It’s an ugly, ugly country. I mean it’s Barbara Streisand ugly. Whether I mean her music or herself, you can decide for yourself.
Now, since this little venture already had a Russian and a Czech chime in with commentaries (A Russian other than me, that is. Which is by the way... damn. Forget NATO. Forget EU. Doqx, Inc has gone international first and we now all you Eastern Europes are belong to us) I feel somewhat justified in assuming that it is only a matter of time before some angry Romanian writes me and demands retraction, apology and general self-flagellation on my part. I am sorry li’l mr./ms. I Am From The Creepiest Country In Europe, but that’s the way it is. Everything here is drub, and cold, and dull, and bleak. I can’t wait to leave. The cities are gray and monotone and generally depressing (To be honest I only seen one and Clui isn’t exactly a metropolis but still… countryside is not much better)
It’s like someone took everything bad about effects of the dictatorship of the proletariat and threw it together. Voila. Romania. Yeach. No wonder Ceusescu started killing people. I would to. There’s nothing else to do here to pass the time.
I also have this irrational desire building in me to run through the streets with two paint bushes, one pink the other one even more pink. And then I’ll probably be shot by one of those dour-faced Romanian soldiers. I don’t think they allow running with paint brushes here. Probably against regulation and you need a special visa.
And I can’t even make fun of my travel pals, because unlike Dex they are armed. I found that puts a slight dumper on my delightfully dry sense of humor. (Ebert and Roeper give it five thumbs up! Visit their next live taping just outside Chernobyl, Ukraine! Tickets go on sale Monday!)
There were only a couple of things that made this whole thing easier and in any way bearable.
For one, the single niftiest part of this trip that was only realized by me this morning.
Dude. I spent the Halloween night driving through Transylvania.
I am the coolest ever!
The only thing I am missing is a cape. Everything is better when you have a cape. Or a bright red scarf – but more on that later.
Now true, I slept through most of it but still.
It probably wouldn’t have been THAT much more exciting if I was awake, but you never know. On the other hand I had enough excitement as it was, trying to cross the border. Sitting there in the car and expecting that any second now that guy in the ugly green uniform is going to stop giving me dirty looks and proceed directly to screaming “Uh-HAH! You thought you could fool ME, Mr. Bond?!” And then the white cat would get produced, it would yawn, look at me disdainfully and say “To the camps with you, bitch!” and I meet Josef or his counterpart again or if I am really lucky they’d shoot me right there.
None of which happened obviously. (Hah-hah! Fools! There is no stopping me now!) But. If I never get my documents checked at a Romanian border again it will be too soon.
Meanwhile – as I am deeply engaged in formulating the escape plan from the Gulag somewhere near Bucharest where I am certain to end up (It was a great plan. It had signing rats and trained attack roaches and cross-dressing Romanian convicts and stuff. Way better than Great Escape)- Rena is trying to get me to buy in on her thesis about Buffy. Now, I am not exactly one to shun meta discussions, but there’s a time and a place. And that really wasn’t it!
Anyway, I was nodding, and making appropriate noises in what I thought was the right places but I really couldn’t tell you what the hell was going on. It was something about Xander being Hamlet, Buffy being Gertrude and Spike and Angel being Claudius. I forget who got to be Polonius and I am fairly certain I am not going to ask her again.
So yeah. I fell asleep. Like you wouldn’t? Any moment she would have said that Andrew is Ophelia and than there would be no other choice for me but to scream girlishly and jump out the window, disappear into the wilds of Wallachia, build a forbidding castle, delve into Dark Arts and terrorize the local villagers with my soulless homunculai and creatures sewn together from parts of.. other.. creatures. Yeah, I don’t know where I was going with this. Leave me alone. I am Romania, I deserve the slacking of the cat (see what I did there with the letter changing and the misspelling of the ‘cut’? And with the funny? Yeah. That’s right. I still got it).
The point of which is –I am less than severely disappointed that I slept through Transylvanian Halloween.
If you think that was silly, you should have seen my face when I got told what was the story dominating Romanian newspapers. Get this. Romanian beat Namibia, 37-7. At what you might ask. I certainly did.
So riddle me this. Since when do Romanians play goddamn RUGBY?!
There’s just something so deeply wrong about this.
Am I the only one to see this?
Ukrainians take on Lithuania at cricket?
This is not right.
This is not right on so many, many levels.
So anyway. We get to Clui and of course promptly get lost. I looked outside the window and retreated back into dreamland. Lemme repeat myself – ooogly.
Khruschevkas. Acres and acres of them.
(Those are the atrocious mass produced buildings that solved the housing crisis in USSR in the late 50’s-60s. I wasn’t aware we exported that. We must have really disliked Romanians. I don’t remember seeing that many of them either in Poland or Hungary. The only thing I can figure is that I only saw the capitals. I don’t know. It’s quite possible that Bucharest is Paris of Eastern Europe, but I somehow doubt it. I can, however, state without hesitation that Clui is an anatomical part of the Eastern Europe the naming of which is unwelcome in polite company. )
I know I’m harping on this, but it was, really was bad. Those of you who had the misfortune to drive through bad parts of Buffalo, imagine that. (And those of you who mouthed off about Buffalo being one giant bad part – you ain’t funny. Correct. But not funny. Funny looking. But not humorous.)
And I don’t mean they are the same architecture wise, obviously. But the gut reaction you have to the place, the atmosphere, the trash on the streets… it’s not good. And the goddamn dogs! Everywhere.
I am not a dog person.
I am not a cat person, either.
I am an animals-should-stay-the-hell-out-of-my-w
Eventually Marat drove us to a building and stopped.
“Is this it?” I go.
He grins kinda sickly, which I take to mean. “hell f I know, but I am tired of driving and you can get the hell out. Now, dammit!”
Bolstered by that confidence we file out and storm the front door, (Not a khruschevka, that one, by the way) scaring the crap out of the help. (help is a very nice, middle-aged woman named Coruta. Ok. How come everyone here has a maid? I don’t have a maid, and I am a decadent western capitalist. I should have a maid. And butler. I definitely want a butler. With a top hat. Yeahhhh. And I’d bring him to dexcon and he’d brain Bryant with Matt’s severed head and I’d go “It was the butler in the kitchen with the head. And then there is going to be fame and quite possibly adoring fans.)
So anyway. Shockingly enough this turned out to be the right house. Rena’s friend, Nastia, hides her shock at the appearance of 4 people that were quite clearly voted off Survivor island yesterday and are now out for revenge and a movie contract. We get fed. After which Rena is off, to catch up with Nastia, and I don’t know what else, and I don’t want to know. Vasiliy tags along with them, giving me a warning look. Clearly at some point he classified me as a troublemaker, I’m on his Black List and he expects no good to come from me. That hurts, I think, and finish off third helping of the food, thereby making myself the darling of Coruta’s mental universe. Eat, eat, you’re a growing boy! And that was for Marat, by the way. The growing boy who probably killed more people than cancer, meekly submits and destroys another piece of apple pie. Real apple, pie, by the way. Home-made, good stuff. We were at that table for the next half an hour, easy.
After which I express the lordly desire to venture outside. Marat looks distinctly unconvinced that it’s a good idea, but what the hell am I supposed to do? Sit in the house and watch Romanian TV? Yeah. Right. Woo. And the second thought also Hoo.
So all right. I convince him, we go find out hostess she looks faintly surprised that someone wants to go out and see Clui but all right. Gives us an address, says that we’re in luck there’s a fairly new club-café opened not far from here and they get live bands occasionally. So. That’s something I guess. I am not a huge fan of these things, but this time I am not there to talk with anybody so who cares that I won’t be able to hear myself think? Secondly – better than nothing. Right. It’s decided then. We shall sally forth and partake of the authentic Romanian culture.
When we get to the club we’re informed that we should give a big hand to the band that made it to Clui all the way from San Francisco!
I haven’t laughed so hard since Luc’s explanation of ‘habitus.’ (It takes a self-important Parisian to make Bourdieu funny, but you need two Russians and a couple of Californians to turn Romania into a laugh riot)
I mean right? It just figured.
Now the band was, to put it generously, mediocre. Which is understandable. There is nothing about Clui that deserves a good band, for one. And secondly it wasn’t a real band per se, it’s these two guys from Oakland, doing the same thing as me and Bryant. Only there were silly enough to bring guitars along.
It had two undeniable advantages though. One they spoke English. And two they had the greatest band name ever.
That’s right. I am a proud owner of a T-Shirt that says that I have been to a concert of “Mercador and the Ice Picks.”
Isn’t that great?
Well, I think it was, and you would to if you knew who Ramon Mercador was. I am smarter than you, you see. And so are Mike and Andrew. Cool guys. As it turns out we have a lot on common. They too had their share of … misunderstandings with European lifestyle. I was able to trump their tales of woe, quite handily but that’s not really a surprise.
So yeah. We, me and Marat, took them back with us, because Andrew nodded and fatalistically confirmed the obvious. There was nothing to see in Clui.
Back to Nastia’s! We roared off, unstoppable and undefeatable.
We get maybe two blocks in when we’re mobbed by Gypsies.
Gypsies are not romantic in real life. Not the ones I met. These are the minority that has bee disenfranchised to the extent unseen in the last 50 years, by any other block of population. For all intents and purposes they are completely outside of societal matrix with predictable results. Ever since Poland, we’ve been inundated with warnings about them darn gypsy people. It got worse in Hungary and it got really bad in Romania – although that was prompted by us relating the mobbing episode, so I might be overestimating the strength of the reaction.
It’s pretty bad, Gypsies are thieves and slave-traders and you can’t trust them and they come around and steal little children and when they are not busy stealing your children they throw them at you, and make away with your valuables in confusion.
(Which is actually kinda logical when you think about it. First you throw a kid at a guy, so then you have to go and get another one. Supply and demand, really)
So yeah both sides of the issue are pretty ugly. It’d be a lot easier to sympathize with gypsies if their marginalization did not prompt obvious developments. Really dirty, dressed in what without any drama can only be described as rags, shrill, and they do swarm you, a bunch of them at a time, kids and women, screaming and grabbing at you.
Marat says that these are the worst off. There are some apparently that parleyed their status as being outside the accepted norms in fairly profitable existence. Smuggling is rampant here (as in former Warsaw pact), and a good portion of it is Gypsy-controlled. It made sense once I thought about it, with their clannish structure, they’d have a leg up on organization and stuff like that. Apparently, however, discrimination doesn’t stop once you step outside the law and the wars for the smuggling market share between the Gypsies and the local (and ever-growing mafias) are pretty brutal. The press is in no way evenhanded so everyone thinks that every gypsy is a don Corleone. So the cycle never stops. These are the extremes. Logically the majority of gypsies probably lead lives less ‘exciting’ but I didn’t meet those. Well, obviously I didn’t meet the crime lords, either, but… y’know.
We got through it somehow. I without my brand new wallet I just got two days ago (Way to go, you made out with like twenty bucks, you Moriarty you. Schmucks.) Mike lost his fake Rolex. Andrew however got a bright red scarf in exchange for something like half a million lei. Which he paid off with one note. And is approximately 15 bucks or so. (I am not kidding. He has like half a dozen of these 500 000 banknotes. Talk about funny money).
In retrospect, bringing Andrew to Nastia’s could have had only the effect that it did. He’s in a band. He can actually carry a tune. He can play guitar. He has a bright red scarf and long hair. (goddamn hippie) I can’t really compete with that.
Indecisiveness I have named thee, and thy name is Woman. (I’m kidding! Kidding, all right? Don’t go all Andrea Dworkin on me. I’ll be good.)
So yeah. I guess it wasn’t True Love. Shockingly enough, I find that I can bear Rena’s change in affection with surprising equanimity. The waking nightmares of shotgun wedding in no way figure in my relief… er… I mean, tear-jerking reluctant acceptance of cruel fate. (Damn, I’m smooth) I even almost warned Andrew about Vasiliy. Almost. Shut up. I needed the petty, I’m easily bored.
So anyhoo. In an hour or so we’re off again. (Turns out Isstvan is not exactly pure altruist. Marat is meeting with someone for him, in addition to driving me around. So, unfortunately we’re going to take back the sainthood and the gold watch.)
Just the two of us are going on. (me and Marat) And no, Rena did not just change her mind, just so she could elope with Andrew. Like I said she was planning to stay with Nastia from the beginning. But If I’m reading her correctly she’s a bit more enthusiastic now.
(Let’s all wish them happiness and lots of fat children).
These pricks are going to Istanbul in less than a week, by the way. I am jealous as all hell. (I would in no way mind sending Alicia and Lise a photo with me in front of Hagia Sophia. Pointing out that I am there. Where as they are - not so much. I am a malicious kinda person in case you haven’t noticed) Mike will not stop gloating. Son of a bitch. I would do the same in his place of course, as I said, but still.
I am not in his place, so … he’s a bastard.
Umm… Think this is it. A fairly good day, now that I think about it. considering that I am in Romania and I hate it here.
Next posting stop, hopefully, the Evil Empire.