In Romania, it is now:

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


We've been in Sighisoara five days and spending an extra night tonight to allow Lee to get over a stomach "bug" that attacked him yesterday--who knows from what, but one of those travel woes one encounters. He's on the mend, and all in all, it's not a bad place to recuperate. The weather is cool and sunny, the natives are friendly and our room is really a suite of sorts, located in a 400-yr.-old building on the main square of the old citadel town on the hill. We're in the attic! But we love it--all the beams of solid ancient wood and the rows of little dormer windows jutting out from the roof. We were sure one of us would bonk our noggin on a beam getting up in the night, but so far, so good. Our pretty tiled bathroom, though, is totally modern with a huge tub and non-splash shower (very special in Romania). We're surrounded by bell towers of various churches and have no problem remembering the time! The chimes are all in different tones, and if I were to stay a few more days, I could probably identify which were the Orthodox, the Roman Catholic, and the Lutheran. ***Sighisoara (in the Carpathian Mountains in the Transylvania sector of Romania)was settled by the Saxons in the 14th century and inhabited by mostly Germans for centuries until many moved back to Germany after WWII. The Hungarians have been here since the early days, too, when the King of Hungary granted settlers special privileges if they moved here and learned the excellent crafts of the village. One of the few fortified towns in the world still inhabited, it's picture-book perfect in its Medieval cobble-stone, meandering little streets and stone buildings. A great fire in the 1600's burned away much of the village, but it built back and the original buildings don't appear that different from all the rest. The eight towers for defense around the wall were built and maintained by different guilds. They are all very distinct and reflect the wealth of the particular guild. But I like the Cobblers' quaint one the best and it's the only one that is currently a residence; the caretaker of the Catholic Church yard and cemetery lives here and is a fine flower gardener! And of course, the Dracula house is here, too, as Vlad and his father lived here for a period of time. The house now houses an inn, art gallery, and little outdoor cafe which specializes in Dracula ice cream concoctions. As is true in nearly every Romanian town, a statue of Vlad Tepes, national hero, stands in a prominent place.***Below the fortified hill (with its grand clock tower, churches, and city hall) is the rest of Sighisoara, also quite beautiful on the banks of the Tarnava Mare River, but holding inferior status for much of the history of the city, when the master craftsmen and religious leaders on the hill held all the power. When the Turks or other tribes attacked, however, all were brought into the fold and helped in the defense. Interestingly, the bloc apartment buildings constructed during the recent communist era seem to have been remodeled, especially the roof lines, and made more in keeping with the architecture around them.***OK, so much for your travelogue/history lesson for the day. Must go buy water and provisions for our 7-hour train trip that begins at 8:30am tomorrow. I'll post pictures when I'm back to my site and will tell you about the brunch we plan to "put on" this Sunday. La revedere.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Tomatoes, Poetry, and Sudden Storms

Lee is here! So good to be with someone who really knows me (and loves me anyway!) and to have a chance to show him some of my adopted country. We're having a good time in spite of extreme heat (in the 90s for three days with no ac), sudden violent storms that had us looking for funnels in the clouds, and a missing suitcase. What is it about the Reed luggage, anyway? I imagine a dialog that goes something like: "Reed, huh? OK, Vlad (Pierre/Juan/Marco), you know the routine. DO NOT put that one on the connecting flight. Just toss it in the corner and forget it for four (six/eight) days." *** Anyway, the weather has cooled to a delightful, breezy day with temps in the 70s, and the suitcase was retrieved last night at 10 during a storm when our landlady Ica drove us in a mad dash to rendezvous with the airport delivery man at a designated point between Cluj and Oradea. So I have copies of my new poetry book Of Root and Sky (Yay!) and my beloved purple peanut exercise ball, which I've missed greatly. And Lee no longer has to wear the sleeveless red t-shirt and clam-digger pants which were the only things that fit him at the local magazine (general store). I have pictures I've threatened to post on Facebook. ;-)****And it's tomato season! or at least the time in which tomatoes are preserved or made into sauce or juice. The whole process has been going on beneath my balcony for the past two days and I find it fascinating. I'll try to attach a link to my pictures at the end. Lee and I love the vine-ripened tomatoes and have been invited to help ourselves to what's in the garden. Here's a fine short poem that captures the essence: Cherry Tomatoes by Anne Higgins Suddenly it is August again, so hot, breathless heat. I sit on the ground in the garden of Carmel, picking ripe cherry tomatoes and eating them. They are so ripe that the skin is split, so warm and sweet from the attentions of the sun, the juice bursts in my mouth, an ecstatic taste, and I feel that I am in the mouth of summer, sloshing in the saliva of August. Hummingbirds halo me there, in the great green silence, and my own bursting heart splits me with life.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A Site for Sore Eyes

I'm here! Arrived yesterday morning at 7 and was greeted at the train door (literally) by my ever-cheerful and industrious principal and my sweet and reliable counterpart Veronica. The trip this time only took 15 hours because we made a speedy switch at the intervening station. Five of us PCVs were together to this point and we had a mountain of luggage among us. So when we learned that 3 of us had to be on the next platform over, the smart (and strong) youngsters jumped down onto the tracks and made a hand-to-hand luggage brigade to convey the bags to the next platform without having to tackle the two sets of stairs and underpass. My (senior) job was to "guard" the luggage as it stacked up. It worked great, our train was on time, and we zipped away (well--as zippy as Romanian trains can muster) to cross through Transylvania and the Carpathian mountains on to our 3 different sites. I was in a sleeper car, but didn't sleep much and then when I arrived at my village and was left in my new home, I was too excited to sleep, so just got back on a regular schedule, waiting until 11 or so for bed time.***My apartment defies description, quite honestly. It's a large attic apartment (slanting ceilings and dormers everywhere) with lots of space and some really neat features. It also has no light fixtures--only wires with light bulbs--and no screens on the huge and numerous windows. It's been partially remodeled recently and isn't finished. I keep getting assurances that it will all be done soon. In the meantime, after a night of frequent encounters with the local little vampires, I've pulled out the official Peace Corps mosquito net and have asked for a hook so that I can hang it. A family of 4 occupies the first 2 floors--lovely folks who are making me squeeze out every Romanian word and phrase I can remember. But as to the apartment in the big red house on the outskirts of town, the only thing that keeps coming to mind is "teetering on the brink of elegance." Certainly it isn't the mud hut or hide-covered yurt I once imagined!**And speaking of speaking Romanian, I met with my tutor this morning. PC pays for on-going language training and I'm taking advantage of it. I will meet with Nicole once or twice a week. She seems pleasant and professional--just what I need. After our meeting I ventured to the magazine (small store) on the way home to buy some provisions. Realizing that I had not brought my shopping bag with me, I decided to buy a bucket, knowing I would surely need one. So there I was walking back to my red house along the main road, carrying my bucket overflowing with bread, water, fruit, cheese, and some wild flowers I picked along the way. Later, I repeated the process at the other magazine (there are 2 in town), this time carrying a red, plastic laundry tub filled with cleanser, toilet paper, oranges, peaches, pretzels, and a bottle of wine and walking down different streets, saying "Buna Ziua" to all the curious folks I encountered. I introduced myself to the clerks at both stores and explained in Romanian what I was doing in their village. Integration is key. Oh, yeah, they're getting to know me, alright.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Out and About: Last Days of PST

Amazing where you'll find deep and memorable conversations--at places you would least expect. Let me back up: I really needed a hair cut and my friend Martha had had good results from the sister of one of our language instructors. So after our language tutorials on Saturday, she and I were to have haircuts--back to back--at Jennifer Salon. I was first and had to leave as Martha was going into her session, so after getting general directions (I sort of knew the area), I burst into the full salon, announcing who I was in a complete Romanian sentence, just knowing I was late. Everyone stopped and stared, and finally a very sweet-faced, blond angel appeared before me and said, "Marti's friend?" (Romanians have a hard time with the "th" sound) "Da" and then she pointed at the clock and struggled a bit with "eleven, not ten." Well, drats! So I shopped for snacks for our trip to the farm (another story) across the street at Interex to while away the time. I returned at 10:55 and was told that Dana needed more time with a client and in trying to explain, she turned to a fellow who was waiting for his wife and asked him tell me in English. I sat down as instructed though I would have rather waited outside because the salon had to be 110. I'm fanning and "dewing" when the most precious child with her mother comes in. I really wanted to know the diminutive compliment and had several variations in my brain, so I turned back to the fellow and asked how to form the ending to dragut so that it was appropriate. To make a long story short(er), this 30-something, articulate man and I had a serious 30-minute conversation--to the sound of blow dryers and chit-chat-- about the plight of Romania. He had just returned from 7 years working in the UK and was now training to be a prison guard (which we both agreed was a recession-proof job). I knew all about the flight of the young, smart, and ambitious to other countries for better wages. The Romanian version of the "brain drain." "Why did you come back?" I asked. His brown eyes crinkled (he was handsome-as-all-get-out)and he said he missed Romania. "The people are warmer here," I said. "Yes," he laughed and did a little pantomime of a proper, up-tight Brit. "I lived in an apartment building for years and never knew my neighbors." We talked about the Peace Corps, the attitude of the Romanian people, the death grip of corruption in the government, and the absolute necessity of a legal system that is corruption free and dependable. (I even gave a bit of Lee's property schpiel, which he understood and agreed with.) And we talked about the irony of the incredible wealth of this country--in natural resources, cities and history, traditions and culture known by so few around the world. There are salt caves here with whole playgrounds, sports areas, and restaurants carved out inside. There are fairy-tale castles and beautiful ski resorts in pristine mountains. There is rural life that makes our Amish look like jet setters and cities with unique architecture, arts, and cuisine. This fellow and I both agreed that tourism should be pushed, that Romanians needed to feel proud of their country and that they could "right the wrong" of the government. We were fired up. And then I was whisked away to have my much-needed hair cut. Sigh. But it's so validating to talk with someone like this fellow, to know that there are sparks of hope out there because it's customary to encounter victim-like futility, especially concerning the corruption. ***Less profound was my foray into dress shopping today. We got out early and so I decided to try to find a dress for this Friday's Swearing-in Ceremony in Bucharest. My old black knit dress just looked too hot and dreary for the occasion, so I went into a number of shops, muddling through with my broken Romanian, sweating and fanning in the 90+ degree heat this afternoon. At one point I said, "Prea cald sa cumpare!"--which is supposed to be "too hot to shop," but either my accent was just too ridiculous or it came out as a joke because I caused considerable laughter. But the ladies in one shop were so accommodating and kind, bringing me dress after dress and seemingly understanding my pronouncements, that I ended up buying a summery confection from them (Romanians like confections) mainly because I felt obliged after leaving my dew on at least three I didn't buy! Now I need some of those cute Romanian shoes. I'm thinking aqua.