Saturday, December 30, 2006

The hour approaches

The following have recently (I mean in the last couple of days) appeared in the main square, finally. I wondered if anyone would ever make any kind of reference to the imminent accession, and it seems that now Christmas is out of the way, that people are starting to at least acknowledge that January 1st is just around the corner.


This one's outside the Culture House, nicely symmetrical in its bilingualism.

The next two are directly opposite outside the county council building (known locally as "The White House")


As you can see they show the happy European family welcoming Romania into their midst. At least I assume it's Romania. In fact the "blue" of the flag is so dark as to be effectively black, occasioning me to actually wonder for a while about the logic of giving people the opportunity to be Belgian. I mean they must be blue, but it's really really hard to tell.

The lampposts have all received the following decoration:
That white flag, in case you were wondering is the local one. I think it's the flag of Csikszereda, but it could conceivably be the flag of Haromszek, the old Hungarian county in which Csikszereda was.

And finally a signpost pointing west to our new home (seen from both sides so you can see there's no language bias)

Friday, December 22, 2006

A Year in the Life

One year on... from this post and this post.

Amazing to imagine that anyone could survive for a year with me as a father, let alone anyone so fragile as a baby. But miraculously Paula is thriving. Yesterday she took her first unsupported tentative half-step. I am still achingly proud.

And I have no idea why this set of pictures ends up all the way down there. Bloody HTML. This is probably a better way of viewing them all















Thursday, December 21, 2006

Things you learn at school

In England, instead of having a tree at Christmas, they hang a large bunch of mistletoe on the ceiling.

That's what I learned last night at Bogi's class Christmas "show" (them singing songs and reading out facts like the one above).

Still, we got mulled wine when it was done, which is something that we never got when she was at kindergarten - school is obviously much more serious.

The kids also all got large presents, which consisted of boxes full of various toys, soap, and stationery all of which came from places like Sainsburys, Asda, and Superdrug (British shops, basically). When I investigated the source of these parcels it turned out that one of the kids' parents is Baptist and the parcels had come from some kind of international baptist church charity project. I have this image of well-meaning and caring people in the UK somewhere, shopping madly to try and put together a box of treats for children in poor isolated desperate Romania (that soon-to-be EU member). Still, the kids were delighted with them.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

La Dolce Vita

Harrowing article from today's Guardian about the plight of migrant workers (Romanians among them) in Southern Italy. Driving through small towns in Southern Romania you see loads of these hastily printed flyers on lampposts advertising work in Spain and Italy. I often wondered what kind of conditions the people who signed up for these deals ended up in.

Flakey weather

Something is falling from the sky. Something akin to snow. (Not exactly snow in the large white dry-ish flakes of softness sense, more like a kind of opaque drifting rain - I'm sure the eskimos have a particular name for it, but the best that English could offer would possibly be sleet, and sleet always puts me in mind of driving semi-blizzard like conditions, which this certainly isn't). There's nothing very unusual about the fact that something snowish is falling in December in Csikszereda obviously, but it is unusual in that it is the first time this year.

There have been dark mutterings for weeks now as the temperature has remained stubbornly above freezing (at least in the daytime - there've been frosts at night), and no precipitation of any kind has fallen. It's been variously touted as a sure sign of global warming, that the planet is going to hell, and that something very strange is going on. However, this is my third winter here and in the first of those it didn't snow until Szilveszter (New Years Eve) either, so in my experience this is not especially unusual at all. But to listen to the locals you'd think we were all about to be swept up in some end-of-days fiery denouement.

Nearly everyone seems to agree that it's a bad thing. I am not in this camp. For me the longer winter takes to arrive, the more likely that we will have a relatvely short winter this year. After all, if winter starts at the end of December, we can really only expect to have a maximum of four months of vicious sub-minus-thirty temperatures, which can only be a good thing (at least from the perspective of the non-masochistic). If we're really lucky, it will only be three months. I recognise that for people who make their livings out of the ski season it must be problematic, but none of the moaners who have shaken their heads darkly in my direction at this terrible snow-less state of affairs rely on having a long winter for their financial well-being. I think they just like moaning. If it were normally cold and snowy, they'd probably be complaining about that too.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Modern Post-ism

The Romanian post office is not the world's most reliable service. It is quite good at delivering mail within the country and often at surprisingly high speeds. It is also remarkably good (usually) at exporting post - a fairly large Christmas package sent to my parents' house a couple of weeks ago reached its destination in 6 days. But it really seems to have problem with mail coming in.

Postcards almost never make it to their destination - I have lost count of the number of postcards I have sent home when on some trip or other which have never made it. Is someone stealing them? And if so, why? Because they like the pictures? Is there someone, somewhere in Bucharest with my postcards and those of others like me plastered all over their apartment with which they attempt to convince visitors that they've either travelled very widely, or that they have loads of exotic wandering friends?

Letters, too, frequently go astray, and of the one magazine subscription I have from the UK, typically about one in four issues vanish. Parcels, though, never seem to disappear. This is quite odd, since I'm assuming the flaw in the system is that someone is actively nicking stuff (it can't all be getting lost - if it were there'd be a massive pile of undelivered mail down the back of someone's settee). Maybe, parcels, being parcels, and being eminently nickable are actually watched and are subject to greater outside scrutiny such that the odd light-fingered employee feels unable to siphon them off.

Perhaps it is this scrutiny that causes them to take so frigging long though. They never get here quickly. One box I received from the US took 10 weeks to get here from postmark to delivery. And it came by air, in case you were wondering. My guess is that it spent the majority of those 10 weeks in Romania, probably sitting in what I imagine is this dusty hanger in Bucharest called the parcel waiting room. Here, newly arrived packages, fresh off the plane and looking forward to exploring the sights of Romania - Bran Castle, Bucovina, the Danube Delta, Sighisoara, perhaps - are taken and asked to wait while a few minor bureaucratic details are taken care of. Their fresh faced exuberance at being in this fascinating foreign land is slowly ground into the dust as they become, with the passing weeks, increasingly disillusioned and bitter, offering up snorts of derision as new parcels arrive, eagerly looking forward to being let out in a few hours.

The Christmas presents that my family sent to us, for example, were mailed two or three weeks before I got around to sending one in the opposite direction, but somehow mine got there a week before their counterparts reached us here. Why, I have no idea. They did finally arrive though, all of them together, this morning. Maybe, there is in fact some kind of quota system whereby the sorting office in Bucharest waits until they have enough packages for a certain destination to make it worth bothering putting them on a train. "We have had this box for Miercurea Ciuc for months now, should I send it?" "Nah, wait until we have at least 5 packages for there before putting them all on together. You could easily spend 15 seconds sending that off on its own"

The really cunning thing is that you have to pay to liberate them from the post office. A little slip is stuck in your mailbox to let you know the box has come, and you must go to the Post Office and pick it up (as is quite normal in most places, especially those where a package cannot easily be left). When you go along, you have to cough up money to get it. This, I have to say, is much less usual. The sender has already paid a quite inordinate amount of money to his own post office to deliver this package to Romania, and that should be the end of the payment system. And in every other country I've lived (and I've lived in a fair few) it is. Not in Romania. Oh no. You have to pay the post office to collect the parcel. It's a great scam - I mean who's going to say no? "A birthday present for my daughter? No, you keep it.". I mean it's not like it's massive amounts of money - it seems to be a flat fee of 2.5 Lei per package (or 25,000 Lei as I still think of it, old-timer that I am) - but it's the principle of the thing. Perhaps that's why we never get any of the post cards: there's some office somewhere - the ministry of postcards - in which they all sit until such time as someone goes down and says "Have you got any postcards for me? And how much do you want for them?"

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Carrying on Ceausescu's work

During the Ceausescu years, there was an official policy of “Romanianisation” of various towns and cities in Transylvania. This was effected by barring Hungarians from buying property in the cities in question and bringing in Romanians from other parts of the country. One good example of this is Marosvasarhely/Targu Mures which went from being a predominantly Hungarian city to being around 50:50 Hungarian/Romanian today. When Erika was growing up it as more like 75:25 and when her father was young it was even more predominantly Hungarian. This much is undisputed and a matter of historical record. (And of course, before someone mentions it, there was also a similar-and worse- policy of Magyarisation in Transylvania in the late 19th Century).

Now, however, in the post Ceausescu world, this kind of divisive and oppressive policy is no longer possible. In a democracy such a policy of forced Romanianisation could not be allowed. But to imagine that it doesn’t still happen in some way would be a mistake.

Regular readers of this blog (both of you) may have noticed that I’m not much of a fan of organized religion. It’s the religious institutions that I have a problem with, not the people who attend the churches themselves, who as far as I am concerned can believe in whatever they like. In particular I think many churches (or “religious institutions”, to be more inclusive) have a tendency to encourage the use of religion as a form of nationalistic identifier. At best they do not discourage this role, and at worst they are active in seeking it out. I don’t think the institutions themselves are responsible for the conflicts in Bosnia, Northern Ireland, Lebanon, India/Pakistan etc, but I also think they have contributed to those conflicts by their actions (or inactions). And so, it will possibly come as no surprise to learn that my subject for today is the role in the continuing attempts to Romanianise areas of Transylvania played by the Romanian Orthodox Church (which from this point onwards I’ll refer to as the ROC for ease of typing).

It is a well known fact in this town that if you have some property to sell the ROC will offer to buy it. This doesn’t apply to apartments so much, but houses or other buildings. Obviously they have every right to do so if they so desire, but it’s somewhat sinister when you delve below the surface. What the ROC does, as a very very rich organization, with seemingly bottomless pockets, is to make unrefusable offers to people for their property. They then use this property to house Romanians from poor villages in the back of beyond as their first step to building a new life here. Once again, not really something that can be criticized – they are after all giving people with very few chances in life a big chance. But why? Other than all church’s supposed role in being charitable, what else is behind this activity? Basically it (the ROC) acts in this way to attempt to dilute the Hungarian-ness of the city and the region in general. The objective is ultimately to create enough of a Romanian community in this area to ensure that any talk of autonomy is never feasible. They are in effect, and quite legally, carrying on the policy of forced assimilation that was in effect under Ceausescu. They are, in so doing, continuing the sorry tradition of religious institutions in other countries of acting as a conduit for nationalism. They don’t for example, to my knowledge, do the same thing in “safe seats” like, I dunno, Vaslui or somewhere. It’s just an act reserved for Székelyföld. [To give an example, the parents of a friend are currently engaged in selling their property, which is a house in the centre of town – the ROC has approached them and said “Name your price, and we’ll pay it”. This leaves them in a quandary – obviously such an offer is very attractive, but they also don’t want to facilitate this Romanianisation which they know full well is the point of this offer. They are caught between a ROC and a hard place, you might say (at least if you were as bad a punner as I)]

Likewise the tourist in Romania is liable to notice a vast number of monasteries. Some of them, like the spectacular ones in Bucovina have been there for centuries, while others have been there for a little less time. In fact many in Transylvania seem to be brand new, and I'd hazard a guess that more than half were built in the last 15 years. They are continuing to sprout like mushrooms (as the Hungarian phrase has it). They are not, it should be noted, housing vast numbers of Romanian Orthodox monks who need more and more monasteries to be monkish in. The ROC actually has problems with recruitment in general as in this case where the priest who crucified a nun was in fact some bloke who’d barely managed to scrape his way out of school, so desperate were the church for members. (I visited one of these new monasteries in Maramures, and while it was very beautiful, there was no sign of any actual monks anywhere to be seen – and tourists were allowed to visit all parts of the complex –after paying an entrance fee and a “photography fee”).

So, why then are these monasteries appearing? The cynical might suggest that their purpose is to firmly stamp the region as Romanian through and through (after all if there are so many Romanian Orthodox monasteries, then surely this must be thoroughly and historically Romania). It is, perhaps, another example of this slightly odd tendency to “Magyarphobia” exhibited by certain Romanians. That is, the fear - real or stirred up – that the Hungarians are champing at the bit to reclaim Transylvania, and that all Romania’s Hungarians are desperate to overthrow rule from Bucharest and install some form of anti-Romanian independent state.

Now, before it comes up I want to make it clear that I have absolutely no problem with Csikszereda having Romanian residents (or indeed an increasing number of Romanian residents). In fact one of the things I most like about Transylvania is this diversity of cultural influences – and one of the things that I find most tragic in the recent history of this region is the fact that by and large all the German population has left. It would be great if the influences of the groups that have made this region what it is – Magyar, Romanian, Rroma, Saxon, Schwab, Szekely, et al - could all be recognized and could create a greater whole. But this ROC desire (supported by extremist right wing shitbags such as Gigi Becali) to Romanianise Székelyföld and other Transylvanian areas is not driven by a love of diversity, but by a desire to eventually rid Transylvania of its Hungarian culture altogether (or at the very least to reduce the Hungarian influence and culture to the role of mere museum piece). It is an attempt to homogenize the nation to create a country which is entirely Romanian and untainted by “foreign” cultures. It is, in short, anti-diversity.

Monday, December 11, 2006

One down

One of these vile excuses for a human being is dead. Let's hope the other doesn't hang around much longer.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

"What is one more life thrown away in this sad and useless national tragedy?"

Yesterday I was made aware of the sad story of Malachi Ritscher. The news came through a friend who had met him and himself only learned of the story himself the day before yesterday.

Malachi Ritshcer killed himself by setting himself on fire next to a freeway leading into Chicago during rush hour a few days before the recent US Elections in protest at the Iraq war. It barely made the news anywhere. I am posting this story and the links to read it in greater detail because maybe if just one other person reads this and passes it on it will not make up for the lack of coverage, but it will at least mean his act of misguided desperation is not forgotten

I can't say this any better than it was told to me, so with thanks to David Stubbs who agreed to me reproducing his (as ever, finely written) words
One memorable morning, he took us way out of Chicago city centre, out along the riverside, a drive which took in ever-varying facet's of the city's sprawl which we'd never have seen otherwise. We drove for about an hour - he wanted to treat us to breakfast at his favourite pancake house, where I encountered one of the most impressive omelettes I have ever seen in my life, an omelette which could have housed a family of seven, let alone fed them. After that, it was a trip to his favourite vinyl/bootleg store, where I managed to pick up a copy of Stevie Wonder's long-unavailable crossover album, 1971's Where I'm Coming From.

Along the way, Malachi regaled us with tales of his life, of his incarceration following an anti-war demo in 2003 and his subsequent suit against the city, of the bizarre homemade sauce of which he was making vast quantities, and, with the Kerry-Bush election coming up, politics. He was a political guy, was Malachi but sanely, proportionately and eloquently so. He made me think a) that the USA is divided roughly 51-49 between assholes/nice guys, with the former in the marginal ascendancy (or so it felt in 2004); also that, you could travel in the US, if only for a few days, and have a wonderfully skewed experience of the place, meeting only guys like Malachi and his like - generous, politically impassioned, in the know about where to get the best breakfast.

On November 3 of this year, a few days before the midterm elections, Malachi Ritscher set himself up by the side of a Chicago expressway with a small video camera and a sign reading "Thou Shalt Not Kill", doused himself in petrol and, in the tradition of Buddhist priests in the 60s, set himself alight and burnt himself to death.

Insofar as the event was covered, it was dismissed as the actions of a fringe, raging eccentric. Malachi may have been eccentric by the noxiously centric standards of these times but he was not a madman. Whatever, this shocking story, which you would imagined would have at least been good for some sort of coverage, particularly in these news-hungry, 24 hour newsak days, managed to go effectively uncovered. I've been somewhat distracted be events recently and, to my shame, only found out about this story this evening when meeting ex-colleagues at The Wire.

I don't think I can really hope to supplement anyone's imagination, or the limits of our imagination, as to the despair, loneliness, fury, courage, misguidedness, determination that would lead a man to take their own life in such an excruciating way. But fuck it, to think that such an act could manage to go virtually unacknowledged... well, anyway, I'm raising a glass right now to Malachi. I hope he's somewhere.


The Guardian
reported it last week, and there was a longer piece in Pitchfork. But to really get the full sense of what drove this man to this act, it is worth reading what amounts to his own suicide note, from which the title to this post is taken, and his own obituary - as he says:

"He had many acquaintances, but few friends; and wrote his own obituary, because no one else really knew him."

I read this story again today, as I read it yesterday, with an incredible mixture of emotions - sadness, anger, pity, and a need to pass it on. I hope someone who reads this feels the same.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Brought to book

Like a bus, you can wait years to be tagged and then loads come all at once. And so it is, that I have once again been tapped on the shoulder and become "it". This time by Mirona at Cheezy Cheeky, to name One Book.

Now obviously I want to regale you with pages about all the fascinating books you should read, to (a) make sure you understand that I've read a lot of books; and (b) attempt to brainwash you into thinking like I do about important world issues, but this does not fit into the rules, which are as follows:
  1. Once nominated, name one book you'd recommend wholeheartedly and explain your choice within one paragraph.
  2. Nominate three people that you'll introduce to your readers in one paragraph.
  3. Let these people know that they've been tagged.
  4. Refer back to the person who tagged you, so that readers can travel back as well.

So, here goes. I've plumped, after much turmoil, for a novel. "The History of the Siege of Lisbon" by Jose Saramago (I read it in the translation done fantastically by Giovanni Pontiero). Saramago is a brilliant writer and I'd recommend all his novels, but this one in particular drew me in and turned me inside out. The story is of a proofreader who changes one word in a text about the siege of Lisbon in 1147, and the ripple effect that this act has - mostly on his own life. It is a love story, it is a study of language and its power, and it is a historical analysis of Portugal. It is, in short, completely and fantastically brilliant. And you should all go out right now and beg, borrow, or steal a copy from somewhere. It starts slowly - but this ends up being part of its charm. Believe me.

So, I'll pass this on to Romerican, who is probably too busy to read at the moment but who could maybe spare a few minutes now Christmas is nearly here; Paul, who is the Internet's most prolific Ulsterman living in Hungary; and Catherine who writes about the Balkans, music and London (not necessarily in that order).

Monday, December 04, 2006

Finally

Over two months after his death, reported by me back at the beginning of October, a British newspaper (The Independent) has finally got around to printing an obituary of Sütő András. Better late than never, though, and it is well worth reading.

The Mikulás

The Mikulás is coming. I think he's due on Wednesday. The Mikulás, in case you're not up to date with these things, is known in English as St Nicholas, and he actually comes on St Nicholas's day (Dec 6th) rather than on Christmas Eve. Anyway, the Mikulás comes and leaves sweets and fruit in your shoes. So, you can end up eating somewhat smelly apples after his visit.

Anyway, yesterday I was watching the news and they were doing some piece about Mos Nicolae (the Romanian name for the Mikulás), and were showing people shopping in Bucharest (Romanian media never bothers to leave Bucharest unless someone gets murdered) for toys and stuff. I asked Erika whether Mos Nicolae, unlike the Mikulás, leaves toys, and she explained that no, he leaves sweets and fruit like his Hungarian equivalent, but that these days both of these Nicholases have started leaving toys, spurred on by the advertising industry and a compliant media (she didn't actually say all that, I just inferred it). Ours, however, still sticks to finomsagok (sweets) and gyümölcs (fruit). In fact he even sent an advanced party this weekend, in the shape of my father-in-law who left behind various exotic fruits previously unseen in our household - a pomegranate, a pineapple, a coconut and a mango. It was all very tropical and un-Decemberish.

(He - the Mikulás, not my father-in-law - also popped up in town to deliver a pair of victories for Sport Club Miercurea Ciuc over Steaua Bucharest in the ice hockey. I went on Saturday and saw an excellently exciting match - 3-0 up, we were pulled back to 3-3 before a last minute winner sent the rink, and the town, into paroxysms of ecstacy)

So, anyway, I have been tagged by Ada to provide a list of things that I hope that the Mikulás will bring us. Obviously the whole world peace, freedom for the Palestinians, health and happiness for everyone I know, ending of dictatorship everywhere it rears its head, stuff etc etc goes without saying, and anyway, I suspect they won't fit in my (or anyone else's) shoes. I will probably be hearing news of a very interesting job possibility on or around Dec 6th, which I hope goes my way, and that can be one thing. Aside from that, I kind of feel I have everything I want. A shortish winter maybe. I'm really a tad stumped. Seems a little bit churlish to wish for material things. So you know, health and happiness in 2007 will have to do.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Happy birthday Romania

This was my third December 1st. Actually that's not close to being true - it's my 41st December 1st. It's just that until two years ago December 1st was, at most, the day you got to open the first window on your advent calendar. Now, of course, December 1st is the National Day of Romania when everybody is celebrating and wishing the nation a happy birthday. Well, nearly everyone. But rather than go into that long story again, I'll just link back to the post I made two years ago, and the one I made last year, which was just about the most commented upon post in Csikszereda Musings history.

Anyhow, there was a nice firework display on Thursday night and a torchlit thingy in the main square, which we looked out on. I think it was on Thursday because they wanted to have the celebration while all the Romanians were still here (since the holiday makes a long weekend this year, I think probably most Romanian Romanians here go home for the festival - and since the majority of Csikszereda's Romanians are not from here, and have moved here from elsewhere in the country, that means there were a lot fewer Romanians here on the 1st itself).

I had intended this post to be a thorough analysis of the movement for autonomy in Szekelyfold, but I spent hours (well tens of minutes) writing it, and it was all so confused and confusing (even more than normal) that I have shelved it for a while. Sorry. I bet you're all really upset.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Boldog Nevnapom

Or should that be Nevnapomot?

Anyway, today is my "name day", a fact which passes me by everywhere else but here, where these things are paid attention to. I did actually know that November 30th was St Andrew's day, but only because he's the patron saint of Scotland, and not because there is any connection between him and me.

Nobody's wished me Happy Name Day yet, so I'm doing it here to myself, in some kind of sad self-pitying way. In a minute I'll have to go and get myself a bunch of flowers (the usual nevnap present). I suppose I could combine the twin St Andrew concepts and have some whisky instead, which might be more suitable and actually does sound quite appealing.

(This post sounds terribly pathetic, so I feel I ought to point out that I am perfectly well and happy and writing this with a (small) smile on my face, so don't feel you need to email me with name day greetings to cheer me up. Not that you would anyway, since you all just don't care.)

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

I'm still here

Apologies for the huge lack of activity here of late. Been pretty busy writing stuff, driving back and forth to Cluj (for some reason the November has been marked by various unrelated meetings in Cluj), looking for work, and generally non-blog-friendly activities.

I’m hoping to make a triumphant comeback on Friday since it’s December 1st and I seemingly make all my most controversial posts on that date, and I feel that it’s a tradition that needs to be maintained. As an appetite whetter, I have just learned that the Sport Club Miercurea Ciuc vs Steaua Bucharest ice hockey match scheduled for Friday may be postponed until the weekend so as not to have it potentially stirring up trouble (It – the fixture mentioned – is basically the only semi-major sporting forum for inter-ethnic rivalry within Romanian sport. Obviously it’s not exactly Dinamo Zagreb vs Red Star Belgrade, but you know there’s no point giving people an excuse to start something)

Our new apartment overlooks the main square in the town and so this year, should I so desire, I can watch the exciting military parade from the balcony. But, on the other hand, I could do something infinitely more interesting and pressing like reading an article on performance management or watching some beans soak. I’ve heard that people in Alba Iulia who have apartments overlooking the square actually rent out their balconies for people to watch from. I’d like to try the same here, but cannot possibly imagine anyone being interested. Especially now tomato season is over.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Most famous Hungarian dies

RIP Puskás Ferenc. To most non-Hungarians I know, Puskás was almost synonymous with the nation, and for most outsiders (from footballing nations - ie most of them) he would be the first person they would mention if asked to name a famous Hungarian.

Nothing much more to add. Here's his Wiki-entry

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Ardeal Meals

I am seized by a hunger to post about food and drink here, and so to kick off I thought I'd do a little bit about meals and what they involve. As ever, I am not 100% sure if my cultural commentary is on Hungarian, Romanian, or just Transylvanian norms, so it may be up to my commenters to fill in some of the details.

Before actually getting to the food itself, then, the first thing the foreigner notices (or the first thing this foreigner noticed, to be honest), is the meal times themselves. The day begins early (at least on work days) and many people start work at 7 or at the latest 8. So breakfast is an early affair, and seemingly not very important. Many people seem not to eat it at all, and instead have a coffee and a pastry at work at sometime during the morning. The meal (really the only substantial meal of the day) is lunch.

Lunch involves soup and a main course. Always. OK, maybe not for everyone, but for most people, and for many people if it doesn't involve soup and a main course they haven't actually had lunch. My father-in-law definitely needs to have both of those two elements in order to feel like he's eaten, and not to react like Shirley Valentine's husband does in the first half of that film. It also involves palinka as a kind of appetite inducer, or something (I suspect it's just an excuse to drink palinka since there's no actual need to induce an appetite by the time lunch comes around). The other thing the outsider needs to know about lunch is that it doesn't really get eaten until 3pm. Occasionally you'll see lightweights having it at 2, but anytime before 3 is really a little bit fainthearted. This makes it apparent why the workday starts so early - you see most people actually work something like 7-3 and then go home for lunch and be done for the day. It takes a bit of getting used to, but I actually like it a lot now. In fact, I've started wondering why nobody else has come up with this excellent work-day-system.

So, there is this late lunch, and then the rest of the day is free (or you know, you fill it with the other chores of everyday life, so it's not free in the sense of you get to do whatever the hell you want, but it's not sold to the man). Dinner, such as it is, tends to be a light snack at around 8pm, just to keep the wolf from the door. This snack is usually zsiros kenyer and red onions. Zsiros kenyer is what used to be called "bread and dripping" when I was growing up, and is now almost certainly consigned to the memories of the elderly (like me) as a cholesterol cluster bomb. In short it is bread (sometimes toasted) spread with animal fat, and then sprinkled with paprika (the red powder not the peppers themselves). The red onion is peeled and chopped and the diners take bits of it, dip it in salt and eat it. It's very good, but you have to check with your partner as to whether any kissing might be on the menu for the later evening before you tuck in, as either you both eat the onion, or neither of you, or the kissing opportunity is lost.

And there you have it - basically one big meal a day and two lightish snacks. It makes me wonder how I've ended up putting on weight here.

Some of the actual foods served for lunch will follow in a later post, when I can be arsed writing it. (Tad busy at the mo' so blogging is liable to be light for the next couple fo weeks)

Friday, November 10, 2006

See that hole in the middle?

While looking for some info on this Romanian Academy yesterday, I came across the following photo, which shows the regions where Romania is the first language and divides them up into dialect. I'm posting it here because it is one of the clearest maps I've seen which shows exactly where I live - that bit in the middle which is left uncoloured.



(It came from the Wikipedia page on Romanian Language).

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Language by committee

Romania, in common with many European countries, has some form of national academy which decides on how the Romanian language should develop. Spellings get changed, new words get certified as being acceptable for use, and I don't know what else. I am told for example that the word "sunt" which is the first person singular and third person plural conjugation of the verb "to be" (As in "Eu sunt un blogger") used to be spelled sînt. Now that sounds like a seriously big change. Just imagine if one day the word "am" changed to "om" or something. It'd throw everyone into confusion.

And in fact that confusion happens here, as I learned a couple of days ago. Now she is going to school, Bogi is learning Romanian, and comes home each day with lots of phrases to practice (which to her credit she does, walking round the house commenting on what she is doing at all moments in Romanian. It's cool. She'll be trilingual in about a year at this rate). So, anyway, a couple of days ago she comes home with the words she has to practice, one of which is the word for "scissors". Her mother instantly corrects her pronunciation. Bogi, indignantly, tells her that this is the way she learned it today. A glance at her note book tells Erika that not only does she have the incorrect pronunciation but also the incorrect spelling. Patiently she sits down to help her with the correct pronunciation (the teachers, too, speak Romanian as a second language, and so are not necessarily to be trusted as to being entirely correct). However, before she does that, she just looks it up in a dictionary to be on the safe side. And, lo and behold, scissors is one of those words that has had its spelling (and hence pronunciation) changed by the Romanian Academy. I've just looked it up, myself, and can tell you that "foarfece" is the currently known spelling. The old one is something like foarfaca (though I'm doing that from roughly transcribing a version I've only heard, so it could be way off).

We learned the next day while waiting at the school gates for her to come out, that this scene repeated across the town as angry second language Romanian speaking parents worried about their childrens' educations, reacted to their little ones coming home with patently wrong information, with tirades of extracurricular support, loudly voiced concern about the quality of the education their offspring were receiving, and then shamefaced climbdowns. It also spread beyond the parents, with Erika's entire office agog at the news that the word for scissors had changed without them knowing.

I'm guessing that this kind of thing must go on all the time - native speakers presumably keep track of these changes and, while the transition must be difficult, at least are aware that things have moved on, but non-native speakers learn the language one way and unless they hear otherwise will assume it to have remained roughly as it was. Which brings me to the question - why is it necessary to have these bodies of people in dusty rooms pronouncing on what the language is, and what changes are necessary? Romanian has one, Hungarian (I think) has one, French definitely has one, German (I also think) has one. English doesn't. Yet despite that dreadfully anarchic fact the language seems to survive and thrive. Why does there need to be this rigorous control of language in certain places rather than the laissez faire approach favoured by English? (Indeed, if there were such a thing as an English Academy they would probably not have allowed me to use the phrase "laissez faire" in that last sentence.) I really don't get this need for a committee to ascertain what words or spellings or grammatical constructions people should be using. Could anyone help me understand?

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

In the Kingdom of the Bland

I got a very nice email from a Danish bloke called Hans-Christian (his last name isn't Andersen, you'll be saddened to learn), complimenting me on my blog. His wife is Romanian and he'd happened across it in his webwanderings. Anyway, he linked to me here (as well as a very interesting blog from another Danish based Transylvanian), and mentioned how much he'd enjoyed seeing some music videos. Just to add to his collection then I thought I'd mention last week's (MTV) European Music Awards which were held, coincidentally, in Copenhagen. I didn't watch it, or pay it much attention, but I do know that DJ Project won the "Best Romanian Act" award, which just goes to show what a bad year it's been for Romanian pop. Last year, there were seemingly lots of catchy, fun, hummable ditties out there, whereas this year... well, let's just say there were fewer. (To be fair, it's obviously not just a Romanian thing - after all Justin Timberlake and the endlessly tiresome Red Hot Chilli Pepers seemed to carry off a number of the bigger awards).

Anyway, DJ Project, while inoffensive and fairly good at what they do, are also pretty bland and insipid. Maybe they'e great live or something, because whatever catapulted them to glory is not apparent from their big hit of this year, Inca O Noapte.

The competition was not up to much though, with the other nominees being:
(a) The dirgelike Morandi (the only good thing about this video for "Falling Asleep", their hit of this year, is a cool little effect they do (on the video, not the song) with iron filings half way through. One you've seen that, you can switch off.
(b) Parazitii, a rap band, who are kind of OK, but of whom I have heard nothing for over a year so I have no idea what they did to get nominated this time round
(c) Blondy, your basic lowest-comon-denominator-bimbo-pop-blonde-with-deep-cleavage. Still, this one is not as terrible as most of what she has done. It's at least catchy.
and finally...
(d) Simplu, whose song Imi merge bine, was easily the best piece of Romanian pop produced this year (or at least the best that I got to hear). No idea why it didn't walk away with the award.

Monday, November 06, 2006

A Dreaded Snowy Day

November 1st is the day of the dead. This is not a festival that is celebrated in the UK, possibly that's because we're an irreligious lot, or because nobody can be bothered going to the cemetery in November when it's cold and that, or because maybe Protestants don't do it that much. But here it's a big deal. Or at least it is among Roman Catholics and memebers of the Hungarian Reformed Church (broadly that means it's a big deal for Hungarians, though there are a fair few Romanian catholics in Transylvania who do it too). I'm pretty sure that Romanian Orthodox people don't do it - or at least the Orthodox cemetery in Marosvasarhely (Targu Mures) was pretty empty when we walked past it on Wednesday evening. (I hope you appreciate the restraint needed to resist the temptation there to describe it as pretty dead).

So, the deal is that you go to the cemetery and light some candles and lay some flowers on your family's various graves. Doesn't sound especially interesting right? Wrong. It's actually really quite moving. This is mostly because it's not just one or two people going to the cemetery and doing this, it's everyone. (Or at least everyone from the Hungarian community - which in Marosvasarhely means it's loads and loads of people). And because of this, you get to bump into family members you haven't seen for years, or possibly since the previous November 1st, and you do so in this environment of quiet (yet not melancholic) contemplation and rememberance. Plus all of this happens in a kind of gently festive atmosphere because of course the cemetery is packed, with everyone doing the same thing. It's nothing like the depressing and cold event that you might imagine. To cap it all off, the main action happens in the early evening (at least it does here where nobody gets the day off work) and so the massed candles filling the graveyard create a really beautiful spectacle.

Afterwards we went on to Erika's aunt's house and partook of various alcoholic beverages (all events of whatever nature here are accompanied by palinka at the very least, and usually much more besides), while catching up with the cousins. All very enjoyable and familial and communal at the same time. Organised religion is really not my cup of tea at all, and I think it has way more faults than benefits, but it does do communal ritual very well.

And winter did, as we were promised, start. It happened on Thursday night, with a 10 cm snowfall, and continued on through a freezing Friday and cold Saturday (on which day we drove home very gingerly, having not had the chance yet to change the tyres on the car). Miraculously, as we drove back from Vasarhely, through snowy and icy scenes, mini blizzards and occasionally brilliant patches of sunshine, the only place in the entire journey which didn't have any snow on it was the valley in which Csikszereda sits. It was very odd coming down off the Harghita mountain into the valley ans seeing the fields and houses without snow on them, when everywhere else it had been a fairly thick blanket.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Fall Back

I hate it when the clocks go back. Not the act of putting them back so much, or the day itself (though I also reject this weird conceptual argument that it "gives you an extra hour in bed" - how? It's a Sunday. Unless you attend a 8 am mass, you really don't get an extra hour in bed, since you have no reason to get up early anyway).

It's the fact that subsequent to this chronometric retrogression, the evenings, which previously were gently "drawing in", in one fell swoop vanish entirely from the daylit schedule. It sucks. I understand that this year the US hasn't gone back at the same time as Europe (or even Canada), because Congress has voted in something called the "Halloween Act" so that kids can trick or treat in more daylight. Seriously, I'm not making that up.

It also, of course, heralds winter, and round these parts winter is a long tiring slog. According to the news yesterday, winter is coming. I couldn't work out when it was coming, but presumably it is soon, since the news that winter is coming sometime is not really news at all.

Anyway, it's half term and we are off to the in-laws for a week, and I will therefore be offline. Enjoy halloween, the day of the dead and whatever other events come up this week.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

4 tier Europe?

I remember a few years ago there was talk of having a two tier EU. There would be the countries that believed in it and wanted to work together for some undefined glorious European tomorrow in one tier, and the countries that didn't believe in it but were too scared to be left on the outside in the other tier. The UK of course was one of the latter.

Since 2004, we've effectively had this two tier Europe, but it's slightly different from what was first thought up. This is down to Europe admitting a series of buffer states to protect it from the perceived terrible ravages of immigration. These buffer states (look it up on a map if you don't believe me) form a thick barrier of cabbage, sour cream, and beer from the Baltic coast of Poland in the north, through the former Czechoslovakia, Hungary and down to the Adriatic in Slovenia. This cabbage curtain effectively allows the Western end of the continent to limit immigration from further east (though they clearly need to set up some kind of floating buffer states between north Africa and various Spanish and Italian islands, to really make sure they've blocked off all the avenues.)

In admitting them, existing European states made choices as to whether to allow citizens of those nations (now to be EU citizens) should actually be allowed to live and work anywhere they liked in the Union - what the EU was supposed to be all about in short. To its credit, the UK opened its doors, unlike many of the nations which were supposed to be all about EU integration and the like. This was often talked up in comparing the relative economic performance of placeslike the UK and Ireland which opened up and France and Germany which didn't.

So for a while we had a three speed Europe - countries who were actually making use of the idea of the union to gain ground economically; countries who were not doing that, but were "old Europe" and hence more powerful in the grand scheme of things; and the countries being stripped of their human resources to fuel the UK's economic growth.

Now, however, cowed by tabloid scare headlines and racism towards gypsies, the UK and Ireland have decided to close the door to Romanians and Bulgarians, thus creating an underclass of Europe within the Union itself. It's fucking disgraceful. Is my country run by the Daily Mail? It certainly feels that way.

Now Romania could respond to this with reciprocity, making life hard for Brits who want to live and work in Romania, and in fact that would be a good idea (despite the fact that it would be a pain in the arse for yours truly). But the fact is that there aren't that many of us who want to be here, and most who do come work for large multinationals who can afford to jump through bureaucratic hoops. Instead, what the Romanian government should do is to make it hard for Brits to buy property here. The UK press is full of articles about the advantages and benefits of buying property in Romania and Bulgaria, and a policy denying Brits the right to own property in this country would upset a lot of people over there (and the kind of people who are likely to be having dinner parties with politicians and journalists). So, Calim and Traian, what do you say? Give New Labour something to think about, the xenophobic scumlords that they are.

Here are the most recent comments of the BBCs Europe editor on the subject of Romania and emigration 28th September (the comments section at the bottom is worth a read, if only to get all steamed up about people such as the cretinous "Steve H, of Littlehampton"), and October 26th (ie today - hence not many irate comments yet from Little Englanders (Littlehamptoners?))

Five of the best

The most intriguingly named products & businesses in Romania:

Discounting such classics as Heavy Tools Clothing Division, The Transilvanian Trousers Company and meaningless advertising slogans such as "Cosmote: In Touch With Life" (Really. WTF?)

5: Crimbo Gas. Not that funny, I'll grant you, but it always amuses me to see this company's ads around the place, being as how "Crimbo" is kind of a cloyingly cutesy way of referring to "Christmas" in the UK

4: Bords Eye. No that's not a spelling mistake. Just as there is a company called Birds Eye in the UK which sells frozen food, in Romania (at least) there is a brand of margarine called Bords Eye. It's a Northern Irish version I suspect. Wonder if they make sajt too? "It's Bords Eye sajt, so it is"

3: Gyno Drinks. I see the van with this company's name on the side driving around Csikszereda sometimes and it always (without fail) reminds me of "Vegina" (the vegetable drink in an edible can) featured on the Alan Partridge radio show.

2: Stalinskaya Vodka. Who came up with this brand name? Really. Are we going to see a German style lager introduced onto the market called Hitlersch?

1: Antrax Import and Export. Classic. It really needs no more elaboration does it? I'll really start worrying if Antrax start exporting Bords Eye.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

October 23rd

Bit of a busy week, round these parts as I am in sole charge of the little ones, but we'll see if I can get through a quick post about Monday evening before the littlest one wakes up.

So, as mentioned earlier Monday was the 50th anniversary of the Hungarian uprising in which a large number of very brave people rose up against their oppressive regime, and were eventually crushed with the assistance of the Soviet army. This obviously didn't happen here, since we are not in Hungary, but there was a fairly large commemmoration event here. At 6.30 we went out to join the candelit march that was starting from "Freedom Square" outside our apartment. We couldn't get a candle/torch, as they were reserved for bigwigs apparently, but undaunted we managed to get over the disappointment. The parade/march/walk/amble was conducted in almost complete silence (though I'm not sure if that was deliberate or just because people weren't feeling very chatty), and led us up Timisoara Boulevard and then up past the theatre to the Hungarian Consulate. By the time we got there it was a fairly big gathering, of at least a couple of thousand, which for this town is a major turnout.

Speeches were spoken by various dignitaries - somebody from the Hungarian foreign ministry, the consul, some religious leader, a local politician one who has his own blog even (in Hungarian), and various others. It was getting a bit parky by this time, and Paula was getting tired so I led her home, while Erika and Bogi braved the nighttime chill of the Carpathians for a while longer, but not quite long enough to witness the unveiling of a new statue representing "The Angel of News" (I think). I saw it yesterday though, and it's not the most attractive piece of public art I've ever seen, but probably I'll get used to it.

I wanted to include some photos to give you a taste of the evening's events, but sadly my camera chose that night to seemingly expire. I'm hoping I can resurrect it somehow.

I asked around to find out what would have been the channel for this news to reach Csikszereda back in 1956, and was given a number of possible answers (nobody I asked was actually alive, so it was a bit of guesswork) - that they heard on Romanian media (which seems like it may have happened after the fact - it's hard to imagine that 1956 Romanian government would have been happy about spreading news of a popular uprising); that they heard on Radio Free Europe; and that people near the border could get Hungarian TV and they would obviously have heard, and it would have got passed around Transylvania, slowly spreading eastwards. That last one appeals to me (aesthetically, not because I like the idea of people being denied information) - it conjures up bards and wandering minstrels and the like.

Anyway, the events, such as they were, were quite moving and passed by without incident, which is obviously more than can be said for the similar commemorations in Budapest.

Hungarian readers may be interested to learn that the 1956 events more or less destroyed the far left in the UK (obviously no major deal compared to what upheaval it caused in Hungary). After the seond world war, the communist party was quite strong in Britain, but 1956 split it completely asunder between those who supported the uprising and those who advocated mother Russia sending the tanks in. To this day, the derogatory slang term for Stalinists in the UK (yes there are some) is "tankies".

Monday, October 23, 2006

Half a Century

No time to write much today, but thought I'd pass on this link which is full of photos and audio and video files relating to the Hungarian uprising of October 23rd, 1956.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Music videos and Csik from above

An aerial view of Csikszereda (taken in winter obviously)

I wanted to share a couple of videos from YouTube with you, so I went along and attempted to blog them (this is a new verb meaning to stick them up here) but apparently I can't becase I recently moved this blog over to "beta.blogger" which means that it's more fully integrated into Google (or some such bullshit). This is, of course, in the week in which Google actually bought YouTube. It baffles me, frankly. (Plus my gmail account seems to be not functioning well at the moment). All in all I am significantly less well-disposed towards google than I was about a week ago.

Anyway, I can't embed the videos here, but I can give you some links:

Here is Iubire by 3 Sud Est, which you may recall me dissing last week. Now you can see for yourself the boys and their hard-as-nails image contrasted with their not-quite-so-hard falsettos.

Here is Erika's current favourite. Ghiţa by Cleopatra Stratan. Now I'm usually of the opinion that any record made by a child (or children in the plural) ought to be avoided like the plague. But somehow this one is kind of infectious and nowhere near as obnoxious as it should be.

And finally, Mahala Rai Banda, a gypsy band who are really excellent. This song is impossible to not start tapping your feet to. Mind you, they'll never make it on to MTV Romania, where I have seen the other two. It's a shame.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Star Wars

On Sunday night Real Madrid arrived at Otopeni airport. This event was trumpeted like they were ...well, I was going to say royalty, but if it had been Juan Carlos showing up, for example, there would have been much less fanfare. Like gods maybe. The TV stations all had someone stationed in the presidential lounge of the airport where the team would appear (why in the presidential lounge I have no idea, why they couldn't come through passport control and customs and baggage reclaim like the rest of us is beyond me, but you know these are overpaid and overhyped celebrities we're talking about), and the sports sections of all the Sunday evening news shows were all taken up with exciting trivia such as whether Posh Spice would be on the plane and what exact route the bus was likely to take from Otopeni to the Marriot Hotel. Two stations even elected to cover the arrival and subsequent bus journey live in all its detail. Really, I swear I'm not making any of this up.

The excitement continued to build on Monday with press conferences being covered in full, training ground action and various sundry bits of information. Then yesterday came the reason that this exalted bunch had deigned to touch down on Romanian soil and bless us all with their presence. The match against Steaua. ["Star Wars" as one channel oh so cleverly billed it - you see Madrid are all stars and Steaua means star. Oh ho.] Sadly, for Romanian football fans, many of whom had travelled across the country to watch this game, and who had played vast amounts for a ticket, Steaua had seemingly been watching too much awestruck breathless TV coverage themselves, and they too seemed to feel unworthy of being on the same pitch as the wealthy has-beens from the Bernabeu, capitulating miserably and losing 4-1.

Still, the upside of that result is that we won't have to endure weeks of Gigi Becali crowing on TV with the compliant Romanian media hanging on his every word. Even more pleasingly the killer third goal was scored by black Brazilian forward Robinho, thus being one in the eye for the bigot Becali and the racists who seem to make up a reasonable proportion of Steaua's fan base.

I have to say that the fawning arselicking of the Real team and their presence in Romania did the nation as a whole no favours. They're not messiahs, they're just overrated footballers. Steaua deserved to be in the Champions League group stages (much as it pains me to say it), and Romania is just as much part of Europe as anywhere else. This media-led prostration at their feet is pathetic. It's at times like these when I feel an understanding of those who can't stand football.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Viral Blogging

Is it just me or is the word "meme" really, really overused? And more than just overused, but used really badly? And does it represent the fastest that a word has been perverted and come to be almost meaningless? It was only invented in the mid 70s after all, and as I understand it it means something like a cultural item that gets passed down through generations (basically a cultural version of a gene). Thus the passing of a set of questions from one blog to another is in no way related to a "meme", and I wish here and now to state my objection to that term being used to describe this practice.

Far better to use the other commonly known word for this that I have seen - "blog tag" (or though when I was a lad it was called tig rather than tag, so for the purposes of this entry I will use blog tig).

I have been aware of this blog tig game for some while through the reading of other blogs, and have pretended to look upon with mock disdain for this little game, while all the time feeling desperately sad that no one ever tigged me. That is, until now, and I have been saved from a life of ignominious tig free blogging, by Romerican. Finally I have arrived, finally I can say my blogging experience is complete.

So, without further ado, since I am now "it", here are my answers to the questions posed:

Three things I love about Csíkszereda


The market - gorgeous fruit, delicious vegetables, intercultural interactions, friendly people, open air browsing, the place where Romania converges on the town, with stall holders from all over the country. I have heard from four different people that the rumour is it will all be closed down now that Romania will be in the EU, but I suspect (hope to hell) that they are wrong and this is just one of these ridiculous rumours that go on with EU accession (I remember when the rumour in the UK was that bananas would have to be not too curved under EU rules. And obviously that was bollocks too)

Bilingualism
- not mine, obviously, since I'm a bit crap, but everybody else's. I think it's cool that so many people here speak two languages fluently. I spoke to a Romanian couple who live here recently who put the (Hungarian) Minimax cartoon channel on for their young daughter because they want her to learn the language, even though they themselves don't speak a word of it. It's all cool.

Small town/Big fish
- I like the fact that it's a small town, so you know everything you need to know, and everyone you need to know (that last one is important in Romania, where it's who you know rather than what you know). But I also like the fact that the town has more importance than a town of similar size would have, thanks it to being the county town of Harghita and thus the de facto centre of the autonomy for Székelyföld movement. Plus it's the market/hub for a large region, so the population that use the town is much greater than the actual number of people who live here. And finally the annual pilgrimage makes it very lively - at least for a weekend.

Three things I hate about Csíkszereda


The cold - I can handle the cold for the most part, even when it drops down below -30, but it's just the sheer relentlessnees of it. Month after month after bloody month.

Nationalists - Hungarians who bang on about how terrible Romanians are and teach their kids to hate the language (and in so doing effectively hold back their own children - idiots), and Romanians who are so aggressively pissed off about living in a town in their own country in which they are not the majority that they take it out on everyone they meet, and also whine and complain to the national media (and the PRM) about how terrible it is to live here like some kind of oppressed minority. Give me a break, scummers.

Lack of things to do - what can I say, it's the flip side of small town advantages. We also have small town disadvantages.

Three places in Csíkszereda I like to go with friends

Friends? What are they? Going out? What's that all about? I have children.

Lobogo Panzio - not actually in the town, but a great restaurant in the mountains half way to Udvarhely. Great food, great location.

Outside on Petőfi Utca - any of the terrace cafes on a sunny day. Enjoying the weather, watching the world go by, on the street that makes Csíkszereda a good place to be.

Gambrinus Csarda - outdoor beer garden type place with large barbecue thing going on. Good place to sit and enjoy a nice large glass of cold draught Ciuc of an evening (and at 20,000 ROL for a large one, you can't really go wrong can you?)

Three things an outsider would not understand about Csíkszereda


Language - The fact that the first language of the city is Hungarian and not Romanian - even though we're miles and miles from Hungary.

Football - Is there any other European city in which football is so unimportant? It still baffles me, to be honest. It's all about ice hockey, and the local football team aren't even in Romania's third tier (which means that they're really really bad - there are 3 divisions in the second tier and 9 in the third.)

The main square - a vast windswept plaza stuck in the middle of the town for no reason (or at least no reason known to anybody but Ceausescu, as it was one of his architectural masterstrokes). Not attractive, not a nice place to hang out, just not, basically.


Fanciest neighborhood in Csíkszereda:
Csiksomlyo. Not really a meighbourhood, technically, but rather a village which has become an effective suburb of the town. Where all the rich people now live.

Ugliest neighborhood in Csíkszereda: Probably the Mosquito district, which was built on a swamp (hence the name). But this town is saved from real ugliness by the mountains around - however ugly the buildings are, you can always look up and be reminded of the world beyond the communist era apartment buildings.

OK that's done. Now to pass on this blogging virus (more apt than a meme I feel) - to Paul and to David (the latter one in a probably vain attempt to get him back to his blog).

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Local news

There's an awful lot of construction going on at the moment here. I mean it's not Dubai, but things do seem to be moving (not sure in what direction exactly, but moving nevertheless). In particular there are three very big construction projects that ever since I moved here had been completely frozen it seemed. A big apartment building on our street, a large unspecified piece of concrete opposite the apartment and looking directly onto "Taps Ter" (thanks Ada), and a huge indoor sports complex. All of these buildings were half finished (at best) and looked like they would remain that way for ever. But now there is action. The apartment building is nearly finished. The sports hall thingy likewise. Even the grey piece of concrete nothingness across the way has suddenly sprung into life, and is being operated on by a large team of workers (it is going to become a high school, I'm told). Already the complaints have started though - there'll not be enough parking places for the high school, and why would we have a high school right in the middle of the town? The sports hall is already rumoured to be inaccessible for the mere plebs of the town and the facilities will only be available for a select few.

Various other town clean up operations are underway too - new signposts, a new one way system, with wide seeming pavements, and even cycle paths everywhere. The cycle paths are a little bit problematic as no-one has seen fit to advise the general population as to what they are, so you see people having conversations on them, using them for pushchair pushing, just wandering around aimlessly on them, while cyclists attempt to weave in and out of them as best they can. Still, it will all look very good when it's done. (Though with winter right round the corner, everything may soon be put on hold for 6 months) I'll take some pictures later and regale you with the new Csikszereda.

In other exciting local news, Sport Club Miercurea Ciuc, the ice hockey team, have won the Romanian Cup, beating Steaua Bucharest 4-3 in the final. This occasioned much rejoicing and celebrations, with people staying up and out on the streets as late as 11pm, the wild party animals that they are. The team are also currently joint top of the Hungarian ice hockey league and top of the Romanian one (though the Romanian league season is always merely a precursor to another final against Steaua)

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Links

In the absence of any content from me today, I'd like to point everyone in the direction of Dumneazu's post about the peasant market at Negreni this last weekend. Sounds fantastic. Having read it, I asked a couple of people here if they knew something about this peasant market "Oh, yes, Fekete Tó" they all said, like it was common knowledge and I should of course have known about it. I'm definitely going next year.

And for one more link of the day, the website of Hans Ven der Meer, Dutch photographer, who has managed to put together a fantastic series of pictures of football being played in various different settings. Doesn't sound too promising, I know, especially if you're not into football - but believe me, it's worth a look. There are two pictures from Romania, in case you need local interest, and for Hungarian readers at the end of the strip are some fascinating shots (unfootball related) from mid-80s Budapest.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Further adventures in Wikipedia

I have once more been drawn to Wikipedia – this time because I have discovered that something I wrote is referenced there in an article. I know that probably says quite a lot more about the authenticity of Wikipedia rather than the learned and academic nature of my blogged ramblings, but there you go.

Long term readers (you poor, poor, bastards) may remember a post I made last year regarding music in Romania, in which I mentioned, among other things, the band 3 Sud Est and their very camp video. [At the bottom of the wiki-page about 3 Sud Est, footnote 1]. Well, at this juncture, I am extremely non-committal to announce that 3 Sud Est have a new single out, featuring a significantly more macho video that last year’s effort. [I’d like to kid myself that I am responsible for this image change, because of my mocking of the one for Cu capu-n nori - and let's face it, since they could have found out about that cruel taunt by simply reading it on Wikipedia, it may just have been so]. So, the new video (the song is called “Iubire”) involves our favourite threesome dressed in sharp suits and wearing wraparound sunglasses, like a group of bouncers in a provincial nightclub*, standing at the back of this hi-tech studio, while a dancing woman cavorts around in the foreground. They (3 Sud Est) never smile throughout the video, thus emphasizing how fucking rock hard they are. The problem of course is that this new image is shattered every time they open their mouths to start singing, as they (all three of them) appear to be castrati.

Frankly, this post is just a pathetic attempt to be the third English language source on the existence of 3 Sud Est, such that I get another Wiki-footnote.

(* By nightclub here, I mean that in the English sense of “discotheque and bar which is open after the pubs have closed” rather than in the Romanian sense: outsiders ought to know that the English word “nightclub” in Romania actually means knocking shop or strip club. I have no idea what bouncers at a provincial Romanian nightclub would look like, or indeed even if there are any, since I have never been to such a place. I swear. It’s just a vicious rumour.)

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Down on the Pharm

Going to the Chemist’s in Romania is, quite frankly, a pain in the arse. Not actually literally a pain in the arse, though I suppose it could depend on what you’re going there for. No, literally, it’s a pain in the feet, and just metaphorically a pain in the arse. The thing is that pharmacies are one of the few businesses which have apparently remained unchanged since Ceausescu’s time. As you walk through the door of the average pharmacy, you step out of the 21st century (well, let’s say you step out of the late 20th century – this is Romania after all) and enter into this faded netherworld of old posters and long queues and overly complex bureaucracy and strict state controls. This feeling is not helped by the fact that the clientele are (as they are in chemists everywhere in the world) predominantly elderly and unhealthy.

I will attempt to describe this step-back-in-time for those of you lucky enough not to ever have to go to a Romanian pharmacy. Firstly, you can’t see in them from outside, since they have these small grimy windows which often have bars across them, or if there are lower windows they are frosted. I don’t know why. Then you go inside, pushing aside the large iron framed door, to the world that time forgot. The floor is concrete. Just concrete. There is a large area of nothingness in the pharmacy itself, which may, in more upmarket establishments, have a chair here or there round the side, or even a set of weighing scales (presumably so that you may see how much weight you lose while waiting to be served). Around this central void, there are barriers of varying degrees of sturdiness punctuated by serving-hatch style windows. Regardless of the actual composition of the barriers (full wall, counter, half glass wall, even no barrier just space defined by the windows), the impenetrability of it is unquestioned. Something about the lay out and design of the space tells you in no uncertain terms that stepping beyond the defined limits of the customers’ area would lead to imprisonment and possibly a beating of some sort. Probably involving the securitate.

Behind the windows, are a number (never greater than 3, usually 1) of women in white coats. They’re always women, and I’ve never ever seen a male pharmacist in Romania. Behind them, and sometimes surrounding them, are various pharmaceutical products, that you cannot touch, unless they hand them to you through the little window. There are also little wooden drawers and cupboards that look like they haven’t been opened since sometime before the moon landing.

So, you join a queue. If there is only one pharmacist, then you join the only queue. And you wait, patiently, in line with all the other people in the queue. And you have to wait a long time, because every transaction involves not only the handing over of prescriptions, money and drugs, but also the laborious filling in of numerous forms and ledgers full of information. In many of these places they now have computers too, looking seriously out of place, but the benefit of these machines seems to be that the information needs to be entered now both onto the computer and into the ledger.

Now the big problem with all this, other than the olde-world, Dickensian drudgery of it all, is that you have to do this no matter what you want to buy. This system is not just for those who have prescriptions that they need filling. It’s for everything – from aspirins to tampons to baby food to vitamin C pills. Now luckily, a few of those things (notably baby food and tampons), have escaped from the system and are now also available in regular supermarkets and the like. But certain things, notably headache medication and other over-the-counter remedies, are not available elsewhere and have to be bought at the pharmacy in this painfully laborious way. Why it is not possible to use the dead zone in the heart of the shop for some display cases and have a till at the entrance for those who don’t need prescription drugs is beyond me. It’s all about control, it seems. And for ensuring that if you have popped in for some paracetamol because you have a small headache, that by the time you actually get the paracetamol you have a raging migraine. I’d love to take a picture of the interior of a pharmacy here so you could see I wasn’t making any of this up, but frankly I fear that if I got a camera out in the middle of any one of these establishments, I’d be arrested and shipped out to some gulag – or at the very least, forced to live in the Dobrogea and dig canals.

Interesting to note that things are obviously not dissimilar in Hungary. I wonder if this retail-pharmaceutical refusal to embrace 1989 is typical throughout Eastern Europe?

Monday, October 09, 2006

Cruising

Paula recently started cruising. No, no, that’s not what you’re thinking of, it’s something entirely different. It is the official term (I have learned) for that period when she (or any baby, to be honest) starts trying to pull herself to a standing position. She’s only actually been crawling properly for about a month, having spent some while attempting to crawl with her head on the floor as well as her four limbs (go on, try that, it’s dead tricky), and the teacher in me would like her to perfect that skill before moving onto something infinitely more complex, but you know, she won’t be told.

I have no idea why it’s called cruising though. It’s all very confusing. I had always assumed that the preferred holiday of blue-rinsed American over-70s was known as “Going on a cruise” rather than “Cruising” precisely to avoid the confusion around the activity described in the second, most commonly understood definition here. “What are you doing for your holidays this summer, Myrtle?” “O, Walt and I thought we’d do a spot of cruising”. I mean it would lead to endless confusion and suggestive double-entendres wouldn’t it? “I heard Walt and Myrtle are cruising this summer”, “Oh, I bet they are”. But, now, to my surprise, I learn that the word has been co-opted by the parent community to mean something entirely different. How I wish these words weren’t besmirched by their being used by these marginal societal groups, to mean something faintly unsavoury. Oh, for a simpler more innocent world, when cruising was picking people up in toilets and not something involving watching babies repeatedly fall on their arse.

Is nothing sacred? The next thing I’ll discover is that cottaging is a word also used to describe the infant practice of burping lightly and allowing a small pool of half digested milk to spill from the mouth and be deposited on ones (and ones parents’) clothes.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

In praise of the Hummer

When I lived in the US I had a policy that every time I saw a Hummer I would perform the universal gesture of “you are a wanker” at the car (and hopefully the driver – though since they have tinted windows, I was never sure). I’m actually not sure that the “You are a wanker” gesture is that universal actually, which may have saved me from some angry Hummer drivers shouting at me or attempting to run me over. (In case you, too, are unfamiliar with it, place an imaginary small apple in your right hand, and don’t clutch it too tightly. Then with palm and thumb upwards, wave the hand desultorily back and forth in the direction of the object or person being addressed. Know the one?)A Hummer, yesterday

A Hummer, by the way, is this very big car that only the terminally inadequate drive. It makes your average Toyota Landcruiser or Ferrari Testarossa look restrained and subdued choices. They do something like 3 inches to the gallon too (for everyone else, that translates as approximately 10cm per 3 litres). They scream “Look at me! I don’t give a shit about anything or anybody” from the top of their huge ostentatious metal lungs. I hate them.

But someone once pointed out to me that they do have a positive element to them. It works like this: In life, in general, it is possible to divide people into the categories of wanker and non-wanker. At a rough estimate, I believe about 6% of humanity fall into the wanker category. However, at first glance it is impossible to tell a wanker from a non-wanker, and a person’s wanker rating is only discernable through prolonged exposure. Thus if you discover that somebody is a wanker, you have already wasted at least a minute or two of your life getting to know the aforementioned wanker. Some wankers are obviously easier to spot than others, but it’s still a waste of a (very small, admittedly) portion of your life. To hear some people tell it, one can actually be married to someone for 15 years before you find out.

This is where the Hummer comes in. It instantly identifies the driver as being among the 6%, thus saving you time, energy, and (possibly) embarrassment. There are extremely few things in life that have the same instant usefulness. Member of the Hummer driving demographicSomebody reading “The Daily Express”? Maybe they picked it up n the train, after someone dropped it, and are just quickly scanning it. Maybe they are doing some research on racist scummery in the English press. Someone who goes fox-hunting, certainly, but you don’t see people walking around town in their hunt outfits. The point is you can’t be absolutely sure. Driving a Hummer, however, is cast iron. Even if it’s not theirs and they borrowed it from a friend - it still means they have a friend who has a Hummer. Do you see how fantastically useful they are? It’s like the wanker community are now allowed to wear a big flashing neon sign on their heads saying “I am a Wanker. Avoid me” – and being wankers, they actually go ahead and do it.

I’m not sure if Romania has anything similar to the Hummer as a badge of wankerdom. Possibly driving a car with Bucharest plates, but that would place everybody from that city with a driving licence in the wanker category, which can’t be correct, even if at least 50% of such drivers do seem to be dangerously out of control psychos. Voting for PRM, obviously, but the disadvantage of the secret ballot is that you can’t be sure who did vote for them. I have seen one or two of those Porsche Cayennes around, and they seem like the new Hummer in the regard.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Cake

I made a cake yesterday(it was Erika's birthday). Not very interesting I know, but for me it was quite a new thing. While I fancy myself as a bit of dab hand in the kitchen, I tend to stick to main courses and starters, and avoid the baking/dessert area of the cook's ouevre. I have the feeling that aside from once or twice making a cake from a packet mix, that this was the first time I've ever made a cake from real ingredients using a recipe and that.

And it was delicious too. It was a carrot cake, which occasioned much suspicion from Bogi ("Carrot cake?" [quick mental translation, and then, incredulously...] "Murok tészta!??!"), and a certain amount of humour from everyone else. Mostly involving stuff about rabbits. But I had the last laugh when it turned out to be so good, and even the ridiculing Bogi, who normally treats my food as if it were alien in the extreme, enjoyed it. I mean I do realise that if you've never had carrot cake or heard of carrot cake before it does sound a bit weird - it is after all cake made (partly) from a vegetable. If some foreigner came into my house and started to bake a kohlrabi gateau or an artichoke eclair, I, too, would probably be a tad sniffy.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Paula

For no reason other than my own pride, here are a couple of recent pictures of Paula.

Updates

I am finally getting around to updating the sidebar on this blog with regional English language blogs (something I've been meaning to do for ages). If anyone reading would like to recommend/suggest any I might have missed, please let me know.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Irredentist

Today’s word of the day is Irredentist. It has absolutely nothing to do with the person who fixes your teeth.


ir•re•den•tist
n.
One who advocates the recovery of territory culturally or historically related to one's nation but now subject to a foreign government.
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[Italian irredentista, from (Italia) irredenta, unredeemed (Italy), Italian-speaking areas subject to other countries; see irredenta.]
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ir re•den tism n.
ir re•den tist adj.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2003


As you can see it’s quite posh, and dead clever, and being able to use it (and use it correctly) bestows great kudos on the user. It has the added cachet of being derived from an Italian political movement, which obviously means the word has a certain style and élan.

Now the reason it has come to my attention is that I’ve recently found myself marveling open-mouthed at the behind-the-scenes pages of Wikipedia. When you look at something on Wikipedia, you see something akin to an encyclopedia entry, explaining and outlining a concept, person, place, or what have you. We all know that it’s edited by users and therefore you have to be a little bit careful with the information contained therein, but in general I reckon it’s a pretty good resource. However, when you look at an entry there, you may not have noticed the little tabs at the top of the page through which you can look at the history of a page and the discussion surrounding what’s gone into the entry. Here, for example, is the entry for Harghita County. Clicking on the tab marked “Discussion” will lead you into a strange nether world of pedantry, nerdiness and (in the case of all Wiki articles on places in the Hungarian speaking part of Romania) nationalism.

This is where I have encountered the words “irredentist” and “irredentism”. They are usually used as the last resort in an argument on a Wiki page, when nothing else makes sense, the loser will shriek something like “Well, I don’t care. It’s irredentism”. An example of something that is “irredentism” in this way is the alternate (ie Hungarian) spelling of the name Harghita as Hargita. Now the argument seems to go like this (and this is repeated all over Wikipedia articles for this region):
A: The county is Harghita. That’s the spelling recognized by the Romanian government.
B: Yes, it is, but the majority of the people living in the county spell it Hargita (since they are Hungarian)
A: Ah, but it’s a Romanian county – and it wasn’t even invented as a county until the 1960s so it has never existed as a Hungarian county
B: yes, but it has a Hungarian spelling which the population use because the county is named after a mountain (which has been there since before the 1960s)
A: But what does it add to the article to give it two different spellings? How is this useful?
B: Well, it’s supposed to be an encyclopedia right? Are we rationing knowledge/information now?
A: Well, I don’t care, as far as I’m concerned it’s irredentist.

Thus, in the hope of A, bringing the argument screeching to a halt and allowing him to walk away the victor for using a big word and stating opinion as fact. Obviously utter bollocks.

People like A, and I’m mentioning no names, but you can find some if you spend long enough looking through these dark-side-of-the-wikipedia pages, would have you believe that me calling my blog Csikszereda Musings is in fact irredentist. i.e. That I am concerned with returning Transylvania to Hungarian control, and that my decision to refer to the town in which I live as Csikszereda is proof of that. So, lest I be accused of irredentism, I would like to make it plain that I have no desire for Transylvania to be ruled from Budapest, and furthermore, know nobody who does (I suspect there are a few people in Hungary who advocate for it, but I’ve met no-one in Transylvania that way inclined). I just call this town Csikszereda because that’s what everyone else calls it here, because that’s what it’s called in their language. We all recognize that the Romanian name is Miercurea Ciuc, of course (a name which is directly derived from the Hungarian name), but frankly both names are equally valid. I, in short, am no form of dentist – either irre- or otherwise.

Now, this use of a word as an attempt to silence argument is not new. Those of us on the left are often rightly accused of throwing out the word “fascist” at anything we disagree with. Which is obviously just as bollocks as the use of irredentist for similar purposes. (Intriguingly, fascism is another word which has its origins in an Italian political movement. What is with Italy and these words?). The right has recently cottoned on to this “soundbite argument” style and has started throwing around the word “Islamofascist” in an attempt to lump wars on Arabs and other Muslims together with the war on Nazi Germany. It’s all bollocks.

Anyway, to sum up, arguing that Transylvania ought to be a part of Hungary = irredentist. Calling Miercurea Ciuc Csikszereda = not irredentist.

(I ought to point out that most of the people who edit and then discuss edits on Wikipedia seem to be perfectly normal reasonable individuals (if a tad obsessive and pedantic), and that indeed there is a refreshing amount of agreement between most Hungarian and Romanian editors. It’s just one or two mad ones. And if you thought the “discussion” pages were seriously manic, then try out the Mediation cabal pages. Blimey.)

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Happening

Yesterday, I may have inadvertently led you to the conclusion that Csikszereda is an unexciting town in which nothing ever happens. (Actually it wasn't so much inadvertent as advertent). Well, I was having you on. Nothing could be further from the truth. Here are three things which have happened very recently which show, in clear and explicit tones, that this town is in fact, rocking, and is, perhaps, as insomniac as New York.

  1. We have celebrities: On Friday, I had lunch with the departing participants from my course, in the pleasant beergarden-like ambience of Gambrinus Csarda. At the next table, there was a bona fide celebrity. Now I appreciate that people who live in capital cities and the like are always seeing celebrities, but up here, they’re a bit of a rarity. This celebrity was none other than pneumatically-chested (ahem) “top model” and (sustained bout of fake coughing) “actress” Nicoleta Luciu. If you want to look her up on Google images, I’d suggest you don’t do it at work. [She was pointed out to me, I wouldn’t have recognized her. Honest.]

  2. We have Culture: I was idly watching Euronews yesterday, as you do, particularly when the “Agenda” section comes on. This involves them using up some time on a slow news day by highlighting a few art exhibitions going around Europe at the time. Suddenly I looked up from doing something or other, to see, to my utter shock, the words “Miercurea Ciuc” on the screen. Yes, that’s right. An exhibition here (specifically, the “Going Glocal project”, which is taking place at the Ko.Ke.M gallery) was featured on Euronews. Impressive huh? I must now go along to the gallery (it’s actually in the same block that we live in, so it ought not to be a major hassle)

  3. We have a successful professional sport team: Sport Club Miercurea Ciuc, our ice hockey team, and possibly the only thing that keeps many people going through the winter months, is, this year, participating in both the Romanian league and cup (as normal) and the Hungarian league and cup. Not sure how they’ll fit all the games in, but they’re so far doing very well in the Hungarian league, having played 6 won 5 (although 4 of those 6 games were against the weakest team, the other two, one of which was won was at the league’s strongest team). The Romanian season hasn’t begun yet.

Plus of course we have a consulate – and most Romanian towns cannot say the same. Bucharest obviously does, Cluj does, I’m sure. Timisoara might do, and possibly Sibiu and Constanta. But not many others. I don’t even think Brasov does. Hah!

So, Csikszereda – boring hick town stuck in the mountains, or happening cultural destination? You decide.