Wednesday, September 27, 2006


The 11th Francophone Summit is currently on in Bucharest. At this point, you may well be asking yourself why a non-Francophone nation should be hosting such an event. You are not alone. I have no idea either.

As if to highlight the oddness of it all, at a ceremony to unveil a statue of De Gaulle, Basescu managed to force out the word "Bienvenue", before switching back to Romanian.

There are loads of francophone nations where this event could have been held (or nations in which French is a second language at least) - off the top of my head I can think of France, Belgium, Switzerland, Canada, various African countries (both Arab and sub-Saharan), Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, French Guyana, Lebanon. They can't possibly have exhausted all those options yet, since this is only the 11th such event.

C'est tres tres bizarre, n'est-ce pas?

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Close the door behind you

So, Romania is in. After much umming and ahhing, the EU has finally given the green light for us and Bulgaria to join. I'd write a long post about what this means for the country, but I don't have the time. Basically short term pain for long term gain will be my conclusion, you can fill in the tedious actual analysis yourself.

I presume tomorrow's right wing tabloid press in the UK will be full of stories about how 719 million gypsies are now poised to descend on London, or how already the first purse snatching of the new EU has been attributed to a Romanian.

Interestingly, I have a Ukrainian colleague/friend/guest visiting at the moment, who is gobsmacked that Romania should be on the verge of joining while Ukraine looks unlikely to have the chance for the next 20 years (hence the title of the post), given the respective wealth, state of development, etc etc of the two nations. Politics, innit?

Saturday, September 23, 2006


I've never really suffered from indigestion. I knew that it existed, obviously, but it had never really impinged on me physically. This was fortunate, as I tend to bolt my food down like someone's about to steal it off my plate. Last Thursday, however, I got my comeuppance. After another long fairly stressful day at work, I got home at around 9pm, dead hungry to find that a large and delicious two course meal had been prepared for me. As is my wont, I tucked into it with abandon, knocking back large quantities very rapidly all washed down with nice cold Ciuc. Then as I sat back and started actually talking to the wonderful woman who had prepared all this, I felt the first inklings that I had overextended slightly. Just that bloated feeling you get when you've foolishly overdone it a bit. (I once knew someone who claimed that if you reach that stage, you can just eat some chocolate ice cream, and somehow that will allow you to fit more in. But he was a liar. And not the slimmest person I've ever met either.)

Anyway, I stood up to do something - maybe make some tea or something, and then it started to really hit me. This was more than just a bit of bloating. Hunched over, and grunting a little, I filled the kettle, before Erika ordered me to go and lie down or sit down or something. I staggered to the bedroom and attempted to lie comfortably - but comfortable was not available, and all I was now getting was pain and by now it was all the way across my chest, like I had something crushing my rib cage, and punching me in the diaphragm. By now the vague grunting sounds had become something more violent and rhythmic, kind of a metronomic UUUURNNHH...UUUURNNHH... (etc). Obviously my first thought had been that I had overeaten, or eaten too fast or whatever, but now I was beginning to think the worst. I remembered reading that when you have a heart attack one of the symptoms was a pain or numbness in the arm, and the fact that both my arms seemed completely fine was the thing giving me some hope in the situation. However on a couple of occasions I felt myself close to blacking out and imagined I'd be waking up in a hospital with tubes sticking out of me.

Erika, meanwhile, was attempting to phone an ambulance. I say attempting because this proved more difficult than you'd imagine. The thing is that a year or so ago we switched our phone provided from RomTelecom, the old state run national provider, to Astral a new, up and coming, smaller company which was providing much more competitive rates. [Astral has since been bought by US-based UPC which has made the service less reliable and customer service much worse, but that's just an aside]. However, the problem is that the short emergency numbers (like 999 in the UK or 911 in the US) don't work from non-Romtelecom phones. I mean how bloody ridiculous is that? I have no idea whose fault it is but someone needs to sort it pretty damn quickly. I don't know if it's dangerous pettyness from Romtelecom, dangerous rubbishness from Astral, or just dangerous lack of planning from everyone, but it's crying out for someone (ie government) to step in and make a law to ensure that you can call the emeregency services from any phone. It's bloody scandalous, as it stands.

Anyway, she failed to quickly get hold of an ambulance, and instead got a friend who works in the hospital to rush round. By the time he arrived I was beginning to recover, and was feeling that whatever had happened was receding. He diagnosed it as indigestion (which was still my diagnosis). As I slowly came back to reality, the three of us chatted, Erika found out which longer, regular numbers to call to get an ambulance should it ever come up again (and we now have them posted by the phone).

The panic over, I mentally and verbally resolved never to wolf down my food again, and began pondering over indigestion. Is this what all sufferers have to put up with? I assume not, since I'm given to understand it's quite a common complaint, and I have never found myself picking my way over the prone grunting bodies of diners when visiting the toilet in a restaurant, for example. Is it one of those things that is really not that common, it just seems that way from the number of commercials for products to deal with it. (When I lived in the US for example, it seemed like about 75% of all ads were for some drug or other, with indigestion/heartburn/whatever drugs narrowly coming second to erectile dysfunction remedies). I can only imagine that it is fairly widespread, but in nothing like the form I had it.

So, as the pain subsided, the flat slowly returned to something approaching normality, though I suspect none of slept especially well that night. The next day, eating with incredible slowness, I felt OK. The Saturday, I once again felt pain after a meal, but in a minor form, which I took to be just a reminder from my body to keep it slow. But, on Monday morning I woke up with the same pain. Before I'd eaten anything or touched a coffee of anything of the sort. This couldn't be right, surely? So, slightly worried, we pulled a few strings and fixed me up with a hospital visit to the gastrothingy specialist the following morning (since my current schedule involves me definitely having to be in a certain place between 10 am and 9pm, that was basically the only option).

As it turned out the only thing the doc was prepared to do on Tuesday was to tell me to go off for a blood test, which I duly did. The following day I returned with my results, had a quick blood pressure check from the nurse and then proceeded to wait to see the man himself. I have to admit, the room outside which I was waiting was not especially inviting. Watever went on in there it required nurses dressed in plastic sheeting to constantly be coming and going. Quite clearly the tests conducted there were of the messy variety, and that didn't fill me with happy anticipation. Far from it, in fact, since I am incredibly sqeamish around all things medical. I had hoped that the blood test I'd bravely sat through, barely flinching, the day before, would have been enough. And I was really hoping that I wouldn't be called to find out what was going on in the endoscope room (which is what it was).

So, it was with some trepidation that I was called for my test, but some relief when I realised I was going to a different room. I lay down, shirt off, and trouser legs rolled up, like in some bizarre masonic initiation ritual. This was odd. A old bit of electrical equipment was rolled in with various wires and things coming off it, and put next to me. Hmmm. What was about to happen here? The nurse then proceeded to drip water across my chest and my exposed ankles. 6 wired up suction cups were affixed to my chest, and then jump leads were attached to my ankles and I was given two more to hold in my hands. This was the reason for the water and the ankle thing. I was being electrocuted. It was all a bit like being in Abu Ghraib - well, aside from the barking dogs, the laughing guards, the bag on my head and the intense pain and suffering. So not a great deal like Abu Ghraib at all then.

This, in fact, was neither a torture, nor a masonic enrollment, but was an EKG (I think probably ECG elsewhere where Cardio is spelt with a C rather than a K). I am quite sure that ECG machines in more modern hospitals look very much more like they were invented in the computer age, and not like something which has been lying around for the last 40 years, but whatever. The process was painless, aside from a slight numbness in the arm (neatly bringing me back to the start of the problem, when the only thing good about it was that I didn't have a numb tingling arm), and some long lasting suction imprints on my chest. Thankfully. Then the doc took a look at all the results and told me that it had been indigestion and that the post-indigestion pain was some kind of aftershocks, since my muscles had been forced into doing something quite unusual and violent for a while, and they were just balancing themselves up again, or some such. He then went on to say that if it happened again I ought to come back and have an endoscope (I think that's the word - the procedure which seems to involve shoving some form of study instrument down your throat so he can look at your stomach from the inside). This is sufficient warning enough for me never to take any less than half an hour eating a piece of toast. When I'm in a hurry.

On the plus side, however, I reckon I shed about three kilos in the week. So, y'know, every cloud has a silver lining and that.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Iskola (2)

The mayor of Csikszereda, one Raduly Robert, is basically a cretin. His name is more or less a joke in the town, and I've yet to meet anyone with a kind word to say about his term of office (I think he's been in about 2 years now). When the Hungarian consulate was opened here he managed to get in to a fight on the street with someone at the ceremony, and his ability to do things like fix the shamefully decrepit roads and stuff (you know, the kind of thing a mayor ought to be doing) is apparently non-existent. (They are now being fixed, by which I infer he's up for reelection next year).

However last Friday he surpassed himself - we (the town) were paid a visit by the Minister of Education himself (since it was the first day of school and the country was gripped by a teachers strike, one might be tempted to ask what the hell he was doing here of all places, but anyway..) His plan was to make a speech at the Octavian Goga High School (that's the Romanian one - see previous post), but because everyone there was on strike he instead made his speech at a Romanian elementary school instead (not sure of the name). While there he was asked by the teachers if they could introduce an optional Hungarian language course onto the curriculum as they felt it was important for their students to be able to speak (or at least given the chance to learn) the majority language of the town and area. Very cool. Anyway, subsequently he went to the Marton Aron High School (the most well known of the Hungarian High Schools) to speak there too. There he was met by our esteemed mayor who decided that he would speak to the guest in Hungarian and Hungarian only since this was a Hungarian school (although of course he does actually speak Romanian too, and the Minister doesn't speak Hungarian - there being no real reason why he should). So of course an interpretor had to be drafted in to translate for the minister.

I have no idea why. He probably feels he was striking a blow for Hungarian nationalism, while everyone I've spoken to is just dead embarrassed by the whole thing. I imagine there are some people who think he was right, but I've not met any of them. Sadly, the way politics in this town works, if he is the official UDMR candidate for the mayorship next time round he'll probably get elected again, even though everyone thinks he's a git. It's up to the UDMR to boot him out I reckon.

In more political news, Hungary is racked by riots (if Euronews is to be believed) since the Prime Minister admitted that he lied to get elected (imagine that! a politician lying! Blimey). However, the story on Euronews (which was my source), despite being the lead today, was very uninformative, and instead if anyone's interested, I'd definitely recommend Pauls' post here - it certainly put it all in a different light for me.

Sunday, September 17, 2006


Friday was the first day of school. For most pupils it was the first day of the school year, though as it turned out, since there was a strike on, it wasn't. If you see what I mean.

However, for Bogi, it was the first day of school, ever. She's been attending kindergarten for a while though, so to me it doesn't seem like that different, but for her, and for children all over the town and the nation, it was, a very big deal. In fact it wasn't even a whole day, but a few hours of getting to know you activities and being asked to stand on stage for the watching parents. The first grade teachers stuck around espcially to welcome the new kids to the school.

Walking with her to school was an interesting experience. Because it was the first day of school (and because the news on the strike was a series of contradictory rumours -it was on, it was on for a day only, it was off, it was back on), the town was filled with children wandering off to their respective schools. Many of them bore flowers, since it is traditional to give your teachers flowers here on the first day of the year (and the last, and "teachers day", and a few other special occasions).

Here we see Bogi, wearing a skirt for only about the third time in living memory, trooping off to school, semi-excitedly, semi-nervously. Accompanied, of course by her mother (who has been delegated to hold the flowers, since a skirt and flowers may be too much to ask.) [If you're really interested, I think if you click on that it gets bigger.]

Anyway, we arrived safely at Jozsef Attila Elementary School. All schools here are named after famous people. I don't know if this is true throughout Romania, but in this town it certainly is. If nothing else, it provides an easy way of ascertaining whether a school is Hungarian language medium or Romanian language medium. Thus Jozsef Attila Elementary School is Hungarian. As is Nagy Imre, Marton Aron and Petofi Sandor, to name a few more. The Octavian Goga High School, on the other hand, is Romanian. Jozsef Attila, for those unaware (ie non-Hungarians) was a famous poet (Here's his Wikipedia entry). Interestingly, I've never heard a single Hungarian say anything other than "he was bloody brilliant" (or words to that effect). No "He's not really my cup of tea" or "Most people love him, but I find him rather trite". It's anecdotal evidence but he seems universally loved. I can't think of any English poet who invokes the same level of critical consensus.

The strike by the way, was a one-dayer, so tomorrow will see Bogi off for her second day of school (and kind of her first real one).

Sunday, September 10, 2006

September Song

I'm in the middle of a particularly intense teacher training courseright now, so won't be able to do much blogging. After the 12 hour days (minimum) of work I reckon what's left ought to be devoted to the family. So I probably won;t be around much before the end of September.

A joke to be going along with:
Q: How do you turn a Szekely into a Romanian?
A: Take him to Budapest.

Not especially funny as jokes go, but I like the way it neatly encapsulates about three "truths" about the way various different ethnic groups perceive each other.

Weather's nice these days, but the storks left early this year which means that the autumn won't be especially long or warm, which is a bit of a shame. As if to rub the point in the ice hockey season seems to have already started (albeit only in the pre-season Csiki Sör cup). This may have something to do with the fact that Sport Club Miercurea Ciuc are seemingly playing in the Hungarian league and cup this year as well as the Romanian ones. Not sure how they're going to fit all that in.

Hasta la vista.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Ease and Wizz

Marosvasarhely (otherwise known as Targu Mures, otherwise known as Tirgu Mures, otherwise known -by almost no-one- as Neumarkt) has an airport. This fact is very convenient for us, since it happens to be Erika's home town and we have a place outside her parents' place to park the car if we wanted to fly anywhere. However, less convenient until very recently was the fact the only places you could fly to from there were Bucharest and Timisoara. True, you could then fly on to somewhere else, but it took a long while and was not that useful, particularly when it only took half an hour more or so to drive to Otopeni where the main Bucharest airport is.

Now however, things have started to change. First Malev started offering a service from Budapest, and they have been followed by WizzAir. For those unfamiliar with WizzAir, it is a low cost Hungaro-Polish airline (I think), and it's actually fairly good, in my experience. This is a stroke of genius on their part. Not because it makes my life easier, but because there are loads and loads of people from the Marosvasarhely area who are living in Hungary, having fled there in 1990 (Something like 95% of Erika's high school class live in Hungary, for example). And their prices are so low that they undercut both the train and the minibuses that ply the same route. They've also cunningly looped themselves into the potential tourist market for the area by naming the airport "Transylvania Targu Mures" - and since it is the most convenient airport for Sighisoara, it will pick up a fair amount of tourism one day, I reckon.

Anyway, we flew to England via this route (one flight to Budapest, a night at some friends' and then a flight on to Luton). The airport is very small and a little bit rubbish looking from the outside - grass on the runway, 30 year old petrol trucks, generally a little bit run down - but inside it is very clean and sparkling new. So new, in fact that little touches like the cafe/bar are not actually open yet. This proved a slight problem as our plane turned out to be 2 hours late. A little digging revealed that this was because the Vasarhely plane had started its day in London and at that time every plane leaving England was doing so with a minimum of two hours delay thanks to the need to stop anyone bringing anything whatsoever on the plane with them in case they started to beat the stewardesses with a rolled up newspaper or some such dastardly act. (I do appreciate the need for security, but to give an example of just how ruthlessly this was all enforced, a friend was travelling with his 6-year-old son, and they made him (the son) take the batteries out of his hearing aid, hand them to an armed guard, who then carried them on to the plane, and ensured that they were locked in a safe on board only to be released after the journey).

[Happily, the extra wait without any form of entertainment passed easily because to Paula any place is much like any other, and to Bogi, who was about to embark on her first flight, the whole thing was insanely exciting anyway.]

Coming back this week, of course we had to brave the security measures ourselves, since leaving the UK you have to jump through all the requisite hoops (unlike leaving Romania or Hungary two weeks earlier). By this time things had been eased slightly, and I was allowed to bring a newspaper, and we were able to have a bag with nappies and stuff in it. We did, however, have to demonstrate that all liquid-ish forms of babyfood were non-explosive, which meant I had to taste the water and the apple juice which we had prepared for P, and Bogi kindly volunteered to taste the two jars of baby food (one of which was some blended facsimile of "Vegetable Lasagne", so it said), which as you might imagine was not terribly apealing at 5am, which is when we checked in. The "lasagne" got a very definite thumbs down, while the apple and yoghurt dessert was pronounced quite nice.

We then (well a few hours later) had to do a quite farcical sprint through Ferihegy airport - because WizzAir is a low cost airline it only sells individual tickets, so we had one set of tickets for the Luton to Budapest leg and one set of tickets for the Budapest to Marosvasarhely leg. There were no systems in place to allow us to be checked all the way through. And of course, our experiences on the outward journey had let us know that we would be using the exact same plane. So, what we had to do when we arrived at Budapest airport was get off the plane, go through immigration, collect our suitcases, go out, check in to the new flight, go through security and then get back on the same plane (while our bags would go through the systems and be replaced back on that same plane too). All in less that 45 minutes. This seemed to me frought with hazard and so we worked out our strategy in advance. We got seats right at the front so as to be the first off the plane (this is easy to do when you have young kids as they let you on first and there are no assigned seats). Then after immigration I took Paula and all the passports and left Erika and Bogi waiting for the suitcases while I went round the airport and back into check-in. I explained my predicament to the bloke at the desk and he said, "Well check in closes in 12 minutes". To which I responded that I knew that, but since I was here, and we were all here, and I knew the plane was here, couldn't he hold it for a while in case we didn't all get through in time. Thankfully he saw the sense of this and issued our boarding passes there and then and held on for a while after he should have to close the flight. This only worked because we could work in a team though, individuals hoping to pull off the same stunt would have been stuck.

And so finally, we made it to be greeted by the same crew who were happy to see us back (mostly because Paula is just about the most charming baby in the history of the universe, a fact I state without a hint of bias). Half an hour or so later we were back on the grassy runway of Transylvania Targu Mures. (It's one of those small airports where you have to walk to and from the plane - none of these fancy tunnels or even buses). The baggage reclaim room may have to be upgraded soon, since it consists of one end of a conveyor belt manned by two blokes who grab every suitcase as it emerges and put it on the floor around themselves. A full plane load of passengers and a full plane load of bags most assuredly do not fit in this room.

WizzAir have obviously decided that the Romanian market is the next one to hit up as they are advertising loads of new routes coming soon - Vasarhely to Barcelona and Roma (direct) and Bucharest to all sorts of places, including a direct Luton flight, which will be even more appealing. We're already thinking of a winter break to Rome.

I'd like to add here that I have absolutely no connection to WizzAir, and I will not make any profit out of extolling or publicising their services, but if anyone from Wizzair does chance upon this post and wishes to comp me a few tickets, I'd be happy to accept their kind offer.