Friday, April 28, 2006

Nasal Octopus

This has been a bad couple of weeks healthwise. Bogi came down with mumps (conveniently "mumpsz" in Hungarian) while I was away. This weekend, having sat out the requisite two weeks at home we noticed that she was not hearing very well. A visit to the ENT doctor on Monday confirmed that there was a problem - that she had a large octopus in her nose. So yesterday she went to have it surgically removed (obviously having an octopus in your nose is not especially healthy nor does it make it easy to breathe). All is well now, though and there are no more octopi or any other form of squid or cuttlefish clogging up her nasal passages as far as we know.

OK, OK, it wasn't actually an octopus. It was a polyp. However, the Hungarian word for octopus and the Hungarian word for polyp are one and the same (polip). So, like a true dad I have been amusing myself all week referring to it as an octopus. In my defence, it has made her laugh too, and helped her reach the operation with at least a couple of laughs to punctuate the pervading sense of fear.

She now has some spots which may or may not be the onset of rubella, another childhood disease which is also very popular at the moment in Csikszereda. Rubella when I was growing up was the best disease going - a week off school with no ill effects barring a couple of non-irritating spots. Of course in those days rubella was called German Measles for reasons I'm not sure of. Was it like Spanish flu in that it seemingly originated in Germany? Or were there more xenophobic reasons? Perhaps it was seen as very efficient form of measles - in and out in a few days without causing much fuss. Who knows? In other etymology-of-spotty-childhood-illnesses, chicken pox may be so called because it's like a rubbish version of small pox (see also "chicken feed") or because the spots look like chick peas. Not like any chick peas I've ever eaten, I have to say.

To top that off, I have a raging flu, though not of the avian variety. (Although I learned recently that all strains of flu originated in birds). Still, such is life.

Falling Star

Last night, contrary to my usual form, I found myself cheering on an English club in European competition (It's not unheard of, but it's fairly rare. I certainly won't be doing it in the upcoming Champion's League final). This is because of my overriding hatred of Steaua - and especially Gigi Becali. However, I had been slightly swept up by the seeming unitedness of the nation behind them (though this may have been a media invention) and thought it might be nice if they got to the final (and then got humiliatingly thrashed).

At half past ten Romania time last night, the game was all over. Steaua were three nil up on aggregate (effectively 3½-0 up because they had scored away goals) and there was only an hour left to play. At half time, even though Middlesboro had pulled one back, there was actually a discussion of the possibility that Steaua would get to play Barcelona in the European Super Cup final, and so relive the EC final of 1986. I thought that it was a bit premature, though I did assume that they would at least get to the UEFA Cup final.

The rest, as they say, is history. A stunning fightback by Middlesboro (for the second time in two rounds), and Steaua crashed out at the death, beaten 4-2 on the night. I was happy and still buzzing from seeing such an incredible game of football. But then as I flicked round the TV channels, the shock and dismay of everyone told its own story. This was a match that a lot of Romania wanted Steaua to win so they could represent the nation on a European stage. I don't really understand that level of national feeling for a club side (I'll be very very happy if both Arsenal and Middlesboro lose the two finals to come), but I could see that it was there. I'm sure there were hardcore Dinamo and Rapid fans who were happy that Steaua had lost, but most of the country it seems was shell shocked. I started feeling sorry for those Romanians who had willed the team on and seen them crash out in such unbelievable circumstances, so close to the finish line. As channel after channel wheeled their best pundits on to try and make sense of this national calamity, I began to wish that Steaua had indeed clung on to get to the final.

Then one channel cut to live footage of Gigi Becali leaving the stadium. He was so gaunt, so haggard, so white, and for the first time ever didn't look like he was enjoying being on TV, and in fact remained tight lipped and silent. He looked utterly broken and almost like he was about to burst into tears. At that point my heart lifted and my spirit soared and I remembered why I wanted Middlesboro to win in the first place. Grazie mille, Maccarone.

Sorry Romania - you deserve to have something to cheer, but not led by that cretinous oaf. Rapid in the final? Now that would have really been great.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Happy Paste

Today is Good Friday according to the Orthodox calendar, and hence part of paste. Paste is the Romanian word for Easter. I don't know if today is referred to as "Good" Friday by Romanians, or something else, as all I have seen is various invocations to enjoy my paste. Obviously paste (or Húsvét as it's known in Hungarian) was last week here, so it's one of those odd days which may or may not be a holiday. Anyway, I'd like to wish all my Romanian readers a happy Paste.

I was intrigued to find out the etymology of the word Húsvét, but have so far drawn a blank. My interest lies in the fact that the first syllable Hús is the Hungarian word for meat, and I wondered if Húsvét was a kind of celebration of the end of Lent, which would have amused me a lot, since I've noticed that the beginning of lent is often marked by massive blowouts which doesn't seem to fit in with the whole spirituality of the thing. However, I can't find out what Húsvét might mean. It did lead me into a discovery that "easter" is derived from the same root as "oestrogen", though, which I found vaguely interesting (it's all about springtime and fertility y'see). Paste, like similar words in various other Latin-based languages is taken from Passover, which at least makes sense.

Someone the other day asked me which European countries were orthodox, which, by a convoluted mental process led me to a realisation that all European countries which don't use the Latin alphabet are Orthodox Christian, and all the ones that do are not. With only one exception to this rule - Romania. Fascinating huh? (Well, it's actually two because there's Moldova too, but that's just decaffeinated Romania, so it doesn't really ruin this enthralling piece of information). Feel free to use this factoid down the pub next time you have a gap to fill in the conversation. I won't ask for any money.

Thursday, April 20, 2006


I am back home in Csikszereda now, bearing gifts of Sheffield Wednesday paraphernalia (for Bogi - borderline child abuse though it may be), clothes (for Paula), perfume (for Erika) and curry paste (for me). Two weeks was way too long to be away from everyone, but happily they don't seem to have forgotten me.

In other news, we have sold our flat and are moving to another one in early May. No idea what this means for regular blogging but it probably means the less frequent posts of the last couple of months will be the norm for a while longer.

Monday, April 10, 2006

An alphabet of curiosities

Apropos of nothing in particular, here is an alphabetical list of things in Romania that amuse, baffle, confound and disturb me.

A is for Access. It’s a cultural thing, and one which I have a lot of time for in theory. That is that Romanians (and by that I mean all or most Romanian citizens) like to stop and talk to the people they know when they see them. None of this brief “hello” and hurrying along to ones destination beloved of my people. This is the clear mark of a culture that values relationships more than getting things done, which is very admirable and I’m all for it. In theory. However, the small but occasionally irritating side effect of this is that there is very little thought for where it is that these impromptu conversations take place. This often seems to be in doorways, on staircases or in narrow corridors or anywhere else inconvenient to the people not involved in the meeting. I’ve even seen these conversations happen between two drivers passing each other, and then stopping rolling down their windows and talking right there on the street. Fortunately, stuck behind the old friends in that situation you can at least beep your horn, to indicate that you’d actually like to go on, an option that is not really available when you’re stuck on a staircase. It’s not infuriating to me, mostly merely amusing, and it gives me time to stop and muse on how if someone did that in London they’d be knifed or something. But there are times when I kind of wish they’d just move their conversation to one side – it’s fairly easy.

B is for Benches. Csikszereda hospital is situated on the top of a little hill. That means as you look out from the place in all directions you get a good view of the town (which is frankly not much to look at, but the hills around it are nice). Out the front of the hospital there is a little garden area with a bunch of benches in it so patients and their visitors can sit around and chat and smoke or whatever (at least they can in the months of the year when the benches are not buried under snow). All of these benches, without exception (and there are about 15-20 of them) are aligned such that the sitter faces not the view across to the Harghita Mountains but the pig-ugly communist era hospital. Why? For god’s sake why? It’s utter madness.

C is for Chocolate.
Chocolate is a popular commodity here. Supermarkets and corner shops seem to devote on average around 10% of their shelf space to bars of chocolate. But here’s the kicker – almost none of them are just simple chocolate. It’s always chocolate with some kind of cream filling or strawberry or cognac (flavour) or banana or cappuccino or some other bloody revolting filling. Why? Chocolate is a delicious food – either plain or milk versions. Why on earth does one need to make it taste of something else, infinitely less delicious. Sometimes you have to really search to find a bar of un-flavoured chocolate among the vast swathes of cream filled nonsense. In the USA I noticed the same affliction but there it’s with coffee. Again, a beautifully flavourful and delicious treat. Again treated with disdain and spoiled with vanilla or cinnamon or nutmeg or almond or essence of hamburger or something. Insanity. [At this stage you may already be mentally composing a reply pointing out that the UK has a vast array of ridiculous flavours of crisps. Let me save you the bother. We do. Lamb and mint, chicken balti, sweet thai pepper, roast dog, etc etc are all (aside from the one I made up) genuine flavours of crisps to be found in this country. It’s just that spoiling a small sliver of deep fried potato seems less heinous than ruining coffee and chocolate.]

D is for Dust. In Csikszereda when the snow melts, it gets dusty. Why is that? It’s counter intuitive really – the streets are running with meltwater and the air is full of dust. I have guessed that it’s something to do with the idea that throughout the winter the dust accumulates in the snow and is somehow held in suspension there. Then when the snow melts it is all released into the air rather than being washed away by the water. But it’s a rum do and no mistake.

E is for Easter. This upcoming weekend is Easter weekend in the UK. It is also Easter weekend in Csikszereda, since the town is Hungarian and thus predominantly Roman Catholic. But we’re one of the few places where it is Easter. In the rest of the country Easter happens at another time because the Orthodox church measures it differently from the Catholic/Protestant churches. (“Our” Easter is referred to as “Catholic Easter” in Romania, an aside with which I amused Bill, a Northern Irish friend, last week). It’s all very confusing. Last year the two events were weeks apart, while this year it’s just the one week difference. When you say something that ends with the words “at Easter” you have to qualify it with the type of Easter you’re referring to.

F. Finished. You didn’t really think I was going to all the way to Z did you?

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Musings on Tour

Just a small update, to let anyone who cares know that I'm not dead yet. Was very busy up until Tuesday night and then yesterday flew to England. So, am "home" now (where I've just noticed the " and the @ sign are transposed on the keyboard) and will be for the next couple of weeks. Not sure what blogging activity there will be in that time, but I should have more time to write stuff, even if it doesn't go online for a few days.

In some very good news, spring must have completely sprung as on my drive to Bucharest for the plane I saw three storks. As the storks have become my infallible seasonal guide in Romania, this is a clear indication of spring-iness.

England is expensive (translating prices into Lei is a huge mistake), and cold. That's all I can tell you at the moment.