Friday, June 12, 2009

Dan the Man

(note: Football post follows. Just so you know)

Yesterday was a day I'd rather forget for rather painful/uncomfortable reasons. I won't divulge them here as (a) it wouldn't be exactly edifying; (b) it's still too raw (in a number of ways); and (c) there are some things that are best left unspoken/unblogged

So, instead, to take my mind off my current discomfort, I need to report on the shock winners of the Romanian football league this year. The town of Urziceni (Err - zee - chen) is a small dusty piece of nothingness sort of north east of Bucharest. I have driven through it a couple of times on my way to the coast, and really it's not exactly the must buzzing metropolis on the planet. It even makes Csikszereda look quite attractive and lively, and believe me, that's a difficult thing to do. The population of the town is 17,000, and it's one of those southern Romanian towns in which every lamppost is plastered with posters advertising agricultural labouring jobs in Spain and Italy. In short, it's the sort of place that people leave as soon as they can.

But miraculously, incredibly, its football team Unirea Urziceni (which roughly translates as Urziceni United) have just become champions of Romania. They've achieved this without any real star name players and without importing vast quantities of South Americans as most of their rivals have done. The town will, I think, be by far the smallest ever to host Champion's League football (well when I say host, the ground is too small, so they'll play their games in Bucharest, so it won't really exactly host CL football, but you know what I mean)

The manager who has worked this miracle is none other than Dan Petrescu, who is famous the world over for playing his football for the mighty Sheffield Wednesday (he did also play for some other minor teams, but it was his time at Wednesday which will have been the pinnacle of his career). Indeed, he hasn't yet reportedly said, but I am pretty sure he has it on the tip of his tongue "Winning the Romanian league with Unirea is the proudest moment of my career since the day I signed for the great Sheffield Wednesday". (So successful was his time in England at Wednesday and another lesser club whose name escapes me, that he had a popular TV show named after him)

Anyway, it's a remarkable achievement, and it adds to the highly amusing recent denial of any trophies or any kind of success whatsoever to Bucharest teams. Last year CFR Cluj did the double, and this year Urziceni have won the league and the cup final (this weekend) will be contested between CFR Cluj and FC Timisoara. In addition the second Champions League spot has gone to FC Timisoara after they (yesterday) got their 6 points back from the Court of Arbitration for Sport (and thus pushed Dinamo down into third place). So, all in all, ha ha Bucharest. Sadly Steaua just scraped into the last spot for the "Europa League" (the new UEFA Cup).

In other good news for Romanian football (and Romanian football managers), Mircea Lucescu led Shakhtor Donetsk to the UEFA Cup, László Bölöni won the Belgian league with Standard Liege, and little known local Csaba László (from Udvarhely/Odorheiu Secuiesc just down the road) took Hearts to a very creditable third place in Scotland. And Mircea's lad Razvan is now the new coach of the Romanian national team about which I feel very positive as I think he's an excellent coach and has to be an improvement over the rubbish, and now sacked, Victor Piţurcă. South Africa 2010 is well out of reach, but it could be a brighter future for the national team.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Fruits of our labours

As regular readers of this blog (not sure if I should go with a plural there, but what the hell) will know, last year we became landed gentry and purchased a house with a garden. Well, I say house, but I really mean crumbling-building-once-used-as-a-house. Anyway, the barn is in the process of being made into a liveable space and should be done by July, but the house is no less, and possibly more, decrepit than it was this time last year.

But, setting aside all that, last week just before I went to Prague I made a pesto almost entirely from ingredients that we ourselves had grown. I say we grew them, but it seems a little too easy. Dig up some ground, stick some seeds in and then just let them get on with it. Though it doesn't always work, of course, since we do have one patch which seems to resolutely resist producing anything worthwhile (even the weeds grow slowly there).

So, anyway, without further ado, Pesto alla Bankfalva.
You will need:
  • Large handful or two of rocket/arugula/rucola (this was one of those words I learned in other languages before English, since when I was a lad we didn't have rocket and had to make do with lettuce)
  • A couple of cloves of garlic
  • Some walnuts (about 10 per handful of rocket). Shelled, of course.
  • Olive oil
  • Salt (these last two were the ones that didn't come from the garden)
Stick everything in a blender and errm, blend, until such time as it all has become a pesto like consistency. Add olive oil as required if more liquid is required. Cook pasta, and stick some of this delicious green gold on it and mix up a bit. Et voila! Or whatever Et voila is in Italian.

Now, there may be those who are at this moment boiling with rage about the un-pesto-ness of this pesto. Pesto purists, for example, will see the replacement of pine nuts with walnuts as an act of great treason (but pine nuts are unavailable here, and we have a walnut tree, so nerr). Also using rocket instead of basil will almost certainly set some peoples' teeth on edge (but our basil hasn't grown much yet, and the rocket is almost as prolific as the weeds, so double nerr, and anyway don't knock it until you try it - rocket pesto is the business). However, it also shouldn't be forgotten that pesto purists would insist that parmesan cheese ought to be in pesto, so I think we can safely conclude that pesto purists are mentalists who would rather make their primi smell of vomit, than eat something tasty and wonderful, so discounting their views is easy.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Local News News

For many years I have been the English language voice of Csikszereda, the place that people discovered when they searched for English language information about the town. I have been contacted by ice hockey fans, by Hungarian-Americans, by people who adopted children from this area in 1990, by tourists (not so many of them, I confess), and by various others from around the world who have come across my rambling nonsense and thought I might be able to provide them with some insight into the mysterious world of the Csik/Ciuc Depression.

Now there are some problems with this obviously - (a) I'm not a local and so what insight/information I can offer is not quite as insightful as it might be (though arguably, I suppose, it could be more objective); (b) I'm a 43 year old bloke with kids, and therefore do not necessarily represent a hugely diverse body of opinion. (What do women think of this place? Young people? People with social lives? etc etc); (c) Is my opinion to be trusted? On the internet it's always hard to tell. I'm not sure if I would trust my opinion, so why anyone else should is beyond me.

But now, I can exclusively reveal, there are more English language bloggers in the Csiki-blogosphere (Blogo-depression?). These bloggers are not outsiders, but real live locals, with lives and everything. I have not made them up. They are all part of a competition being organised by the Soros Educational Center here - and are listed here (and you can vote for them too). More might be appearing in the next few days, so keep checking that page (I'm hoping that at least one Romanian (by which I mean Romanian Romanian rather than Hungarian Romanian) will join up, because that perspective would be really interesting and valuable too)

So here they all are:
Enjoy. And vote. And, if you live in the town, sign up for the contest.

In other local news news, the town's most historic newspaper "Harghita Nepe" has, as far as I can tell, vanished as a commercial entity, and been bought up by the County Council as a place where it can sing the praises of its works, and especially those of the "Dear Leader", one Borboly Csaba, whose tenure at the helm of the County Council has not so far been one of unalloyed success (and who has, it is rumoured, attempted to drag Harghita County Council into the 21st Centruy by, wait for it, signing the staff up for a Yahoo group. Rock and roll.). So, I suspect the interest in Harghita Nepe will be soon no greater than that for the Pyongyang Daily News.

Monday, June 08, 2009

1930s redux

Been away in Prague for a week, of which more later, but have woken up this morning to some really scary and appalling news from all over Europe - not least in this corner of it. The EU, which was, in large part, formed to prevent the rise of fascism again in the continent, seems now to be a venue for the resurrection of that disgusting ideology.

I'm sure there is much wringing of hands all over the Net regarding the two MEPs that have been elected from the extremist BNP in the UK. And so there should be. Also, regarding the rise of the extreme right in Holland, Italy, Austria, Finland, etc etc. (All over Europe in fact).

Here in Romania, the extremists (PRM) won 2 seats with 7% of the vote, which is pretty shit, and especially when you see that the two people they'll send are life-long tosser, anti-semite and Ceausescu's poet, Corneliu Vadim Tudor, and in second place egomaniac nut job with a Jesus complex and owner of Steaua Bucharest, Gigi Becali. The latter of those two is more of a joke figure than anything to be really scared of, but it remains to be seen how actually being elected to something will go to his head. It's certainly difficult to see him enjoying his time in the European parliament - after all you don't get on TV very much and you have to spend time with a bunch of foreigners. I anticipate he will set new records for non-attendance.

But it's in neighbouring Hungary where things like the success of the BNP and PRM really pale into semi-insiginficance. Hungary in which the right wing "populist" (populist being a codeword euphemism for racist) Fidesz party got a massive 56% of the vote. (Fidesz being a party which desperately reaches out for the votes of the far-right, pandering to the anti-semitic, anti-Rroma views of the extremists and not distancing itself from any of these, cutting deals with various neo-nazi parties down the years). Now, the government in Hungary is massively unpopular, and it may well be that a large proportion of those 56% come from people who are voting for Fidesz just because they are the only real opposition, so let's not jump to too many mad conclusions from that performance.

But we can and should draw a lot of conclusions from the rise and rise of the nazi Jobbik party who picked up an absolitely terrifying 15% of the vote. 15%. A party who are allied with what can only be described as a fascist vigilante movement called the Magyar Garda, a bunch of black booted thugs with fascist emblems and a suspicious salute whose self-proclaimed role is to protect people from "gypsy crime". A party whose members make statements implying that sterilising Rroma woman would be a way to control the population. A party who play up anti-semitism (Hungary, by the way, seems to be the only country in Europe where anti-semtism still seems to be an acceptable, almost mainstream, viewpoint). Indeed one of its new MEPs, Krisztina Morvai, who seems to have been on a campaign to charm and convince journalists in the Western European press that she and her party are not a bunch of disgusting extremist scumbags, only last week made some incredible anti-semitic comments on an internet forum.

Really. These people are utter scum.

Is Europe fucked? Is facsism really back? Is this the beginning of the new 1930s? We've got the economic depression, we've got the rise of nationalisms, we've got the apparently electable extreme right neo-nazi parties. It scares the living shit out of me, to be honest. I mean I don't think that the European parliament will be the venue for this new fascist rise (the PRM is going to have a hard time dealing with Jobbik, for example, as the PRM hates Hungarians. Likewise the Italian Northern League is hardly going to get into bed with the PRM since half their current rhetoric is anti-Romanian), but in general there really feels like there is a tide of really disgusting views sweep[ing over Europe.