A close examination of my life reveals that is fractally weird, meaning that it’s strange and inexplicable on every scale of resolution. I get asked quite often why I choose to live in Romania and the real secret is that this country is just as fractally weird as I am.
Case in point is the condition of any given sidewalk in an urban area in Romania on a winter’s day. Here in Unicorn City we’ve had two substantial snowfalls this December, followed by a few light dustings and alternative days of warmer weather and even some rain. The result is a sludge of half melted and refrozen piles of white and gray ice on any undisturbed patch of land.
In the city, clearing the streets is the local government’s responsibility. But due to a mishmash of cultural norms and laws, what happens on the sidewalks in front of buildings is another matter. Exactly what occurs on a given meter of sidewalk when the first snow begins to fall is a roll of the dice.
Depending on the owner of the property, you get one of three results:
Quite often while the snow is still falling in the middle of a blizzard, a man (and it’s always a man) will pop out of his house and began a frantic mad dash to begin clearing the sidewalk in front of his property.
Doesn’t matter if it’s 5:00 am, doesn’t matter if the winds are howling, by God he’s going to get that evil, wicked snow off of his 1 square meter of sidewalk in front of his house!
Sometimes he’ll have a proper snow shovel (plastic blade with wooden handle) and sometimes he’ll be using a Romanian Special, which is a flat wooden board nailed crosswise to a wooden handle. Basically it looks like a spare protest picket sign that he turned upside down to clear away snow.
Once the shovel work is done, salt and/or sand will be laid down so that the last bits of snow can be effectively dealt with.
A Token Effort
Oh dear, oh me, my goodness, well what will the neighbors think if I don’t clear away the snow? Okay, fine I’ll strap on my boots and pop outside and let them see me doing something about it.
Sometimes they may use a proper snow shovel but just as easily they might be using the Scourge of God or the broom made entirely out of natural reeds (short video of it in action here). While these do make very effective brooms for other jobs, they are far less effective in snow because it’s not really meant to be swept away.
Regardless of the implement used, you can always tell a Token Effort snow removal job because while the top layer of powder has been cleared (more or less), the surface of the sidewalk is still white as all the little nooks and crannies are still covered in snow.
In short order, whether due to a warm day or the tread of feet from passersby or both, that crucial bottommost layer will get melted and then refrozen, effectively turning the sidewalk into a perfect ice skating rink.
Let The Dead Bury The Dead
Ask a Manic Scrabbler why he’s out there at the break of dawn, frantically clearing his sidewalk and he’ll always tell you (guaranteed!) that it’s because his knees are shaking in fear of receiving the dreaded amenda (fine/ticket) from the police, who rise from their yearlong slumber and slothful behavior to become fearsomely effective at issuing citations to anyone who dares let a single centimeter of snow go uncleared on the sidewalk in front of their property.
Nonetheless, every single winter, on every single street, there are always several patches of sidewalk that never get cleared, ever. In vain you look to see a growing stack of police citations nailed to the fence of the house where these rascally scofflaws live. The snow falls, the rest of the street gets cleared in some way or another, but this stretch of sidewalk remains blissfully undisturbed all season long.
And therefore a trained anthropologist such as myself can amble down any given Romanian street during winter and immediately deduce what kind of snow shovelers the natives in any given house are simply by following the track of clean pavement, slippery ice sheet and pockmarked dirty snow.
It’s a subtle science but someone has to do it!