Monday, November 12, 2007

Acum Pot


If you’ve read much of me at all, then you’ve probably observed that what I’ve mostly written has been for my American friends, about what is so different about Romania from our US experience, a kind of tourist cum expat sightseer journal of impressions from this stranger in a less-and-less strange land.

For his blog I want to reverse the polarities, and write for my Romanian friends. The ones who ask me repeatedly, “What the hell are you doing back? In Romania? What were you thinking?"

Well, here’s what I’m doing back in a country so many so fervently want to get out of because they believe that the land of opportunity is anywhere else but here.

Let’s enter the Way-Back machine. The year is 2003. I’m a lost puppy sent as an advertising guru to a country whose language is supposed to make sense to me because I parla Italiana, but doesn’t. I’m stuck with a driver who charges me double for everything I need because he knows I can’t fend for myself. He won’t show up to take me home past 1900 hours (7pm) when I work daily till 2100 (9pm) fiecare zi (every day) unless I bribe him adequately, which I don’t think to do, because, well, because I am an American, and we don’t think to do such things.

He works three jobs. His mother, who used to be employed by the state in a factory that doesn’t exist any more, and hasn’t yet been sold to foreign investors, would work if anyone would make her an offer, but they don’t. She’s almost fifty, and there aren’t many opportunities. His brother drives a taxi, works construction, and sells cigarettes on the side to foreigners who will pay outrageous prices for Winstons that tongue-burn on ignition from being so far beyond their expiration date. He never speaks of his father, and I don’t inquire.

They all tend vegetables in window boxes in every window of their bloc apartment (to eat themselves or sell) which houses three generations in the space solitary American grad students complain about. And they make do. Waiting for better. He would like me, when I go back home, to send him boxes of American sneakers which he could black market for a profit. I decline. His best hope is to one day own a Volkswagen Passat. It is, for him, a very big dream. They are a too typical urban Romanian family caught in transition. And the crossfire. I don’t know this at first. But I learn. Optimism is a very expensive and painful luxury in this land of promising disenchantment.

And the energy of the country is like quicksand.

It is a strange, stalled, static charge, rank with the bouquet of disappointment and frustration. Romania has one foot on the gas pedal and one foot on the brake, restlessly waiting for the light to turn green. Romania is a finally-liberated country desperately waiting for someone to tell it what to do. While I am here, no one does.

Fast Forward:

“You won’t recognize this place when you get here.” Andreea e-informs me as I pack for my short-project trip, the one that will ultimately culminate in signing on for long-term plans to ride the Romanian tidal wave.

“Everything’s changed.”

Was she ever right.

Now the energy is organized. There is an in-spite-of-everything optimism as the undertone. There is a flourishing and energetic world-class force that is emerging. Romania is rising. While America is still sinking under government stupidity and an aberrant, non-leadership, sock-puppet president, Romania has one of the few economies that is growing.

Multi-nationals have found a new exploitation target, which is really good for its victims. Personal income taxes have been lowered from 50% to 16% uniformly. Several corrupt politicians have gone to jail for being corrupt politicians. Banks issue debit cards now, and credit cards aren’t far behind. With real, professional jobs comes money. With money comes credit. With credit comes houses, and cars, and consumer economies, and every weekend can be Crăciun (Christmas) with an embossed plastic rectangle in your pocket, and malls opening everywhere you’d want to plunk them down. Yee haw, it’s capitalism. At last!

Right now Romania is drunk on money and choices.

Streams of Nissans, and Fords, Peugeots and BMWs, HumVees, and Mercedes necklace the better blocs and neighborhoods and flood every road. Versace wafts through Dorobanti and St. John’s and Armani walk hand in hand down the better boulevards. This is the show-off phase that comes after such a long and empty drought. Because they can.

The multi-nationals bring jobs, and with them the possibility of careers again. Lives again. Anything is possible. In Romania now, everything, after waiting through two thousand years of occupation, is finally possible.

FlashBack #2: Same time. Same station:
(Being prescient is not always an evil gift.)

I may not have known it at the time, but maybe I did when I wrote some lyric prose to Romanians for my then client, Connex, the country’s biggest telecom company at the time. It never got out of the agency, because the Romanians making the decision about what would go to client and what would go waste bin, didn’t have quite the confidence that what I saw was possible. It is called Acum Pot. (Now I can.)

I Am Romanian
I have survived two thousand years of others who believed that they knew what was best for me. And again and again, I told them that I know what was best for me.
I have survived hardships to work hard for myself. And for my freedom.
Now I can build businesses from mere ideas. Build my family’s life the way we wish it to be.
I am no longer a shepherd who is willing any more simply to lie down and accept my fate. I see fate as clay. I will mold myself new fate.
I look around and see my history in every street, but I also find there new possibilities and opportunities for change.
I am descended from brave-hearted Dacian kings and Roman emperors. I am Romanian. And I can do anything.
I invite tomorrow and I swallow opportunity in one bite.
Where others doubt, I believe. And what I believe, I can do.
I believe that doubt is defeat, and inaction is every opportunity missed.
And I don’t want to miss anything now. Because I believe that next thing I do is the first thing that brings me closer to whatever I can dream.
I move and change and dream in my own best interest now.
And now. I can do anything. Acum pot.
Sunt roman.

Present Time:
It is now nearly 2008. Four years nearly to the zi.

Bucureşti is exciting in the way that the Wild West frontier was. The way 1960’s New York was. The way Amelia Erhart and Henry ford were. It’s the discovery excitement of Columbus, and Thomas Edison and Carl Sagen, to go American on you for a moment. It’s the innocent optimism America has lost, temporarily, I hope. It’s why I came back to Romania. Though the natives cannot always see it for themselves. Sometimes it takes someone who hasn’t seen it every day (fiecare zi) to see what’s going on.

And everywhere I turn, here, now, I see Acum Pot. It’s why I came back.

And why I think I'm going to stick around for a while.

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Writer's Bloc by
Shelly Roberts is licensed under a
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Sunday, November 11, 2007

Here's Lookin' At YOU, Kid!


If you should happen to find yourself drinking at a dinner party full of Internationals and Romanians who have already shouted "Noroc!" (Nor-oak) and "Success!" (Sook-chess) with every progressing decanter, not to mention "Skol!," "Salud y amor y pasetas" and "l' chaim" do not, I repeat, Do Not hoist your own chalice and loudly proclaim "Prost!" to the assembly.

In Romanian, it means idiot.
(Not to mention "stupid," "fool", "simpleton" and "ninny.")


Now THAT is how you really learn to speak Romanian. And <blush> also how not to.


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Writer's Bloc by
Shelly Roberts is licensed under a
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Sunday, November 4, 2007


Bucuresti (Bu-cah-resh-t-(ee) (slightly breathe the last i so no one but other Romanians can actually hear it.))

Just in case you thought that learning to speak Romanian was a lark, merely a matter of turning the French poisson, the Italian pesce, the Spanish pescado into the Romanian peşte (pesh-tay) (fish), or "crayon" (meaning pencil, not the burnt sienna of your yellow and green crayola pre-schooling days) into the Romanian creion, THINK AGAIN! In Romanian, the plural of crayon is creioane, a neuter noun. (Nothing personal. I like creioanes.)

A creion and the crayons, well, we have a bit of a hermaphroditic concern here because neuter nouns take the masculine definite article in the singular and the feminine in the plural: (Make up your damn minds!)

I'm really good at English, and I certainly don't remember having to learn nomnitave, and accusitive cases, much less indicative, imperative, subjunctive, optative-conditional, and presumptive modes, and if I did, I've mercifully forgotten them. Haven't you? Anyway, back to the bi-genderal pencils.

Creionul in the singular. Creionele in the plural. I think. and if the creion happens to own something, then you could get to something like creionului. Or creionaeulelui. Or Creion-uh-loo-loo-looie-lor. Or maybe not. This is one tough lingo!

Once I've mastered THAT, I get to go on to conjugations, reflexives, subjunctives and those damnative cases:

So far I can, on my limited but well pronounced Romanian, get from my house to the office without getting arrested. Well, provided that I am in a taxi with a driver who got a C- or lower in English, or heaven forefend, took French in school. Taxi Romanian. Not bad for four months. Great if you're a Romanian four year old.

But this I must share. This is a page in, well, it looks like English, on conjugating Romanian verbs. It does not include exceptions. But be prepared. The following contains contamnative (I just made that up) phrases such as homonymous morphemes. (I didn't make that one up.) Continue at your own risk. Quit when your eyes get tired (I know I did.), Or, what the heck, just skim. (I know I did that too.):

4.1. Introduction to the verb
4.1.1. Basic information about verb and conjugation

Romanian verbs have different forms that show mood, tense, person, number, gender and voice:
- mood: five personal moods (indicative, imperative, subjunctive, optative-conditional, and presumptive) and four non-personal moods (infinitive, participle, gerund, supine). Most of these moods have two tenses (present and past); some have only one tense; one of them, the indicative, has eight tenses (one present tense, four past tenses and three future tenses) tense: present, past and future tenses. The tenses are of two basic kinds. There are simple tenses consisting of one word – the main verb stem plus different suffixes and endings. These include present indicative, imperfect indicative, simple perfect indicative, and pluperfect indicative. There are also compound tenses (consisting of different combinations of auxiliary elements and the infinitive or the past participle of the main verb) – compound perfect indicative, the futures of the indicative, past subjunctive, present and past optative-conditional, present and past presumptive, past infinitive

- person: 1st, 2nd and 3rd in the personal moods. There is also the possibility of combining the infinitive and the gerund (non-personal moods) with reflexive pronouns in different persons, which gives these non-personal moods a person-oriented usage

- number: singular and plural

- gender: masculine, feminine and neuter for the past participle in the passive voice, as well as for the gerund, when used as supplemental predicative element or attribute

- voice: active, passive and reflexive.

There is a large number of suffixes and endings, which form tenses and moods, persons and numbers, as well as a series of infixes (-ez-/-eaz-; -esc-/-eşt-; -ăsc-/-ăşt-) that appear in the 1st and 4th conjugations. There are homonymous morphemes in the system of the Romanian verb, which leads to the presence of relatively numerous grammatical homonyms and homographs within the verbal paradigm.

Some independent parts of speech become structural elements within certain verbal forms. The preposition a
functions as a particle that indicates the infinitive mood. The conjunction să is used as a morpheme to form the subjunctive, as well as the futures based on the subjunctive.

One of the distinctive features of the verbal conjugation is the presence of numerous auxiliary elements used to form compound tenses and moods: a avea to have (am cântat, am să cânt, aveam să cânt), a fi to be (a fi cântat, să fi cântat), a voi to want (voi cânta), other auxiliary elements (aş cânta, o să cânt, oi cânta). Some of the auxiliaries are used to build several verbal forms.

Within the conjugation numerous phonetic mutations (both vowel and consonant changes) occur. They are brought about by the new phonetic context created by inflective suffixes and endings in conjunction with the changing position of the stress.

Thank you, God, for letting me be born in the country most of the rest of the world had to do the above to learn how to speak their own language and I didn't. And, more importantly, than had to learn to speak MY language. Just so I could buy a pound of cheese or a cafea or grab a taxi here by myself.

And God bless, Alexandru, my teacher, who honestly believes, poor beleagured, and optimistic guy, that someday I'll actually be able to speak this Latinate, Dacian, Slavic, Hungarian, Turkish, Greek stew of a language. If I'm his best student, God, please especially bless all of his other students. And please grant us all the auto-insertion of a not-yet-invented Romanian microchip directly implanted into our confused, er, am confuselui brains. Or is that brainului confusi?

And by the way, all the people who tell you that if you know Italian, limba Romana (Row-muh-nuh) should be a piece of prajatura (cake) ARE WRONG! Italians pronounce all their vowels.

Words with three i's are entirely possible in Romaneste.

But why?

Or is that whiii?

And, by the way2, la in Romanian, like it sanely does in Spanish (la, le, il, etc in French and Italian) doesn't mean "the," It means to or at.

Noroc. (Good luck.)

Many wonderful people who live here speak this language like natives.

Oh, and just in case you want to learn this stuff for yourself, that reference is from here:

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Writer's Bloc by
Shelly Roberts is licensed under a
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