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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