WORD COUNT: 5405
Ah yes, my deepest apologies, folks, as I know I have for true been gone a great many days and forsaken some of my deepest and most loyal readers and supporters. The short truth is that I’ve just now survived a year of real challenges since I got the old boot from Romania. If I went into every detail, it’d be a litany of horrors, so let’s just unlock this word hoard and get to it as we get to it, shall we?
Fair enough, then. I’m sure by now a few savvy readers recognize the Olde English in the title of this post, which come straight from one of the greatest poems of all time, Beowulf (pt romania, arunci un click pe aici). As I’ve written about before, one of my life’s greatest jealousies is the amazing memorization capacities of people who are completely illiterate. Written at a time when only a few elite members of the clergy and leadership could read, Beowulf is a masterpiece of over 3000 fucking lines that people got paid to memorize and sing at a time when you could still have a career like that (now, as we know, it’s mostly gypsies and a few Macarthur “Genius” Grant awardees).
Suffice it to say, it’s an awesome poem. Here’s my poor attempt to translate the line from the title of this blog into modern English (and for a much more academic analysis into it, click here):
“He then, who was the eldest of them all, answered him thusly, saying, “The eldest and wisest of them all, the leader of all of the troops, shall now unlock his word hoard.”
The implication there being that the really old and wise guy is about to bust out a cafeteria-size can of super word wisdom and advice. I wish I could say what I’m doing here in this post is quite so noble, but I like the mental image of a wise old guy having a big treasure chest full of valuable words that he’s cracking open for a special occasion to enrich everyone lucky enough to hear/read the words.
That’s a cool thought. Okay, and now own with the show. Laissez le bons mots roulez!
I’ve been to Venice – or Venezia – in Italy on two separate occasions, and it was amazing to take in the sight of a city built on water. I’ve been here in the Republic of Moldova about a year now, but I really haven’t seen much beyond Chisinau. I know realize, however, that my first reaction to this city is exactly the same as everyone else’s, however, since it’s not “advertised” the way Venezia is, it takes a while to put into words: Chisinau is not a city with a lot of parks but an actual city built inside a forest.
It’s true. First, you see them as official parks, and then the little small neighborhood parks, and then a few of what I call “pocket parks” or 1-2 benches maximum, and then you start realizing every single last one of them has trees at least 50 years old or older. Then you start realizing that just about every single big and small street is loaded with tall, older trees, and then the big picture instantly snaps into place – even the biggest roads in this city are just paths cut into the forest floor, and that 90% of this place is still trees and a very forest-like environment.
If Venezia is a city built on water, then Chisinau is the world’s largest city (that I’m aware of) built inside of a forest.
What do Romanians know about the Republic of Moldova?
Answer: nothing. Zip, zilch, nada, nimic, nichevo, nothing whatsoever, other than maybe the capital is Chisinau and that it’s east of Romania “somewhere”.
It is truly astounding how narcissistic the Romanian media is, as I’ve written about thousands of times before, to the point where they even ignore the one place on Earth with a partially shared history and mutually-intelligible communication. I mean sure, it makes “sense” to constantly ignore Ukraine and have superstitious fears about Russia and all the rest, but also to ignore RM to the point where they never even tell you the weather on any of the 8+ national TV networks? Pitiful.
If you don’t believe me, ask a Romanian to name four cities in RM and then step back and watch them struggle. Since I’ve been living here, I’ve gotten so many ignorant questions from Romanian friends and cunostiinte that I can see my earlier intuition was quite right. Moldovans sometimes get offended by this ignorance but I understand that there’s almost nothing in/on Romanian media or education about RM, so how can anyone Romanian be expected to know?
The only thing Romanians learn is that RM used to be Basarabia, and maybe still kind of is, which means it should belong in its entirety (whatever those boundaries may be, which are not exactly agreed-upon by everyone) to Romania as part of a bigger, united nation when the time is right. There’s almost nothing about the modern history of this country other than “damn, it sure sucked to be part of Soviet Union” and that the wine from here is famous for its quality. If you watch a lot of political news then you might know who the Prime Minister of Moldova is and a few of the other big players.
What a shame. And even more shameful is that (Romanian-speaking) Moldovans know tons of things about Romania, including what all the big cities are, and a lot of current information about who famous Romanians are and what the country is like in terms of history, culture, and environment. And even more shameful than that is that Moldovans often get conflicted about which is better, the grand old historical united “all Romanians are together” stuff or the fact that, in many ways, the modern Moldova is a much different place with an EQUALLY rich culture, history and environment.
Short story: Romanians are understandable ignorant about Moldova, but Moldovans are largely ashamed about their own place in the world, and so finding someone to stand up and be unabashedly proud about anything is pretty rare to find around here.
Endless circle: it’s a shame that Romanians know nothing about Moldova, and it’s a shame that Moldovans are ashamed about themselves.
The Unbreakable Victor Ponta
I haven’t had anywhere to express my (Romanian) political views in a while, but holy shit, watching Victor Ponta keep on surviving yet another round of scandal, corruption and public humiliation is simply astonishing. Over here in RM a guy (coincidentally the PM) folded after a tiny scandal about his education but good old VVP in Romania seems to take a licking and then keep on ticking fucking forever. Will anything be able to knock this guy from running Romania?
And how is it exactly he’s survived three years already? Whew, what a mess. There are times when I desperately miss living in Romania, but every time I see that grinning monkey Ponta still in power, I truly wonder about the sanity of Romanians. There are plenty of equally bad political characters in RM, but I do have to say that (thank god!) there’s far too much political spirit in this country to ever allow a controversial idiot to last so long in office, that’s for sure.
As anyone over the age of 5 knows, if you ever once say anything good about a monster, it means you are a “monster lover”. If I point out that Volkswagen wasn’t just a car company started by Nazis, but is the direct result of the cultural vision of Adolf Hitler himself as an ideal vehicle “for the German Volk” alongside a nationwide network of high-speed roads, that doesn’t mean I hate Slavs and Jews and want the iron fist of the government to solve every problem. No.
Likewise, if you are American and can see that Vladimir Putin is clearly playing three-dimensional space chess against world leaders who are, on the average, much more like George W. Bush, who now spends his “retirement” time painting pictures and sucking his thumb. If you are not American, you might say that Putin is playing chess (Ro: sah) while most other world leaders are playing dominos.
Vladimir Putin is a smart guy. Saying that doesn’t mean I like or dislike the intelligence, only that I’m noting that it is there, a virtually uncontested fact.
Secondly, you don’t have to read your Republic by Plato(n) to know that a “beneficial dictator” can do much more than even the smartest and noblest democratic government where power is shared. Obama can’t just do what he likes, but has to negotiate with other politicians in his own party and the other party, and make compromises and deals and everything else, which takes time and effort. Putin is far less restrained, and so can move lightning quick when he wants to.
Third, history always shows what a disaster an effective leader is. When they’re gone, someone (usually!) far less competent follows them, and then everyone is depressed and the whole system falls apart quite quickly. If I were Vladimir Putin, I wouldn’t be worried about what America or any other country is going to do, I’d be worried about what the idiots in power in Russia will do after I (Putin) am gone, and how they’ll wreck a lot of the things I worked hard to put into place.
Shut up, you dirty Russia lover!
Uh, okay. I don’t mind the hostility :)
Really though, although I’m just cracking the surface of what Russian culture is, I can see exactly where all the bones of contention have been coming from – Russia and Russian culture is clearly quite more similar to America and American culture than I’ve ever seen before.
Even on the internet, you can see this is true. Every popular American online service has a Russian counterpart, a Yandeks for every Google, a Vkontakte for every Facebook, and so on and so forth. There’s a Russian version of MTV, and of Gmail, and of Ebay (selling/buying items) and a Russian type of CNN, and a Russian type of “Cartoon Network” and on and on and on. I’ve even seen a Russian type of Oprah, and there are definitely Russian versions of all the similar types of American talk shows like Jerry Springer, Maury Povich, Tyra Banks, etc, etc.
One of these days I’ll start buying these little cheapie Russian magazines that can fit in your pocket and sell for about 50 cents at the media kiosks, then taking some good photographs of them so you can see how awesome they are. My favorite are the food recipes ones, which feature the real woman – and often her kid as well – who won that edition’s contest for best recipe on the cover. So no fancy airbrushed models, just real people with their yum-yum Russian recipes.
I’d say that for every 1 uppity elitist Moscovite or Saint Petersburgian out there, there’s about 10,000 Russian people who are the brother/sister equivalent of an American redneck or “country” person. Love the beer, grilling out in the summer, the older guys with some tattoos and a “beer belly”, listening to “country” music, on and on and on, only uniquely Russian in its own way.
Ostentatiously “patriotic” Russians and Americans wave and display a hell of a lot of flags, and drive around “domestic” cars with pride, and there are tons of “blue collar” families with jobs in the construction, mining, manufacturing, or other hardcore physical work industries. Hell, even the colors on the flags are both the same: red, white and blue. Which in Russia, at least, makes sense as the flag is a “tricolor” of three equal horizontal bands for each color, while the American flag should really be described as red, white, and a little blue :)
Anyway, no time to write a book here, but the short version is redneck Russians and redneck Americans, or “blue collar” families, or “working class folk”, or “good old-fashioned country people”, or “hill folk with old soul” or your preferred description, but they’re quite similar between the two cultures. Different and unique, yes, each one of them is, but scarily similar in so, so, so, so many ways.
One last way to prove my point: nobody on this planet loves ketchup more than Americans and Russians do.
Sam, when are you coming back to Romania?
I don’t know. Right now my semi-official and bullshit ban is technically in effect until 2017. There are some things I could be doing now, that I’m not doing, to maybe perhaps speed it up. Honestly, at the moment, I’m just getting back on my feet here in RM and I’m in no rush to get back to Romania right this exact second. Yes, I’d love to go back, but right now I’ve got plenty to do here.
Isn’t it true that everything is Soviet in Moldova?
Yes, it’s definitely true. The next time I’m sitting in my local coffee shop, enjoying a tasty beverage made from a handcrafted blend of Central and South American beans, I’ll borrow one of the other patron’s iPads and use the free wi-fi to email myself a picture of how awful and Soviet everything is around here :)
Really though, for all the hooplah and fuss (Ro: galagie) that some Moldovans make about how the Soviets had an influence on the architecture around here, you can see that only a surprisingly small part of Chisinau (the capital city!) was modified or built by the Soviets. Three streets away from the heart of centru and you see nothing but houses and buildings that are hundreds of years old, and were clearly never touched by the Soviets.
Or you have the opposite, such as the beautiful apartment in which I now live, in which everything is so modern that there’s no place here for what is now a culture that’s been extinct for an entire generation.
Sam, did you get arrested again or what? Where have you been?
Oddly, to paraphrase what every Romanian in the world knows Jay-Z said, over this past year I’ve had 99 problems but thankfully the police ain’t one :)
The extremely short version is that I came here in kind of a rush and had to find a place very quickly in order to “crash”. I did find one, priced at 100 euros a month, and never planned to live there long. But through circumstance and other events, I ended up living there until just two short months ago, crammed into a tiny and very inadequate space smaller than my old bedroom in Cluj, along with three cats and another person during most of it.
Here’s just a short list of some of the challenges I’ve had to face:
- Bad Juice – One night I awoke to a bright orange flash, and a moment later one of the wall electrical outlets (Ro: prize) caught fire. Out of five total plugs in the apartment, three were fried and inoperable, and one only half worked, by the time I left there. Two different gadgets, including one mobile phone, also got internally “fried” by the surges and spikes in the electricity. Frankly, the apartment was originally just a storage area or something, because the electricity was all running through wires mounted OUTSIDE the walls, that is to say, not hidden from view in the “interior” of the walls like most houses have. Every day I lived in fear that my last working computer would get fried as well. Now, thank god, I have a voltage regulator in this new apartment and a normal amount of wall outlets that all work properly without any problems. It was never Moldova, just that bad apartment.
- Neither Rain, Nor Snow, Nor Sleet… – In fact, about the only real problem I’ve had that’s been Moldova specific is the goddamn postal system in this country. And it’s not just me. I know a Moldovan who tried to mail a package to Spain and it got returned because the Moldovan post office fucked something up. As for me, I got booted out of Cluj in a hurry, and somehow forgot my bank card, the one and only way I had of ever getting any money. It took three friggin’ months and the personal intervention of someone in America to get a new bank card successfully delivered here. Even FedEx was useless, as I just last week got an email from them about a card mailed to me 9 months ago. Sheesh! Moldovan mail delivery people (Ro: postas) are so casual that they don’t even wear a uniform, or even a marked mailbag or a hat. Nope, nothing. They just walk around looking like a guy with a messenger bag who just happens to stumble into your bloc until he has something for you one day and hand you a bill and you realize he’s the fucking official mailman. I could write an entire book about my woes with those guys, and a hell of a lot of women as well, that work at the Moldovan post office. BTW if you absolutely have to get something sent here, the only ones who can do it reliably are DHL, but it’ll cost you a ton of money.
- Ghetto Gordon Ramsey – My apartment that was some kind of retrofitted old depot room or something also had no kitchen whatsoever. There was a communal Soviet-style kitchen one door over, but due to a dispute between the landlord and the neighbors, we got to use it maybe three times total. The only way to eat at home was either raw food, processed food (usually junk) like chips or sandwiches, or else by use of an electric kettle (Ro: ceanic) and then later a rice cooker. I was laughing many times as I called myself the “Ghetto Gordon Ramsey” as I enjoyed the challenge of making high-quality and delicious food using just a water boiling machine and a rice cooker, which is sort of like an electric “pot” that’s quite versatile when you’re desperate and have enough training as cook using regular techniques and standard kitchens LOL. The proof of it was the day I made delicious, hand-made pizza using nothing but the rice cooker, a plastic container (Ro: caserola), some knife work and other stuff, and then of course all the rising and kneading of the dough. Was it worth it? Damn right :) But I must admit it’s great to have a real kitchen again, as I have in this new apartment.
- B & E – It wasn’t bad enough living in a retrofitted storage closet but apparently some of our neighbors were hard-core thieves. They already bizarrely stole a wet tree branch just a few days after I deliberately propped it up outside my window, but at least that wasn’t a truly criminal act. However, one night on a Saturday when we both actually got the privilege of leaving the house for two and a half short hours, a person or persons unknown broke into our apartment. When we came home, a video camera and about 100 euros in Moldovan money was stolen, and they’d ransacked through the closets looking for more goodies to steal. How they missed my computer is a miracle, as far as I’m concerned. It was winter and they’d broken the window to get in, so all three cats were exposed to very cold air, plus the fright of having strangers come in, but luckily they were physically unharmed. The strangest part is I was always so poor in that period that I never had the money (or inclination) to go out much socially, so 99% of Saturday night I would’ve been home for sure, and when we left it was still kind of early and we were only gone from like 6-8:30, and it wasn’t even to go to a bar or “go out” (Ro: merge in oras) but just to go meet a guy who owed us something that he’d promised to return like three days earlier so we weren’t about to wait and give him another chance to delay. At the end of it all, though, the cats were unharmed, and while losing the money really hurt, it was better than losing either invaluable equipment like a computer, or something powerfully sentimental and personal, or of course any lasting harm to the cats.
- Death, Sickness and Injury – Living conditions were already rough, and add to that a lot of personal and financial problems in a tiny amount of space, and it’s no surprise that illness and injury were common. At one point, as a result of a bad cold, I became completely deaf for two weeks, and partially deaf for another four weeks. I can definitely attest to the fact that being deaf is one of the most alienating and strange things anyone can go through, and if I had to make the terrible choice of being dear or blind, I’d definitely choose blind. Other illnesses worse and less also stalked that apartment, and I already wrote about enough of it here, so no need to go into morbid details. I will say it was damn nice to wake up in this new apartment for the first morning in a long time and not be violently coughing with streams of snot (Ro: muci) streaming out of my nose.
- Gde Dush? – Again, I had to get a place to live in a hurry, and I never expected to live there long – or with anyone else, so I wasn’t looking for luxury. But I had to ask my Russian-only speaking landlord where in the tiny bathroom the shower was. He laughed and pointed to a jury-rigged contraption whereby you stand on the floor and divert the sink water to a shower head that you have to hold with your hand at all times. The boiler was “weak” and only gave you about 10 minutes of reliable hot water no matter what you did. So staying clean was hard work, not to mention that the floor was just linoleum over concrete, and badly applied wallpaper, so the place was impossible to keep clean without advanced vacuum cleaners I certainly couldn’t afford to buy.
- Sporting Lint – Even after I finally was united with my new and functional bank card, money problems were constant, and often very severe. A handful of very wonderful people helped me out exactly when I needed it most, and literally saved me from quite a bad fate. But living on emergency help is no way to live, and it took about six months of hard slogging before I was able to start paying bills (and a ton of debts) through my own sweat and labor. And living in a tiny space with scary bad electricity and no kitchen (so all food prep and eating was on the same table as where I worked) added up to about the world’s worst work environment. Add to that just two pieces of Soviet-era furniture (made here in Moldova during USSR days) that were murder on my back and legs. It was almost comical how I had to bookstrap myself, working like a devil in order to buy a proper office chair so I could return to zero money and now work even harder to make more LOL. But, as the Little Engine (Russian: Паровозик, который смог awww so cute) once said, if you keep on working, eventually you can get out of even the deepest hole. Now I have a proper desk and working is a thousand times more pleasant, and my debts are steadily dwindling, thank goodness.
- Banned from the Superhighway – For a few months, I had to get by using pre-paid internet that connected with a USB stick/flash drive that cost me about 20 euros to buy. But when you’re hungry, it’s hard to find money for the internet, and those megabytes disappear quick when you’re pre-paying for bundles of them (hint: never watch a Youtube video!). And then even after I got “normal” high-speed always-on internet, I am using a nine year old computer that cannot be upgraded due to the nature of its “mother” chip (it’s an Apple laptop with a Motorola chip). Slowly, all the big players have dropped support for my computer. Last year Skype quit working with no apology from Microsoft, and this year Dropbox also dropped support, and the list goes on and on. Many popular websites (I’m looking at you, pretentious MEDIUM and TWITTER) simply refuse to work with my browser’s necessarily antiquated versions. Plus, any old computer just runs slowly, making even writing an email a tedious and painfully slow task. Obviously I will get a new computer in the future when the money is here, but for now I am trying to milk an old horse into getting up to speed on a blazing fast superhighway where it seems everyone else is driving a Ferrari. Who knows what kind of jobs and other opportunities I’ve lost because it takes 10 minutes to load a brief YouTube video.
Well, that’s enough of the negative, and I’ve left plenty off the list as well. But it’s important to understand that there were definitely some positive things that came out of living in that apartment as well, and I’ll get into that more another time.
As I said right before we were able to get out of there and move into this place, it was like we were all thrown together in a lifeboat, barely surviving on rations and crammed in a tiny space, but it’s better than drowning. And the point of a lifeboat is to keep you alive until you make it to shore, and that’s what’s happened now, so this perhaps “tragic” story is starting to have a happy ending, so that’s a good thing.
One Million Words… And Growing – If you’re of a certain age and probably American culture, you’re probably thinking of vitamins about now LOL but what I want to refer to here is that, as you know, I’ve been keeping an accurate word count of my posts since the beginning of this year. And while the frequency of 2015 hasn’t been up to the output of previous years, I’d say the word counts are fairly illustrative, and so without a doubt there are well over one million words of written text, 99.9% of it about Romania and Romanian culture et al, on this here blog. Roughly speaking let’s say there’s 10 full-length books on here, and even if you say I squeezed one or two of my published books out of some of the material here, that still leaves an easy 8+ full books of stuff to read here. With almost 1,300 total posts, you could read one article here every day, 365 days a year with no break, and still need almost four years to catch up today LOL Gosh, sometime’s hard to believe I actually wrote all of that stuff! Whew! Where did I find the time? :P
Speaking of books, I actually wouldn’t mind – some time in the future – putting together at least one more book out of stuff from what’s been written on here, edited and updated of course (at least a bit), with maybe a fresh new forward or one new story or something, we’ll see. Suffice it to say, if you’re looking for what I’ve got to say about Romania, you’ve come to the right place LMFAO :)
Uh, how can I say this politely, Sam? As your number one fan, you know that I love savoring your super long posts like this one is turning out to be, but my advice is you need to finish on a quick, sweet note
Good advice! As everyone knows, the Lord loves a hanging (YT video link) and the internet loves a cat picture, so here’s one for you to enjoy:
Although of course it isn’t her “real” name on her official papers (a comical farce I’ve enjoyed for years when dealing with the Romanian government), I call her Ratty. That’s not to denigrate or insult her, but just because sometimes she twitches her mischievous nose just like a little rat, and will catch any fallen crumb of food if you don’t watch out and she’s always trying to get into trouble, little monkey that she is.
She’s much older now that she is in this picture, but only by a few months (cats age rather rapidly). I walked out of the apartment on the last day of the year in which it snowed, a bitterly cold downpour that everyone resented as it was fart past due (according to both tradition and the calendar) for some warm weather, and there was a tiny kitten. Mind you, there were stray cats all over the place, and at least one who lived outside but came every day to my neighbor to get fed. So as cute as she was, I assumed she was either passing through or “belonged” to one of the neighbors.
But I noticed that she was extraordinarily friendly, and had none of the coloring of all of the local cats that I’d seen. And the snow was coming down and it was quite cold, and she buried into my jacket when I picked her up, instantly purring (Ro: toarce) like a freight train. But I put her down after a moment and went on my way. When I came back from the store, I expected she’d be gone somewhere, but she was still there, and happy to see me, so I decided to give her one more test before doing the insane thing of now living in a cramped box with bad electricity, etc, and now four cats LMFAO so I took her inside and I gave her exactly what all the other cats eat, which is raw meat, and I laughed so hard when she wolfed down an entire gat de pui or chicken neck/throat half the size of her body in about 60 seconds. Starving, cold, and affectionate, clearly she was happy there, and in no time flat it was clear that, as insane as it was, she was meant to come live with us. Thankfully, soon we got to come here to a much better place where she can climb trees and be a happy cat, and she brings us, and the neighbors, and everyone she meets, a lot of joy.
I’m obviously not going to turn this into a cat blog, but it’s cool to see once again how literally every single cat has their own unique personality, and it’s been fun getting to know and interact with Ratty as she gets older and finds out her place in this sometimes confusing world. Again, I know the name looks awful in type, but she’s a sweet girl and it feels natural somehow when I say it aloud.
More to come soon, gentle readers, but NOW YOU KNOW! :)