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."

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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!

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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.

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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.

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La revedere.

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To Be Continued...
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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.