There is an old Chinese saying that a picture is worth a thousand words.
I went through the photographs I’ve taken since arriving here in the Republic of Moldova and what you see below is the single image that I think best represents this country.
1 – All five people in the photograph are “thin”. That’s the norm around here as obesity is pretty rare. There are some exceptions to that, but I will cover that story more in-depth in my next article.
2 – The blue and white sign in the background says “Money Transfers” in both Russian and (Moldovan-phrased) Romanian. With more than half the working age population abroad, sending money back home is a huge business.
If you squint, you’ll see Russian money transfer companies alongside the more familiar Moneygram and Western Union.
3 – The woman on the left has a shirt emblazoned with the Jack Daniels logo. I’ve seen hundreds of people in Chisinau, both men and women, wearing variants of this shirt. I assume it’s “cool” to wear a shirt with the logo of an American whiskey manufacturer.
I also assume that the Jack Daniels corporation is not receiving one penny for use of their trademark because these shirts are all sold for a low price only in the open-air marketplace and not in any store.
Also, as an odd, ironic note, I do not own any JD-branded clothing but I’m the person who took this photograph and I’ve actually been to the tiny town of Lynchburg, Tennessee (where JD is made). Due to the weirdness of Tennessee law, it’s legal to manufacture whiskey in Lynchburg but illegal to sell it within the city limits. America is a strange place :)
3 – The woman on the right has an American flag on her shirt. I’ve seen lots and lots of people wearing clothing with American flags on it. Just the other night I was at the grocery store behind a teenage girl wearing an odd pair of stretch pants – one leg was blue with white stars while the other leg was red and white stripes (together they make the American flag).
Again, ironically, I as an American citizen do not own any clothing with the American flag (or colors) on it but plenty of Moldovans sure do.
4 – All three men in the photograph have short hair and you can see that the young man on the far right has a “buzz cut” or closely-shaven hairstyle. Short hair is by far the norm for men in this country and barbershops do a very brisk business in Moldova.
It’s not really evident in this photograph but I’d say most of the men age 25-50 in this country have haircuts that make me think of prisoners (or the prisoners I’ve seen in America at least). It’s not quite short enough to be “military style” but it’s far shorter than most Western males cut their hair. Frankly, it’s like most men in Moldova have no idea what to do with their hair.
5 – The women, on the other hand, have very long hair in Moldova, on average, even far longer than anything I’ve seen in Romania or the rest of Europe. I think there’s a good reason for this, but I will cover that in great length in my next post.
6 – The man on the left (facing the camera) is wearing a brand-name sports shirt and expensive (but silly looking, to my eyes) sports shoes. Men in Moldova rarely wear brand-name clothes but when they do it’s always sports-related (and Adidas is particularly popular).
7 – The man on the right is wearing a silly, goofy shirt that makes me laugh but it sure as hell wouldn’t pass muster in Romania or Italy. It would be just fine in America though.
8 – The woman on the left (especially) is fully kitted out to garner attraction to herself. She has a sparkling belt buckle, a glittering bracelet and glitter on her pants legs, not to mention earrings and painted (white) fingernails. Young women in Moldova tend to dress in a manner that draws a lot of attention to themselves. See my next post for why I think that is.
9 – The guy in the background is wearing pretty standard clothing for a Moldovan man aged 30 and over – a button up shirt and proper trousers (not jeans). Although his shoes aren’t fully visible, they match the kind of typical “casual loafer” style that’s pretty common around here.
10 – The guy on the far right is wearing sandals. During the hot weather at least half of all people walking down the street in this country are wearing sandals. To me, it makes everyone look like they’re on vacation. Around here though it’s considered normal footwear suitable for any occasion.
11 – The street everyone is walking down is Stefan Cel Mare si Sfint (Saint Stephen the Great) Boulevard, the most central artery in the capital of Chisinau. It’s named after Moldova’s greatest hero, the 15th century king who won several key military battles.
Stephen is also apparently Moldova’s only hero, which is why his face is on every denomination of Moldovan money.
12 – It’s a little hard to see it in this photo but the sidewalk (UK: pavement) is partially chewed up and several tiles are missing. I’ve yet to encounter a single sidewalk in this entire country that wasn’t broken, cracked or fucked up in some way.
Furthermore, it’s important to remember that this is the central sidewalk on the most important street in the capital and even this one has many major problems.
13 – The columns on the left are impressive works of stone that belong to a government building (in this case, the post office). Say what you will about the Soviets but they damned sure loved grandiose architecture that was designed to last for eternity.
Moldova and Chisinau are full of grand old buildings that stand out in stark contrast to the shitty, crumbling edifices built since independence.
14 – You can see by the interplay of shadows that there are several trees nearby. One thing I can definitely say in Chisinau’s favor is that there is greenery everywhere. Even the main boulevards are nicely shaded with beautiful old trees. I live inside the city limits and yet I am half a kilometer away from an enormous forest and very close to a gigantic (and well-tended) park.
Compared to large Romanian cities like Iasi, Cluj and Bucharest, the capital of Moldova is hands down the greenest urban space I’ve been to. It’s quite wonderful.
Well that’s my take on the Republic of Moldova in a single photograph. I am sure plenty of people around here would disagree with me though.
If you asked them to describe their country with a single image, you’d probably get something like this:
That’s an image I took from the August 27 Independence Day festivities of some very talented and amazing folkloric dancers. I’m a huge fan of preserving traditional culture but clearly nobody in Moldova actually dresses (or dances) like that on a daily basis.
Moldovans do, however, continue to listen to that kind of music. The most popular radio station in the country is Radio Noroc (Radio Good Luck), which I love precisely because they play traditional music, alongside extremely sentimental dedications and touching personal messages that would come across as sappy or childishly naive were they in English but for people here it’s all completely genuine and straight from the heart with no nuanced sophistication whatsoever.
CINE JOACA SA TRAIASCA!