Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Kellemes Ünnepeket

And so on. Was intending to sign off at the weekend but got flu, and had to stay in bed (by the way, I was recently told that the official medical/scientific way you can tell whether you've got flu or just a bad cold is to imagine looking out of your window and seeing a 20 pound note (or 100 Lei, or 20 Euro or whatever) lying on the path. If you would go outside and get it, you've got a cold. If not, it's flu. Anyway, I had flu (at least by this rigorous definition) and so there was no writing a long happy christmas message, there was just lying in bed feeling sorry for myself. Anyway I wish everyone who comes across this note well and the compliments of the season and a happy new year and all of that jazz.

In addition I would like to point out that although I am the same age as the new Romanian prime minister Emil Boc, I look younger than him. This is not because I look especially young but that he looks a lot older than his years. His name is an anagram of "embolic" by the way, which means "of or relating to an obstuction of a blood vessel". Mine, on the other hand, isn't. And on that cryptic note I bid you, my reader, adieu for 2008. Have a good one.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Coalition of the Unwilling

I missed the election, being in a country which doesn’t really believe in such things, but as I understand it the results turned out more or less as expected including a record low turnout (which I expect wasn’t the supposed point of the new uninominal voting system). The PSD got a very slightly greater proportion of the votes than the others, but the PD-L got slightly more seats due to the new system. The PNL got the third most, and the UDMR were the only other party to break 5% and therefore get representation. This means that the good news is that both the PRM and the PNG, the two extremist right wing parties, aren’t in the parliament at all, which is nice.

Because of the slight disparity between popular vote and most seats, there seems to have been major difficulties in working out who gets to have first stab at forming a workable coalition, which has meant that everybody kind of milled around for a while partly attempting to seduce each other and partly trying to act strong and tough. Metaphorically waving a leg clad in a stocking and a hob-nailed boot.

The seeming upshot of all of this is that the PSD and the PDL are going to try and come up with a coalition government, with maybe the UDMR in too, though this seems debatable (I’m not sure why they would need the UDMR as they’d have close to 70% of the seats between them even without the UDMR, so why they would need an extra partner is beyond me, but I guess the UDMR made some kind of deal with Basescu or someone else in the PDL) [Note:Technically Basescu is no longer in the PDL because as President he had to resign his party affiliation, but I assume no-one really believes that he has no pro-PDL sympathies].

I can’t really see this (or any other potential coalition) lasting that long to be honest, since the three parties seem to hate each other massively, so I think the upshot is that Romania will trundle along with its leaders bickering incessantly until the global financial crisis really reaches Romania (which it sort of is about to do – I think it hasn’t yet, because we’re a bit behind), and then there’ll be no-one prepared to do anything about it. Still at least we have some palinka to tide us over.

Monday, December 08, 2008

What the Mikulás brought

Friday was the day when the Mikulás came. The Mikulás, or St Nicholas as you may know him, shows up on December 5th with various small gifts and sweets and stuff for children. [I should note here that there is some confusion over this date. Here, he comes on the 5th, but apparently in Hungary he comes on the 6th. It seems that his Romanian counterpart, Mos Niculae, comes on the 5th, so perhaps that's why the Mikulás comes then here]

Anyway, he came, as usual, and brought various sweets and cakes and fruit and stuff, and also brought me safely home from Uzbekistan and - on that day - Turkey, which is apt, since that's where he (St Nicholas) is from. The other thing he brought though was of much greater interest and value. He brought our palinka. I mentioned some time ago about the abundance of plums that we have acquired as part of our new land-owning status, and that we would be making palinka from them. Well, on Friday, Erika (and a friend, since I was unavoidably unable to be there thanks to the Tashkent fog) carted our barrels of fermenting plum mash off to the village church for just this purpose. For reasons which are unclear to me, but perhaps related to the role of the church at the heart of the community and the priest as guide to the people, the distiller had set up his equipment in the priest's garage next door to the church. And so a few hours after dropping off our plums, we had a significant quantity of delicious 53% abv palinka to our name. On Saturday evening some friends came round and we sampled it (and continued to sample it for quite a long time, to really make sure it was as good as we thought).

Yesterday morning I woke up without the merest trace of a hangover, which I take to mean that thius is really top quality stuff, since these days, I do tend to get some fairly brutal hangovers if I drink too much, and for that reason do so less and less. The fact that this palinka was able to do the job without leaving me comatose for the day is testament to the skills of our distillers. I raise a glass in their general direction! (hic)

Thursday, December 04, 2008


I am fogbound in Tashkent airport (at least I am at the moment I am writing this, when and if I finally post it I won’t be, because there is no internet here at the airport, so it will have to actually go up later)

Last night I left the hotel here at 1.30 and got to the airport in good time. After various bureaucratic procedures (Uzbekistan is very bureaucratic as that’s as good a way as any to control people), I made it to the departures lounge and sat down to sort of doze and wait. After an hour or so, a Turkish Airlines man showed up to inform us that the plane would be a little late (the actual phrase he used was “a little untimely” which was, I thought, a nicely euphemistic phrase for “late”). When pressed he confessed that he didn’t know how untimely it would be because the plane was circling above us, hoping that the fog would lift enough to let it land.

Obviously it didn’t because an hour later he appeared again, looking stressed (or perhaps “a little untranquil”) to inform us that we should all return to our hotels because the plane would not actually arrive that night and had been diverted to Ashkabad (for those unfamiliar with Central Asian geography, that’s the capital of Turkmenistan). We should come back to the airport at noon. First of all we had to retrace our steps through the bureaucracy, since when we showed up again later (feels like the next day, but technically it isn’t) we’d need to hand over all the various forms we’d presented just then – so it would be necessary to reclaim the forms (the hotel registration card, the customs declaration and various other ridiculous bits of paper). That took a while, and eventually I ended up at the Turkish Airlines office to work out what my options would be regarding onward connections from Istanbul – obviously the plane to Bucharest I was supposed to catch was out of the question, but it also turned out that by the time we eventually get to Istanbul (fingers crossed) I’ll have missed every feasible connection for the day, and I’ll have to spend the night there.

After reconnecting with two Iranian colleagues who were fogbound with me, we got back to the hotel (after taxi haggling, and the realisation, upon emerging from the terminal, that the fog was in fact very very thick – somehow that was a piece of good news, since it meant that we weren’t being dicked around for no actual reason) , had a short argument with the hotel regarding the fact that we knew the rooms had been paid for for the whole night, and yes, while we had actually checked out, that they could put us back there for a few hours, so we could have a kip (by this time it was well after 5, so everyone was a little frazzled and not really in the mood to deal with the problems caused by Uzbek bureaucracy – once you’ve checked out, you’ve checked out). They relented eventually, and I was able to sleep for about 3 hours, before getting up at 9 to sort out various problems caused by this unscheduled extra half day in Tashkent (and consequent 24 hour delay in my eventual arrival home). So, here I am, back at the airport, knackered and hoping that the plane eventually comes (the fog has lifted mostly), and that I will be able to catch a few more hours sleep on board (unlikely, I fear).

I appreciate that these destinations may sound evocatively exotic to many people (Tashkent, Ashkabad, Istanbul), but you’ll have to trust me that spending three hours at Tashkent airport in the wee hours is not in any way glamorous. However, to try and find a silver lining, there are people in this story worse off than us – the plane load of passengers who after circling Tashkent for 2 hours, were directed back to spend the night in Ashkabad (and I’m having a guess that Ashkabad airport makes Tashkent look like a comfortable and uncomplicated haven of tranquility).

In theory we take off in one more hour from now, but I’m not holding my breath.

[Update: Am now finally in Istanbul, after 5 more unexplained hours at the airport today. Rather intriguingly when they fed us at about 5.30pm local time, they decided to stick with the plan and give us breakfast, which was somewhat taking-the-piss I felt. It's not often I have breakfast with red wine]