We went to a Romanian wedding last weekend. The groom was our friend Milo, a Serbian-American attorney. Milo has been consulting all over the region for the last few years. Some time ago, while working in Bucharest, he met a lovely Romanian woman (also a lawyer). One thing eventually led to another, and so there we all were.
It was our first Orthodox wedding ceremony, and it was very interesting. It was in the Sfetu Eleftereu church in central Bucharest. This is a beatiful large church, obviously recently renovated; the interior is dark and cavernous, but every surface is covered with paintings, in a very interesting sort of Byzantine-Academic style. Chairs were available, but everybody stood.
We visited Mogosoaia this weekend, too.
Mogosoia is a former royal palace that has seen a bit more history than is really good for it. It was built in the late 1600s by a fellow named Constantine Brancoveanu, who was the ruler of Wallachia. (Wallachia is now southern Romania.) Brancoveanu was an enlightened fellow with a taste for modern architecture, so his palace was an interesting mix of traditional Byzantine construction (lots of Roman arches) and elements imported from elsewhere (like a Venetian loggia, Baroque decoration, and some very fancy Austrian-style brickwork).
Alas, Brancoveanu conspired against his overlord, the Ottoman Sultan. The Sultan didn't take it well, and had Brancoveanu taken to Istanbul, tortured, and beheaded. (His wife recovered his head and brought it back, and Brancoveanu eventually became a national hero and martyr, but never mind that now.) The Sultan had Mogosoia turned into a "han" -- a sort of Motel-6 for caravans -- and for the next century or so, that's what it was.
By the mid-1800s it was pretty run down. But by that time Romania was independent of the Ottomans, and an aristocratic family bought the crumbling old palace and renovated it.
So we took the "telecabina" up to the mountain top at 2000 meters. Maybe we would have thought twice, had we noticed the "Built 1970" sign, or the crud-covered emergency handle, or the picture of the Virgin Mary above the emergency phone. However, we hadn't and up we went, high above the tree tops, swaying madly to and fro. "At least", Doug said, "we'd all go down together". Not much of a consolation that was.
(Click on the pictures to see the full versions!)
Today we drove up to Sinaia, to go hiking in the mountains there.
Sinaia is an old resort town about two hours north of Bucharest; the former Romanian Royal Family had a palace there. Today it's a big ski resort, right at the southern edge of the Carpathians.
Maybe tomorrow we'll write about hiking around Sinaia with the babies. Tonight I just want to describe the drive up. The drive out of Bucharest isn't exactly delightful; very crowded, with the usual horrible and hair-raising driving. Then once you hit the countryside, it's sort of stop and go; the "highway" keeps going through small towns, with the speed going down to 50 km/30 mph. And for the first half hour or so, both Alan and David were fussing from the back seat.
But after a while they quieted down and fell asleep. And the road got, not better, but at least less busy.
Claudia had bought a few tape cassettes in Hungary when she and Michael drove down last month. We grabbed one more or less at random and popped it in.
Meanwhile, we were taking the bypass road around Ploesti. Ploesti is the site of Romania's great fields of oil and natural gas. Or it was; the oil is mostly gone, and the natural gas is going. But much of Ploesti is still a Communist-industrial moonscape of oil rigs, refineries venting flames, huge cooling towers, vast inexplicable pipes diving in and out of the ground.
Meanwhile the R.E.M. tape is playing: "Automatic for the People", their dark and strange album from the distant year 1992. The only song that got much airplay was "Everybody Hurts Sometimes", but there are at least four other tracks that are as good or better. ("Everybody Hurts" is actually one of the more upbeat songs on that album. Listen hard to "Try Not To Breathe" sometime, which is about an old person trying to die. It's a great song, and actually sort of uplifting, but it's not what you'd call feel-good whimsy.)
So anyway, there we are driving through this crumbling industrial landscape of megalomaniacal concrete monoliths and rusting pipelines... and on comes "Man On The Moon", their tribute to Andy Kaufman. Followed by "Night Swimming", which is one of the most sweetly melancholic songs ever written by a rock'n'roll band. (I mean, it's piano, violin, and Michael Stipe's voice. With a little bit of oboe at the end. Brrr.)
And, I don't know: the kids were sound asleep, the car was rolling along, and I just thought how strange it was to be here, but how good. Sitting next to this particular woman, driving across this particular ground. Maybe it was the blighted land around us that made me suddenly feel how precious was this moment and these people. And maybe the music helped. Yeah, it's sort of jejune and hokey to get that kind of feeling from pop music, even good pop music. But that album is about how death and sweetness, hope and decay and absurdity are inextricably tangled. So it was weirdly, obliquely, absurdly appropriate.
Or maybe it's just that I love my wife, and don't have too many undistracted minutes with her these days, to just put my hand on hers and be quiet together.
Anyhow, it was just a... happy moment. Strange but true.
Then after a while the cooling towers and refineries dwindled into the distance behind us, and we saw the first blue line of the mountains against the northern sky.
"Having made the world, the Lord God put order among the nations and gave each a distinctive sign.
"He taught the gypsy to play the fiddle and to the German he gave a screw.
"From among the Jews he summoned Moses, and unto him he said: 'Thou shalt write a law, and when the time comes shalt let the Pharisees crucify my best beloved son Jesus; after which thy nation shall endure much suffering and persecution, though in compensation I shall let gold flow over you like abundant waters.'
"He beckoned to the Hungarian and chose a number of gewgaws for him among those he had at hand: 'Here I give thee Hessian boots and spurs, and resin to make the ends of thy moustaches stand up stiff; thou shalt be full of conceit and be fond of revelry and women.'
"The Turk then came forward: 'A rich share of wits thou shalt not have, but by the sword shalt thou prevail over others.'
"To the Serb he gave a spade."
Thus begins _The Hatchet_, by Mihai Sadoveanu. Published in 1930, this is one of the modern classics of Romanian literature; it's taught in every school, and (I have recently discovered) most adult Romanians remember it very well.
Here's the first thing that I do in the morning, most mornings: I go and take my son out of his crib, and I give him a bottle.
Okay, actually it goes something more like this.
[Claudia nudges me]
[I grunt] "Nuhngl."
"Alan is awake."
"Go and get him before he starts yelling."
I was recently flipping through my copy of "War in Eastern Europe: Travels through the Balkans in 1915", by John Reed. John Reed was an American newspaper columnist who travelled through the region in the middle of World War One. Since hardly anybody else who wrote in English managed to do this, his book is a fairly unique document. It's still interesting reading even today.
(Reed was also a card-carrying Communist, back in the days before Communists were necessarily either tedious, wicked or silly. There's a very good movie about him -- "Reds", from 1980 or so. Yes, it stars Warren Beatty, but it's very good anyway.)
Reed spent a couple of months in Romania, bouncing in and out of Bucharest, before moving on to Russia. Alas, he didn't much care for it:
"The Rumanian... speaks a Latin language strongly impregnated with Slavic and Asiatic roots -- an inflexible tongue to use, and harsh and unmusical to the ear.
Some things here in the Balkans (or, maybe better, Eastern European countries) just require too much time and effort.
I mentioned that moving from country to country means having to find a new source for meat every couple of years, finding a good supermarket (takes months, sometimes), a green market, an organic food store, clothes and shoe stores for the children...
So I'm knitting socks for Douglas. I confess, the latest pair was started sometime in March and the project was abandonned when the nice weather arrived. The unfinished sock including yarn and needles moved with us in June. Now, it's rainy here in Bucharest and cool and I decided to break out the needles and finish those socks off.
I'm knitting with five double-pointed needles, what in German is called a "Nadelspiel" (game of needles). One needle was missing. I'm sure I'll find it one day, I just can't find it now and I want to knit now. I'm impatient in these matters. I can't knit those socks with only four needles. So I decided to go out and purchase a new set of five double-pointed needles.
Hah. You thought it was so easy.
And you thought there was an end to this story, eh?
We have some items in storage in Germany and were allowed to ship some of it (but not all -- there are about 1000 books, sigh) to Bucharest. Said, done. Six cubic meters aren't too much but we packed boxes and filled them with some favorite books and items we thought were necessary for our survival here. Liners for the diaper genie, warm fall and winter clothes for Alan in growing sizes, warm shoes for Alan, stuff for the kitchen...
The boxes were scheduled to arrive until the end of August. Two days ago, I noticed that a. Alan had grown out of his sandals and b. that the heat wave broke and we're having nippy temperatures all of a sudden. So we really needed those shoes which are in some box in that move. But the boxes were still not here. It's September now.
The German part told us that the crate with our stuff was on its way. The Bucharest end knew nothing whatsoever. The US end inquired why they were being charged storage fees - were we not living in a house where the crate could be delivered to?
Much confusion ensued.
Turns out that the crate has indeed begun traveling. At the moment, it's in Belgium. The storage fees were a mistake, apparently.
The arrival of the shoes, among other things, is now scheduled for September 8-10.