;
by February it was 15,000 to 17,000 to the dollar and then in short order
it soared to 20,000 to 25,000 to the dollar for one day. This provoked
the government into action and it brought the exchange rate back to 15,000
where is still hovers.
A frantic morning. Jim needed a file converted from MIME format but AOL
once again couldn't cut the mustard either for the web page [unable to
connect], the email download or any other way. Meanwhile I needed to talk
to the World Bank re Municipal Credit Facility, email to the Iasi guy,
send a file to the States, write a matrix of local government options
on Law 27 and be in a birthday party for Marius. All this before I left
for Iasi (pronounced "Yash").
At least the trip to Gara de Nord was not stressful although we passed
an overturned car in front of City Hall. I can't for the life of me figure
out how it tipped over.
The train for the six hour ride to Iasi wasn't the oldest but it might
have been one of the oldest. At least it was moderately fast and stayed
on time. From the trip to Constanta, we learned the hard way that you
have to buy the entire compartment of six first class seats if you are
to avoid breathing cigarette smoke from the addicts who clog the aisle
and get up and go in and out of the compartment to smoke another cigarette.
We couldn't do that for Constanta but we made sure that we did it for
Iasi and well that we did, for when we found our compartment, a woman
was already there smoking a cigarette. This is not allowed but her excuse
was that she didn't speak Romanian but only Russian. Irina, my coworker,
guide and interpreter, showed her to her correct car and we aired our
The land visible from the train was similar to that on the trip to Constanta
-- at first. However in a little over an hour our northwest direction
brought us to within sight of the foothills of the Carpathians where we
turned north and ran parallel to the hills. Here was a rich plain dotted
with small villages and the occasional hamlet. Every sixty minutes or
so we would stop at a town whose name I didn't recognize and then on we
would go. After three hours we headed northeast, away from the hills and
toward Iasi. Then the land began to gently undulate, rising and falling
smoothly like a carpet thrown over a few scattered stacks of books. Here
and there small collections of fruit trees were in bloom, covered with
many white-green blossoms. The ground in the small gardens in the hamlet
yards were freshly turned. Here and there were herds of horses, cows,
and sheep grazing on the fresh green grass.
The weather here has been of one pattern since I arrived -- variable.
Yesterday dawned a bright blue sky with a chilly wind. The afternoon was
pure Spring: light breezes caressed by a bright warm sun. It all seemed
to say, "Lie down, relax, rest, chill out." At dusk, gusty showers.
This noon the sky was filled with an army of puffy clouds of all sizes
and textures. Mounds of cotton batting here, a soft laminate of flat white
clouds with angry gray clouds underneath. Everything streamed eastwards
as if on some common mission.
The fields contained last seasons stubble obscured here and there by puffy
clouds of smoke pushed along the earth by the wind. The farmers were burning
the dried leftovers from last season's growth, piles of mulch and brush.
When it came time to visit the latrine, I was utterly grateful that it
was for a standing head call only. Everything seemed decayed and little
enough of it was working. I didn't find out 'till later that there is
a foot pump to make the faucet work. Train travel in Romania is definitely
not a five-star experience.