Saturday, December 18, 2004
So Ion Iliescu is coming to the end of his time as president of Romania. He’s been president three times now, despite the fact that constitutionally he’s only supposed to be able to do it twice. Since Christmas 1989 when the Ceasescu’s were booted out of office (and off this mortal coil), he has been president aside from a four year aberration from 1996 to 2000.
So, now, though no-one expects him to go far, he is no longer president, but he has decided to just do a few little errands before he walks off into some senatorial role. The first was to pardon Miron Cozma, the leader of the miners who swept into Bucharest in 1990 and 1991 looting rioting and burning stuff in a clearly state sponsored (i.e. Iliescu sponsored) attempt to ensure that the democratic reforms sweeping Eastern Europe didn’t take too much of a foothold in Romania. These events are often credited with being responsible for Romania’s sloth in adopting reform and in keeping up with the rest of Eastern Europe. And since of all the former Warsaw pact (nonUSSR) countries Romania is the least advanced in the sense of implementing democratic reforms, having a functioning economy and not being corrupt, something must be to blame. Cosma was of course jailed (eventually) for his role in this anti-democratic palaver, and the rumour always was that it was Iliescu that was behind it. Freeing him as your final act, tends to leave people with the same impression.
But people were well pissed off about this. Even the American government (not one currently to be pro-democracy) were shocked, as was the vast majority of Romania. So, 24 hours after he had announced his release, Iliescu took it back “No, only kidding! Free Cozma? The very idea” I don’t know if Cozma actually got out of jail during this time or whether he was just packing up his suitcase in his Bucharest cell when the news came through. I have this image of him walking out the prison gates, taking a deep breath and walking off down the street, when round the corner, sirens blazing comes a police car. They pull him over and say “You’re re-nicked, mate”.
The other thing that he (Iliescu) did was to award some Romanian medal of honour to that complete psycho nationalist fascist nut job Cornelius Vadim Tudor. That’s right. I guess this is an award given to great Romanians (or people born within Romania’s borders) for their services to the world, or Romania or something. Anyway, giving it to that right wing nazi is like slapping the world in the face and saying fuck you. Elie Wiesel, the holocaust survivor and writer, who was born in Maramures, and was a previous recipient of this medal, promptly, and unsurprisingly, sent his back. CVT actually is (or at least was until recently) a holocaust denier, so to give him the same medal as Wiesel is a sick joke of horrendous proportions.
The good thing about all this, is that surely, if there was any lingering doubt in anyone’s mind about Iliescu's wankishness, then this must have dispelled it.
How to win friends and influence people
One of the countries in Europe where the US still has some friends is Romania. Romania is one of members of the “coalition”, and is in the New Europe that that mofo Rumsfeld referred to in one of his infamous speeches. (Have I ever told you how much I hate Donald Rumsfeld? Cancer’s too good for him). Anyway, to get back to the USA and its friends in Romania, well, they may just have lost most of them. You see it’s like this. A few weeks ago, a US embassy employee who was pissed as a fart was driving some US Govt vehicle through the streets of Bucharest. He runs a red light, and slams straight into a taxi, killing its passenger. Now, just possibly the embassy could have got away with this, and just shipped the offender home, but unfortunately for them the passenger was not just anyone, but was in fact the bass player with Romania’s answer to the Rolling Stones. So this is not some random unknown Romania being killed and having his death swept under the carpet. This is Teo Peter we’re talking apart (that’s his name by the way, I don’t know if it means Uncle Peter as it sounds like it ought, but if so, it sounds like a fictional paedophile. But with that all similarities with Bill Wyman must end). So, the US Embassy shipped this drunken moronic murdering bastard home, and of course the Romanian press and people are up in arms about this incident. The embassy spokesman came out and said how they’re going to definitely prosecute him in the US, honestly, but frankly the damage has been done. I suspect the general Romanian sanguinity with the US in general may be evaporating as fast as Iliescu’s brain cells.
Wednesday, December 15, 2004
The presidential election run –off was won – much to everyone’s surprise – by Traian Basescu. I think it was the orange jacket wot won it. That whole Ukrainian thing coming through. Ironic really that given the orange revolution in Ukraine that the whole thing may have been sparked by Yushenko being poisoned with Agent Orange. Is there a fruit based version of the Chinese astrological calendar? If so, it’s clearly year of the orange.
What does Basescu mean for us? I think no-one really knows. People I know are happy that the PSD is gone, but most are suspicious and concerned about Basescu’s lack of experience. The one thing that he has done which everyone knows about is ridding the streets of Bucharest of stray dogs. Other than that his record is a mystery. Now he has to organise a government. As the PSD-PUR alliance has the most seats, it might be tough to do that without their support. And the real fly in the ointment is nightMare party. The UDMR (the Hungarians) threw their hat into the wrong corner and may end up getting screwed. But no-one really knows. Just as long as Vadim Tudor, henchman of Voldemort, doesn’t get a sniff of power, all should be well.
Religion in Romania (he says, shifting the topic for no apparent reason) is something I haven’t covered yet. Romanian Orthodox is the official state religion, and as such there are elaborate monasteries and churches of that church dotting the countryside. The most prominent building in Csikszereda for example is the Orthodox church, despite the fact that its congregation probably numbers in the single digits. The other churches (at least in these parts) are the Catholic and the Reformat. I mentioned this to my brother the other day and he pointed out that “reformat” is something you do to your computer, which though it now seems obvious, was something I hadn’t even noticed before. They’re not some kind of doomsday cult though, waiting patiently for the day that God decides to wipe and repartition the earth’s hard drive, but rather some kind of Lutheran faith from Hungary. I don’t know anything about them really aside from the fact that their graveyards are dead interesting with elaborate totem-pole style monuments carved from wood.
God, I’m really running short of ideas aren’t I? I’ll stop now, for a while, and come back before I leave the country (on Wizz Air, which sounds like I may be pissing in the wind) and fill you in on the other randomly boring thoughts coursing through my brain (and for coursing, read “sluggishly struggling”)
Friday, December 10, 2004
Thing I immediately noticed about Moldavia:
- The roads are way way better than roads in Transylvania.
- There are tractors
- It's flatter than Cambridgeshire (well, maybe not that flat)
- The theft of infrastructure is even more obvious there
1. As you may remember I have previously said that roads in Romania are crap. I may have spoken too soon. The road from Bacau to Iasi is really good. Transylvanians tell me this is because the national government is punishing Transylvania for not being Romanian enough (this would certainly explain why Harghita county where I live has some of the worst roads). I haven't asked a non-Transylvanian yet, but I'm guessing they would tell me it is because Transylvania wastes its money or something.
2. Well, I saw one anyway. And it was quite modern too.
3. Vast windswept plains that stretch into the middle distance. We did pass through one area which was a bit less uncompromisingly two-dimensional, but it was on the "gently rolling hills" scale rather than seriously troubling the people who draw contour lines on maps.
4. Stuff in Romania gets nicked a lot. When you drive at night you notice a lack of the reflective posts you have at the sides of the road in most places, or the cats eyes and things on the road itself. This is not because Romania is so backward that it doesn't have such things yet, but that people steal them. As soon as they are put up, they are gone again. I don't know what people do with all these reflective devices, that they have purloined, but they go somewhere. Perhaps there is a thriving rural rave scene at which people turn up wearing elaborately be-sequinned clothes, each sequin being a large reflective circle taken from the roadside. Anyway, this trend is very noticeable all over Romania, and it frankly makes driving at night very unpleasant (that and the fact that every village you pass through has a horse cart or a cyclist or a drunk bloke wandering around in it without any reflective devices on at all). However in Moldavia, and this may not be a regional thing, but just something I never noticed in Transylvania before, other stuff was missing.
In one town there was a couple of long aluminium pipes running through the village carrying something (gas, water, who knows). Or rather there once had been. These pipes had been carried on short concrete pillars alongside the road, and occasionally up and over buildings or through gardens. As the route passed through gardens, this was where the pipe still was, cut off at the point where it left private property, to leave these forlorn concrete stubs aimlessly sitting there doing nothing. (Perhaps they could kill two birds with one stone and paint them with reflective paint).
In another town (Roman, if you must know. The interest stops at the name believe me), as ones eyes scanned the endless brutal ceasescu concrete blocks of apartments, there were some minor points of interest. Some windows with rounded corners, that looked somehow familiar. Mostly white framed with black trim. To make more room in smallish flats, many people close off the balconies and these windows had been placed there to that effect. The windows were stolen from trains. It wasn't just one or two houses either, it was loads. All over town. Fascinating.
I am told that this wave of infrastructure crime was a feature of the late 80s as the Ceasescu regime began to fall apart and leave everyone with virtually nothing to live on, heat their houses with and basically repair anything with. I have no idea if it still goes on or if these mysterious pipelines going nowhere and rail windows are just leftover from those days.
I got ripped off by a couple of corrupt cops on the way home too. Bastards.
Mind you, I ought to add here, as it appears I've done nothing but complain, that Iasi was lovely and the people there great and very friendly. Actually Iasi could be one of Europe's great cities if it had not been ruined by Systematisation -what buildings are left are really really gorgeous, you just have to face the fact they are broken up by hideous concrete monstrosities. Bit like Oxford really. Not content in ruining everyone's life when he was alive, Ceasescu, perhaps uniquely among Euro-dictators insists on ruining it from the grave too. What a complete and utter wanker.
Monday, December 06, 2004
People here are very saddened by this result. Nobody I know wanted to move to Hungary, but they feel some deep rooted and historical connection to the country. Essentially this poll has been like being slapped in the face by the whole nation. Like having your parents turn their back on you and tell you they don't care what happens to you. It sounds like I'm being dramatic, but truly this is the way that it feels to people here. People have tears in their eyes when they talk about it this morning. It would have been better if this referendum hadn't happened in the first place.
Mind you, had I been a Hungarian citizen presented with this choice, I don't know how I'd have voted either. One side calling back memories of the past, the Hungarian Empire, the glory days of Magyardom, the kind of faux-nostalgic nationalism that I can't stand when British people come out with it. The other side arguing that "we'll be flooded with people, we can't take care of all of them, they'll take our jobs and our welfare and bankrupt the country" - an equally unappetising proposition, and equally despicable when little-englanders use it in horror in reference to asylum seekers and other immigrants. So, the choice facing Hungarian voters was pretty unappetising, and the resultant effect on Hungarian non-voters was pretty unpalatable. A disaster all round.
Oh, and the Mikulas I mentioned on Friday (note correct spelling) is the Hungarian equivalent of Father Christmas (St Nicholas). For whatever reason he shows up on December 5th, and puts things in shoes and boots rather than socks and stockings. Up until recently he left sweets and apples and fruit and nuts and things, but these days thanks to the rise of the glory that is capitalism he is expected to leave toys and games and rubbishy plastic tat.
Which brings me nicely onto ... Lego. What the hell happened to lego? When I was young it was little bricks from which you could build houses and stuff. It was durable and creative and constructive. Nowadays it's "bionicle" and "knight's kingdom" and stuff - weird alien monsters and baffling models of what medieval castles would have looked like if they'd been made of plastic and designed in Denmark. It costs a bloody fortune and all the bits are so specific that they're not really useful in creating other things from. In lego of old you could take your house apart and build a castle. You can't take your Takanuva* apart and build a fluffy bunny rabbit. It's rubbish. (*Takanuva is the name of one of the bionicle characters. No really, it is.)
I fear I may offically be old.
Friday, December 03, 2004
First up, an update on yesterday's farcical tale of bureaucratic hilarity. Having completed all the relevant paperwork, as stated to us by the guy at the police station who we asked in the first place, we went today to see him and hand over all of our paperwork. I was optimistic, Erika less so. He went through all of the papers and found that one paper as stated in a new rule book (that he hadn't produced formerly) was not there. This was a paper which had exactly the same info on as the other pieces of paper but in a diferent order. So we have to get that piece of paper, have it signed by the justice office or something and then return on Monday. I'm pretty certain that there is an unstated rule that officials cannot accept paperwork the first time it is offered for fear of setting a dangerous precedent. As soon as you make life vaguely easy, who knows what floodgates will open. There'll be people all over the country expecting to get through the system quickly and relatively easily. That can't be allowed to happen.
The other thing we had to do was go back to the mayor's offie and pay another tax. One of the taxes that we paid earlier this week was for 2000 Lei at that office. Those of you paying attention will realise that this is approximately 6 cents in US money, or about 3p in the UK. Now apparently this has gone up (in the two weeks since we were told to pay it) and is now a whopping 4500 Lei. So we had to go back to the Mayor's office and get another receipt for an additional 2500 Lei with which to supplement our previous one. This is a computerised print out that takes up some civil servant's time, and I now have 2. One for 3p and one for 4p. I will say no more about the logic of this.
The Romanian election I wrote about a couple of weeks ago happened with polls predicting (broadly speaking) the result. The presidential run-off goes ahead next weekend (I think) between Nastase and Basescu. Basescu has spent the week complaining of electoral fraud, but since the OSCE and subsequently the EU have said they think it was broadly fair, he seems to have the ground whipped away from under him. He looks a bit like he's trying too hard to be Yuschenko. I think it will cost him votes in the second round. Although one Romania paper today has published some revelations about Nastase and Ceasescu (that I can't really understand as they're in Romanian), so maybe he has hope yet.
In Hungary this weekend there is a referendum which will potentially have more impact on Miercurea Ciuc than the Romanian general elections. It's a referendum asking Hungarians if they want to offer dual citizenship to all Hungarians living outside of Hungary (or, if I understand correctly, all the Hungarians living in Romania, Slovakia, Serbia, and Ukraine). The impact of this in this region could be dramatic, since the vast majority of people here are Hungarian. Those people will then have the right to have Hungarian passports along with their Romanian ones. They thus become EU citizens ( a minimum of two years before the rest of Romania's citizens become part of the EU), and can move around freely and easily.
Romania is pretty ticked off about this - particularly the EU thing - but can't really complain about it because they did the exact same thing for Romanians in Moldova. One foaming nutter from the (night)Mare party (Vadim Tudor's ultranationalist psychos) was on (Romanian) TV last night going crazy about it. I don't really know how I feel about it, but when I see people like this wanker going off on one it's hard not to support it.
The first indications were that the law would really only have an effect on the Hungarian population of Vojvodina (Northern Serbia), as they are the Hungarian minority who are most oppressed. The Hungarian populaton here are well established and pretty large (1.6m) and while they do suffer from discrimination it's not exactly oppression, so the thought was that very few would choose to go to Hungary. But apparently they've recently done a poll which suggests 17% would. This would severely effect Csikszereda as you can imagine. The size of that number though probably means that the measure won't pass the referendum anyway, as Hungary doesn't want to be flooded with more people - even if they are Magyar "brothers". The other issue that has come to light is the problem that will arise when all these citizens suddenly have the vote. How will this effect the political scene in Hungary? I hadn't even thought about it, but it is seemingly the biggest and most divisive issue in the referendum camp.
I was going to write smething about Miklos, but I don't really know how to spell his name, and so I'll leave it until Monday. Has that enticed you? I bet it hasn't.
Thursday, December 02, 2004
As everyone knows you lose money when changing back and forth through currencies, and in this case the bank was prepared to buy my Lei at 29,500 to the dollar*. And then to buy back those self same dollars at 28,500 Lei. Thus in the course of the transaction the bank made 60,000 Lei. The somewhat (he says understatedly) ridiculous aspect of this is that I would actually have been quite happy to pay the state this extra 60,000 Lei, but object to paying it to the bank. The closest bank to the tax office is in fact an Austrian owned bank, so it's not even going to Romania at all.
Once we had thrown 60,000 Lei in the direction of Jorg Haider or Kurt Waldheim or whichever nice Austrian person owns Raffeisen Bank, we took our Lei and our receipt and our slightly older selves back to the tax office queue and finally got the receipts necessary. Next up in my exciting trek to be officially legitimate in Romania: health insurance. I can hardly wait.
[* the fact that the dollar is now worth aproximately 29,000 Lei is proof if proof were needed as to what a worthless and useless currency the dollar currently is. 4 months ago the rate was about 33,500. In other words the US Dollar has lost over 13% of its value in the last four months against the Romanian Leu. Yes, that's right, you heard me correctly.]
The other fascinating (and somehow funnier) manifestation of rampant bureaucracy here is the cult of the stamp. To do anything you need to have a stamp. An inkstamp with which you stamp all offical documents and receipts etc. People carry around multiple stamps. They're really hi-tech also, they have ink somehow inside them and you can buy different styles and different sizes. I don't know if people look down on others with old or unfashionable stamps. There are entire stores devoted to selling stamps. (Really, I swear I'm not making this up). They're everywhere, almost more popular than mobile phone shops.
You don't believe me do you? Look, this www.stampile.ro is the website of one of the leading shops. Here you can see some of the vast array of stamps available, pictures of their store fronts around the country, a map of Romania with their locations marked, accessories to go with your stamp, and everything stamp related.
But I am not promoting their wares. I have no idea of the value for money in stamping that they offer, or cannot verify the quality of their stamping products. I myself did not buy my stamp from them, but from a local merchant. I take no responsibility for any of you if, transfixed by the Trodat Printy 4922, you find yourself unable to resist ordering a gross of them from Stampile. On your own head be it.
I'd stamp the bottom of this blog entry if I could. But you'll have to just imagine it.
Wednesday, December 01, 2004
Except of course in the bits of the land which are less happy with the concept of the Greater Romanian Dream. Like this bit, for example. While it’s not quite Al Naqba (The Palestinian marking of the “Catastrophe” of the establishment of the Jewish State in 1948), it is certainly not a day to be celebrated. In fact, despite being a public holiday, most people are working here today as a way of demonstrating their lack of celebration of the day. Working on a holiday. That to me is the clearest indication of refuting the celebration. (But then, I’m a lazy bastard, so working on a holiday seems like the greatest sacrifice one can make).
There will be a big something in the main square later today. Some form of Romanian dancing and speeches and stuff. The Romanian Orthodox Church has had to bus people in to make sure there are enough people there to make it worthwhile. I can see the square out of the window of this office and despite the police having been out to direct traffic for hours now, there is still absolutely nothing going on out there.
It’s all quite fascinating to be in a country which is celebrating its biggest holiday in a city which is almost entirely uncelebratory. I hope Romanians elsewhere are actually enjoying their day.
Monday, November 15, 2004
First up we have Adrian Nastase. No relation to Ilie, as far as I am aware. He's the current prime minister and preferred candidate of the outgoing president Ion Iliescu. This in my mind makes me suspect that Nastase is no better than his sponsor. And thus not very good. He says diplomatically. However Nastase is younger than Iliescu and presumably not a powerful member of the Ceasescu administration, so at least that tainting by association is second generational rather than first.
Then we have Traian Basescu, the mayor of Bucharest. he recently stepped in to the role of primary challenger to Nastase after some guy called Stolojan pulled out citing health reasons. Basescu has two things going for him (a) he is named after a Roman emperor. I mean, how cool is that? (b) he seems to speak his mind and be fairly upbeat. Thinking is that he is likely to get closer to Nastase than Stolojan would have for precisely that reason.
Next we have the odious Cornelius Vadim Tudor who is not, as the name might suggest, a villan from the Harry Potter books, but a living and breathing villain in his own right. A horrible racist bigot, he taps into Romanian nationalist sentiment and is liable to poll somewhere around about 15%. The guy is a complete psycho. In the last election he came out with some outrageous anti-semitic bullshit the likes of which were probably unseen in European politics since ooh, about 1933, at a guess. Since then he has undergone a "dramatic conversion" and now loves Jews. His vitriol this time round is directed mostly at Hungarians and Roma. His conversion to pro-semitism came after he was invited to visit Israel. Probably he saw how the Palestinians were treated there and decided that the Israeli government at least were of a type to aspire to. I'm intrigued by the idea that you can be a complete bigoted racist bastard and get a free trip to a country out of it. Those bloody Seychellois - they are at the root of all the World's problems.
If Vadim Tudor were a character in Harry Potter he'd be a death eater in thrall to the great unmentionables of 20th Century European politics the three headed Voldemort of Hitler, Stalin, and Ceasescu. The idea that he can get 1 vote astounds me, frankly, but the fact that he's likely to get 15% is appalling.
The only other one I know of is Marko Bela, the candidate of the Hungarian ethnic party. Frankly I don't really know why they have a candidate in national elections. Many Hungarians will likely vote for him, which means that he'll get about 7% of the vote - but why? Surely they'd be better advocating for one of the likely winners to speak to Hungarian issues and make some promises to the community, and therefore use their voting power to bolster support for one of the likely winners. As it stands, basicaly they'll say "Look we're Hungarian and we want you to know that" and the winner will get in and ignore them. Seems weird to me.
I'll keep you updated. I bet you're excited aren't you?
It snowed here last night, which reminds me of my need to continue with my Contexts series. So here it is ..part III
Contexts Pt III: Csikszereda
Csikszereda lies in the "Ciuc Depression", which is a geographical feature in the Carpathians, rather than a psychological condition medicated with Prozac. Essentially it means we are quite high up, 600-800 metres to be vague, and yet surrounded by hills. It's quite a climb to get out of this area in any direction, and from there onwards usually a descent. One consequence of this is that Csikszereda is widely considered to be the coldest town in Romania (although I have also heard the same claim about Gheorgheni, another town about 60km north of us). Today it is a relatively mild 3 degrees C, but I'm assuming last night's snowfall has heralded the onset of winter, and five months of freezing my butt off. Still, I spent the last six winters in Vermont and it doesn't sound like it will be that different. One advantage of the depression is that there isn't much wind, so even though I've been warned to expect occasional temperature dips to -35, there at least be any of that vicious wind that really rubs it in. (I should point out that -35 is a very unusual event, and what I really have to look forward to are a couple of weeks of -15. This is no worse than Vermont, and possibly better).
What else is interesting about the area? Well it's full of springs. Every town it seems has a tap in the middle of it from which you can draw mineral water for free. None of your fancy evian or perrier here, you just fill your bottles and go on with your life. This ready access to good water probably explains why one of Romania's most famous beers "Ciuc" comes from here too. (Ciuc, like most Romanian companies has been recently bought. In this case by Heineken).
It's also notable for being the centre of the remaining Hungarian community. Csikszereda is the county town of Harghita County, which along with Covasna county are the majority Hungarian communities left in Romania. As a result of which the Romanian media presents them as being the root of all evil in the country. The population of Csikszereda is 90% Hungarian, and the next closest town, Szekelyudvarhely (Odorhui Secuiesc in Romanian) is 98% Hungarian. Other towns round here are similar in ethnic makeup. The rest of Transylvania is now predominantly Romanian.
So, it's cold, has good beer, is mostly Hungarian, and errm, well that's it mostly. There really isn't much else to say about it. It's nice though. Beautiful scenery, mountains, forests, lakes, the whole works.
Tuesday, November 09, 2004
It's the cretins who called the TV stations in horror at the exposure of half of Janet Jackson's right breast at the Superbowl isn't it? The people who were so appalled at such a display of indecency that they couldn't help but complain. "It's a family event" they cried in mock indignation. This in a half time show that was interspersed with ads for impotency drugs. What they were really worried about obviously was the idea of a white man and a black woman doing such a show. That kind of interracial sexuality is obviosuly quite out of place in middle America. Britney's breast would have been OK (unless of course it was exposed by Puff Daddy or someone), but Janet's? No thank you. If people had complained about the mind-numbing awfulness of the "entertainment" on view, then fine, but no, it was the sight of a breast on TV. A black breast.
What conclusions can one darw from this, and the election that followed? Half of all voting Americans are racist homophobes with limp dicks. It's fairly simple. Should the rest of the world accept these people with open arms and say, OK we need to reach out to you? No. No more than we should reach out to any other fundamentalist nut jobs - whether they be Al Qaida, the Taliban, the Settler movement, or the Saudi regime. Tolerance is a good thing. Tolerance of intolerance is not.
Bush will now claim to reach out across the divide. This will mean hosting a breakfast and inviting some Democrats, and telling them "we're going to ban abortion, and criminalise homosexuality, and you're all either with us or your against us. The US public have spoken, and you have no choice". This is not reaching out and it should not be confused as such.
Screw them. Keep fighting the regime in Washington. Keep arguing, keep the media on their toes and don;t let them get away with their ridiculous propagandist bias of the last four years. The world, and the USA needs people to keep fighting. If you need proof, check out www.sorryeverybody.com
And then, to see the latest questions of vote rigging and odd stuff that went on at the polls, Greg Palast has written a good article here (His book "The Best Democracy Money Can Buy" by the way, is an excellent one): http://www.tompaine.com/articles/kerry_won_.php
And finally an interesting picture among some of the figures from Ohio...
Franklin County, OH: Gahanna 1-B Precinct
638 TOTAL BALLOTS CAST
Fingerhut (D) - 167 votes
Voinovich (R) - 300 votes
Kerry (D) - 260 votes
Bush (R) - 4,258 votes
And we are told that this wasn't fixed? Bollocks.
Monday, November 08, 2004
Anyway, as you might imagine my mind has been whirring with thoughts of the US election ever since it happened. Here is what I have so far concluded:
1. It seems, at least for now, to have been a very democratic election, with high turnout (in US terms) and enthusiasm on both sides. Unlike the well documented denial of the vote to many African Americans in Floirida in 2000, as of yet we have heard of no major abuses of democracy. And with so many lawyers and activists watching like hawks it seems likely that there really weren't any significant ones (though I am still suspicious of the computing technology in these new style polls. Is there any suspicion that the exit polls may have been way off not because they were way off, but because the figures were fiddled electronically?)
This is unquestionably a good thing. It's obviously the wrong result, from everybody's perspective, but at least it is the wrong result for the right reasons (ie that the people decided it and not a bunch of aging judges who were appointed by the Republican party in the first place)
2. Amidst the inevitable recriminations in the Democrat party is is clear that one of the things that will come out of this is a desire to "reach out to the heartland". This is obviously what the party needs to do. But how? How do you reach people who are so twisted that they profess to want to protect the "life" of a bunch of cells in someone else's uterus, but are quite happy with capital punishment and with the deaths of over a hundred thousand Iraqi civilians. You know real, living breathing Iraqis. Children and adults alike. I mean I am not a huge fan of the pope, but at least his position is consistent - if you're anti-abortion (and for the stated reason of being "pro-life"), you at least have to be "pro-life" across the board. JP2 is anti abortion (which I don't agree with), but also anti war and anti capital punsihment. At least that has an internal logic.
How do you reach out to people who believe that carrying guns is an inalienable right? I mean really. How the fuck do you deal with these people? People who believe that walking around tooled up is what the country needs. And people who are so committed to the constitution that they quote the gun bit over and over like it's axiomatic. But at the same time they are so anti-constitution that the idea of equality of rights is anathema to them. The equality of marriage (oughtn't it to be open to all?), the equality of citizens (regardless of colour or background). To hear them talk you'd think the entirety of the constitution read "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that every american should be allowed to arm themselves to the teeth with assault wepaons and the like, except for the people we don't really like, such as blacks, gays, women, and pretty much everyone who is not a white man with a northern European surname".
These people are often referred to (by themselves) as Christians. By others as the Christian Right. But where in the gospels (which is basically the only source we have to go on) is Jesus promoted as some kind of avenging angel, smiting homos and A-Rabs? He isn't, is he? I confess my knowledge of the bible is pretty limited, but he always seems to come across as this nice guy who protects the weak and asks people to love their neighbours and turn the other cheek if you get struck, and does a couple of miracles just to keep people interested. Where is Jesus the homophobe? Where is Jesus the NRA member? Where is Jesus the imperial crusader? Where is Jesus the hanging judge? What kind of Christian can read the bible and think that killing a hundred thousand Iraqi civilians is pretty much "The Way"? What kind of Christian can read the bible and think that by advocating the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, they are somehow doing "His Will"? Mad ones. That's who.
3. We are told that the US is a divided nation. I bloody hope it is. If there are 50% of the people who think that invading Iraq was a good thing to do in the war on terror, and that discrimnation and racism is a good thing, then thank god it is divided. There's hope there still.
Meanwhile I have work to do. So, I'll go ahead and get started. And return to this argument later.
Thursday, November 04, 2004
I sit here in Europe having left Brattleboro in July, feeling as angry, scared and depressed as I can ever remember feeling. After 6 years in Brattleboro, I now live in Romania and want to express my solidarity with the people of Brattleboro and of Vermont in what will undoubtedly be the toughest four years in US and world history.
In some ways I feel like someone who has gone through a terrible experience with an ex-. I first came to the US in 1995, and slowly but surely fell in love with the country. I admired its values, respected its history and loved its freedoms. So enamoured was I that I moved in. I had many blissful yeras before starting to realise not long after September 11th, 2001, that something in our relationship was wrong. It wasn't me that had changed but the country. As more and more anti-democratic legislation was passed, and more and more of what I had assumed to be the core values of the country were eroded, I felt cheated on. With hindsight I realise that my partner's affair started in Florida in November 2000, but at the time I had thoiugh it was a one-off problem. Finally, unable to conceal my disappointment and betrayal any longer, I left in the summer of 2004. As time has passed in this seperation, I have wondered if we could ever be friends and resume a normal speaking relationship. Today, as I sit here terrified for the future of the world and of the next four years, I realise that at least until 2008, there is no going back. There is no rapprochement between me and the USA I thought I knew.
I am angry. Angry with the media which has consistently failed to challenge the Bush administration, angry with the voters who were duped into voting for this madman and his cronies, angry with the US for letting this happen. I am scared. Scared for the world, scared for the people who will be directly affected by this vote and who had no say in it. And I am depressed. Depressed that for the next four years at least the country I once loved will be dragged ever closer to being a fundametalist theocracy and an imperial military power.
I feel like the US has stuck its middle finger firmly in the face of the world and said, in effect, f*** you. I fear for America, for the people I know, for my friends and loved ones in the USA, that now the anti-bushism that has gone around the world will translate into full-on anti-Americanism. I can feel it in my blood, and I can already see it around me. We can forgive you once, but a second time is too much, is the sense I am getting.
I am sorry for all of you, and I hope you feel the same sympathy for those of us who didn't get to vote and who will suffer just as much.
Wednesday, November 03, 2004
The USA has basically just held up its collective middle finger and said "Fuck You" to the world. As a citizen of the Rest Of The World, I feel quite justified in holding up my middle finger and saying "Fuck You America". If I had a US flag and a can of lighter fluid I'd go down the US consulate and burn the hideous thing.
Four more years of war, of theft, of viciousness, of polluting the planet to within an inch of its life, and of religious and imperial fundamentalism. Or perhaps just mentalism. There is nothing good about this news. Absolutely nothing. The world is fucked, and US voters have fucked it. Thanks guys.
And if I'm angry and scared and depressed right now, how must others be feeling? Palestinians know that Bush has basically told Sharon that he can keep whatever bits of the West Bank he wants. Syrians know that they will probably now be bombed and killed and their homes flattened between now and 2008. Likewise Iranians. People in low lying countries or regions know that their homes will soon vanish under the rising seas while the US churns out vast quantities of shit into the atmosphere unchecked.
This result is an unmitigated disaster with no silver lining. Fuck America. Fuck it, fuck that fucked up country.
Sorry to all my American readers, who may feel offended by this. Probably more than half of my friends are American and in all my years living there I have only met one self-professed Bush voter. If this result just affected you and your nation, it would be merely an example of one of the failings of democracy. As it is it effects all of us. Every single one. And approximately 50% of the American poublic (who voted) think that Bush is worth electing. Well fuck those people. They have fucked all of us. I hate you. Bastards.
Thursday, October 28, 2004
Anyway, I'm in Krakow working on an intensive teacher training course and I really don;t have a great deal of time to write. So that's why. I'll be back in Romania the week after the US election to either drape myself in gloom and despondency about the fact that the world is coming to an end, or mildly celebrating the election of John Kerry. They won't let that happen though will they? This election will be as bent as a whole truck full of 2 dollar bills.
OK, that's all I have time for right now. See you in a fortnight. (That's two weeks to those of you living under the iron grip of what my friend Gavin refers to as "The Taliban with better dentists")
Tuesday, October 05, 2004
So, aside from the vampire angle, what else can I tell you about Transylvania? Those of you with the dubious benefit of a classical education will know that Transylvania means “beyond the woods”. Over the mountains might be a better description as the area is practically surrounded by mountains on all sides. It’s a very fertile region, Transylvania, and was once referred to (by Stalin, I believe, or at least someone in his government) as the breadbasket of Europe. Indeed he (Stalin) saw that as the role for Romania in the Warsaw Pact, but this pissed Ceasescu off, who thought the subtext was that Romanians were being described as peasants, and as a good communist he wanted a country full of proletariats. So rather than building up agriculture he instead filled the country with large ugly polluting factories. Thus, now, Romania’s agriculture is working at a 19th century semi-feudal level. And more surprisingly, in view of the fact that every town appears to have a tractor factory in it, there appear to be very few actual tractors in the country. I’ve mentioned before about how many horse carts and cows you see on the roads, and this is no exaggeration. I don’t think I’ve ever been stuck behind a tractor on the rods here, but horse carts? Every couple of miles. In fact one just went past the window of this apartment, despite the fact that we live more or less in the centre of a city. Well, large town. Ok, town.
Transylvanians regard their part of Romania as the “rich” part of Romania, with hard working people producing the food and other goods that keep the rest of the country in the lazy style to which they have become accustomed. Every country I have ever been to has these kinds of regional stereotypes. There are workers and those who live off the work, and this can be divided into class or they can be divided into regions. People from Lisbon for example barely ever bother to get out of bed if you listen to the people from Porto. Likewise the Sicilians are just a bunch of layabouts to the Milanese. For Transylvanians it’s the Wallachians. The Moldavians appear to have gained a kind of honorary Transylvanian status in all this. They’re not Transylvanians you understand, but at least they understand the role of the wallachian parasites. I should put all that in quotes, so you know it’s not me talking, but perhaps this sentence will do instead.
As I mentioned in the Romania post, Transylvania has something of a long and checkered history. You can read all about it on the Internet somewhere. I’ll start at about the 10th century because before that point nothing 9aside form during the Roman occupation) is very well documented, and so it’s difficult to know what really was going on. This also avoids getting into the tricky question of who the “real” Transylvanians are. So, after loads of invasions from various tribes, Transylvania started to be colonised by Magyars in about the 10th century, and by the 13th century it had become part of Hungary. (Do you se how I cunningly skipped 300 years there?) The Hungarian king, in an effort to stop various invading forces coming in and pillaging bits of it, invited two groups of people to move in and provide a buffer protection area. In the South/Southeast of Transylvania it was the Saxons, and in the East it was the Szekely. I’m not 100% sure who the Szekelys are, “a Hungarian ethnic group” seems to be the common consensus. They were renowned warriors hence their selection for this role. So there are areas of Transylvania where until recently there was a sizeable ethnic German population, and areas which are still Szekely (and there are still a lot of Hungarians in Transylvania). The Hungarian word for Transylvania is Erdely (pronounced Airday), and the German is Siebenburgen (7 towns, although one website I looked at suggested that this didn’t in fact refer to the 7 major towns of medieval Transylvania but was a Germanification of Sibiu, one of those towns, which is the most pronouncedly German still.)
So the next few hundred years is characterised by that history that goes something like “In 1479 King Wankdorf formed an alliance with Prince Mouflon of Cantaloupe, which led to the combined forces defeating the Wingnuts at the battle of Trouserpress. When Mouflon suddenly died of scrofula, his son, Prince Mouflon II joined forces with the Niblicks and turned against Wankdorf. Wankdorf immediately made peace with the Wingnuts and married Princess Lentil of Yucca. The three way alliance thus formed was too much for the Cantaloupe and Niblick forces who were pushed all the way back to the River Handcream.” Etc etc and so forth ad nauseum. You know the kind of thing.
In the grander scheme of things Transylvania was handed from empire to empire (Ottoman, Habsburg, Austro-Hungarian) Until about 1848 when the revolutions sweeping Europe engulfed Hungary and Transylvania, and ended up with a ruthless quashing of the uprising, and a subsequent policy of Magyarisation of the population of Transylvania. Under this regime, the Romanians in Transylvania, who previously had merely been disenfranchised, were now oppressed quite overtly and denied basic rights. All designed to undermine the Romanianness of the region. Language, culture, religion, you know, the whole works. It’d be nice to think that the end of this period would be the end of such oppressions anywhere in the world ever. But unfortunately not. In fact that Magyarisation has sprouted many bastard offspring all over the world in the 20th century and it’s still going on in various places.
In the First World War Hungary sided with the Germans, while Romania sided with the British/French/Russian alliance. At the end of the war, then, Transylvanian was effectively handed over to Romania, a fact on the ground which was confirmed by the Treaty of Trianon in 1920. Then of course the entire process of Magyarisation was reversed and replaced with Romanisation. Hungarians were stripped of their land, property etc, and Romanians from other parts of the country were brought in to ensure the Romanian majority. In the 2nd World War, Hungary made the same mistake again and sided with Germany - mostly it seems to get back Transylvania. It did for a while, until Hitler and Stalin fell out and then Romania sided with Russia, eventually leading to being again on the “winning side”. Transylvania reverted to Romania after it’s brief bit of Hungarianness (in reality it was more like part of a greater Nazi empire, but since that empire only really existed under war conditions it’s a bit of a weird one (describing the nazis as weird is I suspect setting myself up for abuse, so I’ll just add in here that the empire and its status as a constantly fluctuating entity is the bit that’s weird. What happened within its expanding and contracting borders goes beyond weird and into the realms of fucking awful. Just to clear that up).
Post war and under Ceasescu, the Romanisation continued. Romanians were moved in from other parts of the country, Hungarians were often moved out and moved to barren bits of land or to work on one of Ceasescu’s grand projects (like the Danube Black Sea canal). People couldn’t have Hungarian names (Erika’s dad for example, born Laszlo, is officially Ladislau the closest Romanian equivalent to his real Hungarian name), large Romanian Orthodox Churches were built al over. The most prominent building in Csikszereda for example is the Romanian Orthodox church – even though the town has very few Romanians in it. I imagine the congregation is dwarfed by the interior of the church. Also under Ceasescu much of the German population of Transylvania left for West Germany. Germany has apparently always had a policy of offering all Germans anywhere in the world citizenship, and paid to “repatriate” their countrymen from Ceasescu’s Romania. Ceasescu wanted the money so was happy to let them go. Thus now, there are almost no Germans left in Transylvania.
After Ceasescu’s fall, and the general collapse of Eastern Europe many Hungarians fled to Hungary (these days you see thousands of Hungarian registered cars touring the countryside in summer, as people come back to visit their families). There are now about 1.5 million Hungarians in Transylvania. The population of Romania as a whole is 22million, but I don’t know what proportion of that is in Transylvania. So what’s left is a land of probably about 75% Romanian, 20% Hungarian and 5% Roma and a few surviving Germans. I’m making these figures up, but they’re a relatively informed guess.
God, I’ve gone on a bit there haven’t I? What I really ought to add is that Transylvania is gorgeous. Hills, mountains, forests, attractive and traditional villages, attractive gothic cities, rivers, lakes, gorges, and valleys. I perhaps ruined the effect of that final statement by wittering on about the divided history of the region. But really you should come. And visit.
Friday, October 01, 2004
Anyway, the upshot of all this is that becoming a company is the best way of living and working here. The two of us make up this company and we were asked to supply three possible names of our company in case the first choice sounded too much like an organisation already in existence here. We chose “Training in Education and Management” as our primary choice, and were very pleased with it – after all the acronym would be TEAM, and that sounded dead good. I was already imagining our website our logo and everything else. But we failed to get our first choice. The second was the more prosaic but still fairly professional sounding “Education and Management”. Again no. When we were told that we had to have three, we thought the last one could be something faintly amusing as clearly we wouldn’t get down that far – after all how many companies could there possibly be registered in Romania with long English names? So our third and final choice was “Hox and Erix’ (an ancient nickname of mine and an ancient nickname of hers). So, as you have no doubt gathered you are talking to one of the partners of Hox and Erix SRL. I’m actually beginning to warm to it already. It has a nicely peculiar quality to it. Like Google. Or Bang and Olufson. As you can see I’m already setting my sights high – thinking of the day that Hox and Erix is a multinational corporation, even though it has been set up in order to administer teacher training activities in rural Eastern Transylvania. I think I may need someone to give me the occasional slap in the face.
The legal papers were also funny. Having been awarded the name, our lawyers (i.e. the people we hired to take care of all this stuff for us) printed out the official paperwork of the company which we had to sign. This names Erika and me as the associates in the company and requires us to call a general assembly every year – to be made up of the two associates. That general assembly has the responsibility (if need be) of firing the administrators of the company. The administrators of the company are, you guessed it, also Erika and me. It’s a very labyrinthine and complex organigram. I’d draw it for you, but (a) I can’t, and (b) if I did so the whole thing would implode on itself and create a wormhole in the space-time continuum.
The upshot of all this is that Erika is now my partner in a sense other than the romantic. She’s also my administrator. (this is not some kind of bondage code word). And my co-assembly member. Oh and we sleep together too. Nepotism? We got it. I’m thinking of hiring Bogi as our accountant.
Saturday, September 25, 2004
Krakow old town is policed by a private security firm. Now I know that after 40 years of a failing command economy the Poles wil have been anxious to jump on the free market bandwagon, but a private police force? They don't even do that in the US. Every store has the sign up in the window, indicating presumably that they have contributed to paying. The cynical side of me (and having spent most of my life in a capitalist society, I have a fairly well-developed cynical side when it comes to privatisation) wonders what happens to the places which refuse to pay. Do they get visits by baseball bat wielding "advisers" who suggest that they join in? Do they get robbed with impunity while these mercenary policemen stand around watching and sniggering? I'm a bit stunned. It seems to only be the old touristy bit of Krakow, as I've seen regular police elsewhere. This security firm is named "Justus", which is presumably derived from the same route as "justice", but obviously sounds slightlky more comical to an English speaker. When they kick your door down in the middle of the night for non payment of protection monies, oh sorry I mean security tax, do they say "It's just us!"
Oh, and Sheffield Wednesday just won 3-0 at Wrexham in their first match under Paul Sturrock, you'll all be glad to hear.
There is a chain of newspaper shops and kiosks here called "Kolporter". There is also a regional confectioners called "Jawjgerschwin" and a fast food franchise named "Bertbakarak". I may have made two of those three up.
[The next section may be of no interest or even understandable to many of you. I apologise and ask that you skip to the next paragraph - if I end up writing one].
Chris Turner was sacked by Sheffield Wednesday this week. Personally I think it's a great shame. I think he made a lot of good changes to the club and was moving things in the right direction. Once again, we have had to hire a new manager in the period between September and December, and once again no doubt, nothing fundamental will change. The real problems affecting the club seems to exist in the boardroom and not in the dugout (I'm getting into this cliche stuff). The chairman is a complete tosser who only looks good in comparison with Ken Bates who wants to wrest control of the club (the comparison I could make here is Tony Blair/Michael Howard - it's clear that Blair is a total and utter bastard who has been a complete disaster for Britain, yet who stays in power merely because next to Michael Howard he looks like a paragon of virtue and good sense). We have had a succession of terrible chairmen, either by virtue of them being self-interested wankers and not in the least interested in Sheffield Wednesday (Dave Richards, and the Dave Allen the current incumbent), or by virtue of them being ineffectual nobodies (all the others- whose names I forget, but that always seemed to rhyme with gully). So now we have Paul Sturrock who has the advantage of having failed at his last club. Normally we get managers who have been a great success and then they proceed to fail at Wednesday before being fired and going on to much better things elsewhere - Paul Jewell is the prime example. This time we've picked up someone who has already been through phases 1 and 2 of this process and could possibly be ready for phase 3 - the second successful bit. Under this wildly optimistic theory, Southampton become the new Wednesday and we become, erm, the new Wigan. Clearly, in reality, Sturrock will be sacked at around about November 12th 2005 with Wednesday just above the third division relegation zone (and in the case by third division I mean the third division, the third level, the division that contains the 45th - 68th best teams in the country. Just so you know.)
[You can all come back now]
I feel like I ought to offer another paragraph here for readers who were forced away but by wilful insertion of a Sheffield Wednesday paragraph, but I'm really not sure what to write about. I leave Poland tomorrow and return home via Budapest (by the way I have noticed that most excitingly Hungarians speak Hungarian! On the train out there I was greeted by the passport control man with a cheery "Jo Reget!" - good morning- and so staggered was I to see an official in uniform speaking Hungarian, that I almost failed to respond. Luckily I pulled myself together and managed it in the end.) One thing that I can tell you about Budapest is that it contains an astonishingly high number of lingerie shops. Every second shop seems to be offering sexy underwear. What's that about? Are Hungarian women the most erotically clad under their clothes? Or are there some kind of special tax breaks for purveyors of scanty feminine undergarments? I think we ought to know.
Ok that's your lot. I'm off to enjoy the sights and sounds of Krakow - the old town which is where I'm staying; Kazimierz - which is a basically Jewish quarter and also the first name of a Mr Deyna, famous footballer of the 1970s; and Podgorze - another poorer Jewish quarter where the ghetto was under Nazi occupation and the site of Schindler's factory (and where much of Speilberg's film was made). Quick quiz for you. Name off the top of your head 5 famous Poles.
(I just did it and came up with Lech Walesa, Deyna, Boniek, Lato and the Pope. Which I think shows that my obsession with football is unhealthy)
Friday, September 24, 2004
The word "pub" in Poland seems to refer to a bar which is underground in a kind of cave or cellar. If it's on the ground floor it's simply a bar, underground and it's a pub. I have no idea whether this is a universal rule, or whether it's just the places I have been to so far. I could ask someone, but the research is rewarding in it's own way, so I won't bother.
Krakow is obsessed with the Pope. I don;' know if he is from here, or just because he is Polish. But the airport is named "John Paul II" and you can get a map from the tourist office which directs you around the city in a walking tour in which you can "follow in the footsteps" of his Holiness. Surprisingly this is not merely a ten yard zimmerframe track from the cathedral to the parking space reserved for the popemobile, but in fact a quite extensive tour of the old city. He must have been here a good few years ago, or else the "following in the footsteps" is poetic licence for "walking along the route which the motorcade took"
Polish pronunciation is dead hard. Those of you who, like me, enjoy the early rounds of the UEFA cup so that you can follow the progress of Excelsior Mouscron and Odd Grenland, are alomst certainly familiar with the team Widsew Lodz. It may be that you mentally prononce this name "Vidsev Lods" or something similar. But in fact Lodz is pronounced more like Wooj. I have no idea how Widsew is pronounced. Vidsev, Vidshev, Vidshoe are all possibilities that I can imagine. But it's probably more like "Throatwobbler" or something.
Polish people have big noses. This of course is an insane generalisation, but I've seen more massive conks here in the space of the last couple of days than in the rest of my life combined. It must be a slavic/germanic/jewish combination gene which extends the nose to a large degree. I am reluctant to ask, in case people are offended by my observation. Or else just tell me to "fuck off you small nosed bastard".
I am trying to develop a post-dictatorship theory. What makes a country succeed or fail, or move or progress following the ending of dictatorship? In the last few weeks I have been in four countries (well 5 if you count the few hours I spent in Budapest on Tuesday) in which a dictator has been ousted in the last 30 years. Spain, Romania, Serbia, Poland. And they're all in different stages of development. This was primarily brought on by the fact that Serbia is about as developed as Romania despite being bombed by NATO only 5 years ago, and overthrowing its dictator a year or so later. Is it cultural? Is it related to the extent of the dictator's reign and madness? I can only conclude that Ceasescu was particularly backward and it's taking Romania that much longer to pull out. Or that since those that took power after his overthrow were basically the same people who were in power before he got the chop. I'll keep working on it and come back to you when I have a theory worth analysing. Right now, you'll notice it's a work in progress. And not much progress either.
Thursday, September 23, 2004
Some points about Poland> There is a band here called "Pink Freud". I can't decied if this is crap or inspired. If they are a covers band doing little twiddly versions of "Money", the it's crap. Although actually given the name I'd quite like to hear them doing that one that goes "Come on here dear boy, have a cigar"
Shit time's up. More tomorrow
Friday, September 17, 2004
From there it was off to Belgrade on a 13 hour "rapid" international train. Most of the journey actually takes place in Romania, and we only got to Serbia & Montenegro at about 7 or 8 the next morning. I had a "couchette" to reflect my enhanced status since my inter-rail days when I would sleep on one of those benches that kind of pulled across and hoped all night that no-one else would want to come into the compartment. (That was on good trips. Once I slept in the corridor near the toilets. Not one of the most amazing experiences of my life, I have to confess).
Things you notice when travelling by train in Romania: 1. Most people don't bother to buy a ticket, and instead bribe the ticket collector. This is done in a comically "discreet" manner, which I noticed on the very first trip and then subsequently with 75% of the other people around me on all the trains. I guess this makes train travel much cheaper, and helps the ticket collectors out no end. I have no idea how you'd go about stopping such a practice. 2. Kids by the side of the tracks give the train the famous one-finger salute. What happened to those far off innocent days when children would happily wave to the train as it rattled by? 3. Despite the bribery practice, the trains still seem to run on a classlike basis. On the personals you get drunk guys and farmers who smell strongly (and y'know ordinary normal people too). On the Accelerats you get fewer of the Chavs as I believe they're now called in England. Maybe there's a sliding scale of bribery and you're expected to cough up more on the higher speed trains. Who knows?
Once we had gone "south of Brasov" (see earlier post for more details) I found myself pathetically happy whenever I got sniffs of "home". I heard someone speaking Hungarian on one train, and on another I saw someone reading the local Csikszereda paper (Harghita Nepe). Then after leaving Bucharest for the west of the country we passed a goods train each wagon of which was stamped (something like) Statia de Domiciliul: and the name of a town. I'm sure I've spelt that wrong, but it means something like "home station". This in itself is fascinating enough, that goods wagons have "home stations" and are not itinerant wanderers, the hobos of the rolling stock world. At the end of the year do they all have to go home for Christmas so that they can be counted up and checked that one of them didn't make a break for Bulgaria or somewhere? Anyway, we passed endless wagons that had made their home in Cluj Napoca, and then, suddenly, there it was- Statia de Domiciliul:Miercurea Ciuc. It was from my town! One of my homeys. I was so excited. It was somehow better than the standard Cluj wagons. More proud and resolute. Even it's rust seemed more earned, more real, than the University-town over-educated foppish wagons from Cluj.
Anyway, I'll tell you all about S&M when I get around to it. And I might cover Serbia and Montenegro too. Ho ho.
Wednesday, September 08, 2004
So, we’ll go big to small, and hang the consequences.
As all of you are probably aware (unless the Foxnews morons have already got here), Romania is a fairly large country in Eastern Europe, the capital of which is Bucharest. It’s kind of hexagonal (bear with me here), and on the six borders (i.e. the six borders which I have just created with this arbitrary and frankly ludicrous attempt to geometrize the nation) you will find in order (running in clockwise order from the top one first): Ukraine, Moldova, the Black Sea, Bulgaria, Serbia & Montenegro, and Hungary. I’d draw you a picture of that to make it clearer, but I don’t think I can in this blog. Instead, here (is a link ) to the Lonely Planet’s map.
On the hexagon you have drawn (you did draw it, right?) draw a vertical line down from the right hand side of the top to the middle of your diagram and then horizontally left across to the middle of the left hand side. This represents the Carpathian Mountains. Everything in that top left corner is Transylvania. The bottom half of the diagram is Walachia. And the bit you have left (next to Moldova) is Moldavia. Try not to get Moldavia and Moldova mixed up as there’ll be a test later. This more or less represents the division of the country into its constituent three regions. One expression I have learnt while here is “South of Braşov”. This refers to things which are, how can I put this, less than perfect. If you put Braşov on your hexagon diagram at that Carpathian elbow, you will see that what “South of Braşov” actually means is “Walachian”. I’m sure people from Walachia don’t refer sneeringly to things “South of Braşov” for obvious reasons. Possibly for them, it’s “North of Braşov” which is a mark of contempt.
Historically, I’m on much more shaky ground. Ask me to describe countries in terms of geometrical shapes and I’m your man, but ask me to sum up thousands of years of history in a few pithy sentences without offending anyone, and I am definitely not your (or anyone else’s man). Basically, the first civilization that was here was the Dacians. Most of the country was occupied by Rome (hence, “Romania” and the language being Latin based). Where it gets complicated and the capacity to upset comes into play is in the history of Transylvania (which I’ll try and cover in my next contextual update). Basically it has been contested by Hungarians and Romanians for centuries, and still is. Historians on both sides produce vast works of research proving that either the Magyars colonized a largely empty region and were welcomed by the people that did live there* or that the Romano-Dacian population of Transylvania were the original and populous inhabitants of the region and that they were occupied and oppressed by the Hungarians. What is clear is that over the course of centuries Transylvania has been ruled by various empires. At the end of the First World War the three provinces of Romania were “unified” (Hungary was on the wrong side in that conflict), and since then (aside from a period in WWII when it was occupied by the Nazis) has remained largely the same country – although some bits ended up in the USSR after WWII. The Communist regime was overthrown in 89 in Eastern Europe’s only bloody revolution (only about 1000 people died, but that’s way more than in all of the other countries’ rush to the West). Ironically given that fact, it was the country that changed least following the revolution, as the members of the communists who had been plotting to overthrow Ceauşescu and take the party reins in order to preserve their power, used the opportunity presented by the popular uprising to take that power instead. Now I’m getting onto shaky grounds, and probably setting myself up for trouble with the authorities so I'll stop.
Here’s a fairly brief and unbiased account from the Lonely Planet - history
Here’s a longer and more comprehensive but much more Romania-centric history http://www.rotravel.com/romania/history/index.php
And one more, from encyclopedia.com:
(* I have to say that I'm broadly sceptical of this account as it sounds suspiciously like the Zionist contention that Palestine was basically empty until the Jews arrived. A position which I know to be utter bollocks)
Tuesday, September 07, 2004
We have two cartoon channels here: Minimax, which is Hungarian (or at least this version of it is), and Cartoon Network in Romanian. As Cartoon Network is filled with fairly violent and over the top animated gore fests, Erika has removed it from the list of available channels. One day Bogi will have enough English and be literate enough to read this and murder us both in our beds with a carefully sharpened powerpuff girl doll. So, we really have one that tends to get a lot of airtime. I don't really understand much of the dialogue (or none of it really), but that's not desperately important as I can understand the gist of the storylines.
Here is a run down of some of the cartoons that exist these days, for those of you without children:
Marsupilami: A large hyena like creature with a spectacularly prehensile tail rescues his jabbering offspring from various poachers, scientists and assorted humans. Every epsiode is the same. Marsupilami says "Hupa" a lot.
Petyke: An actual Hungarian cartoon. Patyke is a policeman with a dog who does all the work for him. It's basically a more innocent and pleasing version of Hong Kong Phooey.
Pamukli: A German carpenter lives with a cartoon boy who only he can see. The boy goes around breaking people's wooden furniture so that they have to go to the carpenter. each week he gets mad at the boy and criticises him severely for being so bad, but lives handsomely off the profits that he brings in.
Fair Play: I'm not exactly sure what the title of this one is but it centres around the FIFA Fair Play handbook. Seriously. Each week two teams of stereotypes come together to play a game of football. One of them is usually a team of hardened criminals, who race into an early lead through cheating or being dirty. Like Chelsea or Arsenal, maybe. Unlike in real life, the appearance of the FIFA Fair Play guy with his manual saves the day, and eventually the dirty London bastards are beaten by fair play. The production crew all have Spanish names so it's either from Spain or somewhere in South America.
Power Puff Girls: This is on Cartoon Network, so I'm not really sure of the plot, but I do know that there are three grisl with amazing superpowers who do loads of cool stuff. They were created by their "dad" who is known as "The Professor". the reason I am aware of this one is because one of the girls is called Buttercup and Boglarka (Bogi's full name) is Buttercup in Hungarian, so she identifies strongly with the character. Occasionally we have stilted English converstaions in which I am The Professor. (These go - without fail- "Hello Professor, how are you?" "I'm fine thanks Buttercup, and you?" "I'm fine thanks. What are you doing?" "I'm smoking/watching TV/trying to sleep" - at which point the conversation is more or less over as we have exhausted Buttercup's English.)
Rescue Heroes: A group of rugged firefighters, policemen and other agents of good, live together inside a mountain. They are paged regularly by their flashing belts and go and save lives soemwhere in the world (from natural or man made disasters).
Bogi's favourite cartoons are actually Donald Duck (who she refers to as "Dodo") and Tom and Jerry, so I don't feel too much like and an old fogey. Donald Duck is so much better than that squeaky little bastard Mickey.
Sunday, September 05, 2004
The purpose of all this destruction and architectural criminality was to (and I quote) “wipe out radically the major differences between towns and villages; to bring the working and living conditions of the working people in the countryside closer to those in the towns”. The apartment buildings were to ensure that “the community fully dominates and controls the individual” and will therefore create Romania’s “new socialist man”. Wading past the communist slogans, I think this means that by forcing people out the communities that generations had created and sustained, systematisation would create new and harmonious super communities where workers and peasants would live cheek by jowl and fully come together for the glory of Romania.
Since 89 of course, many people have been moving back in the opposite direction, out of the towns and back into the countryside, which is among the most fertile in Europe (although not, for the last 50 years or so, among the most productive). I’m struck by the similarities between a policy which deigned to impose “community’ from the top down (when community is something that has always succeeded organically and from the bottom up, as it were), and the desire by another modern-day regime to impose democracy from the top down, when like community, democracy is something which has always come from below. The second biggest and the biggest building in the world are linked by more than just size.
To get back to the travelogue section, there are some towns in Romania that seemingly escaped systematisation – either because they were too isolated or unimportant for the process to have yet begun when it was abandoned. Two towns near here fit into this category – Székelyudvarhely and Gyergyószentmiklós (Odorheiu Secuiesc and Gheorgeni in Romanian), but so remote and poor were they that they’re still not exactly attractive – particularly the latter. Other more important towns seem to have survived by having their new civic centres built outside the old heart. Sighişoara for example retained its gorgeous old medieval heart, as for the most part did Braşov, and I’m led to believe, Sibiu and Cluj also (though I’ve not visited either of those towns yet). This means that these towns have really attractive centres which would melt any tourist’s heart, but also have some incredibly grim and depressing looking suburbs. Braşov in particular seems to be a study in contrasts. It’s a stunning and really interesting Baroque Saxon town, with small streets, a great main square and some very interesting churches, surrounded by some of the most suicidally awful looking apartments, factories and general grimness.
So, systematisation. - A bad thing. I could have said it in five words, clearly, but as ever, I chose to do so in many more. The next time a management consultant comes to your workplace and challenges you to systematise your workplace (and I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before the word gets reinvented and thrust into service for this purpose), bear in mind that thus far in history systematisation has been a method of oppression and an abject failure. Then tell them where to stick it.
Saturday, September 04, 2004
The reason for this Romanian interest in Chelsea of course is the presence on their team of Adrian Mutu. Mutu is Romania’s footballing heartthrob, the idol of young pubescent girls across the nation. I’d compare him to David Beckham in this regard, but as far as I can tell he hasn’t yet taken on the mantle of cultural icon as “Becks’ has. I suspect Romanians have far too much sense than to award leader of the nation status to a pretty boy footballer. Why the English have come to do this is beyond me, but it does make for some comic moments, I think, as intellectuals and cultural commentators rush to jump on the Becks bandwagon.
“We begin tonight’s edition of the South Bank Show with the news this morning from Madrid that David Beckham had a mild case of diarrhoea. I’m joined by a distinguished panel of critics and thinkers to discuss the implication of this event on Britain. If I may begin with you, Anthony?”
"Well, Melvyn, what I think we are seeing here is once again a reflection of Tony Blair’s Britain. We are a nation moving forward and attempting to rid ourselves of the waste and detritus of the past, but things at the moment are not terribly solid. Once again we see here Becks as the cultural barometer of the nation"
“Interesting point, Anthony. Lucinda?”
“Melvyn, again I see the issue here being a nation uneasy with being an integral part of the “great European adventure” [makes quotation marks with fingers, smiles knowingly. Nods of agreement from panel]. We’ve all been to Spain and all suffered from tummy troubles as our English guts struggle to cope with the shift from hearty and solid fare – I’m thinking here of beans on toast, sausages and mash, meat and potato pie – to the more exotic and less palatable ingredients of the Castilian diet –[fakes strong Spanish accent] Calamares a la Romana, Gambas ajillo, etc. As the permanent and widely accepted anthropomorphisation of modern England, I think what Becks’ insides are reflecting is a widely held English disquiet with ceding sovereignty to the mainland of Europe.”
Yes, I see what you’re getting at that, Lucinda. Perhaps you’d care to comment, Frank?”
“Well, perhaps it was something he ate?”
“If I could ask you to keep your comments to the idea of Beckham as metaphor rather than as a human being, Frank.”
“Ah yes, my apologies. Errrm maybe it’s something to do with Gibraltar?”
“No, no, no. You’re missing the point entirely. Think Princess Di. You need to come up with something pithy and semi-ironic regarding Beckham’s role as representative of modern Britain, spouting intellectual truisms while keeping a knowingly ironic tone to your voice to let everyone know that you’re aware of his iconic status but don’t quite subscribe to the celebrity cult beloved of the “Hello!” reader.
“But won’t that mean I’m actually behaving with less integrity than things like “hello!” magazine or suchlike? I mean I’ll be fuelling this rubbish and feeding off it while pretending that I’m not. That sounds like crap to me.”
[South Bank Show, The Guardian’s G2 supplement and all other artifices of post-modern celebrity worship implode in a puff of realism]
Friday, September 03, 2004
/rant over. Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible.
Thursday, September 02, 2004
There is a song which you hear everywhere here. It’s by a Romanian boy band called O-Zone and its title escapes me, but its main lyric goes “Numa Numa Yay. Numa Numa Numa Yay”. Romanians told me that it was a huge hit all over Europe, but I suspected they were exaggerating or being misled by an excitably patriotic media “A Belgian bought that Romanian record! We are finally recognized in the west of the continent! First Adrian Mutu and now this! Romania is on the European map!”
But it’s true. In Spain on a train I heard a father singing it to his young pissed off looking son after a day on the beach. Then in a record store in Barcelona, at the bank of listening posts next to new albums by The Cure, Prodigy, and Beyonce, was the O-Zone album. It really IS big all over Europe. It is, I’m led to believe, this year’s big Euro summer hit. It makes sense – it obeys all the rules of Euro summer hits, which are of course:
- Your record’s hook line shall either make no sense (eg that Spanish bipididibipi thing from last year), or be in some kind of grammatically correct but not normal English (eg “All that she wants is another baby”, or “I’m serious as cancer when I say rhythm is a dancer”) [Of course my Romanian is not good enough yet to know whether "Numa Numa Yay" is in fact a searing critique of Kant or Wittgenstein, but I think it probably isn't]
- Each year’s hit shall come from a different country (eg all of the above) in a kind of rotating pan-euro equality scheme. Possibly it’s a Socrates project.
- The bands that make the songs shall commit to only have one summer of success before vanishing into the unknown. Whatever happened to Aqua? TaTu? Snap? Ace of Base? Does anyone know? And does anyone care?
- The songs must be catchy but, ultimately, rubbish.
So, from this we can conclude that O-zone are already heading into the sunset, and that next year’s big hit will be a Byelorussian number entitled “lobynobysoby” or “I am crestfallen in sincerity”
Until then, once you get numa numa yay into your brain it’s absolutely impossible to get it out.
Wednesday, September 01, 2004
As one of the padrinos I had to respond to a number of statements with the lines “Yes, I believe” or Yes, I promise” (in Spanish). It was a pretty liberal interpretation of Catholicism, so for the most part this didn’t create any sort of problems. I am happy to say “Si, creo” when the statement runs something like “Working towards peace, justice, and mutual understanding”, but it’s less easy to do so to things like “I believe that Jesus is the only begotten son of God, blah blah blah”, so I just remained silent at those points. One sentence about the “Espirito Santo” I stayed quiet at, not because I didn’t believe it, but because I didn’t understand it. The Spanish was OK, but I’ve never understood the holy spirit. What it is, where it comes from, what it is supposed to do, any of that. I’m convinced that it’s just a ruse to justify the study of theology. Once priests had literacy on their side and could act like they knew it all, just because they were the only ones who could read. Now they have to have this incomprehensible third arm of the trinity to fall back on when challenged. “Oh it’s this way because of the holy ghost.” I wanted to say “No entiendo”, but that might have left us in the church for hours.
I had been told that I would have to renounce Satan (and all his little wizards), and had been quite ready to do so, by picturing Donald Rumsfeld while doing so. But satan had been left out, and all I had to do was renounce mal. I’ve never been a great fan of mal (In fact Mal Donaghy was my least favourite member of that 80s Luton Town side with Brian Stein, Ricky Hill et al) so that was fairly easy. I had to check with the madrina which way to do the cross, just in case anyone was watching to see if I was a really trustworthy catholic. “Psst! Is it right to left?” She had to quickly do it to check as she’d never thought about it before. We then got to a bit where we had to promise to pass on our faith to our new charges, which I am delighted to be asked to do. It didn’t actually specify which faith it was that we would have to pass on, so I am freely at liberty to interpret that how I like. With that in mind I spent a part of the evening after the event trying to persuade Luke to say “Chris Waddle” and “David Hirst”, and will soon start looking for pop-up picture book versions of Chomsky.
As I understand it, being a godfather means that I can kill (the godfather handbook recommends “whack” or “clip”) either of my brothers if they disappoint me, and leave horse heads in the beds of my rivals. A special updated version in response to protests from PETA and the RSPCA allows you to replace the dismembered animal part with quorn or tofu these days. I’m looking forward to this padrino lark.