The Hard Knock Life

Please don’t mistake anything I’m about to say here but quite frankly, I am exhausted. The filming went wonderfully but it took a lot out of me and then running around (off camera) being a minor celebrity and getting patted on the back about a million times (verbally and physically) wore me out. Luckily it’s Saturday so I can rest :)

Again, I have no idea what will get broadcast but we filmed some amazing stuff on Friday. First we did some stuff in town, including me sitting in front of a laptop and explaining about the blog and looking at my documentary and that sort of thing. More anecdotes were told, including the story of how I got into the “business” of being Sam Cel Roman in the first place, etc.

Then we went into the countryside. As Alex Dima said himself, it couldn’t have gone better if we had planned it. First, we were driving up the foothills southwest of Cluj when we spotted a shepherd out in the fields so we pulled over, jumped out of the truck and went over and had a chat with him. That guy (his name is Vasile) was one of the funniest and most cheerful guys I’ve ever met and I had a blast talking to him.

Now what Alex Dima and his crew probably didn’t realize is that in America, the “job position” of shepherd essentially does not even exist. Mr. Vasile is doing something that Americans have only heard about or seen re-enacted during church plays but have no experience with the real thing (aka the “Tiger Paradox”). And Mr. Vasile is the real thing.

He had about 100 sheep as well as 3 goats, the small little herd managed by a motley crew of scruffy dogs of no discernible race. He also had one much larger dog with rheumy eyes and I asked him what the big one did – it protected the herd from wolves. Yeah, you heard right. Here in Romania there are actual wolves running around who still prey on herds of sheep managed by an actual shepherd. Suddenly light bulbs went off in my head and I understood for the first time in my life the culture which created the story Little Red Riding Hood (Rom: Scufita Rosie).

Not only did Mr. Vasile have some great stories and not only did I have a lot of fun talking to him but suddenly he whipped open his bag and handed me a small sack of cheese – made from the milk of the very same sheep that he was managing. Awesome! And then seeing my face light up, he reached again and again into his magic bag and handed me one red onion, a jar of zacusca and a thick chunk of slanina. Wow, that was just amazing and he really was an amazing guy and I truly hope at least some of that will make the show.

We then left in search of some other things to do in the countryside. Alex Dima was obsessed with seeing me make cheese, which is a skill I’ve learned in Romania. I guess to him it was a curiosity that an America could do this “like a Romanian”. Well it turned out that the camera man’s grandmother lived nearby so he called her and we went to her house located in a small village in the mountains. I’d never met her before or been to that particular village but it’s very close to the village where I used to live, featured in several stories I’ve told before here on the blog (and a few in my book Balada Supravietuitorului). So all of you will get to see a place almost identical to where some of those stories took place.

The grandma was a very, very nice and charming lady, 82 years old and about a meter tall, a scarf (Rom: batik) covering her hair, with a face full of wrinkles but a twinkle in her eyes. I told her the truth, which is that both of my own grandmothers as well as most Americans her age are frail, decrepit people in their final years while she (the Romanian grandma) is in incredibly good shape, bustling and fussing around the house, clearly active, physically strong and mind sharp as a tack. You can say what you want to about Romania but a lot of people live very long lives here, which to me says that maybe things (including the traditional Romanian food and lifestyle) aren’t so bad. I mean this grandma is still hoisting buckets of water out of a well, still hauling wood around (I made the cheese on a wood stove) and still picking and storing fruit as well as cooking and cleaning.

So the camera crew and I come into her house, say our hellos and then I begin making the cheese. The driver went out and came back with one of those “country style” loaves of bread, an enormous thing that has a thick, crunchy crust and is incredibly savory on the inside. That plus the food the shepherd gave us made the fixings for a feast and all of us ate heartily while the milk heated and the cheese was forming. Grandma whipped out a 2-liter bottle of – you guessed it – some prime tuica and all I will say further about this is a good time was had by all :)

Again, we’ll see what ends up getting broadcast because I don’t know myself. All I do know is that it will be shown on ProTV on December 1 so if you’re the kind of person who watches television, stay tuned for it then. All in all they shot about four hours of material with me but I don’t know if the broadcast segment will be five minutes long or 20 minutes or what. I just don’t know. I had my own little video camera with me the past few days as well so eventually you’ll see some of this on my own documentary.

So…there you go. It was exhausting but a lot of fun. I spoke Romanian virtually non-stop, which was good exercise for my brain. I received a ton of gifts (tuica, slanina, red onion, cheese, apples, flowers and zacusca) from various people and met a lot of really friendly and cool folks. I told just about every anecdote that came to mind about my life and adventures here, I answered a metric ton of questions (including, yep, Are you a CIA spy?) and did my all-around best to get my message across in every way possible – yes, life can be good in Romania. We’ll see how it goes :)

Speaking of my own documentary, episode 6 is almost ready. All I need to do is finish adding some subtitles (it’s entirely in Romanian, this one) and then do the rendering and transcoding and all of that so it should be posted in a few days. Obviously I’ll announce it here on the blog when that happens.

After that’s done, I need to dedicate myself to working on the 2012 edition of The Complete Insider’s Guide to Romania. A few of the sections need updated, there are a couple of typos that need fixing and I want to add a few things. Luckily, this time it won’t take me four months (like writing the book originally did) but I know I’ll need a couple of weeks at least to dedicate to this. I also want to see if I can possibly add some photographs without making the book too expensive.

What I can tell you for sure is my plan for the next few weeks is to stay home (LOL). I really am worn out. I had two days “off” from my regular job in the past two weeks and all of them were exhausting as I went around doing a ton of media appearances. Some of that has been broadcast or published but other stuff will be used later by the networks (when, I don’t know) so none of you have seen it. I then spent most of the last 3 days with the ProTV crew.

On top of that, everywhere I go people are congratulating me and joking with me and slapping me on the back and asking me how it went and what it’s for and what it’s all about and all of the rest, so in the past two weeks I’ve either been telling stories on camera or else telling stories about being on camera and I am just worn out. I’m not complaining – it’s been a thrilling experience – but I’m tired and so I think the plan for the immediate future is to stay home, do my “regular” work, get my book ready for next year, post new episodes of my documentary and maybe play with my cats a little. Oh yeah and sleep :)

Thanks again to all of you, who in some way made this possible, whether you watched me on TV, read the articles about me, mentioned my blog to your friends, bought my books, linked, “liked”, RT’d and +1’d my stuff, wrote me kind messages on Twitter, email or Facebook, said hi to me in the streets or in other ways lent me your support. It’s been a long, strange journey going from clueless foreigner to becoming “Sam Cel Roman” and I couldn’t have done it without you.