--Tuesday, 27 April 99--
After much disappointing weather it had turned nice for a change so I
decided to take a walk while the sun was shining. I hadn't had many such
opportunities. I walked down Kogalniceanu all the way to the Opera building
and back. It is a very busy street and offered numerous opportunities
to people watch and look at old buildings.
At home later I watched Animal World, a show about rescuing animals. There
were interesting stories about moose trapped in near frozen ponds and
utterly vacuous moments about pet cats caught in the eves of houses and
on tree limbs. It must be a very popular show.
To my surprise, the phone didn't ring. I thought about calling someone
about something but decided to relish my time alone. I call it nesting.
--Wednesday, 28 April 99--
At work I ran around getting ready for the trip to Sibiu. I filled out
a time sheet and partially completed an expense report, etc. I have always
felt rushed the day I travel. And then the earthquake struck.
At first I thought that a big truck was rambling, rumbling down the street
but I noticed that the furniture was actually jumping up and down and
the noise was unusually loud. Then, just as I realized what was going
on, it stopped. But for how long? The office staff ran around and everyone
wondered what to do. I stood in a doorway wondering what was next. As
it turned out, nothing. So life went on as before. Later I found out that
it was a 5.5 on the Richter Scale -- a real dish rattler. This was my
first earthquake, the first time that the trembling in the building was
not someone shaking his knee up and down.
The driver came by slightly late but we were at Gara de Nord with time
to spare. I had no trouble finding my train, car and compartment for which
we had bought all six seats. This may seem either luxurious or wasteful
but it is the only way to keep cigarette smoke from filling the compartment.
As we pulled out of the station into the train yard, I looked at the blocks
of apartments lining the yard. They sat like huge discolored bricks, now
placed on a side, now on an end but always monotonous. There are open
and glassed in patios with each apartment. The latter are widely used
for drying washing in all weathers.
In between the tracks some small plant grew in profusion, waving its yellow
blossoms in response to the wind our motion created. They grew up from
between the cracked rocks between the pairs of rails and added a visual
flair to the sooty black industrial appearance of the ground.
Before long the blockish blocks gave way to two story homes with large
yards and small gardens. These gradually thinned to patches of land overgrown
with untended trees that blocked the view. Still later the wide flat farmlands
came up to a few meters from the train tracks. Here and there patches
of forest stood proudly tall, allowed by some sufferance to exist beside
the farmland. Why?
How the farming of such large fields gets done is a mystery to me. I've
seen only one mechanized plow in action, one horse drawn plough and a
few peasants with hoes.
The sky was a watercolor of soft shades running the brief gamut from powder
blue to a mouse gray, concentrating here, blending there. In the distance
a more intense patch of sky extended its darkness down to the earth and
gently wet the ground beneath it. We were leaving the powder blue behind
us and rushing toward a monochromatic rainbow in shades of gray. From
the side of the speeding train I could see fruit trees in bloom in various
colors: rich wine red, off-white, a very pale green and a light pink.
As the land rucked up about the foot of the mountains, the plain narrowed
into a valley floor following a fast moving stream colored a dab olive-gray
from melting snows above.
The train stopped in Sinaia and Irina got on. From Sinaia the way climbs
steadily while the stream is frequently ten meters or more below the tracks.
Through a short tunnel, then a long one and when you see the stream again
it is falling in our direction. We were through the pass and on the descending
side of the mountains. Now the dominant trees are evergreens and the occasional
deciduous trees have only budded hours ago -- or so it seemed. Frightening
as it is to conceive, it rains even more up here than on the plain below.
So everywhere the grass was a rich green color -- grass after all is an
We descended slowly into a spreading valley that opens into a hight rolling
plain. Not as monotonously flat as the plain around Bucharest, it looked
as fertile. We arrived in Sibiu at 8:30 PM, 15 minutes late. Not bad for
a 5 1/2 hour trip.
The view out my room in the
Hotel Imparatul Romanilor in the center of the old city. The main
street is a pedestrian way. Everyone enjoys walking in the street.
Our hotel was the Imparatul Romanilor (Roman Emperor),
not the newest but perhaps still the best in Sibiu -- at least if you
prefer style over newness. Irina had ordered us two of the more exotic
choices: we each had rooms with seven meter ceilings and lofts for the
We went down to the dining room with the movable glass ceiling and met
Stella Stretian, Economic Director for the County. I kissed her hand making
sure to look in her eyes as I did so, the way Romanian men do, and she
expressed great appreciation and surprise, saying that Western men don't
do that. I said to her, "When in Romania, do as the Romanians do!"
She liked my coinage.
The Alphabet Question
From my tours of monasteries in Moldova it was clear that some form of
Cyrillic alphabet had been used in Romania for a very long time. Yet,
the current alphabet is Latinate with a few extra marks to alter the pronunciation
of a few specific letters. I became curious about when the change in alphabet
occurred. I was made more curious by the fact that Romanian spelling is
(nearly) completely phonetic. "F" is used instead of "ph,"
etc. I mused that a rationalized spelling could only occur at the introduction
of a new alphabet -- not afterwards. Was I right? When did this conversion
Irina told me that until 1854 when Wallachia and Moldovia were united
under a single prince (Cusa), the Romanians had used the "old Slavonic"
alphabet. The conversion to the Latin alphabet was devised by Romania
intellectuals and was thought to be appropriate because it reflected Romania's
The "Old Slavonic" alphabet was used by the Russians but while
the alphabet was "reformed" twice, Russian conservatives rejected
the changes and it wasn't until the 1917 revolution that these reforms
(along with calendrical reforms) were adopted in Russia.
With the alphabet question solved, I could now rest easily.