Thursday, October 9, 2008

Romania's Scotland

To see a new Bentley in a gravel parking lot yesterday, next to beat-up Dacias and tiny Daewoos, was a gas. Some folks here are doing very well, indeed.

It is autumn. It is cold in the mornings. Traffic is heavy, and gas is costly, so I have been using taxis (and rides with new friends) for my commute. But today, I bought a month's bus pass for $14.00 worth of Lei. That beats the $5 to $6 per day that the taxi was costing me to get to the office and back.

The BMW 520I is a gem, and it is for weekend tours, not commuting in Cluj. Tomorrow I am driving to Maramures with Nancy, Pat and Evan, the Fulbrighters from Oradea (via Peoria).

A cabbie yesterday asked if I needed a nice Romanian woman to keep me warm until my wife comes over. I said "No, thanks." He said, "Why not?" I replied, "Never mind," and he said, "Good answer."

After an active and intense class today with about half the students present (which appears to be normal, according to my colleagues), I learned how to surf the net from George (see "Retraction" below), retracted yesterday's rant, and went home for lunch.

The bus dropped me in Piata Unirii (Union Square) and I walked down to Piata M. Viteazul. On the way is my local McDonald's, so I decided to find out if a noontime Big Mac is as tasty as the one I had for breakfast the other day. I ordered, received my meal, was asked for 13.50 Lei, and offered a 10-Euro note (worth 37 Lei) in payment, for I was, I thought, down to 7 Lei in my portofel (wallet). Girl One "looked at me funny," then called her compatriot Girl Two for help. "No Euros, only Lei," Girl Two told me. I offered to accept change in Lei. Nope. The Euros were not good there (as they had been at McD's in Hungary). I said, "Okay, throw it all away," and walked out.

Across the street is an office of Banca Transilvania, one of three on the square. (There must be fifty in town.) There I withdrew 300 Lei for the weekend, changed my 35 Euros into another 129.5 Lei, changed my last 1200 Hungarian Forint into 13 Lei, and found my stashed 200 Lei that had been in my wallet the whole time. (That makes two "Whoops!" moments at the same McDonald's in one week. I wonder what will happen when I meet Carmen there at 7:50 tomorrow, before our next bureaucratic tasks.)

I walked back to McDonald's and ordered the same meal from the same Girl One, who smiled. I paid in Lei, and ate. Not bad, but perhaps not quite as tasty as that breakfast Big Mac.

Since the downtown market is right behind McDonald's, I went in to buy some salt, carrots and maybe some dried beans that weren't white beans. (I still am seeking dried peas and lentils.) I couldn't find the salt, and while hunting the shelves, I saw a young black man with his shopping cart. As I might have done at Hannaford's in Plymouth, I casually said, "How ya doin'?" "Great," he replied, "You?"

There aren't a lot of black faces in Romania. Ken Ujah is a Nigerian in his last year of medical school in Cluj. He has lived for some time in London, England. He speaks fluent Romanian, English, and four African languages. We hit it off instantly. He found me the salt, then took me to the farmer's market to find really fresh carrots, and dried beans. I scored small pinto beans and more faciole (fagiole in Italian, the white beans I have been using in my soups, and that the Italians use in pasta fagiole). Ken and I exchanged phone numbers. We are planning to have a beer together soon.

Walking home across the P-ta. M. Viteazul, I was curious to see that a group of happy, young student-types in blue t-shirts had roped off the steps leading up to the mounted statue of Michael the Brave, first to unify Romania. They had a large camera aimed at the statue. There was a girl to the side with a metalized cloth reflector, the type used to light movie scenes shot outdoors. One of the girls stopped me, and asked if I knew the movie, "Casablanca." "Of course," I told her. "Will you play the last scene for us," she asked. "I have a feeling this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship," I told her. "Exactly," she replied. "What do you mean?" I asked, reading "Julius Mall" on her t-shirt. That logo was on all their t-shirts. "We are students, and are doing a project, taping a commercial for the new (something, I didn't catch what) that will open soon in Cluj. We need to find different people to play the last scene of Casablanca in front of the statue."

Needless to say, Cluj may soon see me in a commercial, and I now have a coupon for two seats at the grand opening of Cluj's new Metroplex Cinema. (But, my newest friend is named Ken, not Louie.)

Just another typical day in Romania. (No wonder I sleep so soundly over here.)

Tomorrow the Sherman-Hayes family arrives, and we head North to Maramures. Mircea Maniu tells me that Maramures was one part of Romania that was never conquered by the Romans, and that you can tell the difference in the people and their traditions. Romania's Scotland?! I cannot wait to see Maramures.


SKM said...

I read some articles about Maremures and it sounds like a great place. I'm not sure it can all be seen in one weekend. Perhaps a return trip when I am visiting?
Your SNUFUs are part of your charming self.

Anonymous said...

Actually, it is spelled Maramures :-)
And yes, it is a very beautiful part of the country, one should spend at least a week there.

Duncan McDougall said...

Thanks, Anonymous. Spelling corrected. -DcMcD

Corina said...

I stumbled across your blog, and just had to comment on this entry because I saw the shot of Casablanca (I work for the multiplex that was promoted through the shot), and I was wondering who had the American accent.

Thanks for joining the shoot ;-) I hope you got to see the cinema also.

I enjoy your retelling of your life in Cluj, it's very personal, and yet very relevant. Hope you enjoy the rest of your stay.