Archive for October, 2008

The Business of Romania is Business

October 23rd, 2008 10:13 am by ray from here

Butza bought a restaurant. Doina has a little consultancy doing chemistry, and Cristi, as mentioned, has a bar, a hardware store, and builds houses for German people who are hoping to cash in before Romania’s bubble bursts. It would be cool if all the money in the world ended up in Romania because that is the last place whose failure mode is not guaranteed.

When I come to Iasi I usually stay in Andrei’s room and Andrei goes and sleeps with somebody he likes better. This time I felt uncommonly intrusive, because next door to Andrei’s room is his brother Radu’s room, where Radu and his wife Nicoleta are staying, awaiting the imminent arrival of a child.

In I Love Lucy space, a household expecting a baby is in something of a tizzy, but nobody here is acting out of the ordinary at all. Nicoleta is not even waddling. The baby is entirely ready to be born. Could be any day. The baby is positioned on the starting blocks, you know, since the introduction of the Convection feature you don’t even have to turn them any more half way through. Nicoleta could find plenty to be worried about, if it were her nature — her own birth is supposed to have been like one of those collapsed tunnel rescues that occupy the news for days and lead to calls for new mining safety laws. But she hasn’t really curtailed her activities. Radu goes to work at Iuliusmall every day, doing some Father Knows Best job that is never quite specified.

Andrei and his pals are on vacation until the end of September. The morning after I arrived, Andrei and I met Dan and Laura at Andrei’s current favorite cafe and Dan and Laura departed for the painted monasteries of Bucovina. They had actually invited me. I am more of the American traditional notion that honeymoons are for the people most closely involved, and not their friends. Although — the first time I ever hitchhiked in my life was from Long Beach to Isla Vista and one of the rides I got was from a couple who were just setting out from their wedding. Tuxedo and veil and all. It’s so long ago and weird, it seems like a false memory, but why would I start telling myself a story like that? Anyway, Santa Monica in 1969, it wasn’t a big deal to violate traditions.

After visiting a hall at the University with a few Vigeland-esque murals (if Emanuel Vigeland had been making posters for head shops) Dan and Laura drove away to the north, while Andrei and whoever was available to socialize went to get some chemicals for his mother’s laboratory and delivered them to her. Her lab reminded me of Gates Laboratory at Cal Tech, which is kind of too bad since I know Gates laboratory from 1968, and there should be a lot more gleaming advances in evidence, especially in the field of stainless steel and the field of not being lit like an Outer Limits set. (The TV show, of course)

On the way to the lab, there was an extended episode of the Pugnaciousness of the Staircase, involving some driver who had been rude to another member of the chemical delivering party before we encountered him. Not speaking Romanian, and not having been there, I could only tell by the tone of voice what depredations they were planning in an alternate history, of what they should have said and done and how many of their friends should have pummeled him and why he had no reason to be so insulting.

In a foreign country you have lots of time to be reminded of things in your own, and I thought then of my cousin Dan and me at sleepovers when I was about 7, planning what we would do to burglars if they broke in. I think it was nice that we got to fabricate plans on our own rather than receiving them whole from movies such as Home Alone. But I haven’t seen Home Alone. Maybe their plans are better. In any case, our plots were certainly informed by Chuck Jones. (You have to watch out for ignorance nostalgia. Opposition to sex education is the canonical form of it. Nobody ever suggests that kids are better off learning to drive without adult participation.)

If I had been taking notes fastidiously, I could probably divine when it was that Stef and Buta actually worked.

In the evening, The Boys, as Andrei uniformly refers to them, went to play basketball at a park. I played Sports Photographer, something I’ve never been good at though the cameras keep getting better and better. Butza assures me my camera can take multiple shots at once, and I should learn how.

Some time about 200 photos into it, a woman dropped by and asked The Boys in her most tut tut voice, if they were aware of their rights with respect to their pictures being published in magazines. The Boys told her that I was a friend of theirs.

It’s hard to remember, looking at Orthodox churches, that it wasn’t settled until the middle of the 9th century that representing the image was in any way OK with God. Theodora’s victory is still not assured: this tiff is another indication that even in Christendom the iconoclasts will not stop until photography is the exclusive province of the state (there are surveillance cameras all over the park, and nobody lectures them about republication rights.)

It has happened before, that I have been told not to be taking pictures of children — as when I was taking photos of my nephew Johnny at the Palo Alto pool when he was ten or twelve and set off some kind of alarm. This was before 9/11 so it wasn’t that Johnny was suspected as an object of terrorist bombing.

The warning lady’s gut feeling seems to have been, that the act of taking pictures ought not to be occurring; and since it was rather difficult for her to persuade herself that a white haired stranger constituted a threat to 6 athletic men in their mid-twenties with whom sex would in any case be legal, she seized upon the most sinister scenario she could muster and went off to give the lecture she had pre-ordained herself to deliver.

The next day was given over to medicine. Stef had some kind of abscess which he had been ignoring since their vacation on Corfu, and Andrei, being in dental school, seizes on every chance to practice. I am kicking myself for not letting them clean my teeth. I am sure that it would cost less than the copay here, especially since my insurance only pays for two cleanings a year and I get three. People in civilized countries will have no idea what I am talking about.

The Boys had gone to Corfu earlier this summer. Stef narrated the Corfu pictures that were on Buta’s computer and mentioned that two girls in one photo were chatting them up in resort slut dudgeon until they asked where Stef and Butza were from. Romania. Turned their backs, never spoke to them again.

He said this happened more than once.

I got really pissed off at the injustice of this. Stef and Butza started saying they were Finnish. This is a difference between Americans and Eastern Europeans.

The next day Andrei’s dad took me to the tourist places of Iasi. It’s a little crazy to be in such a beautiful town and do nothing but go to coffee houses. No, it’s not. After that, we went to Stef’s girlfriend’s house and Andrei and I watched the others play poker.

On the way to the poker game, Andrei introduced me to the girl who procured girlfriends for him and for Buta. She is a chemist. They were hanging out in the square near Stef’s girlfriend’s apartment. Andrei wanted me to take photos of them and then immediately decided that would make them uncomfortable, and thereby diminish his backup plans in case his current girlfriend doesn’t work out, so I didn’t. I try to please Andrei, even at the cost of my icons.

Andrei says he would become addicted to it if he played poker. My excuse is that I have no idea what people are about so I try not to play games other than Tetris.

When Nicoleta comes home from the hospital, she will return to a new apartment with Radu. Some amount of vacation time was spent moving furniture into the new apartment. If moving furniture were happening in my house to me, it would be an activity to be avoided at all costs. But when you are ten time zones away and with friends, you notice that it’s actually less onerous than, say, seeing the Great Pyramid of Giza.

Butza’s restaurant is pretty great.

One of the evenings here, we briefly watched on CNN as a woman with no discernible qualifications accepted the Republican nomination for Vice President. Eastern Europe is the ideal place to witness such surreal manipulations of the art of government.

And then it was time to go home.