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.