We had a good time in Vasarhely (as we locals refer to it). It’s a nice city that I like more and more each time I visit. There’s more going on than Csikszereda (not especially difficult, it must be said), it’s more active, and just generally a nice place. I also like the fact that it’s basically 50/50 Romanian/Hungarian population wise, which adds a certain soupçon of intercultural spice to proceedings. (Can you have a soupçon of spice? Or am I attempting to mix my culinary metaphors with an egg brush?) It’s significantly bigger than Csikszereda – somewhere around about 170,000 I think compared to 40,000 – and it has suburbs and neighbourhoods and public transport and all those things you get in real cities. The public transport is these minibuses that are known as maxi-taxis that ply routes just like regular buses and fill quickly (they’re a bit like Turkish dolmuses and Kenyan matatus and no doubt thousands of other similar systems round the world). Erika thinks they are pretty much unique to Targu Mures in Romania, but someone will no doubt write and tell me how they’re to be found everywhere. Apparently the public transport was rubbish (unreliable, crowded, uncomfortable, and infrequent) and these minibuses just appeared and started taking away the business (since they were all the things that the buses weren’t). Eventually the council gave up fighting them and actually bought into the system so now they’re run by some private company/local government consortium.
Erika’s dad Laci (short for Laszlo and pronounced, not Lacey as you may be wondering, but Lotzi) has just bought a piece of land on a hillside near their apartment that he can garden and turn into a little space of his own. He in fact already has such a space, which has been in the family for 50 or so years, but which is not actually owned by anyone (it’s a long involved story involving hospital employees in the post war years, communism, post communism and intractable bureaucracy which I could tell if you were interested, but I probably won’t bother). One day, the assumption is, they’ll lose the garden and that day had been weighing heavily. Now, though, he officially owns a garden and he is very happy and excited about it. It was just great to see his joy as he took us to see it and proudly show it off. It’s in a great spot, and once it’s cleaned up it’ll be fantastic. I was extremely happy for him. He said it has been his life’s dream to own some land, officially, and that can’t be taken away. He works with a bunch of Lipovans (ethnic Russians from the Danube Delta region) who he employs on just such occasions. They will no doubt descend one weekend and clean the place up ready for use. Right now, however, it’s got more mosquitoes than a pool of stagnant water in Mombasa at dusk. I got bitten to shit. Laci still persists in talking to me in German, despite my utter lack of knowledge of that language.
Other things that are good about Vasarhely: There is this large open air public water park called “The Weekend” (in English). A section of the Mures River has been diverted to build the place, and on a summer day it’s just like being by the sea – pools, paddling areas, showers, beach bars, concerts, the works. It’s dead good. The Kulturpalota in the middle of town is a beautiful building with a colourfully tiled roof. It has an airport from which, according to the local paper, you can now get relatively cheap flights to Germany and Italy via Timisoara on something called CarpatAir. (That’s Carpat, not Carpet, just in case you were wondering). It also, we discovered to our cost, has more than one cinema.
We had been downtown on Saturday and had seen the poster outside the cinema for Hotel Rwanda, a film I was pretty interested in seeing despite knowing very little about it. So, having checked and re-checked the dates and times (Maius 27 – Junius 2, at 15, 17 and 19.30) we made up our minds to come down that evening and watch it. Bogi’s grandparents could watch her and we could have a night out together. It was a great plan. We showed up, bought our tickets and sat down in the seats we had chosen. Slowly the cinema began to fill up and Erika expressed surprise and happiness that maybe the cinema going culture was coming back to Romania (in Csikszereda the one time I’ve been there were 6 people in the theatre – and three of those were us). Even though it was the main showing on a Saturday night it was still only Hotel Rwanda - a film that seemed unlikely to grip the action-blockbuster-centric public. But this place was actually close to capacity. While we waited, Erika regaled me with tales of coming during communist times and watching the pre-film Ceausescu shorts and it being packed owing to it being the only thing you were allowed to do. Finally the trailers were over and the movie began…and it started with those familiar scene-setting yellow words sliding up the screen toward a distant vanishing point in the star-filled background. Somehow, terribly, we had been tricked into coming to the new Star Wars film. Having paid good money (70,000 Lei each! A whole €2!) to be there, we weren’t about to leave, but it was disturbing, to say the least. At the end of the film, we went back to the front entrance to see where we had gone wrong…the poster for Hotel Rwanda had some small print telling careful readers that it was actually being screened in the other cinema. Still it’s nice that they were using it as a ruse to get people to see Star Wars and not the other way around.
[Brief film review: Spectacular special effects, half-arsed plot and rubbish acting. Haydn Christensen (Anakin/Darth) has three expressions – normal (bland facial expression, head untilted), troubled (head tilted back slightly, pupils rolled back) and evil (head tilted back, pupils down). George Lucas also makes his point about the Bush empire (“You are either with me or my enemy” “Only a Sith deals in absolutes”) as the Sith take power through persuading the democratic structures to hand it over in the name of war. At the end the republic becomes the empire. It’s not, as you can probably tell, subtle. Still, if it gets a few of the imbeciles who voted for Bush to realise what’s going on then it’s worth doing. But it’s not Chomsky. Look! Sith is an anagram of Shit! That’s cutting satire of the highest order. I think to ram the point home he should really have made one of the baddies Darth Cheney]
The only bad thing about Targu Mures is the presence of a McDonalds. Luckily in Csikszereda we don’t have one of these things, but whenever we go up there Bogi absolutely has to go. She doesn’t actually eat the food (aside from a few “chips”) but she wants to get a Happy Meal, so she can have the gift. I mean we could buy her a piece of cheap plastic tat and not contribute to destroying the rain forests of Central America or the nutritional Armageddon caused by their food. I don’t know why they are allowed to get away with promoting themselves to children to be honest. No-one would put up with Philip Morris including a toy in every packet of Marlboros or advertising their brand with a large clown, so why do we let McDonalds do it? Their product is incredibly unhealthy and their environmental and worker’s rights records are terrible too. So why have we fallen victim to this repulsive corporation? Children, that’s why. We can’t ban McDonalds because our kids will be upset. Frankly I think we should just bite the bullet and put up with a wave of temper tantrums as our offspring are forced to go cold turkey from their regular fix of fat and sugar and crap-in-a-bun.
Mind you, we were forced to do something for her as she excitingly lost her first tooth on Saturday morning. In the absence of a Romanian equivalent of the tooth fairy, we instead bowed to pressure and took her to McD’s. Ironic really that she gets to eat their food and drink their drinks as a prize for losing a tooth when it will probably end up being the place that causes her to lose her real teeth when they come along.
Other news from Romania this week: Bucharest staged its first ever Gay Pride parade on Saturday. I saw pictures on the news, which all seemed to be of transvestites. Either this was representative of the paraders or the news felt it uninteresting to show pictures of gay men in suits or in traditional regional costume. There were, it said 500 marchers and an unspecified number of protesters most of whom seemed to be Orthodox priests. One of them was quoted as saying “Homosexuality has been scientifically and theologically proven to be wrong”. I presume the scientific bit is that it doesn’t actually lead to the propagation of the species (but then neither do jogging, watching films, or reading a book, and they don’t get the same bad rap). “Theologically proven” on the other hand wins this year’s award for biggest oxymoron.
There was also another tornado this weekend, which flattened an entire village somewhere in Moldavia. Erika’s mum says she never remembers hearing of one tornado in Romania before, let alone two. We’re all doomed I tell you.