*** Thursday, 19 Dec 2002
Things are going well enough here except for the weather which is snowy
and very cold. The one great thing is that I am signing the lease on my
apartment today. At last I will have a home base. I need it badly: I have
stayed in three apartments and two hotels since arriving and have felt
myself without an anchor all this time.
*** Friday, 20 Dec 2002 ***
Daniel Serban came buy to say goodbye during the day. Earlier I had gotten
a surprise email from him that he could no longer work for the program
but would be an short-term consultant. While shaking my hand he casually
mentioned that in talking to Senator Maria Petre, she had told him that
she had a candidate for my Local Government Specialist position. The timing
was very difficult as everything was in the process of shutting down for
the Christmas/New Year's holiday. I tried to call Maria but her phone
*** Saturday, 21 Dec 2002 ***
Bikes in Bucharest: There aren't many bicyclists in downtown Bucharest.
I have seen several people -- but only several -- on bikes. The narrow,
twisting streets might be one reason and cars parked over most sidewalks
might be another. Close conditions combine with the fact that driving
here is more furious and frustrating than in most American cities. The
only thing that seems to slow down cars is the endless congestion.
On the other hand, I don't think that bikes are prohibited in the parks
and to the north of the city is a whole park/lake system so recreational
riding is a possibility. I will have to look into it when the weather
*** Sunday, 22 Dec 2002 ***
One of the new things in Romania is that the paper currency is being replaced
by plastic currency. I don't know if you've seen it (Australia has had
it for years) but the notes have a smoother feel than paper yet it don't
remind you of plastic. Each note usually has a clear space that you can
see through (apparently instead of a watermark). I am convinced that because
of cost considerations (plastic money lasts a lot longer than paper money)
this is the wave of the future. The US should get with the program.
I saw a new subway car this week. It was brand-shiny-new and of a new
design: Each car had a wide space into the adjoining cars so you could
look through several cars to the end and if your car was more crowded
than the next one you could walk to the less crowded car. A great idea
and another symbol of progress.
The band at the end of the
car puts on a show and takes up a collection.
On one Metrou train I saw a group of men who were putting on a show with
musical instruments and a paper-mache "big bird". They clowned
around for a while and then took a collection. I was reminded of the "bear
band" that I had seen on the train from Suceava.
For the last several days, people have been carrying Christmas trees everywhere,
on the street, in the buses, on the trains, atop cars. In the Metrou trains,
the smell of Christmas trees fills the air very pleasantly.
I took the Metrou to a big park in the east of the city, Titan by name.
It is huge; I estimate that the circumference must be nearly ten kilometers
in length. Inside are grassy areas, some treed areas and a large lake
with some islands in it. After the recent snowfall everything was covered
in white and all sorts of kids were sledding down the gentle slopes the
park provides. I haven't seen as much sledding since I was a child. The
park is so big that in the center you can't hear the traffic from the
roads. A delight.
After walking around much of the park, I was hungry for a snack and saw
a pastry shop with an outside window and a line of customers. But what
to buy? I know hardly any of the words for Romanian pastries but decided
to read the signs on the windows and choose from those. I wasn't quite
sure what a langosh with vanilla (langosi cu vanilie) was but I bought
one and it turned out to be fried dough shaped like a big cruller and
filled with a vanilla pudding. As an added touch they toss it in powdered
sugar to coat it for you. It was delicious and met my craving perfectly.
Balcescu was well decorated
for Christmas and looked great at night.
I took the Metrou to Pipera and planed to walk back into the city looking
for Club Cosmos along the way. When I got there I carefully tried to remember
the direction of the train so I could walk back along the top of the tunnel
but a few hundred yards out of the station I found the end of the linea
16 trolley line whose direction suggested that I was walking the wrong
way. I lost my nerve and decided to take the 16 to the other end of the
line since it would leave me near Piatza Uniri. I did so and watched with
fascination how the trolley tracks mix and cross each other in a confusing
medley of transportation. Even the names of the lines are confusing. Normally
a line is designated by its beginning and ending stops but the 16 was
designated as ending at Sf. Vineri which it did, only to pass through
and continue for another fifteen minutes to where it actually ended at
Republica above a different line of the Metrou.
I had lunch at 3:30 at the Pizza Hut in my building -- I had been a good
boy all week so I felt that I earned it. I noticed that three fourths
of the restaurant is smoking. On the soundtrack were Sinatra Christmas
carols. I felt like I was in an elevator filled with Muzak.