Monday, September 29, 2008

Faculty Day

I cannot credit the author, whose name may well be lost in time, but that has to be the finest of college songs. Click it for the words to many verses. At the Convocation that opened our school year at Babes-Bolyai University, two verses were sung by the assembly of faculty and students in the Auditorium Maximum at the University's Main Building. Thanks to my late father's old album by The Blazers of College Drinking Songs, I could join in on the opening verse. Thanks to my New Trier High School Latin classes, I knew whereof I sang. Well into the "molestam senectutem" phase, I also know whereof the verses speak. But truly, this Fulbright experience has given me a shot of jucundae juventutum. It feels as if I have found the fountain. I even made it upstairs to the apartment this afternoon without stopping to take a breather, nor having to slow down (much)!

The day got off to a fortuitous start, when on the way to to the Faculty of Economics, which is a couple of Km from PiaĊ£a Mihai Viteazul where I live, a VW Golf that I was following braked suddenly to avoid hitting a pedestrain who had decided to walk against the light. Not seeing the walker, I was a bit late to react. Happily, the Beamer has anti-lock brakes, which pulsed rapidly as my winter tires squealed, and I stopped not a foot from his bumper.

Now wide awake, I proceeded to the Faculty of Economics, arriving about 8:00 AM. I had tried several times Sunday to reach Mihaela, my dean, to ask where and when was our first meeting today. When I couldn't reach her, I began to fear she had gotten stuck in Bucharest, or that some other dire fate had befallen her. But no, she is fine. Her husband and she went for a walk in the woods yesterday, partly to ease the lonely feelings of new empty-nesters. Their daughter went off to university this past week, and now they must learn a new lifestyle. (Thankfully, they were not eaten by the Romanian brown bears, against whom the Fulbright staff warned us at our orientation.)

Shirley and I sympathize, Mihaela, for our youngest, Alex, is living at college for the first time this fall, and for the first time in 32 years, we have no child at home with us. And I am here, and Shirl is still in our farm house in New Hampshire, stoking the wood stove and petting her puppy Trot, and my Preston, the St. Bernard who howled pitifully last week when he heard my voice on the answering machine. Poor Mihaela. Poor Shirley. Poor Preston. C'est la vie!

So, arriving early, I spoke to the kind secretary at the Decans' offices, and was guided to meet with Maritza, the administrator of the building and equipper of faculty offices. Though very busy this first day of the term, Maritza kindly agreed to see to my having paper in my printer, my three boxes from Plymouth moved up to Room 409, where I shall be hanging my hat, and a phone installed. She then guided me to Vasile, a system engineer, who came to my office and was embarrassed at the obsolete computer he found there. He said he would fix me up with a better machine, a password to the UBB network, and an e-mail account. Feeling that the ball was rolling, I went back down to look for Mihaela at her office. In the large and elegant hallway, I was approached by a man of 50-something and two youthful companions, a boy who might be a freshman who looked the spitting image of his Dad, and a shy girl of about the same age. They asked me something in Romanian, to which I shrugged my shoulders, and explained that this was primera zi (Day 1) for me at UBB, and that I spoke only English. At that, the lad responded in quite good English, and I showed them how to find the Decan's (dean's) office for answers to their questions. An hour later, after sitting together for coffee at the vending area, we parted. And in the interval preceding our parting, Romanian culture was again revealed to me. I will explain that to you as I put it in an e-mail to my friend and colleague Bonnie Bechard, who visited UBB with some PSU students in 2006, and who plans to come back this next spring. Bonnie e-mailed me today, and asked what educational experiences I would recommend for next spring's visiting New Hampshirites. I wrote back:

You are going to be amazed how Cluj has changed. There is a beautiful new mall (Julius Mall) here now, and consumer products of all kinds are readily available, from El Cheapos to Top of the Line. The number of cars in Cluj has tripled in the past two years. Real estate has gone through the roof. It is a major boomtown. Folks tell me it is now more costly to live here than in Bucharest.

Fortunately, the countryside is still as rustic as ever, and the contrasts are stark. My main cultural recommendation is to get out of Cluj, and tour by car. Perhaps you and a grad student can rent a couple of cars, and I have mine, as well. That way we could take as many as 12 or 14 people on a ride through the countryside.

Today I met a young student, just arriving from the rustic northern town of Satu Mare. I spent a good hour with him, his Dad, and a friend, had a coffee with them, and chatted, as none of us could find the people we needed to see so early in the morning. I am now invited to spend Christmas in their home, in what they say is one of the most traditional towns in Romania. And my colleagues tell me they mean it!

Come soon, stay long. This is a wonderful people.
I met many wonderful people today, including, at the Noon convocation, Drs. Delia and Andrei MARGA. Andrei is Rector (President) of Babes-Bolyai University, and his wife Delia is head of the Faculty of Languages. (One of my brother Walter McDougall's associates, Michael Radu, at the Foreign Policy Research Institute at UPenn was once a colleague of Andrei Marga. He had asked me to remember him to Dr. Marga, which I was able to do after Convocation.) I also met many new colleagues in the Faculty of Economics, where we had a 2:00 faculty meeting, followed by a "faculty bash" not unlike those that some former Plymouth State presidents used to throw for us back in less politically correct days. Can you believe an open bar, replete with Johnny Walker Black Label? Too bad that this old Scot's diabetes precludes such luxuries, these days.

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