The Real Romania

When we last left our intrepid me, I was barreling across the Beautiful Gray Green Greasy Danube River from Vidin, Bulgaria, to Calafat, Romania, where our friends Dan and Laura were waiting to pick me up. That was nearly a month ago, and from then until the end of the trip I did not have time to write.

Really. Not one minute for one single entry, especially since entries take more than a minute.

It’s more straightforward to review churches and castles than to review your friend’s wedding. That it happens in a culture that I’m not conversant in, which is to say, a culture, stays even more my typing hand. Also, I set myself an additional task of writing post cards to as many of our friends as we can and that takes some time as well.

This might be the Real Romania that the guidebooks are chiding us for not seeing and the tour leaders are trying to simulate with their happy native shows under the grape arbors of Xinjiang. But it might not be Romania at all. It is Dan and Laura and their families, and Andrei’s friends, and other individual people and I can’t say whether they represent Romania any more than they represent Dubai. Nobody among them acts like the opening scene of Borat, that’s for sure.

Sometime recently Dan and his brother Cristi both seem to have decided that working 60 hours a week to stay in the same place was not cutting it, and what they really need to be doing is working 120 hours a week to get ahead. That is what they are doing now, and the wedding seemed only to be a bump in the family road. Dan was working out a house he was designing as he left on their honeymoon, and Cristi was making deals practically the whole time.

I hope it works. It is possible to work arbitrarily hard and have it all come to nothing due to currency speculators and war profiteers 7 time zones away.

The time in Craiova was mostly spent at parties or preparing for them. I arrived Thursday; Friday was spent preparing for the wedding and the party afterwards. Laura was buying the food for the restaurant to serve. They were not in a position to be throwing money around like some other wedding people. We went to a Farmer’s Market/Costco amalgam outside of town to buy fruit. When we pulled up to the back of the Restaurant Doljana at lunch time, one of the restaurant workers was out the back door killing a chicken. This is a good sign at a restaurant.

I only lately realized the cultural or more properly temporal centrism of the history I learned in America. Don’t you remember learning that there was a big demand for spices to preserve meat or disguise the taste of bad meat in the Middle Ages, because of the lack of refrigeration? I suppose it must be true, but the real way people live who don’t have refrigeration is that they don’t kill more meat than they can eat. Chickens on an average night, fatted calves for the big celebrations.

In the afternoon we went to Cristi’s new hardware store and construction company and bar in Blatovoiesti. I told you he was busy. None of them drink so I didn’t either. I don’t know what the instance of teetotaling bar owners is. Sheik Abdelaziz al-Brahim (of the Cairo Hyatt) would not approve of his inverse hypocrisy. (Hypocrisy is signed, a fact which is seldom mentioned in culture-centric rhetorical discussions.)

That night about ten he remembered he had to buy dress shoes so off to the mall.

The day of the wedding was grueling like all weddings. There is a great tendency to stand up in Orthodox services. I’m not sure what the survival value is of that. Afterwards the photographer wanted a detour to the park for photos. There were certain marigold beds that were much in demand and Dan and Laura had to wait in line behind other brides and grooms in order to pose where they were instructed. Dan was not happy with all this. Cristi was on his cell phone most of the time practicing the Art of the Deal.

And so to eating.

At about 9:30 PM the wedding reception was brought to a standstill when the game between Craiova and Dinamo came on the big screen TV on the terrace. Every man in the room walked outside to watch, and didn’t come back until it was over. Craiova unfortunately lost 1-0. Craiova does not have the money to bid against Dinamo for the best players, is the explanation I was given.

On Sunday we all went out to the Vintage Rose in Blatovoiesti (That’s Cristi’s bar) to eat more of the leftover food and I watched them again berate the very old drunk lady who comes around demanding things.

And on Monday, Dan and Laura drove to Iasi, with me in the back seat. It took about 16 hours. The road, via Curtea de Arges, winds up past a large dam and over a very high pass with a glacial lake at the summit. That is the fast part. Curtea de Arges has a cute little monastery in it where you can pay to take pictures inside. It is also the first instance I have seen, of knock-off World Heritage Sites. Apparently the monastery did not make the cut for the UNESCO imprimatur, rather like French Cooking in that respect (there is a considerable movement to get French Cooking declared a cultural heritage which must be preserved by all the world. No more of these Basque upstarts. Does anyone else see the problem with cultural heritages, when contrasted with Ruins? When you declare that you are going to preserve a cultural artifact, like basket weaving or marriage, you are condemning actual living human beings to spend their lives that way. The janitors and structural engineers who service World Heritage Sites at least get paid. It would be one thing to say that all the drama students who didn’t get the roles they wanted in Summer Stock would take jobs in Colonial Williamsburg to say “thou” for three months. But ox-herding in Costa Rica requires a bit more commitment. (That’s one of the UNESCO cultural artifacts.) What if the ox guys decide they want to watch Reality TV and drink Red Bull? Does the World Bank keep them in line behind the oxen?

Where were we? Curtea de Arges. They have designed themselves a logo which at a glance looks like the square peg in a round hole that is UNESCO. There are snow globes of the Crucifixion for sale there but since Scott doesn’t collect Madonnas any longer I had nobody to give one to. They’ll still be there.

If you drove across America in the early 1960’s, you know what it is like to spend the whole day in a construction project single file behind trucks while a freeway gets built. If you didn’t, go to Romania or China. That’s what the road from Urumqi to Turpan, and the road from anywhere to Brasov is like. The Americans I think ultimately figured out the Art of the Detour and it is a Cultural Heritage which I wish we would pass on to the world because other people don’t understand, you build your freeway off somewhere, like Highway 5, and when it’s done, you turn it on like a tap. Dam builders and canal builders have known this for centuries.

When we descended from Balea Lac, we hit a traffic jam that extended most of the way to Iasi.  What a way for Dan to start his honeymoon. But he is driven, so he drives. Also the restaurant at Balea Lac is where (as I mentioned) he plugged in his computer to design the house he was working on at the time.

Our friend Andrei had found Dan and Laura a hotel so when we pulled in at close to midnight, he didn’t have search for one.

In the morning, Dan and Laura drove on to have a proper honeymoon and not one with hitchhikers, and I spent the rest of the week hanging out with Andrei and the gang who would be our best friends if we didn’t have our own gang and if they wouldn’t be half our age until Sarah Palin’s second term. (That image is two days anachronistic, a sign that I am writing this much later. I watched Sarah Palin’s acceptance speech, to the extent one watches shows like that, from Andrei’s living room on CNN.)