The breakfast at the
Irina is second from the left and the Mayor is third from the right.
--Thursday, 22 April 99-- (Continued)
We drove a short distance into the countryside to see an excavation of
an ancient archeological site just outside Cucuteni. The site dates from
4000 BC and is very nicely contained in a "shell" structure
that preserves the site and allows visitors to see it up close without
actually entering the site. The round building with a peaked roof is at
the top of a small hill just outside of town. The approach is indirect
and so gradual that you hardly realize that the ground is rising.
You enter the building and you see the trenches of an archeological dig.
There is an elevated platform that you can mount, a walkway that surrounds
the site and projects part way over it. From there you can see the layers
of flat stones that make up the walls. Bones, pottery, and some carved
items were found.
The mayor was our guide and he told us that the site was for a "Boss
Man" who died. He told us that the Boss Man's favorite wife was killed
to have the honor of joining him in death.
Afterwards we were treated to an outdoor breakfast (it was before 10 am)
of Tswika, wine, radishes, scullions, bread, sheep cheese in a pastry
and salt. There was a toast and some pleasant conversation. In the distance,
one gentle ridge after the other laid its spine in parallel lines. The
last visible one had a row of trees along it's edge, each so small that
it seemed a toothpick with a frizzy sprig atop it. The plots followed
the contours of the ground resulting in curved rectangles of planted land.
Some of the plots were green, some tan, some black, all fading into layers
of horizontal haze.
When we got to town for the meeting, we first met with the local mayor,
a young, Irish looking man with his right hand in a plaster cast,. He
recited the economic statistics of the town and asked about how to pursue
economic development. I was asked to write something in the town's "Book
of Honor" and Irina wrote in a translation and signed her name as
After our meeting we had the obligatory ceremonial lunch that always seemed
populated by faces we didn't see at the meeting. Irina sat between me
and the mayor and at his request, I made several suggestions about finding
firms to invest in his town. He seemed appreciative.
For the second time I was brought a bottle of dry wine that was delectable
-- thanks to Mircea's personal intervention. The tswika was OK too. I
was amused by the problem the waiter surmounted in order to fill my glass
when he maneuvered his arm under the large bouquet of drooping tulips.
We were back to Iasi at a reasonable time that allowed Irina and I to
go to the airport without rushing. We flew to Suceava and then to Bucharest's
Baneasa Airport. We took a cab to the city and I was home by 6:45 PM.
After three days on the road, it was nice to be in my apartment as gloomy
as it was.
--Saturday, 24 April 99--
I forgot to mention that when I was in Iasi I was interviewed by the local
media. As we were walking to the meeting room we were suddenly overtaken
by three or four people with microphones. They first spoke to the County
Council Secretary and then turned on me and asked questions that showed
they had no idea why I was there nor why they were there. I answered vapidly,
saying as little as possible. Then we went into the room and got on with
the meeting. The next day there was an article in a national newspaper
titled, "Before NATO, an American Representative in Pascani."
So I was now associated with the bombing in the Balkans!
The weather continues to be mostly unfun. It was sunny yesterday but turned
cloudy at night and rained -- and this has happened many times this trip.
Today it didn't happen that way: it was still gray when I awoke and has
stayed that way all day. And it's chilly too. A bummer but it makes it
easier to work by removing any temptations.
I have reported many things to my readers but in the end the truth, the
complete truth, is veiled from me. I don't speak here of physical things
I write about, but about the minds of the people I travel through and
beside. The vast majority are walled off from me by the language barrier
and even those who speak American and speak to me censor their words since
they want to control the impressions they create. I think of the guide
in Puerto Vallarta who wouldn't translate a graffito that had the word
"puto" (male whore) in it , of the oriental translator who talked
but didn't even attempt to interpret a culture bound story an American
was telling. Some of the reasons are shame (about poverty, perhaps) or
fear of being the messenger of ill tidings.
[A reader wrote to me: ". . . I wanted to let you know that puto,
in the context of Mexico, can have different meanings. When I heard the
word repeated on a CD by Molotov, a Mexican band, I thought they were
just being dirty. But after talking to a native from Mexico City, I learned
that this is a slang term used to put down the Mexican government, not
relating to a male whore or homosexuals at all. This was a relief to me,
as I started to enjoy the CD more. Just wanted to let you know."]
And so I ask the same questions of different people and mull the answers,
looking for themes that recur. I particularly seek out people who have
educated themselves about their country and its history and I give their
opinions more weight. And I read what I can about the country. This last
is not as easy as it might seem. I have not found many books about Romania
and some of those were war propaganda or other forms of intellectual rubbish.
One reads and searches, one asks and listens. One seeks for someone with
insight or at least information. You have to keep at it.
Sifting all the inputs, one tries to synthesize information into an accurate
picture of the country. Not easy to do. Take Turkmenistan where I resided
for five months. All my time was spent in Ashgabat, the capital. From
my reading I know that the Turkmen have traditionally avoided cities.
Indeed, the country is 55% rural. Thus in Ashgabat, the population does
not represent the country as a whole. Even if I dared to say that I knew
the city, in what sense could I claim to know the country as a whole?
In the end, how can we hope to understand anything of the interior lives
of a people different -- perhaps completely different -- from ourselves?