Friday, April 24, 2009

Watering the Women?

Still Monday, April 20 (though reported Thursday night from Kansas City)

Klaus' parking having been paid, I returned to the apartment, ate my ovâz with Splenda, milk and cinnamon for breakfast, and went back to sleep for two more hours. I was reasonably sure that Klaus would be neither bothered nor ticketed on a day that was effectively a holiday in Cluj, and I had a leftover deficit of sleep from Sunday's long schedule.

The main mission of the week was to prepare for the ACBSP's April Board of Commissioners' meeting, then fly on Wednesday to Kansas City and attend it. But there were two whole days left to get the reviews finished, and I had already made a good start by reviewing the self-studies of the candidates for accreditation prior to the pre-visit conference calls which occurred in February. So I procrastinated on this bright, warm day.

At sometime before Wednedsday, Klaus needed to be put away at the Faculty of Letters lot and I figured I would be spending Tuesday grinding out my commission work, so I walked back across the Piaţa, picked Klaus up, and drove him to the Faculty. I parked in front, on Horea Street, and tried to go in the gate, only to find it locked. Fortunately, a student came out from the building, opened the gate, and let me in. I found the guard's office inside the building open, but empty. I continued on out the courtyard door, and walked up the hill to the auto gate to confirm that it was truly locked, and not just closed. The padlock was in place. I would need to find the guard. When I returned to the main hall, the guard was in his office. I asked him to open the gate, told him I would be gone all this week, and indicated that my car was out front. He nodded his understanding, and we parted out the opposite doors, I to the front, he to the rear of the building. After I'd driven around the three blocks that it took to reach the gate on our newly One-Way streets, the guard let us in, and I bedded Klaus down, thanking the guard, and exiting through to Horea, as the front gate was again locked behind me.

I turned toward home and pulled a handkerchief from my pocket to wipe my brow. Peripherally, I caught a flash of white falling from the pocket to my right side. I stopped and looked to see what I had dropped. It was a business card, one of my new ones that Carmen had ordered for me, with my UBB job title and address. I went back a few steps and retrieved it from the sidewalk. A few steps farther on, a man with a familiar face accosted me, pointed back to where I'd picked up my card from the sidewalk, and proceeded to break into tears of emotion.

He is a man of 60-something who frequents this part of Horea Street, and usually appears to be both unemployed (retired?), and drunk. Today, at about 2:00 PM, he seems overly emotional, but not visibly bombed. I ask in English why he is so emotional. He points again back up the sidewalk. I say, "Because I picked this up?" I show him my card. He says "Da," accepting my card and seeing that it reads "Profesor Fulbright," and "Universitatea Babeş-Bolyai." Still weeping, he takes me by the arm and motions me to come with him.

We walk quickly into the entrance to the Brasserie, a luncheon restaurant in a "close" (as it would be called in Edinburgh), a narrow tunnel leading from the street through a building into its courtyard. We come out into the sunlight of the courtyard, turn right, and walk through the open door of a ground floor apartment. Sitting there is a tan-skinned woman of 50-something, and two men, who appear to be enjoying a chat over a cigarette. No signs of anything save a neighborly chat, so I sit at the kitchen chair I am offered.

The one-room apartment is small. There is a half-refrigerator behind me, a double bed on the opposite wall, shielded from the "kitchen" side of the room by a bookcase covered with a posterboard, and walls decorated with posters, pictures, and all manner of brick-a-brack. Not too clean, not filthy, and anything but luxurious. The toilet must have been to the right as we entered the outer door.

I say to the woman, "I am Duncan."

My "escort" opens the fridge and offers me an orange juice. He introduces himself by touching his chest, "Eu Alexandru, Ungariu. Nu vorbesc Engleza."

One man leaves, and the woman says, "He is Hungarian." "You speak English? " I ask her.

She rotates her wrist in the air, "Cum si, Cum sa." "A little?" "Da."

I ask her name. "Vilma," she says, "Sotie (Wife)." "Vilma, Vilma. Fred, Barney, Vilma."

"Da, da," I say, "You are his wife, Wilma."

"Sunt Roma," she says.

"Romanian?" I ask, misunderstanding, thinking she was contrasting herself with his Hungarian ethnicity.

"Nu, nu. Roma. Roma." Then, just as the light turns on in my slow mind, she says, "Gypsy!"

Wilma finds two Easter eggs, and gives them to me. I thank her, "Mulţumesc."

She looks at me. "Roman Catholic?" she asks.

"Protestant," I confess, "but I attended Easter services at Calvary Church last week."

"Oooh, Kalvaria!" comes from Alexandru, with a deep sob and another outpouring.

It is the Hungarian R.C. church. Once his church? Maybe still?

The other visitor says his goodbyes, and leaves. I am alone in their ground-floor studio with Alexandru, his gypsy wife, and a glass of fizzy orange juice. I do not know if it is fizzy by design, or by fermentation. I sip it just a bit. Tastes fine. But I end up leaving the rest.

Alexandru the Hungarian proceeds to tell me his life story. He tells me he had been a barber, first showing me his kit, which he pulled out from the shelves behind the posterboard. It contains a shaving brush, straight razor, shears, and an electric clipper. I guess that wasn't all that long ago. He pulls out a small notebook, leather-bound, and opens it, showing me a list of names. "A duke from Czechoslovakia," he says as he points at one name. "General _____," pointing at another. I get the picture. He once had a distinguished clientele. His tears flow like rain, recalling past glory. He then tells the story of his three former wives, all now dead, weeping over each as he does so. And about meeting Wilma, with whom he has lived many years, but, tapping his ring finger, never has formally married. I sit and listen, gleaning what I can from his Romanian-Hungarian tale. I must have listened for fifteen minutes or more.

Finally, looking toward me, Wilma says, "Om bun." I look her in the eye and say nothing. She says it again. I nod my thanks, "I am learning what I can," I say.

Wilma then gets out a legal-looking document, wrapped in a plastic sheet protector, and brings it over to me. It indicates something about her medical condition. She lifts the waist of her blouse to show me several scars from abdominal operations.

Then, she shows me another legal document, and I am able to read something about its source. Some government agency for social services and housing. "Nu home," she said. "August. Nu home." She was mixing languages, as I so often do over here. I try to read the document. It appears to give them the right to live there, and its terminal month is August, 2009. The contract is in the name "UNGARIU Alexandru." So Ungariu was his name, not an Ethnic adjective.

Now I guessed she was asking for money, or letting me know of the need, at least. Alexandru again took my arm, and asked me to come with him. We go out into the courtyard, and turn left through the door he opened into the next room. Inside lies a person under a blanket. I cannot tell if it is a man or a woman. The hair is long, there is no beard, but the face is masculine looking. Clearly, he or she is a deathbed case.

We go back to the apartment. Wilma makes me understand that they are that person's caretakers. Now, finally, Alexandru decides that he wants me to really understand. He goes out and comes back with a young (30-something) man in a black shirt and black trousers. When he enters, the young man says, "Hello."

I reply, giving my name.

"Lawrence," he says. "We own the restaurant."

"Nice place," I tell him. "I have had lunch there."

"You should be somewhat careful," Lawrence says.

"I am aware of that," I reply. "I am a big boy."

"Money is a problem for them," he says, "But drinking is his main problem."

"That one I fully understand," I said. "I will leave a few lei, and meet you in the tunnel."

By that time Alexandru sat at another small surface, and, rocking back and forth tearfully, is scrawling an inscription on the back of a black and white photo of himself and Wilma, perhaps thirty years before. In the picture, he is in uniform. I ask, "Romanian Army?" "Da."

I accept the picture and its inscription, leave 20 de Lei on the table next to my orange juice, and as Wilma praises Jesus, I say good bye, and leave.

Lawrence is waiting in the tunnel. "Who is in the next room, a man or a woman?" I ask.

"It is a man."

Then Lawrence thinks for a minute, and asks, "What is the word for the head of a town? Not governor?"

"Mayor?" I suggest.

"Yes, mayor!" says Lawrence, as his wife Cristina joins us from the stairwell that leads upstairs. "The mayor of Cluj is paying."

"Paying?" I ask.

"He is letting them live here and paying them to watch the old man. They feed him and clean him."

"I see," I say. "And after August, he will be dead, and they will be homeless?"


I thank Lawrence for interpreting, and for breaking the spell that had kept me most of an hour in that apartment. I exit the tunnel, and turn south toward home.

Once home, I finally get my Easter Monday chance to water three women. But that is yet another story.

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