Postings have gone down, I know. Well, my parents are visiting, the kids are sick and teething, I'm sickish too... sort of cuts down on the time we spend on the internet. Next week, we'll be in the States, so don't expect much until the second week in November.
Carlos thinks we should ask our esteemed readers for suggestions for books to pick up while we're in the States. That seems a good idea. So, go on. We've only ordered about a dozen on amazon.com to pick up in VA - our suitcases are still nearly empty! Any suggestions will be considered!
(Books ordered on amazon.com include "The Toddler's Busy Book", the latest Kage Baker, 2 Alan Fursts, "Year's best SF" by Garner Dozois.)
Rarely before have two human beings who believe themselves to be intelligent people performed such a happy dance over the contents of a diaper. At 7 in the morning.
Nicely wrapped it was, too. And that's all the TMI you guys are getting on this particular topic.
Thanks again for all the concern and advice - it was much appreciated and we feel the richer for it!
Anca pointed me to a web page of a medical clinic that offers subsriptions - an altogether alien thought for a German. They also have a page that lists prices for services (presumably for non-members). I was amazed to find that a visit to a general practitioner costs $10 for Romanians and $50 if you're not a "romanian language speaker".
Alan swallowed a key yesterday.
I'm sparing you the grisly details of choking, Heimlich maneuver, desperate searching for a key, not finding a key.
I have to admit I was feeling quite helpless. I mean, a key is such an odd shape - a marble or a coin I wouldn't have freaked quite that much over, but a sharp, pointy little key? (Not such a little key, either - about 4 cm long and 2 cm wide - and please, don't ask how he got hold of it in the first place!)
I called our American health insurance for expats which has a 24/7 emergency service. They put me on with a nurse and a pediatrician. Both recommended to bring Alan to a hospital and have him x-rayed, to make sure that the key wasn't stuck in the airways or in the esophagus.
We've been in Bucharest for four months now, after two years in Belgrade. So how do they compare? Here are some first impressions.
General layout. Belgrade is defined by its two spectacular rivers and its hills. Bucharest is mostly flat as a tabletop, and the only river is the tiny and stagnant Dumbovitsa. Point: Belgrade.
Streets. Both cities are very confusing to navigate, with a complicated mess of non-parallel streets connecting various sqares and circles. Bucharest's famous "piatsas" (very large traffic circles) do not help much.
Belgrade's streets are in better condition. Much better. One third of Bucharest's street grid seems to be under construction -- very, very slow construction. And much of the rest is in just awful shape -- crumbling asphalt, decaying road shoulders. The potholes can be terrifying.
But Bucharest at least has trees, pretty much everywhere; and the annoying Serbian habit of parking on the sidewalk doesn't seem to exist here. Yet.
Call this one a tie.
I'm reading "Holy Fire" by Bruce Sterling at the moment. So far, I like it okay. I'm only about 100 pages into it, though.
In "Holy Fire", Sterling sends his protagonist off to Germany and there is this little paragraph in German. In very bad German. No, it's not, as Doug suggested, a version of a German in 100 years from now, the time the book is set in. It's just grammatically extremely poor:
[..] mit lichtreflektierend Farbpigmente. Very modeanzeigen. O so frivol! Radikales Liftings und Intensivpeelings. Der Kampf mit dem Spiegel. O so feminin! Schnheits-cocktail, die beruhigende Feuchtigkeitscreme. Revitalisierende! Die Wissenschaft der Zukunft! Die Eleganze die neue Diva! (Page 106 of the paperback edition)
I'm counting 13 grammar and spelling mistakes. In five lines of text!
It's not the first time that I notice very poor German in English novels, either. Why is that?
Is it that big guys like Sterling don't get edited anymore? Is it that the editors just skip the foreign language parts? Is it that writers like Sterling think their grasp of German is so good they don't need any help? Do they use Babelfish?
Please. Do your readers a favor and splurge the $3 a professional translation of the quoted paragraph would cost.
Or ask me:
[..] mit lichtreflektierenden Farbpigmenten. Very modern [modeanzeigen ist not a word]. Oh, so frivol! Radikale Liftings und Intensivpeelings. Der Kampf mit dem Spiegel. Oh, so feminin! Schnheitscocktail, die beruhigende Feuchtigkeitscreme. Revitalisierend! Die Wissenschaft der Zukunft! Die Eleganz der neuen Diva!
I hope Sterling resists the temptation to put more German into this novel. One paragraph I can skip. Two or more will make this book unreadable for me.
Svoboda Square, in Ruse, is nice. Really nice.
It's a huge square, so big it's really a small park, with grass and lots of trees. In the center is an enormous statue of Mother Bulgaria stomping on the Turks. Around the sides are various big buildings: the City Hall, the courthouse. Several of these buildings are quite impressive and a couple of them are downright attractive. There are also lots of cafes, restaurants, and little shops.
Heh. We're posting a lot lately. Guess it shows that David's colics went away. Teething is not nice, either, but can be treated at night with paracetamol. Better living through chemistry, as Doug would say.
Here's a picture of the cutie - again, thumbnail. You wanna see it big, you gotta click.
(Carlos - this is mainly for you. :-) Oh, and the baptism is on Nov. 2 at the usual place - you're invited, of course! Please do come!)
Living in a transition country where human labor is cheap comes both with luxuries and responsibilites. The luxury part is that you can afford a fulltime nanny and a maid. The responsibility part is that you hire a fulltime nanny and a maid. Doing this creates jobs, jobs that are well-paid in comparison to other jobs in this country, and that's a good thing. You get help and work off your hands which is also good.
So suddenly you find yourself in the position of an employer and to some people, like me, that feels very awkward.
Ruse is a small city on the Bulgarian side of the Danube. If you enter it by the Friendship Bridge, the first thing you'll notice is the set of enormous cranes on the shore of the river; Ruse is a shipyard and a port. Whether it's a busy port or not I can't say. None of those cranes budged an inch while we were there, but then, it was a Sunday.
We came into Ruse driving sort of randomly in what we hoped was the direction of the city center. By this time we were feeling a certain urgency. Alan was getting restless and bored after two hours in the car, the baby was getting hungry, and I needed a bathroom. Still, we did feel a certain frisson of pleasure when we realized that we were reading signs in Cyrillic again: PYCE for Ruse, XOTNL (with backwards-N) for Hotel, PECTOPAH for Restaurant, and so on. Nice to know the skills hadn't decayed.
We drove past several kilometers of mysterious pipeline, some sort of enormous memorial, around a couple of traffic circles, and ended up parked in front of a large apartment block. It was a random block somewhere in the neighborhood of the train station, chosen solely because it had a playground in front, so that I could run Alan up and down the swings and slides while Claudia nursed the baby.
-- Ruse, like every other city in Eastern Europe, has a lot of pretty dreary looking apartment blocks. The ones in this particular part of the city were notable for being at the less awful end of the post-Communist spectrum. That is, they were big ugly unfriendly-looking things, but they did not look as if pieces were about to fall off of them, and some had plots of green grass between them, with benches and a playground. "This is actually rather nice," I said to Claudia. "Boy, have our standards shifted," she replied.
But anyhow. I put Alan on the swings, and... there was this woman beating carpets. They were Turkish-looking carpets, very colorful. The woman had a headscarf and no expression whatsoever on her face. But she had a carpet beater, and she was hanging the carpets on a rack right next to the playground, and whack, whack, whack, she was just beating the hell out of these carpets.
It was fascinating. I mean, I'd seen carpet beaters before, but I had never actually seen one used to beat a carpet. It was fascinating for Alan, too. Except that he, being not quite nineteen months old, did not bother to politely conceal his interest. No, he stared. Absolutely motionless; enthralled. With his mouth hanging open.
This went on for a good ten minutes: the woman kept beating the carpets, and Alan just stood there staring at her. I put him on the swing; he swung, but he continued to stare with unbroken intensity. He didn't lose interest until she stopped. She, meanwhile, never changed her expression or acknowledged his existence in any way.
More in a bit...
Crossing the Danube between Giurgiu (Romania) and Ruse (Bulgaria) is an interesting experience.
At this point the Danube is, as my dear wife has pointed out, frickin' huge. It's big like the Mississippi or the Amazon. More than half a mile across, and deep.
So the bridge is big too. And from a distance, it's a remarkable sight. Almost 3 km or two miles long long -- it arches up and up for a while before going across -- and high: more than 60m/200 feet (say 20 stories) above the water. The view is spectacular. And at either end, there are these... things. Big rectangular towers supported by Greek pillars, like the Parthenon but five times as tall. "Like the Argonath in The Lord of the Rings," said Claudia, and she was right.
Well and good. And then you get past the pillar-things, and you're on the bridge, and it's...
...narrow. Really, really narrow. One lane each way, and not a wide lane. One truck could just barely pass another truck, with inches to spare. No shoulders. No side lanes. No provision for pedestrians or bikers. (Those two people who are biking from Liverpool to Australia claim that they rode their bicycles across it in March 2003; but then, they are insane.)
The road itself is almost deserted. Going over to Bulgaria, there was one truck on the bridge with us. Coming back, one car. Okay, it was Sunday, but still.
At the customs and immigration points on either end, we repeatedly had to wait while officials who had wandered away from their windows came trotting back.
It's weird. Especially when you go home and look at the map and realize that this is the only bridge across the Danube for a long, long way in either direction. The nearest bridge upstream is over 100 miles east; the next downstream bridge is nearly 300 (!) miles downstream.
For bonus weirdness points, at the exact middle of the bridge there is a ditch, and one lane is closed. So, all road contact between the two countries for hundreds of miles around -- cars, trucks, buses -- bottlenecks down to a single lane that goes over a ditch. Which is fine, because there's no traffic anyhow.
The bridge is officially a "friendship bridge". Somehow it makes me think of two people shaking hands while leaning as far away from each other as possible.
Sagen wir so - die meisten Deutschen knnen Englisch lesen. Umgekehrt ist das eher selten der Fall.
Ich freue mich aber über deutsche Kommentare, sehr sogar!
Mit ganz lieben Grüen ganz ausdrücklich nach Saarbrücken!!
Zagreb, June 2002: I turn my back on my then five-month old son who is strapped into his stroller as I hoist some luggage out of the train. Suddenly, a very upset older woman taps me on the shoulder and the next thing I know is I'm being berated for letting him out of my sight, even for a second, and there are so many child abductions by the filthy gypsies and they would especially love a blond, blue-eyed little boy...
Bucharest, 2003. The "many child abductions" are still in the back of my mind. I mean - the darkest fears of a mother exposed and nurtured. Heh. Not that I know of any child abductions. But there are a lot of gypsies here. Now, I know perfectly well that the gyspy part of the Croat woman's accusation is a myth (as if they didn't have enough kids of their own!). And I hate myself for being worried when the nanny returns three minutes late from the park. But... but...
Avid Microchip Identification system for animals
I'm sure it works just as fine on kids.
Geez. I never thought I'd become such a mother bird.
Bucharest is teeming with beggars and most of them are kids. The "street kids" might well be one of the biggest social challenges for the Romanians and the government. So far, they haven't done really well. There are quite a few private initiatives which do great work but they keep running against walls in the form of stupid laws, regulations and requirements which were clearly devised by men in green silk rooms. There is a moratorium on international adoptions for Romanian children until the new law on adoption will be passed. This law is being worked on for years now and in the meantime, the state orphanages are bursting with kids and the situation there is a nightmare.
Floreasca market is right around the corner from us. It's a big (indoor) green market and I buy fruit, vegetables and eggs there. It's relatively cheap and the produce is fresh and appetizing.
The little Gypsy beggar boy who hangs around Floreasca is about seven years old and he has stolen my heart. He asked me for some money as I was loading groceries into the car. Knowing that many street kids spend their money on glue, I have the strict rule not to hand out money. So I gave him a banana.
Did I make someone happy.
His face lit up like a Christmas tree and he nearly toppled over with the many thank-you's and have-a-long-life's. Then he made himself comfortable on the stairs in front of the market and devoured his banana in no time. As I pulled out of the parking space to drive home, he jumped up and down and waved and smiled. He was by far the most cheerful and polite little beggar boy that I've ever encountered. He's cute and looks smart, with alert deep brown eyes.
I want to take him home, give him a bath and fresh clothes, feed him until his stomach aches and watch him sleep in a warm and comfy bed. I want to rescue him out of this pit that Bucharest is for so many, many kids. I've learned here that one cannot rescue every one of them. I've learned that one is much more likely to be bound by stupid government rules than encouraged to do something about the street kids. In the end, there is very little one can do. But a little is better than nothing and a banana or a warm meat pastry now and then makes a big difference to that little boy's stomach.
For all who think they might be able to spare some cash and want to support the work of the Children Relief Network for the Bucharest street kids, click here and donate a dollar or two. I know these people and they do wonderful work. Every little bit helps.
Having a car registered in Romania is a serious pain in the neck. It involves extensive paperwork and hanging around a dozen of different offices for days at a time. So far, we have chickened out - that means, however, that we have to leave the country every three months with the car in order to avoid penalties or having the car taken from us.
This necessary trip wasn't due until the middle of November but with our planned trip to the States, we had the idea of going on Sunday and getting it out of the way for the next three months. So we packed up kids, snacks, money (good idea, as it turned out), filled up the tank, and were on our way to Ruse in Bulgaria.
Well, the drive was as advertised - hair-raising encounters with unmarked construction sites, your everyday crazy Romanian drivers and a near-death experience with a cow were the high points. It was a darn big cow, too.
Romanians and Bulgarians don't like each other and if you didn't know, you could tell by their elaborate border design. I've crossed a border or two but this one deserves some description.
First, they don't make it easy to find. For some reason or another, the road to this border is circuitous and not well marked. At one point, I suggested to Doug that the signs were actually a ruse to lure us into the backwoods and club us over the heads, then make off with our car. The street was really bad and a flock of ducks was taking a nap on it, too. As it were, we were in fact on our way to Ruse (and how's that for a nice play with words, eh?).
We decided to make our entries more distinguishable - for those who like one better than the other it makes it easier to skip their less favorite's entries. So from now on, my entries will be marked with this symbol:
And Doug's entries are indicated by this image:
I'm likely to change those icons every once in a while, though.
And yes, I stole those pictures. From DrGreene.com - Caring for the Next Generation. Which is hereby acknowledged and hopefully won't cause any problems. Nice website for parents, btw.
I swear I can tell you in which country I am just by the way peoples' faces look like when they walk in the streets. Any traveler will know what I'm speaking of.
Here in Romania, it seems as if the entire country is gripped by one collective bad mood. Make that very bad mood. People almost glare at you. The fact that they hardly even smile at Alan emphasises just how unusual it is to smile at a stranger. Not that this deters me most of the times. When people make eye contact with me on the street -- and it's funny, but they do -- then I smile. Very rarely do I get a smile back and if, it's a shy and quick one, as if they were doing something shameful. The only exception are mothers and very old people, but they don't smile at me, they smile at the kids. So there's that.
The other day, I walked up Strada Roma with Alan and David in their Lil' Limo double stroller. We get a lot of interested and baffled looks with this stroller. It seems to be a very unusual thing to have.
So we walked along and I see this woman coming down the sidewalk in our direction. Dark, short hair and slim figure, rather arresting looking. She is carrying a toddler on her hips and next to her walks an elderly woman, pushing a stroller with another toddler. She looks up, sees me and the babies and gives me this warm, wide smile. It felt so good to be smiled at like that. I gave her a big smile back and felt a little rush of joy. So simple to make me happy. And I thought - how nice! Finally someone who's not ashamed of smiling! There is hope for this people!
And as she walks past me, she nodds and says, in a perferct American accent, "Hi", and then continues to listen to the woman next to her talking in English.
Well. My little rush of happiness got a bit dampened by the fact that it was, in fact, not a Romanian stranger smiling at me.
But that disappointment just lasted for second or so. Then I started looking forward to our next visit to the States for yet another reason: lots of smiles there. Nice.