Wednesday, January 31, 2007


There was a time when jetting round the globe was my idea of heaven. And for a while I had a job that allowed me to do just that - and in one year (I think it was 2002) I calculated that I took over 50 flights, which is going some, especially since I did all my flying in economy class. Now I was living in the US then, and at times there it seems you have to get a plane to go down the shops to get a pint of milk, but a significant portion (more then half) of those trips were international. But now, what with the rapidly developing Paula to enjoy (every day walking less and less like a piss-artist), along with the rest of the family, it feels like a chore.

However, there's only so much one can do in Csikszereda, and hence this year, as alluded to a couple of days ago, I have to do some work (or rather I have to earn some money, and working is the only really legal way I can think of of doing that, save from investing non-existent capital) - work which will initially take me on a whistlestop tour of South and Central Asia.

My first excursion is this coming weekend to the foreign country that is Bucharest, where I will be working for a few days next week. OK, I know Bucharest is not technically foreign, but the difference between the capital and rural Romania is so great as to be more or less a completely dfferent country. (Plus I have to crack open my extremely weak Romanian and remember to not answer everything with an "igen" or a "köszönöm").

Then in mid-Feb I really do start having to leave the country - firstly to Nepal for a week (and having spent some time working out flights, I can tell you that travelling to Nepal is not that simple - at least from Romania. Looks like I will have to change planes in Istanbul and Qatar - or Munich and Delhi). I get back here for a few days, just in time to celebrate my birthday, before heading off again - firstly to Uzbekistan, for a week or two, and thence on to Pakistan and subsequently Bangladesh. I'll get back to Csik for a few more days of catching up with the family , before heading to the UK - both England and Scotland, and finally returning to the hearth of my bosom (or whatever) in late April, when the spring should have kicked in.

So, anyway, this blog will probably take a short break starting very soon, and then afterwards might suddenly be filled with anecdotes of exotic locales. Or not.

Speak, the (unspeakable) Hungarian Rapper

The worst song ever written? You decide.

"Sometimes people start a war, don't know what it's for"

Monday, January 29, 2007

Fillet of Crap

I recently discovered this video, which purports to show "A World Without Romania"

I learned one or two interesting things from it - like about Nicolae Paulescu, who invented insulin, and learned what it was that Henri Coanda (who up till that point had been nothing but the name of an airport*) was famous for.

However, I started to disbelieve what I had been told by the video when it reached the bit which mentions that Romania has created the "most mouthwatering dishes in the world". Now, I have no wish to offend anyone, but come on. Coming from a nation which has a global reputation for producing some of the world's worst food, I am not about to start comparing Romanian cuisine to English here, but really without trying I could think of at least 50 countries which have better food than Romania. And that's before starting to subdivide countries like India and China into different regional cuisines. Of the three commonly-quoted traditional "national" Romanian dishes, two of them (sarmale and ciorba de burta) are almost certainly Turkish anyway, and the third (mamaliga) gets translated as "corn mush" on menus. This is not, of course, to say that Romanian food is bad, but it's not up there among the world's great cuisines. How many Romanian restaurants are there in a place like London, for example?

It's a shame, because until that point, I had been enjoying the video, although the fact that they had chosen someone to narrate it who couldn't pronounce Romanian words to save his life was a bit of a let-down. I think the pronunciation of "multumesc" (sic) is the lowest point. The Romanian pre-cursor to baseball, therefore, following on from the ludicrous food statement, was significantly less interesting than it would otherwise have been. Of course when it gets to the end you realise it's an ad for Ursus beer, which also lowers the tone somewhat, and possibly explains the bland "trailer for a poor quality Hollywood action movie" aesthetic (Ursus being a beer brewed by that bastion of blandicity, Miller).

Anyway, watch it (it's about 5 minutes long) if you have the time.

[*Spotters badge for anyone who can spot the pop culture reference here without resorting to google]

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Farsangi bál

So, how was the party, is the question I'm sure you're all asking.

It was good, but like no party I'd been to before. Or rather, it had elements of many other different parties but in a combination previously unknown.

Firstly we had to bring along our own food and drink - it was actually possible to order a fixed menu prior to the event, but since the fixed menu was cold meats and cheese as a starter, with a main course of töltött káposzta (stuffed cabbage - stuffed with pork), we didn't bother going down that route. Most people it seems brought their own food - and plates, glasses, knives, forks, corkscrews, etc. Having dropped off our baskets of food and utensils we all trooped down to the lecture theatre (the party took place in the canteen of the Sapientia University) to watch a play performed by the teachers at the school, which was on a traditional farsang theme, that of marriage. This extended pre-lenten period appears to have been traditionally the time when people from villages were married off - possibly lent was a time in which it wasn't wise to get married as you couldn't have much of a party, or maybe (who knows) some serious catholic villages even swore off sex during the 40 days. That would, of course, be inconvenient because lent aways falls in Spring, when people in those far off days before widespread pre-marital rumpy-pumpy were desperate to, ahem, "get married". So anyway, farsang was a period in which one partied, dressed in costume (no idea why, but this seems somewhat universal) and got hitched.

The play was performed with gusto and (I suspect) a touch of inebriation. I didn't know what the words were, but could get the gist It wasn't Beckett, is what I'm saying here. At the conclusion we all trooped back upstairs to the canteen and joined our tables. Each table was devoted to a different class at the school, so you were sitting with the parents of your child's classmates. In many ways the whole affair from that point onwards was like a very peculiar wedding reception. There was the usual wedding-type band, playing cover versions of classics from the 60s 70s and 80s. (At least I'm assured they were classics, being as how they were all Hungarian, I'll have to take people's word for that). There was the universal wedding behaviour of sitting round the tables, talking, eating, getting plastered, and occasionally getting up and dancing. What set it apart from the average wedding was two things - firstly the fact that all the guests were between 30 and 45; and secondly the fact that the people that you had in common, who had brought you and your tablemates together (the role filled by the bride and groom at a wedding) were not actually present and were all at home tucked up in bed being taken care of by babysitters. Then, rather than the best man's speech, we had an interminable raffle - parents had been asked to wrap things they didn't want and submit them as raffle prizes, and the table was very full of such gifts. The process of repeatedly drawing out a winning ticket, announcing the number, waiting for the winner to show up and choose their present, accompanied by boozy cheering from their table, took ages. At one point I was concerned that they'd actually have more prizes than tickets sold and would have to put all the winners back in the same hat and start drawing them again.

Our table, being a table of parents of kids in the first grade, was a little bit subdued, as it was our first opportunity to get rat-arsed together and we had to size everyone up. As you looked around the room, you could see the higher up the school was the class, the rowdier was the table. Some people, of course, had to flit to more than one table having more than one child in the school. In such cases they tended towards their oldest child's group, and left us newbies to fend for ourselves. Just as we were leaving, I came across a couple who had suddenly appeared at our table from some third grade table somewhere. They seemed quite put out that we were going so early (it was 2.30), and the husband insisted that I have a glass of wine with him - quite possibly because he was Romanian and wanted to chat to someone else at the party who'd no idea of what this bloody music was.

I have no idea what time it finished, but we certainly seemed to be the first ones to go. People do like to party until dawn here. The very concept that we were going before 5am seemed to be quite offensive, but having had the Szilveszter experience of having the 8am alarm-clock baby on a couple of minutes sleep, we weren't about to do it again. We've probably been marked down as party-poopers though, and will be treated with appropriate disdainfulness at the school gates on Monday.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Farsang 07

Last year I mentioned Farsang, the Hungarian (possibly Transylvanian only, who knows) pre-Lent feasting period, and I presciently mentioned that we might have to go to a school farsang party this year because Bogi would be at real school. Well, I was right, and that party is tonight. I'm not quite sure what to expect, but it seems like costumes are not really part of the deal (which is alternately a relief and a disappointment). It's also unusual to have a (non-family) party to which one is obliged to go, and to not go would somehow be breaking the unwritten but fiercely guarded rules.

Things are somewhat busy and manic these days, which will explain the lack of blog posts. In a two month period from mid Feb to mid April I will (I think) be spending significant time in 7 seperate countries, which sounds exhausting, but kind of intriguing all at the same time. Further details of my itinerary to follow.

It is still not cold! I never imagined I could see pictures on the news of snow on the ground in Spain and England, while Csikszereda remained snow-free. We're due to have winter start this weekend, I'm told.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

A tale of two winters

This time last year the temperature in Csikszereda was minus 32. Today it reached plus 15. That's a swing of 47 degrees. (Or 85 degrees Fahrenheit for those you still living in the 19th Century). This winter is mental.

Not near, but Spar

When I was a lad (some years ago) the most common shop in England was "Spar", which apparently was some kind of franchise operation by which corner shops could sign up to be a spar and benefit from their distribution networks and so on. It was basically a byword for the cheap corner shop, and in fact their slogan was the obviously memorable "So near, so Spar". You weren't using the shop because it had a great selection or because it was cheap, you were very definitely using the shop because it was local and convenient. But times changed and Spars started disappearing from Britain's high streets, to be replaced by VG and Londis, and god knows what else. I have no idea if there are still any last remaining Spars in the UK, but I haven't seen them for ages.

I knew the shop still existed though, since I'd seen them elsewhere in Europe. But never have I seen a Spar like the ones that are now opening in Romania - large edge-of-town supermarkets with parking and allsorts. Yesterday we went to the one that's just opened in Udvarhely and I found myself wandering the wide, pushchair-friendly aisles with barely disguised glee.
Fresh herbs!
Basil, rosemary, sage, oregano, and most incredibly, coriander (cilantro for US/Spanish readers). Sadly the coriander was past its best (giving the lie to the "Mindig Friss" slogan that is plastered everywhere), but it was there. that's the point.
Wild rice
I mean we've only just sighted brown and basmati rice in Romania, and here we are with wild rice already
Sea food
Most people round here when you suggest that things like prawns or calamari are worth eating look at you as if you're completely unfit to have taste buds. But here there were not only those two things, but mussels and even octopus too.
Rice wine vinegar
I can't really think of a use for rice wine vinegar except for making sushi and since there were none of those sheets of seaweed you use for wrapping, the special rice that you use, or even more crucially wasabi, it's not that useful yet. But one day. Oh yes, one day
Australian wine
I'm not likely to buy any, delicious though much Aussie wine is, because it costs much more than Romanian wine - and Romanian wine is also excellent, but again, it's nice to see it
and finally...
Fresh rucola
...or arugula, or rocket, or what have you. Rocket is one of those words which I learned in English after I'd learned it in other languages first. Mostly, I suspect because we didn't have rocket in England when I was growing up, and had to make do with lettuce or lettuce. And I can't really bring myself to use the word rocket now that I have learned it because it sounds so bloody stupid. But anyway to find some of that stuff, for sale, fresh, and in Romania made my day.
But why has Udvarhely got this retail heaven while we in Csikszereda have been lumped with bloody Penny Market? The kind of place that gives cheap and nasty a bad name. It's a disgrace, that's what it is. But think of me this evening, while I'm eating freshly made pesto, with a side of arugula salad, and a fine bottle of Romanian red, and weep.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Unwelcome Germans

Hurricane Kyrill has swept across us this morning after leaving Bavaria. Driving rain and high winds and a stunning rainbow have so far been the effects. Bits of trees falling off and that kind of thing. Still, nothing compared to what Ireland, Britain, France, Holland and Germany got, if the pictures on the news this morning are anything to go by. [What kind of name is Kyrill anyway? Is it Russian? I've never heard it before] Apparently we're on "yellow alert", whatever the hell that means. No-one seems to have a clue. But it sounds impressively "we're on top of the situation, people, no need to worry."

Our second unwelcome teutonic visitor is German measles (rubella), which Paula was diagnosed with yesterday. Still, it's the easiest of all the childhood ailments, so now her fever has gone it's just a question of keeping her at home and seeing what pictures you can make by joining up the spots on her chest. [I ought to point out that the name german measles has absolutely nothing to do with Germany, and is apparently derived from the Latin word "germanus" meaning "similar" since rubella is similar to measles. So now you know.]

In other Romanian news, the government is falling apart, having held themselves together long enough to get into the EU. It seems like everyone in the governing coalition hates everyone else, and we'll have some form of election sooner rather than later. Also some bones were found in the rest of the country, which according to all the media sources I've read, including things like the BBC, say "prove" that European humans continued to evolve after migrating from Africa. Which, as far as I am aware, is like saying that a fossil of a fallen apple "proves" that gravity existed 10,000 years ago. Who writes all this stuff?

Thursday, January 18, 2007

What the EU means for me

Yesterday, I got my new residency permit for Romania. Things have certainly changed. In the space of two years I have now had (and reported on) three entirely different documents which allow me to remain here. The first was a kind of rubbishy handwritten passport thing. The process to get this document was both expensive and baffling.

This document lasted a few months before being superseded by a fancy hi-tech card that had to be issued in Germany. Once again this was not exactly cheap. In fact by the time I'd got that one, I'd spent somewhere in the order of €200 in total on various documents enabling me to live here (and that doesn't include the money it cost me to set up a company which gave me legal permission to even start applying).

But now things have changed. Out has gone the German-issued laminated card, and in has come some other official looking large scale piece of paper. Because now, of course, Romania is in the EU, and my ability to stay here is determined by that new status. (Romanians can't stay in the UK longer than 3 months, but fortunately for me the Romanian state chooses not to reciprocate - though I would quite understand and even applaud them if they did). Anyway, the new piece of paper, with all the documentation and stuff that was needed to get it, cost me a sum total of 4 Lei. That's approximately €1.20. That sum still involved two different receipts of 1 and 3 Lei each from two different offices in two different parts of the town, with associated queueing, but let's not quibble about that.

The only downside of the whole thing is that while the card was very convenient and easy to carry around with me, this new document isn't, and if I were to stuff it in my wallet it would disintegrate within a couple of months, necessitating a replacement. And of course, being British, I don't possess an ID card. I don't fancy carrying around my passport all day every day, so will have to come up with some system to cope with the Romanian need for people to have official ID on their persons at all time. Hopefully my driving licence will do the trick.

Anyway, I thought you'd all be glad to know of the advantages of EU membership for me. It's not all strict legislation and baffling regulations you know.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

"Subjective Transylvania" - a review

Recently (at the end of a fairly fractious exchange in the comments section of my post on the Romanian Orthodox Church's attempt to Romanianise Csikszereda), somebody enigmatically signing themselves "MS" suggested I read this book which is available online through OSI (Soros) in Hungary. So I did. And it was well worth reading, I can tell you. If you download it you'll find that it's 147 pages in Word, which may be rather daunting, so I'll attempt to offer a brief review here. Hopefully if this piques your interest you'll read it yourself.

The book, which I assume was eventually published by OSI, is entitled "SUBJECTIVE TRANSYLVANIA: A CASE STUDY OF POST COMMUNIST NATIONALISM" by Alina Mungiu Pippidi PhD, who is a Romanian social psychologist. It is a throughly researched study into the disagreements between and perceptions of Hungarians and Romanians in Transylvania, including reams of qualitative data. It concludes with some suggestions into what the future might hold and some suggested models for the future in creating a more harmonious situation. It's not clear when it was written, but it was obviously (from the context given) at some point during the Constantinescu government of 1996-2000.

I'll admit that my first impression was a negative one, since early on in the inroduction to the work Dr Pippidi refers to the 1990 ethnic clashes in Targu Mures/Marosvasarhely as a "violent outburst" while then going on to refer to an incident in Udvarhely "where the local community instigated by the town council brutally evacuated four Romanian nuns". Now I'm not familiar with this incident, and have no idea whether the adverb "brutally" is justified (I'm assuming it is), but it seems a bit biased to append it to whatever happened there and to merely refer to the mini-civil-war in which 8 people died and countless others were injured in Targu Mures as a "violent outburst". Given the context in which I'd received the link, I began to suspect that this would be yet another biased nationalistic tract of which there are so many out there (from both sides).

However, I gave the book a second chance, and am glad that I did. Since in the main the author (aside from the instance above and a later jarring reference to "the Hungarian problem") is broadly impartial and prepared to let her subjects speak for themselves. What really surprised me, I suspect, was how familiar all the quotes were - she interviews various groups of Tranyslvanians from different places, different ethnic backgrounds, different age groups, etc - and all of them repeat what I hear more or less every day about the differences and similarities between the two communities. I have cut and pasted some examples below:

Some comments on being a Transylvanian Hungarian
"When I was in Hungary I visited the fathers-in-law of a friend of mine. And they were surprised I speak such a good Hungarian. I never felt so insulted in my life."

"We, Transylvanians, sometimes feel like second rank Hungarians when compared to Hungarians from Hungary and second-rank Romanian citizens when compared to Romanians. We sometimes feel betrayed by both"

and, interestingly, from some of the Romanian subjects:
"It's more honorable to be from Transylvania than from any other part of Romania. When I am sometimes ashamed of being a Romanian I feel better when I think I am from Transylvania "

On the cultural differences: "Romanians need less than we do to feel satisfied. They watch TV and they feel happy, while we are concerned by one or by other and we can't get over it so easy. We Hungarians are so deadly serious"

And the following sentiments I have heard so many times that I have lost count:
This is the bosses business, politics that is; we ordinary people get along fine. (Hungarian workers, Cluj)
It weren’t for politics we wouldn’t even know who’s Romanian, who’s Hungarian, as it was in Ceausescu’s times, we were all alike then. (Romanian workers, Cluj)
You just can’t imagine how well we get along with people here [Romanian]. Politics doesn’t let us live peacefully. (Hungarian peasants, Miercurea Niraj)

I think my favourite bit would have to be this:
The most telling fact is, perhaps, that a social representation of nations living like a family within Romania is simply missing, so difficult it is to imagine an in-group including both Romanians and Hungarians. When asked ‘Were Romania a family, how would it look like’ most Hungarian groups told us they cannot conceive it as a family ‘or we would be the intruders' (intellectual, Miercurea Ciuc). Even Romanians had difficulties. ‘It would be like a mother-in-law with the daughter-in-law’ (classical image of conflict in the Romanian folk-stories) (peasants, Cluj). At the other extreme is this beautiful representation of a young Romanian student in Cluj:
The father should be a German, the Hungarian the cook and the Romanian should take care of the house. Now it's not working because the father is Romanian, not German.

As I say it is a fascinating piece of research, and well worth reading.

At the end Dr Pippidi concludes with the need to find a solution that satisfies the following (very little of which I can find any reason to disagree with):
1. to secure the right of the Hungarian minority to a shared public sphere of its own, that meaning 'a communal domain that is constructed not only as an arena of cooperation for the purpose of securing one's interests but also as a space where one's communal identity finds expression' (Tamir: 1993: 74). This space already exists to a large extent: all that is needed are supplementary legal guarantees.
2. to eliminate by a policy of affirmative action the disadvantages Hungarians still experience (proportion of Hungarian students compared to Romanians; proportion of Hungarian policemen, and so on) This was started in 1997, when the University of Cluj (babes-Bolyai) reserved seats for Hungarians applying for the Law School: this allowed them to be accepted with a much lower threshold than the Romanians.
3. Creating incentives for the Hungarian elite to choose moderate instead of radical policies
4. The same for the Romanian Transylvanian elite
5. Eliminating unnecessary competition between the two national groups as groups wherever this can be avoided
6. Preventing a deepening of the division between the two national groups and keeping a decent level of communication and interactivity between them in order to create at least occasionally a 'in-group' of both Romanians and Hungarians, instead of having them permanently exclude each other.
7. Eliminating the Hungarian theme from the Romanian internal political debate
8. Adjusting the political system in order to satisfy the listed requirements with reasonable costs and at a pace that would not endanger the stability of the political system (so often threatened both by ethno-regionalism and by the Romanian nationalist reaction).

Sadly, not much seems to have changed since the time 8(?) years ago when this was written - Hungarians are still very underrepresented in the police force, for example. (pt. 2)

And finally, in order to achieve the above, the author presents three models and critiques them. These models are
1. Hegemonic Control [the state controls/coerces/forces the minority group into submission]
2. Federalism [autonomous regions are created - the question remains whether these are formed on ethnic lines (cantonisation) or not (federalism)]
3. Consociationalism (yes, I had to look it up too) [By which power is somehow shared, either formally or informally. She opines that this was beginning when the paper was written, as the UDMR (Hungarian party) was at that time part of the ruling coalition. It has been ever since, to my knowledge]

She seems to lean towards the third, and I would be interested to hear how she feels now, given that to all intents and purposes this consociationalism has been going on for ten years now, and the problems seem to be exactly the same as when the paper was written. (I've written to her to ask).

I have been meaning for a while to write a post on the movement for autonomy in Szekely land, and this seems like a good starting point for what will end up being a series of pieces. I realise that there are so many issues to discuss in such a debate (the concept of nationality/ethnic identity; language and culture; balkanisation vs autonomy; centralisation vs de-centralisation; nationalism; discrimination against minorities; and many many others) that to attempt to do so in a shortish blog post would be impossible. I will (over the course of the next months) return to this subject and attempt to build up a picture of what I believe would be the best way forward. Not that my opinion matters as such, but I feel I ought to offer one at least.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The unkindest cut

A Romanian surgeon was having a bad day, and decided to (and you may wish to cross your legs now) chop off some poor bloke's john thomas. And the damages awarded are somehow likely to mean that "in future doctors may have to think very carefully about what work they undertake." I certainly hope that they give pause to any doctor tempted to vent his stress and anger on the nearest innocent member.

It's a brutal way to deal with stress, whichever way you slice it (as it were)

Friday, January 12, 2007

What's the point?

So, let me get this straight. The White House commisions an extensive report into what should be done about the mess in Iraq. After months of exhaustive work, eagerly awaited by everyone, the Baker Hamilton report is delivered. It's principle conclusion is that in order to stabilise Iraq, the US needs to build bridges and mend fences with the Arab/Islamic world, in order to, in particular, involve Iran and Syria in supporting the new Iraqi government.

In response to this, Bush threatens Iran and Syria with military attack, and then authorises the storming of an Iranian consulate in Iraq.

It's mind-boggling.

What's the betting that the Democrats and that waste-of-oxygen Blair fall into line behind the plan?

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Best of Romania Awards

Last year, I tacked a little “Best of Romania” guide on to the end of the local equivalent, but it got rather lost. So this year, I have devoted an entire thread to it. It should be pointed out that this is a best of list which involves only places that I have visited, which isn’t that many really. I’ve done most of the cities, or at least the ones that people refer to as being worth doing (I haven’t been to Drobeta-Turnu Severin for example, but then I’ve never heard anyone talk about it as being worth going to. In fact the only reason I’ve heard of it is that I know someone who comes from there (and she can't stand it). This happens quite frequently with Romanian cities in Oltenia – only yesterday I noticed a town called Resita on the weather forecast that had not previously impinged on my consciousness. I feel quite ashamed of myself when this happens). But with that proviso, here we go…

Best city to visit as a tourist: Sighisoara. The only cities that didn’t have their central bits destroyed by Ceaucescu are the three major Saxon ones – the middle of Brasov is also great, but the endless miles of hellish urban sprawl beyond the walls mark the city down. Sibiu is my nemesis and couldn’t buy my vote. If they have actually finished doing it up for its position as Euro Capital of Culture it probably (he grudgingly admits) looks quite nice.

Best restaurant in Romania (fancy):
Bella Musica, Brasov. Really great job in doing up the old wine cellars, and providing top quality food in romantic surroundings. And fantastic service too – why have I never been to a restaurant before which has a little button beside your table so you can call over a waiter when YOU want? Excellent place (and they give you free palinka and free chips and salsa when you sit down too)

Best restaurant in Romania (homestyle): Hanul Dracula not far outside Sighisoara – though it is 4kms off the road down a rutted track – they have great food in a very nice location. Rubbish name, obviously, but you can’t have everything. It’s also a great place to stay if you’re visiting Sighisoara, have a car, and can’t get a room at…

Best hotel in Romania:
Casa Cu Cerb, slap bang in the main square in Sighisoara, done up by a German foundation under the supervision of Gabriel Lambescu. Very romantic, very understated, and very very reasonable.

Best trendy bar: Bit of a fake category this one, since I go into trendy bars about as often as I walk around in a tutu, but I was taken to a fairly heavily trendy one in Cluj when I was last there – Diesel – situated in the main square (or what I think of as the Hungarian main square – i.e. the one with Matyas Kiraly in it rather than the one with Avram Iancu), also in old tunnels and cellars – there’s clearly a bit of a pattern here. The music was too loud, but that’s because I’m virtually geriatric, but they mixed a mean Mojito (and a mean Caipirinha – I really did have to try them both to check, obviously).

Best Car Hire Company: To be honest I've only ever used one - Eurocars in Brasov. But they were so incredibly helpful when this happened, that I feel they deserve a mention.

Best beer: Csiki Sör obviously (that's Bere Ciuc to any Romanian readers). Silva Dark is good too. This year, the geniuses (or genii, whichever you prefer) at the company (Heineken, basically) have brought out “Ciuc Winter” to cash in on the town’s reputation for, well, winter. I’m not a fan of strong beer, usually, but this one is surprisingly good.

Best wine: "Prahova Valley" – Pinot Noir. Good wine and at $2 a bottle you can't go wrong. Romanian wine in general is excellent.

Best bread: All bread here is fantastic. Except in restaurants curiously. For some reason, when you go to a bakery, you have loads of delicious crunchy loaves to choose from, from all regions and with various little twists – potato bread, brown bread, rye bread, bread from Cluj, bread from the Banat, etc etc. But when you go a restaurant, as often as not they give you a basket of rubbishy pre-packaged soft, white pap. Where do they get it from? Is there some kind of “crap bread for catering” franchise dealing in it? I think we should be told

Best English language blog:
Modesty forbids and all that. More seriously, I’ll give a three way tie to Shrinkmamma, Gorgeoux, and Romerican. (The funniest one is Albino Neutrino, but he never updates, so he’ll have to wait for his prize)

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Local Warming

Yesterday, the thermometer that we have outside our (north facing) kitchen window hit 10°C. It’s another sweltering day again today, with temperatures once again soaring above zero. It did actually snow one day last week, and there was even enough of it for Bogi and I to have an extended snowball fight, but now that brief taste of winter has vanished, and obviously all the snow has melted.

There is now some snow on the mountains though and we managed to go up to our local ski resort of Hargitafürdő (Harghita-Băi) on Saturday and Sunday so Bogi could indulge in her extremely new hobby of skiing. Irritatingly, but unsurprisingly, she's already way way better than I am.

The slopes were a study in contrasts over the weekend – Saturday, the end of the Christmas/New Year holiday period, was full of tourists from all over the country having their last day of skiing before heading home for work. Car number plates were all AB and BC and AR and so on, with only a smattering of local HR plates. And the dominant language of the chattering skiers was very definitely Romanian. Sunday, it was much quieter, and we passed lots of the out-of-county-ers coming down the mountain as we drove up it. At the top it was all day tripping Harghitans, and the dominant language had switched to Hungarian. It was like going to the same place two days in a row but finding that place in a different country. Saturday we were in Romania, Sunday in Szekelyföld.

Monday, January 08, 2007


With much of the far right of (old) Europe convulsed by the threat of the vast number of Romanians (read: gypsies) flooding across the continent, it seems that Romania has given those scummers something to be glad about: "Romania's first gift to the European Union" is apparently Vadim Tudor and his coterie of extremist nationalist wankers, making up the numbers for the European Parliament to have a neo-fascist caucus.

(But what I don't understand is that this is possible because this bloc now has enough MEPs in it to be formed - but Romania has never had any MEP elections - where are these MEPS from? Can anyone help?)

Please the Press in Belgium

Romania’s accession to the EU has thrust the country into the international media spotlight. Well, to be more accurate a few people with metaphorical torches are poking around looking for the latest human interest story / political bombshell / zeitgeist-capturing headline. In so doing, one or two of them have happened upon Csikszereda Musings and have asked for help.

In my role, then, as the Ciuc Depression’s resident media slut, I have been contacted by the following:
  • A journalist for a reputable English national newspaper (there are only two reputable English national newspapers, and it wasn’t the Guardian), who had been asked to write a story on the floods of Romanians heading for the UK and the glorious hopefulness of a new life in Hull or Stoke or somewhere. I told her that it was not much of a story, and if there were floods of migrating Romanians they would almost certainly be going to Spain or Italy. She managed to wangle her way out of doing the story, but pointed me in the direction of the story she probably would have written had her editor not relented. (It's pretty good and worth the click). It turned out that a grand total of 4 Romanians flew into Heathrow on January 1st – two of whom were students there and the other two of whom had established work contracts. [Later edit: Apparently this is ambiguous and could be interpreted as me saying that the Times is Britain's other reputable newspaper. As it is owned by Rupert Murdoch, I'd like to refute that right now. OK?]

  • I got interviewed on a podcast! It was only very recently that I worked out what a podcast was, and now I’ve been on one. By the time they’ve been yesterday’s news for about 5 years, I might do one myself. By then you’ll all be blogging with video chips wired into your eyeballs so we can all see exactly what you’ve been seeing. Anyway, Mark from Amsterdam interviewed me and you can listen to it on his website here (and so learn what I actually sound like. I realize that this is such a tempting thought that I must ask you to refrain you all from clicking at the same time in case it buggers up his bandwidth or something. I’ll draw up some kind of rota or something so you can all find a quiet time to go on). I daren't actually listen to it myself, since my entire recollection of the interview is Mark asking me a question about what Romanians think, or what the reaction has been in Romania, and me egotistically answering with what I think, like that's more interesting to people.

  • Someone from BBC Radio (Cambridgeshire) might be in touch, I’ve been informed. It’s a mate of my brother’s actually, who may have agreed that talking to me live on air was a good idea at some point on New Year’s Eve (the night of the year when we make all our best decisions), and be now trying to avoid making the call. So, we’ll count that as an unlikely occurrence until further notice.

  • That’s it actually

In the cold light of day, that’s not exactly the world’s media beating a path to my door, I must confess. Still, if anyone else wants to contact me to pick my brains on the EU, Romania and the relationship between Romania and Britain, take this as a come hither look with a saucy wink.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Things to do in Miercurea Ciuc

It’s an annual tradition on this blog to round up the year with a look at the best things to do in Csikszereda. Well, to be honest, it’s an annual tradition which I started last year, and even then I didn’t know I’d do it again. But as this town is so happening and changes as fast as a chameleon trapped in a lava lamp, I have decided it is worth making this an annual event. (I may have exaggerated a tad). So with no more ado, save to remind you of last year’s winners, here is the official 2006 “Best Of” Miercurea Ciuc awards listing:

Best restaurant (in town): Last year’s winners The Korona and The Park Hotel, are sadly still in with a shout, such is the paucity of fine dining experiences in Csikszereda. The great white hope of the year, Bandido’s, while being a nice enough place, is nothing special foodwise (and their explanation of the difference between a taco and a burrito has to be heard to be believed). I’ve heard the Fenyő’s restaurant is pretty good, but I haven’t been for ages. I’ll instead award this year’s prize (which, in truth, consists of no more than a mention here, which is not much of a “prize” in the traditional sense) to San Gennaro. An Italian restaurant that is actually authentic – owned by an actual real-live Italian, and serving pretty good quality food. No ketchup is served with the pizzas! It’s a tad pricy by local standards, but still a worthy winner.

Best restaurant (within a reasonable drive): Still Lobogo Panzio. Honourable mention to Kalibáskő , which looks much more authentic, and the kind of place in which you should get palinka-d up, but has a worse menu. Both of them are on the road to Udvarhely (Odorheiu Secuiesc).

Best pizza: Unchanged from last year: Renegade Pub and Pizza.

Best bar: I’ve gone off Morpheus, because it’s way too smoky and they only serve crap beer on tap (Carlsberg). This year’s award goes to the place which doesn’t seem to have a name near the market (on Nicolae Balcescu street opposite the BancPost – you know which one I mean). It’s also dead smoky (being in a cellar), but they have a nice garden for those brief Csikszereda summers. The newly opened Insomnia which looks dead out of place in Csikszereda, being all kind of fashionable and trendy and that, was too late to qualify for this year’s awards ceremony. Plus I only went there for the first time on Wednesday to meet up with a couple of my readers (I’ve always wanted to say that – thanks for giving me the opportunity Irina and Dan). Honourable mention to Gambrinus Csarda, for the whole beer garden experience, drinking cheap beer while watching the cauldron of goulash being cooked. You can also see celebrities there.

Best place to hang out and buy food: Still The Market (see last year’s awards for details)

Best place to hang out, see and be seen: Any of the outside tables along Petőfi Utca (in the summer obviously) - Palermo, Bandido's, San Gennaro, etc. It doesn't really matter which one you choose.

Best supermarket: No idea. None of them are really that good – while down the road in Udvarhely they have just opened this ultra-modern large Spar, we’ve had to make do with the much more downmarket Penny Market. No great shakes I’m told. The Profi is the cheapest supermarket in town but it bothers me that they have a bouncer (it’s a supermarket for god’s sake, why do they need a bouncer? To stop customers fighting over the bog roll?). It’s also extremely un-pushchair-friendly. In fact it’s pretty much always chaotically overcrowded. The Madezit is probably the best of a bad lot.

Best Ice Cream: Nagymama has come in and swept aside the old favourite Marien Presso. Mind you, not everyone agrees and Bogi (an ice-cream obsessive) still prefers the latter. She’s wrong though. Some real Italian gelato would be nice mind you. I’m hoping the bloke from San Gennaro reads this, and gets the right idea.

Nicest Building: The Hungarian Consulate. The old run down building at the top end of Petőfi street always looked like it could be nice, and so it proved when it was bought and done up by the Hungarian government for their brand spanking new consulate.

Best nightclub (in the English sense of place to go dancing): I've no idea. There are only three - Flash Dance, Club Ami, and Club 76, and rumour has it that they're firmly aimed at the under 19 crowd. So I have never ventured into any of them, for fear of feeling like a dirty old man. Maybe someone who has been to any of these places could comment.

Next: The eagerly awaited "Best of Romania" awards.

Thursday, January 04, 2007


I wish to campaign for an end to PDF links on the Internet. Or at least that all PDF links should be clearly marked as such so that you don't have to open them. Adobe Acrobat is such a bloody temperamental programme that seems to freeze up the computer in one of every 4 tries. As you may have guessed I've just lost a long blog post that I was in the middle of when I inadvertently opened a PDF file in another window. I hate it. Stupid bloody programme. Christ I'm furious.

I've discovered that "PDF" stands for "Portable Document Format". That's to distinguish PDF documents from all those other non-portable documents. Like stuff carved into rocks 4000 years ago, then. Another reason to hate it - a stupid "branded" name that essentially means nothing.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007


On Monday, I learned of another new cultural practice previously unknown to me. That is the practice of Crumbs. To explain I'll have to go back a day further to New Year's Eve...

On New Year's Eve, we went to a party at the house of some friends in a village not far from here. Booze had been bought and lots of food prepared (to say that a pig had died for the gathering would be stretching it, but one did die immediately prior to it and provided the guests with large amounts of food - not so much me, obviously)

Anyway it was an excellent party - the children danced and played all night long, the adults got excessively drunk, and Paula and I got the chance to welcome everyone to the EU (as the only EU citizens at the beginning of the gathering). I don't really remember much afterabout 2.30am until I was woken up at 4.30 to go home - I had crashed around 3 it transpires, next to Paula who zonked out sometime in 2006. I won't bore you with how much and what varieties of alcohol I consumed, but it's safe to say that it was somewhat more than was absolutely necessary.

So anyway, we went home, and re-crashed out. And then of course Paula woke up at about 8. Now when you look at baby-related websites and the like there are these little milestones they have you look out for - baby's first word, baby's first steps, baby's first adorable solid turd, that kind of thing. They never have you look out for "the first time your baby wakes you up on New Year's Day when you've had about 3 hours sleep and you have a stonking hangover". But, new and prospective parents, let me tell you now, it's a milestone you will face.

Being (occasionally) a good husband (and being as how I had had an extra hours sleep at the party itself), I got up to spend the morning with her. Fortunately she was fairly tired herself and so I could mostly get by with holding her in my arms and watching a bit of TV. But much as I love spending every minute I can with Paula, I'm not that keen on spending time alive in any sense when I feel that bad. (It's actually another argument for having children earlier in life - in my early 20s I might have coped. In my early 40s - it was hellish beyond reason).

So, I slogged through the morning, and eventually was joined by the rest of my family, who looked much more lively than I felt, and was informed that today we were going for Morzsa - the aforementioned "crumbs".

Crumbs is this: The next day after a party, in the afternoon, you all go back to the house of the party to have lunch, and basically reminisce about the night before. Lunch, of course, being all the leftovers from the party. That's basically it. In the state I was in it was something like a massively extreme hair-of-the-dog* - not only was I going to be drinking the same stuff that had so damaged my capacity to exist happily, but I was going to have the same food, in the same place with the same company. If nothing else it would either tip me over the edge of vomiting (where I felt I was), or cheer me up no end.

It did the latter, I'm happy to reveal. Or at least, it didn't exactly make me feel full of the joys of 2007, but I did feel significantly better (though no less tired). But that first beer was very slow going.

We didn't leave until 7pm either - and we were the first to go. I think the thing broke up properly around 10. They like their parties here.

(*I have learned that "the hair of the dog that bit you" is exactly the same phrase in Hungarian. Which surprised me quite a lot. It sounds like one of those one-language-specific idioms)

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Early spring or late autumn?

It's 8 degrees C as I type this. 8 degrees above zero. In January. In Miercurea Ciuc. It's unfeasible.

I blame the EU. (Romanians will soon learn that one of the advantages of EU membership for the government is that they can blame anything they like on Brussels. The British and French governments are masters at this. And then they wonder why public opinion is euro-skeptical)