I'm trying to teach myself something about blog design. Mainly, I want to get rid of this design and have something funky. Something unusual. Something that is ours and not someone else's.
This stuff needs some concentration. Between the move, the kids, settling in, keeping things running (i.e. feeding all the boys), it's not so easy to find the time and the resources to educate myself on this topic.
One of these days, I shall persevere. Tomorrow, maybe. Or the day after tomorrow...
Actually, it wasn't vanity. I was in search of an old friend of mine, googled her name and couldn't find anything on her. I wondered whether you'd find ME if you googled me. So I did.
Under "Claudia Drescher" there were some old posts of mine to the Bujold list, some posts of Doug to shw-i (when he visited me and used my account, back in the old days at the University of Saarbrücken), and -- five or so German science fiction sites, all mentioning my award-winning short story "Flywheel".
Boy, that felt good. And odd.
Now I want to write again. Pop up some more on science fiction sites. Pure vanity but as good a reason as any other for writing, eh? Let's see what becomes of it...
Driving IN Bucharest is even more terrifying than driving in Romania in general. More potholes, many more cars -- none of them any slower than on the country roads -- and secret codes that no foreigner can understand. Forget skyboarding or base jumping. Driving a Bucharest traffic circle is the adrenaline surge thrill adventure of modern times.
Everybody goes fast, and lane markings are... suggestions, at best. Everybody swerves around potholes, so you have to be constantly alert for random-seeming high-G maneuvers by the other drivers.
The only rule that Bucharest drivers consistently follow is the one about stopping for zebra crossings. This would be a lot more admirable if the zebra crossings weren't in such weird places. They tend to be right in the middle of the busiest roads. Possibly this made sense under Communism, when nobody had cars, but today it's a recipe for disaster. You're doing 70 km/hr down the street, and then, wham, the guy in front of you brakes at full power.
Did I mention that most of the zebras haven't been repainted since the Ceausescus got on that helicopter? And that the signs for them are often conveniently tucked away behind a tree? Local drivers know where they are anyhow; the poor foreigner must be constantly, knuckle-clenchingly, alert.
Bucharest is now ringed by half a dozen big suburban mega-stores -- Selgros, Metro, Carrefour, Praktiker. (For our American readers: these are the European equivalents to Wal-Mart, K-Mart, Home Depot, and the like.) I'm visiting them one by one, in my protracted and probably Quixotic quest for a dryer that will fit in our pantry. (More on this later, perhaps). So tomorrow I will drive up to Selgros, very carefully...
Doug had hired a nanny so that upon our arrival we would have help with the babies and the chance to rest a bit. The nanny, Kristina, seemed nice but shy and introverted. I didn't see much of her since we arrived at around three, unpacked the car frantically and started to put things away, and she left at 4:30. She was supposed to be back the following morning at 8:30.
On Tuesday morning she called and cancelled, saying that her mother was in the hospital with cardiac problems. Little you can do about that - I was not happy but could sympathise. I must say that deep down in my black soul I had some doubts about this tale. I don't yet have the most positive experiences with the Romanians in general. She also didn't answer her cell phone during the entire day.
I don't recommend it. Driving from Germany to Romania -- from ca. Frankfurt to Bucharest -- is a 3-day drive and it's three days on rapidly declining roads. Add a colicky baby (i.e. very little rest at night) and a heat wave of epic proportions and you have my latest trip.
Michael drove (with) us and that was a good thing - he's a very good driver with fast reaction time and a calm temper. I would have freaked halfway through. What am I saying - I did freak halfway through but it didn't matter much since I was just the navigator...
We had several near-misses by Romanian suicidal drivers (they like to pass you
in the dusk in curves at high speed), including that one bicylist who drove smack across the road between us and the car in front of us, at most 30 feet away and us travelling at 70 mph, and the memorable moment when we had two trucks side by side facing us as we came around a steep curve in the Carpathian mountains. I swear Romanian drivers have a sixth sense, something that tells them when it's only risky to pass and when it's suicidal. There is no other explanation for the fact that we saw only one accident.
It took us six hours to cover 800 km in Germany and Austria. 6 hours to cover 400 km in Hungary. Ten hours to cover 600 km in Romania. Says all, I think.
Just a short entry to say that we're all together under one roof, at last.
On Saturday, Claudia and her brother Michael left Germany in our 1990 Mitsubishi, with baby David in the back seat. They drove 500 miles/800 km to the outskirts of Vienna, where they stayed the night. (The hotel claimed to be full, but changed its mind when Claudia played The Baby Card.)
Sunday, Annamarie drove me and Alan to the airport. After a tearful goodbye (Alan loves his grandmother, and she him), we took Tarom (your Eastern European national airline of choice) to Bucharest. Alan made friends with the man in the seat ahead, the woman across the aisle, and the twelve year old boy next to us. Pretty normal flight, in other words. Meanwhile Claudia and Michael drove another 600 km, through Austria and Hungary and into Transylvania, where they stopped for the night in the small city of Deva. No vampires or haunted ruins, but an ex-communist hotel with a really creepy shower.
(Somewhere in Transylvania they outran the heat wave. Up to then it had been really unpleasant -- 35 to 37 degrees [mid 90s Fahrenheit]. The old Mitsubishi has no aircon, so they had to put damp cloths on the baby to keep him cool.)
Monday, the babysitter came at 8 am, I was off to work half an hour later, and Michael and Claudia made the last leg in just six hours or so. One traffic jam and a few terrifying near-misses with Romanian drivers later, they were pulling into our street.
Okay, maybe that wasn't so short. But anyhow, here we finally are.
The interior of the Balkans -- Bucharest, Belgrade -- has a continental climate. Yes, we're close to the sea, but the winds blow in the wrong direction, or there are mountains in the way, and the gentle mellow breezes of the Aegean and the Adriatic stay in the Aegean and the Adriatic. Belgrade's climate resembles Chicago more than Athens. Bucharest gets hot dry summers and cold snowy winters too.
This is distinct from western Europe, which tends to have milder climates. Sure, there are snowy winters in Bavaria and hot summers in the south of France, but on average the seasonal variations are not so great.
That's why the last couple of weeks have been so strange.
From London to Warsaw, Western and Central Europe have been suffering through the worst heat wave in a century. In London it went over 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 Celsius) for the first time ever. In Claudia's home town of Ostheim, crops are dying and people are sweltering under a relentless sun. It's very bizarre...
...and it hasn't touched Romania. The heat wave stops in Hungary, a few hundred miles northwest of here. The last week has been absolutely beautiful: temperatures in the low 80s (25-30 Celsius), light breezes, low humidity. Perfect Frisbee weather.
This is also very unusual; normally August in Bucharest is impossible, desperately hot and sticky.
It's probably a completely random thing. So rather than drawing any great conclusions, I'll just try to enjoy the nice weather. And hope it lasts until Claudia and the boys get down here next week.
Alan learned how to blow soap bubbles today. He squeaked with delight and wonder and pointed after the bubbles as they flew away in the gentle breeze.
That's why all those sleepless nights are not in vain.
Or, how to win friends and influence Hungarians. If you find history boring, skip this one.
Romania has a large Hungarian minority, especially in Transylvania. Transylvania used to be part of Hungary. Romania took it in 1918.
Transylvania wasn't the only piece of Hungary that was lost. Hungary used to be a big country. (It was part of Austria-Hungary, but let's keep this simple.) More than 75% of it was taken away in 1918 -- to Yugoslavia, to Czecheslovakia, and to Romania.
Now, the Hungarians weren't too happy about this. They adopted a slogan: Nem, nem, shoha. That's Hungarian for "no, no, never". What it means is,