Monday, December 29, 2008

My Best Christmas Present Ever

View this montage created at One True Media
My Best Christmas Present 12/25/08

Luciana, Augustina & Horia, my dear Romanian friends, came to B-dul Timisoara to serenade me with unexpected carols in both English and Romanian. Enjoy them as my shared gift to you.

Sarbatori Fericite!
Happy Holidays


Sunday, October 26, 2008

It's Not The Same Old Romania


Bucharest is a lady and a whore. An unpaved slum and expensive polished hi-rise malls. Peasant fresh-markets, and one of the last remaining rising stock markets. She's drenched in crumbling Deco, dressed in the rubbed raw damaged velvet of a beautiful bygone era, trying on Armani.

She's cobblestones and dust and a thousand new cars a month with streets and alees built for one-horse shays.

She's thirty five and learning fast. And 65 and still trying to make the indoctrinated past work in new clothes that don't quite fit. She's new money and no way to know what to do with it.

She's a sudden teen-age civilization ranting to be treated like a grown-up with the acne pocks and attitude visible everywhere except in the mirror. And an attractive, wrinkled crone applying expensive new makeup.

Bucharest is dust and mud and such unaccountably beautiful parks. City thoroughfares that swell with proud urbanity bordering unseen crumbles and blocks of blocs. Teeming with un-owned dogs the citizens still feel guilty about, love, and feed their leftovers.

Bucarest is a city that is losing its long held American Dream, seeing what a hash America has recently made of itself. But she does love her Kelloggs and CocaCola, and god knows designer labels, the shinier the better. If you could make a foot-wide Rolex, someone here would wear it.

Here Ugly's only ugly if it isn't expensive.

She's been half a century without. And now she's drunk on Multi-national money and too much to choose from. There are no Communist souvenirs, just a dead statue of Lenin still toppled in Mogoasaia Castle Park. She's busy cleaning out her closet, trading her stained red uniforms for new designer jeans.

She's one of the last few remaining markets standing, so she'll stay a little longer at the dance than some of her smaller brethren or her former over-sized over-seers.

And "Hello. And how is your mother?" Sounds like an argument to an untrained ear, so much Slav in the Romance lingo. But at least it's a friendly argument.

She's technologically chic with next year's cell phones, and still wires her walls without sheathing or insulation. Under Construction and Deconstruction at the same time.

She's trying her best and showing her worst. Trying to figure out what to keep and what to tear down. Aching with growing pains and aching to be somebody again. She's 16th Century and 22nd in the same glance.

Bucharest is suspiciously optimistic. And optimistically suspicious. Growing. Changing fast and sticking fast. Clinging to the past. Running headlong into the Day-After-Tomorrow.

She's throbbing and and exciting and pulsing to discover who she's going to be next.

She'll return your lost wallet, and steal your heart.

And She's goddamn interesting as hell. See for yourself:

Bucharest Now 2007-08

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

View From A Distance


Am I the only one who has wondered how we suddenly had the entire US congress racing up and down the marble hallways desperately trying to find an insta-answer to the fact that the whole US economy - omigod- TODAY! - RIGHT NOW!!! - was gonna come to an awful end, tumbling like the Jherico walls?

Seems pretty damned convenient, if you ask me. Convenient? To whom?

Or perhaps it has already occured to you that this unaffordable Seven Hundred BILLION Dollar "rescue" happened with barely a month or two left to take any more profit at the taxpayer's trough. That this was just the last clear chance for the Cheney-Bushes raiding party, one more time, to crack open the American piggy bank again before exit. To give more government money to their already rich friends!

If you'll recall, George's original bailout plan called for no repayment, no reprisals, no constraints, in fact, NO governing of any kind for this handout to the poor (sic(k)) so-called financial genius CEO bastards who had driven their own companies, and the housing market, into the ground chasing the Gordon Ghekko Credo.


Just give 'em the money.

So Mr., Ms, and Mom 'n' Pop America wouldn't have to, in their wretched little non-country club lives, suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune for merely mortgaging themselves into the American Dream.

And nobody in this over-priviledged money club seemed to see it coming. Nobody jailed. Nobody blamed. No parking priveledges at the spa and driving range cancelled.

Gosh, don't you want a job like that?

Didn't it strike you as just a little bit out-of-the-blue odd?

"Wooooolf! Wooooolf!" From the same guy who in 1999 started another pre-election recession by merely proclaiming then that there was one. There wasn't. But after a landslide of press panic - voilla - gee, guess what...a recession.

Makes ya kinda wanna go hmmmmm.

Thank you, Nancy Pelossi, for at minimum collapsing the golden parachutes, and making the financial Stupidity Kings at least promise to pay it back.

Maybe Gordon was right.

If you know the right people in the right places, move in the right circles and you make over 1.2 million annual with options, perks AND bennies:


Could someone there please get this over with soon and bring back America so I can come home.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

People Watching in Lipscani

It's Bucharest days (Zilele Bucurestiului) so I ventured out with the full intent of filling up on faces. I thought you might like to see some of the beautiful sights I get to see every day.


Faces of Bucharest 2008

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Thanks, Shelly.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Car Talk - Another Story About Stamps


Recently a new ex-pat posted a question on the Meetup Expat Web Board about buying a used car in Romania. Someone else gave her websites and advice about how to buy, casually mentioning that she should take a native speaker with her to help with the process, to which I added the following: (I just thought you'd like to have one more picture about the everyday life I am now trying to lead, living in Bucharest):


About registering a car in Romania:

I recently (two weeks ago) bought a used car from a friend, and by the way, everybody is right about that. Next time I won't. Fortunately, she did a lot of the running around with me. We started at 9am and at 5pm still had not finished.

First we went to the home sector of the car owner to the official place to get the car unregistered to her and start the process with me, and buy me some manditory insurance.

Then we had to go next to the official place in a different sector to where the address of the company is listed to get some more papers to start the re-registration process. (Yup. Did I mention that it was in a different sector? Across town? In Bucharest traffic?) So we did that. Well, first, of course we went to the obvious location, but alas, that was the place where a "physical person" not a company registers a car. We were across from my favorite cafe, so we recessed for some caffeine fortification for what was yet to come. We drove to another extremely obscure location where a company located nearby officially could register an old automobile.

Then we drove off to the Post Office to pay a tax. (Lines, of course, silly. Lots and lots of lines.) Don't ask me what tax. I just nodded and ponied up. Cash. Then we went to another place to pay another tax, and, of course, get lots of stamps. Romanians seem to love making that ca-cha-chunk sound loudly with their stampers. It must feel really good in the old party memory sense. Makes them feel more important.

Then we went to a place for another tax payment/stamp which had somehow turned from a government place into a bank making it really difficult to find. It was, of course, in another sector. There they informed us that we had to go back to the post office to pay a different tax, which they could have told us about in the first place. You know, when we were actually AT the post office.

So we did. Go back to the post office. Then we went back to the place in the neighborhood of my company's official address to get more stamps. We stood in line more than half an hour only to get to the front and be told we were in the wrong line and had to start over in a slightly longer line. (And I had a Romanian speaker with me!)

Then we went to what people here keep referring to as "the police station" which seems to be the equivalent of the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) to get more information on what else was needed to complete the registration. And then it was five o'clock on a Friday.

On Monday the car wouldn't start but that's another story about towing with a flex cable dragging the car to the dealership with the key turned on so the brakes and steering wheel would work (and drain the battery) and several thousand more RON.

Now that the car actually is drivable, I still have to have a Romanian speaker call a phone number to get an appointment so that someone can look at the papers and compare the number of the car with the number on the papers by appointment only. Sometimes you have to leave the car there for up to three days, I'm told. No they don't inspect for an engine. Or brakes. Or tires with actual tread. Just the numbers please. For the stamp.

THEN back to the "police station" on Strada (B-dul?) Pipera above Barbu Vacarescu (several sectors away, I'm sure, from where ever I happen to be at the time) to do god knows what to get god knows which stamp. Then the car will officially be mine.

Are you sure you want to do this to yourself. James is right. Definitely bring a native speaker with you, preferably one with a long history of putting up with the Romanian need to have three thousand pounds of paper with the proper stamps. Bring a lunch and some red bull or high test coffee and/or Valium. (There was no drug testing and she drove. But, alas I figured this part out too late.)

In two years or so, I'll sell the Renault to you for half of what I paid, and go home and buy something new and let the dealership sort out all the paperwork. I'll deserve it by then. Hell, I deserve it now, but I thought it was just better to buy something that I wouldn't mind having to repair when someone turning left from the extreme right lane at the last minute across my front quarter panel, decides that those pesky laws of physics about two objects occupying the same space at the same time only apply to foreigners. Or expats.


Oh, yeah. If you get the car and want to drive it out of Bucharest, you should know that you have to stop at a gas station and get, no, not a stamp, a permit that let's you drive outside of bucharest. You can buy it for a day or a week or a month or till your next birthday probably. Your choice. And I'm pretty sure that when you pay them, they will be delighted to ca-cha-chunk a stamp importantly onto your recipt.

What a country!


Saturday, August 30, 2008

Life is Good.


There are blueberries now in the piata markets, a sure sign that September is the day after tomorrow. Tiny le seur pea sized purple-blacks, they are sold by the spatula. Scooped from the newspaper cloth’d concrete counter piles, a new addition to the proaspat (fresh) produce panoply into small, fragile synthetic bags the thinness of a plastic whisper.

“La fel,” the same, I say to the peasant merchant, seeing the size of the previous customer’s order and thinking I've found a linguistic shortcut. Slipping into the easy catch phrase that let’s me avoid my stuttering insecure language skills, and grateful for the simplification, I hand her half the Kilo price and she looks askance, shakes her head in a clearly negative direction and holds out a demanding palm.

Nope. Didn’t get by with the easy. “Jumatate” I sigh, slipping out of my good Romanian accent and into American. “Imi pare rau” I’m sorry, I say with exaggerated flattened A's, and she sighs, and gives me leeway for being a simply slightly stupid ex-pat and halves my order. I stash the fragile treasure in my bag and head next for the stands full of gladioli and freesia for the weekend household decor. Company is coming tonight.

This morning I reach into the back of the pantry where I keep the red-white-blue secret stash. Cheerios and Kellog’s Cornflakes, and sigh with the small but perfect satisfaction of my polka dot breakfast.

The leaves are falling, though Bucharest is still flirting with 38 and 40 degrees C. Work is going very well. My circle of local and international friends grows and sits around my welcome table drinking wine and eating cheeses and chocolates, experimenting, in IKEA reality, with the shocking rumor of a banana-caviar taste combo sweeping some adventurous market and unilaterally deliver our unanimous ugh's with lemon expressions.

End of the summer, September-serious is the day after tomorrow.

In Bucharest, for an Ami ex-pat, today, life is good.

I watch the US political convention frenzy via CNN and Euronews and BBC and one thing becomes increasingly clear.
If you wish to prepare for war: John McCain.
If you wish to prepare for peace: Barak Obama.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Romania In Pieces



No one in Romania ever says "Yes." just once.

They say "Da. Da." Sometimes they say "Da. Da. Da.

Very often they say "Da-da. Da-da-da."

Often it really means "No."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


I am now official.

It isn't just that I have a company. Everyone in Romania, it seems, has a company.

It is that now I have a STAMP!

Now a stamp in Romania is the zenith and apex, acme, apogee, cap, capstone, climax, crest, crown, culmination, cusp, grand finale, head, max, meridian, peak, perihelion, pinnacle, point, quintessence, sublimity, summit, tip, top, tops, turning point, vertex.

'Cuz when you have a stamp here, you have moved up from merely being a physical person to being OFFICIAL! You get a stamp when the notary has taken between two to three hours to sign, and of course stamp, a pile of very official papers that move you into this lofty society wherein you become a "firma." Well, you don't exactly GET a stamp then. You have to walk to the nearest Stamp Magazine (store) which are everywhere, (and now you know why) to BUY a stamp.

Then you can walk into a bank with your head held high. You can buy things and register for things and invoice for things, full well knowing that at the culmination of the transaction, you will not merely affix pen to paper, but you will as well have the full body satisfaction of not only hearing the krinng-kachunk of stampile crashing down marking paper, YOU WILL HAVE CAUSED IT. (And they say the influence of the party is dead here.)

But that's ok. Now I have my own stamp! And that's official.

By the way, according to my accountant, there is absolutely no written law that contracts, invoices, mergers, receipts or anything official actually requires a stamp. But, God, please don't tell that to the Romanians!

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *


Hardly anyone who owns a car here, which would be every single person tall enough to reach the pedals and cut in front of me, drinks alcohol . I once had fantasies of having a top floor apartment and entertaining hordes of charming, impressive, expressive people on my sweeping terrace where we would enjoy scintillating conversations while sipping the best local vintages from elegant crystal flutes and goblets. Last time I was here, it nearly came true. It was paper cups, the terrace was pretty cool, but hardly sweeping, and no one brought the wine. Rude? Nope. Cautious.

The local laws against driving while under even the slightest influence are harsh and punitive and rarely succumb to the for-nearly-everything-else, palm-out, tradition of I-really-didn't-mean-it-officer-here's-a-few-million-lei ($)-for-your-trouble-SIR!?-Spaga (bribes). You simply lose your license. Blow a high number lose your driving privilege forever.  Harsh. but effective.

So instead, people arrive at your door, not with a jeroboam of bubbly, vintage anything. They come bearing gift tetrapaks of Suc (juice). When I was absent for the three years between Romanian visits, this is one of the things I missed most. Fruit juices.

Here's what kind of juices I can get, neatly, sanitarily packaged from my local hypermarket on any given thirsty day: Orange, of course. Regular, but with or without pulp, Spanish, Sicillian, Local, Blood or mixed with tangerine, pineapple, grape or multiples.

And, of course, tangerine. And grapefruit, red or regular. Apple and grape would make the list as no big deal. Now it gets interesting: Pear. Peach. Pineapple (ok, it's imported, but it starts with a P and you can get it here.) Pomegranate. Plum. Persimmon 

.And my personal favorite, Visine. (No, not the red eye remedy, Cherry.)

Kiwi. Melon. (Various and seasonal, naturally.)

Banana. Yes, you can get banana juice in Romania.

The berries. Black, blue, razz and unpronounceably local.

Only so-so on the vegetable front. Tomato, natch. Occasional carrot. I've yet to see onion or avocado. But here, it wouldn't surprise me.

There is absolutely no sociological ramifications attached to this observation.  It's just early morning and I'm thirsty.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * ** * * *

The fragile lilacs are gone now. Replaced with the robust roses that the State fills every median with. And every garden, public or private mimics.  And jasmin and honeysuckle. 

Bucharest in Spring is lush and fragrant and dusty.

In Summer, Bucharest is hot. And dusty.

In Autumn, Bucharest is colorful. And dusty.

And in Winter, Bucharest is cold. And muddy. Which is what you get when you mix snow...and dust.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
La revedere.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

To Be Continued...
Links to this post

Monday, May 12, 2008


So now I'm in Iasi.  No, not Eye-aah-see, Yash.

Yash (Iasi-with an S with a tail that makes it pronounced like a shhhhh.)

Romanian doesn't have the W or the Y in its scrabble set. Really.  

It has dipthongs instead.  For those who left English 101 somewhere back in the 19th century, these thongy things are combos of vowels.  Mostly dip-thongs, or more accurately, like you care, di- or two -pthongs. Got it?  There are also tripthongs and quadrathongs which if you can count to four you can figure out for yourselves how many old MacDonalds there are in the word.  EIEIO. Oa, for example sounds like Wa. Ioa sounds like eeyowah.

And if you want a cup of coffee it ends with an ea that you'd think would sound like eee-yah, but no. ea is a bite-down, spit out sound even western europeans don't do right.  Sort of Cah-f'ya (quickly squishing the fya).  Took me a while, and they still served up their special, delicious caffeine solutions even with my Western pronounciation, but I'm getting better at it, and  hey, it took me almost three years to learn how to correctly pronounce the word for bread. Don't ask.

And that i at the end of iasi (yash) like almost any Romanian word with an i at the end of it, well, don't really pronouce it.  You just kind of keep your mouth hanging open as though you might be going to pronounce it, were maybe going to consider pronouncing it, could pronounce it if you wanted to, but, well, not right now. Bucharest? Nah.  Bucuresti. Pronounced Bue-cuh-resht (half whisper out breathe mouth open) eh.  

Except, of course if there are two i's, which often means that there are more than one of whatever the thing is that, when you spell it, it ends with an i, but adding another makes it plural. Clear? So with two ii's,  pronounce one of them.  I usually chose the first one, but you don't have to. Still with me so far?  And don't even get me started on words with three i's.

But I digress. (Like that's somethingh new, right?)  Back to Yash. Ok, Ok, for the purists: Iasi.

I'm going to skip the history lesson.  Well, as much as possible.  Iasi, like a lot of Romania seemed to be on the road to everywhere.  So all the 13th, 14th and 15th+++ centurians, passing through looked around, said, "Hmmm, nice place to raise us some sheeps (sic) I think I'll take it over." and came, saw and concurred. Not just in Iasi, all over Romania. Turks, Saxons, Austro-Hungarians, Aryans, Capitalists,
later and most recently the Russians, Multi-nationals,  and of course, originally, the  Romans from whence Roman-ia, the country with an italianate language that they claim is easy to understand if you speak Italian (NOT!) A language that could use 3 i's just to call the bunch of kids copiii. (ko-pee-ee) the i of which you pronounce two out of three times, your choice. Cool, huh!

I've only been in Iasi for an hour or so, checked into the best 4 star hotel I've found in Eastern Europe so far, and decided to let you know where I was today. So far.  (The Select Hotel - just in case you're coming soon to Iasi) having debarked from the overnight train from Bucuresti.  There is suppossed to be a building here built in 1300 something.  Maybe I'll go look it up on the net later. Or you can. Maybe we will even go find it and take a nice tourist picture for you so that you can say in your own virtual way that you've seen it too.  But that's not the point.

The point is that a) Iasi is seriously old, (600 years and counting) and b) it isn't the first thing you see when you get off the train (Just before you notice the magnificent Byzantine designed spectacular train station facade.) The first thing you notice is, I won't keep you in suspense here, the McDonald's.

I'm here to find out why the people of Yash don't drink all that much milk.  So I can go back to Bucharest and figrue out how to make them to change their minds.

We have two focus groups here this evening, and all morning till 16:00 (That's four o'clock to us Ami's)  to figure out what else to tell you about Iasi besides how to pronounce it.

La Revedere pentru acum. Arrividerci for now.


Saturday, April 26, 2008

Blood Red Easter eggs


Romanian folklore offers several legends to explain why the Easter eggs here are painted red instead of the mint greens, baby blues, pink pale pastels , and rarely reds, of my home country.In the USA (SUA) Easter is much less a purposeful act of resurection as it is an act of fun, camplike activities. I have seen no easter egg rolls, or lawn hunts yet. Chocolate eggs and bunnies are making inroads here. But then, why not. It is, after all, chocolate! And western.

The legend says the Virgin Mary, who came to mourn her crucified son, laid a basket with eggs near the cross. They turned red from the blood that flowed down from Jesus' wounds. The Lord, seeing that the eggs reddened, said to those who were there: "From now on, you too shall paint the eggs in red to remember my crucifixion, as I did today."

Easter is the most important event in the Orthodox Christian calendar.

Traditionally, celebrations in Romania begin on the Saturday evening.

Ppeople gather round the churches bringing candles. At the Resurrection Mass just before midnight, the priest comes out to distribute holy bread, give a blessing and provide the flame from which everyone will light their candles which they are suppossed to keep aflame until they arrive home.

At home the the brothers and cousins and parents and children and grands all come together for a special Easter meal usually of Roast lamb and home-made cozonac (sponge cake with nuts and poppy seeds).

This morning, walking the dog through one of the nicer neighborhoods in Bucharest, the streets were wafted full of the smells of some wonderful restaurant I wish I could have made reservations for.

I will try to stay awake tonight, find a nearby church and bring a camera and a candle.

Whether you are Romanian or something else, Paste fericit (pash-tay fairy-cheat), Happy Easter.

Monday, April 21, 2008

palm sunday peasant fair


Here the religion is Eastern Orthodox, and Petre Cottontail comes hoppin' down the bunny trail later than in the West. Yesterday was Palm Sunday, and next Sunday, April 27th will be the day Easter is celebrated. (Julian calendar vs. Gregorian - Julian won here) So I braved the Bucharest traffic, invoked my Parking Karma, and took myself and camera to the yearly peasant craft fair at the Peasant Museuum (where else?) of Bucuresti.

Come along. You'll have a very peasant time.

Peasant Fair Bucharest


Painted Eggs
The famed painted eggs, especially prominent around Easter time, are the most readily recognizable examples of Romanian folk art. Intricate patterns were actually secret languages known only to residents of the regions where they were painted. Painting of real hollowed-out eggs was an integral part of preparations for this festival of renewal. Women and children gathered in someone's home and spent a day painting and gossiping.

One of the most beautiful Romanian Easter traditions is painted eggs. Egg shells are dyed in colorful patterns and decorated with folk motifs. Designs are made with an implement called a condei or chisita - a small cartridge filled with paint with a sharp point on the end. There are a myriad of motifs used on painted eggs. The most popular ones are the cross, the star, the sun, the wave, the zigzags, and stylized flowers. Sometimes motifs are applied using natural leaves. Traditionally, it's the women who paint Easter eggs, and they have to do it on the Thursday before Easter. Women are not supposed to do any work on the Friday before Easter. Sunday Easter morning the painted eggs are tapped together with the words "Hristos a Inviat - Adevarat a Inviat" - "Christ is Risen - He is Risen indeed." This beautiful ritual precedes the Easter breakfast. For forty days people, especially in the countryside, greet each other with these words.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Romania For Rookies Pt 2:


Chapters 2 & 3, Double Subsets 1 & 2

Chapter 2: Romanian Reality Time

  1. (as opposed to that standard time on your ordinary ol’ average 12 or 24 hour timex or swatch) runs at about a ratio of 1 to 5 (or 6). That is, when a Romanian says to you “I’ll just be five more minutes.” Pull out your ipod and open up another chapter of Ludlum’s latest, or Madonna’s newest incarnation and be prepared to hear the whole chapter or spin through every cut. You will most likely be hunkered down in wait mode for at least 25 minutes. Maybe (jumatate ore) half an hour. (zhew-ma–tah-tay or-eh). Multiply out on your own for number of days it takes to clear anything though a Romanian Government Registry, no matter what they promise you. (See Romanian Paralytic Politeness – coming in curand (soon)!)
  2. Unless we are talking traffic time here. With traffic time, in Bucharest at least, always plan your meeting to start a minimum of one ora after your announced start time if the meeting is to take place from multiple departure points to anywhere else across the city, or across more than 6 city blocks occupied by actual autos.

Bucharest is beginning to make downtown Tokyo traffic look like a lazy, breezy afternoon drive in the country.

Chapter 3: Baker Beware!

  1. If you are buying shelled walnuts here, they will have shells in them. Teensy little bits of that drywall separator between brain-shaped halves or crunchy little tooth crumbles of actual shells themselves. Don’t fret though. Romanian dentistry is both cheap and good.

  2. Things that look like raisins, currents or yellow saltanas, if they aren’t from Sun Maid or Dole, will have seeds in them. This is a crunchy kind of place.
Quality control here is not yet what it will be.

It’s Spring. And Bucharest smells of lilacs and cat piss.
No, not the effect that you get when your mother sprays glade in the room with the litterbox. Actual lilacs. The town, or at least my Florasca neighborhood, is crowned with whole trees full of them.

I have theories about this. The lilacs I understand. And love. And have always loved. And mourn that they aren’t now a year round enjoyable like tomatoes from Chile. But only grace us briefly in the springtime.

But as to the feline streaming aromatic contribution I can only postulate that it has been frozen on solid ground from winter till thaw, and only now has pungently, er, blossomed.

Choose carefully where you choose to inhale here.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Romania For Rookies - Part 1


Kiss. Kiss. Hi. Hi.

Romania is a kiss-kiss country.

There are some countries that are only a kiss. And some that are a kiss-kiss-kiss. But Romania is definitely a kiss-kiss. Get it wrong and they will know immediately that you are either a total social misfit, or a new expat. You should know this for when you come here.

It’s the everyday greeting form that may be startling if you’re a Brit or exotic if you’re an Ami. You’re forgiven if you’re a foreigner. But com'on, you can only ride that excuse for so long before you're expected to get it right. And there is a very specific protocol.

Start with a regulation handshake and then, feet firmly planted, move your upper body in. The handshake should already have brought you into accurate bussing range. Later, often, after you get the hang of it, you can skip the shake and move directly to the smackeroo.

To avoid the embarrassment of headturn-headturn, bang-bang, oopsie-nose-wrestle, always start your first kiss to the right as you face the kissee. (That would make it their left, but that’s too confusing for a Rookie. Think right. Be right.) Then immediately and simultaneously with your target, move your face to your left for puckerup number two.

Hollywood air kisses are acceptable. Deep, noisy smoochie kisses are not. Pecking is perfect. Casual lip to cheek contact for old friends. Nancy Reagan at a Gala for brand new acquaintances.


Do it again when you leave.

Saving expats everywhere from social pariahdom. If I don’t tell you these things, who will?

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Little March


Sometimes it is a pure pleasure to share with you some of the more charming old traditions of Romania. Martisor (Marts-ee-shore) is one such sweet, small joy. It is a first rite of Spring:

"Every spring on March 1 ... where Romanians live, (they) celebrate Martisor. They celebrate the rebirth of life after the hard winter. On this day men offer to their beloved women flowers and martisors (the symbol of serenity and happiness).

"The tradition's origins go back to Dacian times (Romanians’ ancestors). It was previously called "dachia dragobete" - the end of winter. The pin-charm could only be made during the winter months and worn after March 1st. In earlier times, the Dacians would hang little coins from a thin, twisted black and white wool rope. The coin type - gold, silver, or metal - dictated the individuals social status or wealth. The coin charms were originally used to provide both luck for the future and protection from the environment to the wearer. The ropes stood for the advent of summer, warmth, and regeneration (white), while intertwined with the constant presence of winter, cold, and death (black). The amulets were also believed to enhance fertility, provide beauty and prevent sunburn in women! Young girls even threw the amulets toward the sun to prevent freckles! They were worn on the wrist or pinned over the heart. Many wore the pins until trees began to bloom, hanging the amulets in the tree branches after that point.

"In modern times, the pins lost their talisman properties and became symbols of love. The black ropes were replaced with red, possibly influenced by the Valentine practice of the western world. The delicate wool ropes are still a "cottage industry" among the country people today. They still comb out the wool, dye the floss, and twist it into thousands of tassels. In certain areas the amulets are still made with black and white ropes - for warding off evil!

"There are a few legends that explain this beautiful tradition. Here are two we selected for you.

"One of the old Romanian legend says that once in a fight with the winter witch, that didn't want to give up its place, the beautiful lady Spring cut her finger and few drops of her blood fall on the snow, which melted. Soon on this place grew a snowdrop and in such a way the spring won the winter.

"Another legend tells that there was a time when the Sun used to take the shape of a young man and descend on Earth to dance among folk people. Now a dragon found out about this and followed the Sun on Earth, captured him and confined him in a dungeon in his castle. Suddenly the birds stopped singing and the children could not laugh anymore but no one dared to confront the dragon. One day a brave young man set out to find the dungeon and free the Sun. Many people joined in and gave him strength and courage to challenge the mighty dragon. The journey lasted three seasons: summer, autumn and winter. At the end of the third season the brave young man could finally reach the castle of the dragon where the Sun was imprisoned. The fight lasted several days until the dragon was defeated. Weakened by his wounds the brave young man however managed to set the Sun free to the joy of those who believed in him. Nature was alive again, people got back their smile but the brave young man could not make it through spring. His warm blood was draining from his wounds in the snow. With the snow melting, white flowers, called snowdrops, harbingers of spring, sprouted from the thawing soil. When the last drop of the brave young man's blood fell on the pure white snow he died with pride that his life served a noble purpose.

Since then people braid two tassels: one white and one red. Every March 1 men offer this amulet called Martisor to the women they love. The red color symbolizes love for all that is beautiful and also the blood of the brave young man, while white represents purity, good health and the snowdrop, the first flower of spring.

"Literally Martisor means little March: a small trinket pinned on the lapel by which winter is parted and spring is welcomed."

I got a Martisor from a friend. Another from the company that brought me here. And the pizza place gave me one with my takeout tonight. Even Hope, the mellow schnauzer got one that's now tied to her collar. Come March 31st we'll make a rite of tying them all to the blossoming trees.
In now-capitalist Romania this is a new buying occassion. You can find Martisor in every little shop along Magheru Blvd (near the McDonalds) with little gold or plastic amulet birds or bugs or beatles, shamrocks or lions or tigers or bears. Oh my, there's even a big, plush Mickey Maritsor. A buying event with a sweet, peasant past.
Beyond lovers and spice (my particular plural for spouse), friends also offer Martisor to each other as a symbol of friendship and joint celebration for the bumpy thickening of the trees, the sudden startling shards of chartreuse, and the crocus spears braving their way through the dirt up to the sunlight.

So I offer this one to you. Happy Little March, my friend.

The source for this wonderful explanation is:

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Gone to the Dogs


It's 0 degrees outside, which always sounds colder to an American because I freeze in Fahrenheit, not Celsius, which is considerably warmer.

The ground-covering snow from three days ago has already melted into the asphalt and dark brown mud. But the disappearance has left me with a very clear understanding of why Romanians leave their boots at the front door during winter. It’s the dark brown doggy detritus.

You just never know what traces will end up at the bottom of your soles.

Right now Bucharest smells like a puppy poopy park.

All of those canine biodegradable souvenirs, while highly biological, have, in no discernable way, degraded.

It gives whole new meaning to the term "Watch your step."

Now I have a sniffer that barely even noticed the human counterpart of this kind of olfactory assault for most of my entire decade in NYC. I could walk oblivious through Times Square or into the underground train transfer points in the nether regions of Penn Station with rarely a wince or a crinkle. So imagine, if this snout could survive that urban decay, how bad it must be for me to notice that this city smells like one of those abandoned kennels usually mercifully raided regularly on Animal Planet.

Bucharest is a city known for its street dogs. Most of them were abandoned when the dictator dictated that everyone move out of the way of his ego so he could build the world’s second largest building on top of their old houses. The folks went into the apartment blocs. And the dogs went into the streets. The dogs aren’t dangerous, for the most part. Everyone feeds these outside critters. And nature has given them a way to remind you that, while you are inside, cozily snuggling up to your central heating, they’re still shivering outside looking in.

“P. U.!!” as we used to say in the third grade.

Hope, the mellow schnauzer, who can bark in Romanian and learned to souvenir in the street like all her new furry chums the last time we were here, is happy to make her own contributions. She says "Hello." <"Woof.">

(Bringing a dog to Bucharest is truly like carrying coals to New Castle, which you would have to presume already has a lot of coals. But we wouldn't have done it any other way.)

La revedere.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Whadda ya say?


If you are traveling for two weeks or less to any country other than one which habla’s, parla’s, or vorbeste’s your own native language, I have found that there really are only a few phrases that you need to get around:

Please” and “Thank you” like your mama taught you.
Kudasi and Domo arrigato, or Bitte and Danke, or Va rog and Multumesc.

Where is the …? You can usually just substitute the English which at least 37% of the time will be close enough. (Pharmacy, train, hotel, police station.)
Waar is die…? or On és…? or Unde este…? (Faracia, tren, hotel, politia)

How much does this cost?
Ka'ma zeh ole' or Cât costa?

Do you have a room for the night?
Hast due ein zimmer, bitte fer ein nacht? or Are o camera, va rog pentru o noapte?

And “Excuse me.
Pardon or scuzati-ma

I’m pretty sure that I’ve done 11 or 12 countries successfully on just these.

Couple that with my “getting directions” philosophy you can get around just about anywhere. What? Oh. Sorry. Sure. You go up to anyone friendly-looking and apparently unarmed on the street and say in your best Tagalong or Hindi, “Excuse me, where is the…train station?” And who cares what they say. Almost without exception, they point. Aha. So walk a few blocks in the direction they pointed, and stop the next friendly native and ask the question again. If they point in the same direction, keep going. If they point in a different direction, turn that way. Keep repeating this procedure till you catch sight of the big, dark building with the clock, empty taxi's and dudes in red or blue uniforms without holsters, pushing trolleys! It may take some time, but what the hey, you’re a tourist, right? Time to look around the city is exactly what you have.

If, however, you are planning to spend more time than that abroad, I strongly suggest that you look up a few other handy phrases, none of which I’ve looked up for you: (Hey, did your other teachers do all your homework for you?)

What’re you, NUTS?!

For that much, I could buy three camels and your mother-in-law!

I ‘m lost. Could you please give me directions that won’t take me through a band of children begging for my money?

Hey, exactly what’s in this? And why does it taste so funny?

How much is that in real money? Gallons? Time? Weight? Temperature? Length? (This one is primarily American)

Can you tell me how to get to the Embassy without having to go through all those irate, uzi equipped citizens?

Pour me another one and make it a double!

Could you stop laughing at my clothes long enough to help me change this tire?

Don’t confuse the word “tourist” with “can’t count to ten” in your money.

(Am ne voi de ajutor! – that one I know in Romanian.)

That should keep your safe on your journey till the next lesson. You’re welcome.

Buon viaggio!

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Writer's Bloc by
Shelly Roberts is licensed under a
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Monday, January 28, 2008

Nothing Happened.


Absolutely nothing extraordinary happened to me this week in Romania.

I got the oven lighted without blowing up the bloc.
So now I can bake bread and roast chickens and prime ribs of beef. I won’t. But I could if I wanted to.

I bought a quad band superslim mobile phone from a store in a shopping mall. After only four or five months of endless and useless self-debate. Thanks to a necessary kick in the tail from a friend who suggested that I stop being such a whiney, helpless ex-pat and take my life back. (Well, he didn't say "whiney." I did. and he was right.)

I signed a new contract with a client I recruited myself and visited the client’s company and put a team together and negotiated the fees.

I bought a new LCD tv that didn’t blow up when I plugged it in.
See previous blog.

I renegotiated a renewal contract that puts my name on the rental agreement so I can get the business papers I need.

I emailed an attorney to get started on those papers.

I spent an evening at a friend's dining table drinking wine and talking about life, the universe and everything.

I ate in a restaurant, went to a meeting, got a new password for an online account, did the laundry, washed the dishes, cleaned the house and drove the car to several places I’d never been before by reading a map just like everybody else does. Unless you're an ex-pat in a very foreign country.

Like I said, absolutely nothing out of the ordinary happened to me this week in Romania. And when you consider that when I first arrived here the only three words I knew in Romanian were “Thank you.” (Multumesc.) And “Please.” (Va rog.), that is absolutely extraordinary.

Ain’t life amazing?!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Expensive No Charge


These are the things I have blown up so far trying to use international transformers on Romanian current:

1 Desktop Tower Computer
Nobody told me there was a 110-220 switch on the back plate till too late.
Fortunately, I learned about the switch before I plugged in the other tower.
Bye-bye power supply.

1 Epson Photo Stylus 320 Color Printer.
Plugged into the outlet daisy chain when I turned on the computer. Ouch.

1 Five CD/Radio/Tape/MP3 Player System. Now humming to myself.

1 Flat Screen TV beyond the transformer's capacity. {deep sigh} {really deep sigh} {really, really deep sigh}

1 Senseo Coffee Maker . Fortunately in this country the coffee is pretty good and the coffee house is down the block and across the street.

Things I have not plugged in yet because I'd like to keep them, if only as attractive sculptures, at least until I figure out the current-cy exchange rate or exchange them for something with two round plug poles:

One Cuisinart Blender
Two Mission Style Brass and Parchment Tall Floor Lamps.
One electric blanket
Various None-Of-Your-Business Personal Appliances. (footbaths and nailpolish dryers, oh, ye of the filthy mind. I mean really!)
Two ceramic heaters - fortunately the bloc apartment's central radiator overheats everything. But, wow, October was chilly. Can't wait for Spring!

Oh, well. Business is picking up. Soon I'll be able to replace everything with shiny new versions that will certainly blow up when I go back to the states. Ain't life amazing?!

Anybody want to buy an artistic American collection of electronic boat anchors?

Thursday, January 10, 2008

It’s Snowing like Dracul. Or Detroit.

Bucharest under snow.

I’ve been told that there are really only two seasons in Bucharest: Dust. And Mud.

They’re wrong. There are three seasons. Dust. Mud. And really ugly, dirty brown, muddy snow. Guess which one we're in now?

I haven’t been blogging since before Christmas because I took a break and a Winter vacation in Austria.

Now you have to understand that I am a Southern California baby. Oh, sure, I started with more weather resistent Chicago genes, but my thoughtful parents decided on LA way before I could grow an extra layer of clothing or adopt igloo survival techniques. Yup. LA. So when a friend invited me to join a group of hard-drinking Romanians for a jaunt and journey to a not-so-nearby Alp, I didn’t exactly jump at the chance. I waffled. And weighed.

I realized that my option, since everyone I knew was going somewhere else, was that Hope, the dog, and I would end up in our tiny apartment splitting a bottle of bubbly (water) and spending New Years watching CNN drop the ball at midnight. Phoeey. Die of frostbite? Or die of boredom. Frostbite won. So I said “what the heck.” And tried to figure out what I owned that was equal to an Austrian mountain top. (Actually, nothing, if you must know, but some old Boston long johns which have come in handy almost everywhere I lived but Florida.)

Now I’m not here to gloat. Well, ok, a little. I got to spend the tail end of Christmas and all of Revelion (New Years) in an Austrian Christmas card. Ok, so it wasn’t perfect. But I got to know a bunch of really good people whom I understood at least 12 percent of the time. That would be the time they were NOT speaking Romanian. Not a problem. When I’d had enough Romanian, I found other things to do. And when I’d found enough alcohol, I’d find other things to do. But good people struggling to let go of their problems for a few days of freezing and anti-freezing. (See the end of this column for the Romanian Rules of Drinking. They apparently work really well. I couldn’t tell because I mostly drank Coke Zero, but none of our group fell down any stairs or slopes, so there must be something to it.)

But that’s not the end of the story.

The real story is back here in Bucharest, where a meter and a half, that’s about four and a half feet, of snow blizzarded into town while we were gone. Ick. We were lucky enough to find pretty good roads getting back. But what we didn’t get back to was pretty good roads. We got back to Romanian road tending, which, I'm sorry to report isn't exactly up to EU standards. Or the standards of any civilized country that doesn't always seem so surprised that "... it's winter, and omigod, look at that. Who would have expected SNOW?!"

Now in Bad Ischl (Baad EEshhh-ul), (Austria, of course) at 3am you could hear the first plows and salters scraping the asphalt and soothing the roads that skirted the ski lift. Well, sure, it’s their living. Of course they’d pay attention. But then again at 5am, there they were dozing off another icy layer. And on and on, all day. And in fact, it IS their livelihood. Tourists who want to strap on barrel staves to their feet and slide down a thousand foot mountain, well it's an avocation that’s always escaped me. But it's money in the bank to all the Bad Ischanians, not to mention all the rest of that country. And god it’s breathtaking to watch. And unless you’ve never seen an alp in a heavy snowstorm, well, do it before you die. But when your money comes from people who want their ice outside their drink glasses, I guess Austria has learned to pay attention to keeping them alive on roads coming and going. So the winter roads are clear, safe and easy.

Welcome to Bucharest. It's a whole 'nother country. Guess there aren’t enough Winter tourists here yet. And it’s too far south of the Carpathian Mountains for the usual winter sports. Oh, sure, NOW , today, there's the shoveling-in-front-of-your-bloc marathon, but that doesn't count. The speed-sliding-down-to-the-corner-magazin (store) for frozen bread and milk every day. And the teach-the-old-dog-the-new-trick-of-going-in-the-snow competition. But those degrees of difficulty are just another ordinary winter day in far Europe when the temperature drops.

We pulled, or should I say, nearly slid into town at about three in the morning. I didn’t recognize streets I practically lived on. The next day, with the help of really good friends, I dug the car out of the place I’d parked to (Ha!) keep it safe while I was gone, then controlled skidded my way back home.

Well, not exactly. I skidded my way up in front of a parking space I was going to back into when the car behind me slid right into instead. Turns out that it was a neighbor, and it was ok, because they were the ones who had spent three hours in the morning shoveling the space. After I scraped off an inch or two of old New York attitude, I managed a skimpy space across the street. It took nearly an hour of boot kicking and glove shoveling snow from under the front and rear bumpers, then moving forward-back-forward a thousand times forward-reversing till I could get the car safely out of the roadway.

It's days later and Bucharest is now drowning in seriously ugly, seriously old snow. There aren’t enough plows. There must not be enough salt. The side roads are four inch brown, crunchy ruts.

And I’m not moving the car till daffodils!

For all of you who think my life here is exciting and exotic, well, right now I'm knee deep in Romanian exotic!

Next year I’m going someplace with palm trees!


1. Do not drink beer after wine. The yeast in the beer acts on the wine and increases the alcohol effect.

2. When you start to feel the least bit dizzy, stop drinking and take in as much water as you can. Wait 15 minutes to ½ hour before resuming alcohol.

3. The tongue is the most absorbent part of the alimentary canal. So do not keep hard alcohol in the mouth. Swig it back. On the other hand, if you really want to get someone drunk, serve them something sweet and thick made with whiskey or vodka or gin, and tell them to savor it for a few minutes before swallowing. But keep a bucket handy.

And these two you know already:
4. Eat food to absorb some of the alcohol.
5. Don’t mix sweet drinks with hard drinks.
(I'm sure there were more, but one of us probably had too much to drink to write the rest down.If I ever remember the rest, I'll let you know.)

In any case, may your coming year be twice as good as your last, and half as good as your next.

I'll write again before the snow is cleared. Enjoy my Alp.

(If you're having trouble seeing the entire photo, please click hereand choose slideshow.)

Revelion (New Years) in Bad Ischl Austria