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