Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Back at the Desk

13 October 2008

Having arrived home exhausted after midnight Sunday night, I had discovered that I'd left my computer at a restaurant whose name I could not recall in the town of Negresti-Oas ["Neh-GRESHT-Wash"] near the Hungarian border, up in County Satu Mare.

Monday, still tired from a long weekend's driving and a fitful night's sleep, I rose about 6:00 AM, in time to go to my office to see if I could find that Sunday lunch-stop on Google prior to my scheduled 8:15 meeting with Carmen Tagsorean at the Romanian Health Insurance Office. At my office I printed out the most likely telephone numbers of places in Negresti-Oas, but waited to call until they would likely be open. Then I got on a bus to go downtown to meet Carmen.

Carmen was her sympathetic and understanding self, and told me that I may as well buy a new computer, and restore what I could off my back-up flash drive, for my computer was surely history. In her job, I fear, she has heard many such stories, and the endings have never been good. She tried the numbers I had, but was unable to get through.

At the government's insurance office, I learned what is meant by Romanian bureaucracy. I was about twenty minutes late, due to traffic, getting to the office, so I arrived five minutes after it opened. We were handed a slip with "Nr. 24" on it. An hour later they were serving Nr. 3, and Carmen learned that this first office was merely a check-in station, after which we had to go stand in more lines in order to pay 150 lei for a one-month government insurance policy so that I could apply for a permit to stay a year, even though I already am covered by two health insurance policies, and all they were really doing was collecting a tax. So, why make people spend a whole day to pay a tax? Jobs! Government jobs! "Slow down, don't move too fast, gotta make the morning last." (Apologies to Simon and Garfunkel.) Carmen had another meeting at 10:00, and I had a missing computer, so we decided to part, and try again another day. Carmen volunteered to keep trying the phone numbers.

At twelve-thirty, Carmen called to tell me that she had learned that the numbers in the Internet led to some office other than a restaurant, or to a fax tone, and that the one restaurant she had reached had closed in September, and thus couldn't be where we had eaten on 11 October. I thanked her for trying, and told her I would drive back to Negresti Oas in blind hope. She wished me luck, and told me to be careful.

Meanwhile, Carmen the Waitress at the Regal Restaurant in Negresti-Oas had not even opened my computer case. She had run after us on Sunday with the case, but we had already driven off. So, she had put the heavy black case behind the bar, and waited.

I had decided to drive back (four hours, each way) to Negresti-Oas in the hope that the computer would be still at the restaurant. Before leaving, I stopped at the office of Super Sleuth Mihaela Lutas to tell her what I was up to. Applying her Romanian wisdom and keen power of command over events, she quickly made the critical discovery. One of the numbers rang to another business in the same complex as that at which we had eaten, and from them she learned that the number on the Internet is wrong, and was given the correct phone number. Two minutes later, Mihaela was chatting with Carmen the Waitress, and being assured that my trip would not be in vain. (When she heard of this outcome, Carmen Tagsorean echoed the sentiment of Michelle Obama: "That is wonderful! For the first time I am proud of my countrymen!")

So, after a scant five hours' sleep and a full morning, I went home from the office, loaded an overnight bag with a change of underwear, my insulin, etc., and busted my way back to County Satu Mare. Of course, the drive was beautiful, and thanks to Mihaela and Carmen the Waitress, I was calm, and could enjoy the trip.

I arrived at 6:30, just after dusk, at the Regal Restaurant (Nancy Sherman and I had remembered it as "Royal"). Carmen saw me enter, and immediately turned her back and walked to the bar, retrieved my computer case, and brought it to me. I thanked her in Romanian, in English, in French, in German, in Spanish, in Italian, and in a sincere smile. She understood, and smiled back. I then asked if they were open for dinner. I sat and ordered their highest-priced dinner. It was huge, and contained, among a medley of delicious pork dishes, two egg-shaped croquettes looking crisp and appetizing in light-brown breading, apparently deep-fried. I asked if their soft and quite bland whitish stuffing was eggplant, and learned that it was the first dish made from pig's brains that I had ever eaten.

After dinner, I ordered a coffee to go, bringing my solo tab to 51 Lei, a very expensive meal, indeed, for one person who was not ordering liquor or wine in a country restaurant in Romania. I put exact change into the leather folder that Carmen the Waitress had used to deliver the tab, added a 100 Lei note as a tip, said "Multumesc! Buna sera, Carmen!" and skidaddled before Carmen could open the folder. I hope she was pleased.

I had planned to stop for the night. The BMW's low beams are aimed a bit too low, and after dark the occasional horsecart was coming into view too late for my comfort. So, following my GPS, which routed me down by way of Baia Mare (I had driven up through Satu Mare), I drove only about an hour, found a pensione (motor hotel) at a gas station-restaurant complex, and took a clean room with a shower for 55 Lei ($22). (My Scottish blood prefers such rates when I am doing my Road Warrior thing.)

Freed now from more driving this night, I went down to the restaurant for a pahar cu vin rosu si sec. The waitress and I got into a tough negotiation when she opened a bottle, poured me a glass, then told me that they only sell wine in full bottles, and that I owed her 40 Lei. We worked out a compromise, and I began chatting with Hungarian trucker Tibor Safrany. Tibor's first wife (of only a few months, thirty years ago) was American, though he professed to know very little English, though he speaks many European languages, having driven all over the continent hauling freight. But communication occurred, and we got along fine. After I described my travels of the past few weeks in Romania, he asked how many months I had been here. When I told him, "Three weeks," he said, "You also are the driver!" We have exchanged e-mail addresses, and I hope he comes to see us in New Hampshire. He is a really fine fellow.

Arising again before dawn, I made it back to Cluj after giving a 60-something man a lift to the doctor in Dej, and an 18 year-old car wash attendent a 40-Km lift into Cluj. (Don't worry, folks, I am quite careful about to whom I offer rides.)

Oh, and about that Maramures weekend... stay tuned, I may yet get to it.

No comments: