It's pronounced TOOL-cha, and it's the jumping-off point for trips into the Delta.
Tulcea is a pleasant town, much nicer than we expected. The Lonely Planet dismisses it with a couple of lines -- "you won't want to spend much time here before heading off to the Delta" -- but I liked it. There's a modest esplanade along the riverfront, and a couple of nice little parks. Lots of shops and restaurants, many of them new-looking... you can see that some money has come in recently.
Of course, there's also the standard post-Communist gigantic empty central square. They've nibbled around the edges of it with trees and benches, but there's still a good acre of completely useless bare concrete space, the hot sun beating down on it, with no shelter and no decoration but an equestrian statue of Old King Mircea.
And speaking of post-Communism, there's also a gigantic aluminim refinery just outside of town. You can see its smokestacks and towers from the esplanade. It really seems like the Romanian Communist leadership placed major industrial works in all the most beautiful sites in the country. The aluminum works at Tulcea isn't quite as bad as the oil refinery that dominates the beach at Mamaia, but it's up there.
There are two ways to drive from Bucharest to the Danube Delta.
Bucharest sits about 40 miles or 70 km north of the Danube, which runs from west to east. About 100 miles east of Bucharest, though, the Danube suddenly turns north. It runs north-northeast for another hundred miles or so. Then it turns east, splits into five channels, and flows into the Danube as a huge, swampy delta.
So, to get from Bucharest to the Delta, you can drive east, parallel to the Danube, until you cross it (there's a bridge), and then swing north and come to the Delta from below. Or, you can drive east, and then north, and then east again, crossing the Danube further north, just below the "neck" of the Delta. That's the way we drove up.
We went to the Danube delta this weekend.
Just got back, and unpacked and made some dinner and put the kids to bed, and are tired. So details will have to wait until tomorrow. But we drove up to Tulcea (which is worth an entry or two in its own right) and took a boat deep into the Delta, and stayed there overnight.
There are a lot of birds in the Danube delta.
More in a bit.
My co-bloggers are elsewhere along the Danube this weekend, leaving the weird guy with the coffee mug and the viral pneumonia in charge. Since you're all probably bored out of your minds, here are some links that might amuse and distract you.
Benn loco du taccu - Best damn music on the block.
Hitherby Dragons - One of the great fantasists of our time.
Fafblog! - I have such a crush on Giblets.
Diablo Cody - If this isn't safe for work, you need to change jobs.
The Loom - Good bioscience journalism is hard to find.
The Valve - Holbonic goodness in plenty! (As if there could be holbonic goodness in short.)
The Decembrist - Mark Schmitt is a wonk's wonk.
More Words, Deeper Hole - The unexamined genre is not worth reading. James Nicoll is.
This Week's Finds in Mathematical Physics - John Baez walks you through a garden of mathematical delights. This is not an oxymoron.
Or rather, Xeroxed papers I have unpacked. This is more of an aide-mmoire in blog form than anything else, but hey, if you got any questions about these, ask 'em. Or suggestions for follow-up reading, either. Extra points if you can divine a theme!
It has recently come to my attention that I have been "tuckerized" as a significant character in Lois McMaster Bujold's new book, The Hallowed Hunt, as the warrior-poet Jokol Skullsplitter! Woo-hoo!
Sigh. And so has my pet bear, Ted, who in the book is named Fafa.
Fafa! Yes! And now cute girls will come over and feed you honey! Yes!
Um. I don't think it works that way, Teddy.
Yes! And they will tuck you in and tell you stories and comb your fur longingly! Yes!
Ummm... this is getting a little disturbing, bear.
Okay okay. They might. I guess it could happen. Okay?
Go to sleep, bear.
... kleiner Bruder! Wir wünschen Dir Gesundheit, Erfolg, Glück in der Liebe, viel Sonnenschein, eine gesunde Leber, keinen vorzeitigen Haarausfall, noch mehr Gesundheit, und vor allem alles, alles Liebe -- deine vier Fans aus Bukarest. Ich drück Dich!
Oh, und feier schn. :-)
Well. Third place for Romania is not so bad. Really. I mean, the German singer ended up on the last place. That is bad.
I can't really talk about this. I haven't heard any of the songs and we missed the contest due to extreme exhaustion after an action-filled day with the kids. (We went to the circus! More about that later.) Poor Doug was really disappointed. He likes the Eurovision so much because it's so... European.
You can hear the Romanian song here, if you like. Or go to Fistful of Euros, where we are still nominally co-blogging, although we never write anything. (Shame on us.) Doug Merrill has some cool links, if you're interested.
Hm? Oh, yes. The winner. Greece. I think that's sort of cool but again, I don't know the song.
I said in passing last week that I'd write about playgrounds here in Bucharest. Well, promised is promised, and so here we go.
The good news is: the playgrounds are becoming much better. There are new ones built all over the city, and our kids love them.
The bad news is: the existing playgrounds are maintained really badly. It seems that as soon as they are up, nobody cares about them anymore. In Germany, if a child gets injured on an unsafe playground, you can sue the city. Somehow, I think it's different in Romania. It's gotta be.
Just because I'm lazy today and rather read than write, and because you might want to know how we look like at 8 in the morning. (I'm sure you couldn't care less but I'm really lazy today.) Sorry about the reflecting strip on David's jacket - we were about to go out.
Romania has high exposure to seismic activity, but many of its urban structures are incapable of withstanding a powerful earthquake. With the help of the World Bank, authorities hope to address the problem before catastrophe strikes. From the Southeast European Times
It seems to me they are a little bit late with this plan but any time is better than never, I guess. But the article boggled my mind.
When we lived in Belgrade, we had a little house just off the old Istanbul road.
It wasn't called that, of course. These days it's Bulevar Kralja Aleksandar, King Alexander Boulevard. I think for a while under the Communists it was Bulevar Revolutsija, but they changed the name back. Anyhow, it's the big street that runs from the center of the city to the east, roughly parallel to the Danube.
So, Ion Iliescu.
Former friend of the Ceausescu family, later turned democrat, or "democrat", depending on who you believe. Later leader of the National Salvation Front, the curious organization that took over Romania's government after the Ceausescus went up agains the wall. He's dominated Romanian politics for the last fifteen years. President of Romania twice, 1992-6 and 2000-2004. Probably the single most loved, hated, controversial figure in Romanian politics. Sometimes known as the "kindly grandfather" of modern Romania, or, more simply, "Granny".
Iliescu finished his second term as President back in December. But was not about to retire. Goodness, no! He took a position as President of the Senate, and was all set to take over the Partidul Social Democrat, or PSD. (Non-Romanian readers may recall that PSD was the party of government for the last four years, 2000-2004. But then just barely failed of re-election last December, so that it's now the opposition.)
So Iliescu was ready to move without a beat from being President to being leader of the opposition, and still one of the most important figures in Romanian politics.
I don't have much use for Australian science fiction writer Greg Egan. Not because he's Australian, mind. That's correctable and sometimes even endearing. No, Egan annoys me because he's a sectarian who converted to atheism, but kept his old structures of thought. In Egan's case, this is less caesaropapist-cum-Leninist, and more "here is a cunningly reasoned pamphlet I'd like to give you showing the error of your ways". Very Anglosphere. I don't think it's a coincidence that most of his fiction explores themes of eschatology and transcendence -- but without that nasty 'god' business -- or that it's been embraced by the "Rapture for Nerds" contingent of geekdom.
On the other hand, Egan has done some very solid stuff for University of California physicist John Baez. Most recently, check out his animations of Klein's quartic curve, and his comparison of said curve to the Fano plane (scroll down).
Two glasses of smoky Georgian white wine, and I end up talking about K.A.R.R., the evil twin of the talking, crime-fighting car K.I.T.T. on the 1980s television show Knight Rider.
The unanswered question: what would three do?
I didn't buy the Economist today.
This is a big deal for me. I've been a loyal Economist reader for years. I mean, it's a great magazine. News from all around the world, including places you rarely hear about. Good book reviews and science stories, too. Pleasantly ironic editorial voice. The dishwater libertarianism could be a bit annoying sometimes, but every good periodical needs some ideological prior, and at least the Economist wears its on its sleeve.
Another earthquake this morning. I woke up at 4:55 - for no reason at all. Then I heard something like a loud rumble and a moment later, the house shook hard. I felt it much stronger than the last one -- or maybe, my memory has edited the sickening feeling of a house moving around you. It was only a 5.1, compared to 5.6 last time. It was short, over in a few seconds. No (palpable) aftershocks so far, although I lay awake until the kids woke up at 6:30.
It wasn't the big one Romania is waiting for. Sigh.
There used to be a lot more trees around here.
Bucharest sits on an almost perfectly flat plain, about 40 miles or 70 km north of the Danube. Get out of the city and it's just flat, empty fields stretching away to the horizon.
But it wasn't always like that. A few centuries back, the plains between the Carpathians and the Danube were a mixture of forest and prairie. North of Bucharest, it was mostly forest -- oaks and beech and maple. South and west of the city, the ground was more open, but there were still stands of trees mixed in with the sea of grass. It was a savannah rather than a steppe.
David is 22 months old and very much two years already. He is my little devil in disguise - incredible charm and charisma liberally coating a will of steel.
Yesterday, we went for a short walk after dinner. Just up the street to the supermarket to get some pistachios, and to check for a portable potty at the maternity store next door. Roundtrip maybe 700 meters. The route leads along Calea Dorobantilor which is a very busy street.
Now, Alan is very well behaved and will hold your hand while walking where it's dangerous. He doesn't always like it but he will always do it.
Not so David.
Because Bojan's recent comment about Magic: The Gathering in Belgrade tickled my memory.
Somewhere, and for no very good reason, I have a Xerox of a monograph on Apache playing cards. The Apaches were not originally French street toughs; no, at first they were a Canadian Stone Age dog-sledding people who inexplicably moved far to the south, picked up the use of the gun and the horse from the rather surprised Spanish, and became an extremely mobile nation of badasses. They got along with the other peoples of the region about as well as you'd expect. This included the Spanish.
Retired machinist Lloyd Schumner is looking for space opera with an Alan Furst feel. You know, cramped paranoid interwar Europe in SPACE. I suspect, in a pinch, Eric Ambler in space would do as well, but *not* Ian Fleming. (Sorry, Charlie.) Little people keeping their heads down as great powers go to war. Lloyd doesn't care if the orbital mechanics are finagled, as long as they get the details on small engine repair right.
(I admit it. He stumped me with this one.)
Or, see your Alpha Geek and raise.
Last month, I mentioned that I had found some D&D players here in Romania. About which more anon. But first, answers to some questions about that post.
Being a part of the Washington Establishment who rubs shoulders with the international elite, do the financiers, technocrats, etc. with whom you come into contact on a daily basis know of this habit of yours? I ask this because I'm rather embarassed for a professor of Old French to find out that I game; I can't imagine the horror that I'd feel if I were meeting a finance minister and s/he found out.
Or is part of coming to terms with the inner geek the ability to have no fear that a foreign minister would also know of your habit?
Comments are re-opened. Come and celebrate with us! (We still don't know what the problem is but it doesn't seem to be the comments. Anybody else have a problem with MT slowing down a server by spawning multiple processes?)
This is what happens when you leave the kid -- briefly -- alone
a. with the markers
b. without a piece of paper.
Don't worry - it was super-washable paint. The water melon he grabbed from the table about five seconds after this picture was taken turned a nice blue-ish tint within the blink of an eye. Yum-y!
You all know that I don't like the new law on abandoned and orphaned children. I've made that clear in the past. Now, you might be thinking that I'm foreign and without understanding and arrogant and all that. However, I'm in good company in my dislike - namely people working in orphanages, people from the National Agency for Child Protection, lawyers, nurses, doctors. All Romanians.
They all hate the new law because it's bad for the children.
I'm sorry, people, but our MT install has some problems with the comments. The server we're hosted on comes to a standstill every time someone posts a comment here. I am on it, but it may take a day or two, so please be patient. Until then, out of courtesy to all other bookcase users, we need to shut the comments down.
I'll let you all know when things are back to normal again.
(Hm. Looks like my co-bloggers are busy this Mother's Day. Best fill the gap with weird blather.)
So I get these migraines sometimes.
Because I am me, I classify my headaches. Stress, sinus, and migraines, which might (or might not) be triggered by the first two. I don't get the aura, dammit -- which would be neat -- but I do get the classical hemicrania, the pain on half the skull which Galen named, as well as the urge to vomit and the sensitivity to light. It's a little like being badly hungover, but without having the good time beforehand.
One upside of these migraines is that I can use them to track how I associate concepts. When I am not contemplating my own death, or wondering where the bucket is, I can drift into a dreamlike state, and 'watch' however it is concepts form connections in my head. (This might be a hallucination, with no reference to how the brain works at all, which makes it even cooler, in my opinion.) It's a little like the old TRACE commands in slow, interpreted computer languages.
Anyway. A few days before, I had been reading God's Long Summer, about the various strains of theology that went into the civil rights and anti-civil rights movements in the US, not so very long ago. I'd also been reading R. Sean Borgstrom's amazing short fiction at Hitherby Dragons. It turns out that she wrote some supplements for the In Nomine role-playing game -- which Doug has played, I know -- as well as a very interesting sounding game called Nobilis, where one plays the personification of an aspect of reality, like Night, or Flowers. I'm not sure how that works. There's a live action version of it as well, and I am even less sure how that works.
I also was sent a picture of Bad Mama's Peanut, sitting in her crib amidst a pile of books she had pulled down. I recognized one of the books on the top of the pile as Tony Horwitz's Confederates in the Attic. It's bright green and hard to mistake. It's about the odd pop culture legacy the old Confederacy has in the US, Civil War re-enactors and the like. Not something the Balkans has much of, I imagine. Peanut herself is half Yankee, half Rebel, so it was an appropriate choice, even though I think she still views books as 40% delicious teething toy, 60% word repository.
So all these things were sifting through my migraine-blurred mind yesterday. I sensed them attempt to find connections of meaning. They felt as if they were turning and rotating, although there was no visual impression. Then they 'clicked' -- no auditory impression either. And suddenly I had a new idea:
The civil rights re-enactment live action role-playing game!
Now, what can I do with it?
As readers may have noticed in previousinstallments, the kanun of Lek Dukagjini contains a few slightly anachronistic elements. "Blood follows the (trigger) finger" is a central adage of the Code; yet the adoption of the personal firearm must certainly date to the centuries after Lek. (One wonders what the original adage was, if there was an original adage. "Blood follows the hand"? "Blood follows the hilt"?)
In the same way, coffee -- which almost certainly was not consumed in the hills of northern Albania in the fourteenth century -- played an important role in peacemaking under the unwritten law.
Doug mentioned in a recent post how modern Tirana is a city of cafes. But traditional Albania was also a land of coffee consumption. Even poor Albanian households would have a coffee set, with a "metal tray with coffee cups inverted to keep them clean and a tiny pot with a long handle for making Turkish coffee" in the hearth, as Margaret Hasluck recounts in The Unwritten Law in Albania.
(I should note that by "Turkish coffee", Hasluck is using the English name for that style of brewing coffee by boiling its fine grounds, and does not intend any specific ethnic or religious identification by it. Albanians of all faiths drank coffee; and the Turks do brew a fine cup. Languages are weird sometimes.)
Coffee was also a marker of status. A man of standing would be offered the first cup at the table, while a man too slow to kill his enemy would find "his coffee cup was only half-filled, and before being passed to him it was passed under the host's left arm, or even his left leg, to remind him of his disgrace."
As can be imagined, satisfying the demands of honor and blood under the kanun made peacemaking a difficult process. A third party was always involved, and the reconciliation was laden with symbolism. Unsurprisingly, coffee often played an important role. Hasluck provides several examples:
... books! Ah, the book pile. Mine has been weirdly truncated lately, causing all sorts of free-floating angst to manifest itself like Marley's ghost. "CARLOOOS."
But I have managed to get a few reads in, here and there. Perhaps by posting about them, I can placate the unhappy book spirits here floating about -- and I am so tempted to call them 'agents' -- and get on with my day.
Heinrich Mann, Young Henry of Navarre. Damn, there was a lot of fly-specked romantic treacle here. I don't know how much of it was his translator's fault. Certainly his bro Thomas has had his share of mistranslation oopsies and arghs. But I kinda fear a lot of this was due to Heinrich. Some comments about Fascism and Leaders as applied to the Duke of Guise. The most successful parts were probably the scenes of the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre, written several years before Kristallnacht, and in fact much like recent descriptions of events in Rwanda. But I'm not looking forward to starting the sequel.
Charles Marsh, God's Long Summer: Stories of Faith and Civil Rights. Applied theology in action in Mississippi. Not just the good side, either. The most harrowing chapter concerns the theology of former Imperial Wizard of the KKK, Sam Bowers. "For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places." Church burnings, bombings, shootings, people buried in a dam.
Michael Tenzer, Gamelan Gong Kebyar. Wow, this is a dense book, filled with insight into the Balinese gamelan, and stereoscopically, Western musical traditions. I am a tyro musicologist, but I find Tenzer's comparisons exhilarating. Best footnote: Tenzer played Steve Reich's Drumming to his Balinese teacher, who listened to it with mild disdain, and asked, "Why doesn't it go anywhere?" Thank you Claudia and Doug!
Gordon Lish, Extravaganza. Borscht Belt comedy routines given the Gertrude Stein treatment. It's very much a "What the hell? Oh, I see!" sort of book; and after reading it, you too will be able to construct Borscht Belt comedy routines, and skew them at will. On the other hand, if you don't like this sort of thing, you'll be glad it's short.
John T. Noonan, Bribes: the intellectual history of a moral idea. Still only halfway through, but it's hard for me to resist someone who will dive deep into canon law for the apt citation, and then translate Jan Hus as 'John Goose'. I'm very much looking forward to the sections on the history of bribery in America. Andrew Reeves, this book is made for you.
Arthur Taylor, Notes and Tones: Musician-to-Musician Interviews and Anderson & Rosenfeld, Talking Nets: An Oral History of Neural Networks. I'm pairing these two together, since they're about two great postwar, mainly American, intellectual achievements: jazz and classical neurocomputing. In both cases, you have controversy (Ornette Coleman, perceptrons), you have years in the wilderness, you have geniuses dying young (Parker, Pitts) or starving in pursuit of their art (Werbos ended up writing the checks at the National Science Foundation, most starving jazz people were not so lucky). I nearly wrote 'jazzmen', and that's another point of similarity: the gender ratios are 90:10 male to female. But mainly, these books serve as teasers, for the music and for the research.
And a thank you to Dennis for his suggestion of Popular Music from Vittula, back in December. Cheerful long winters, crazed religious fanatics, random alcoholism, sultry fickle Finnish women, and the best one-line description of losing one's (male) virginity I have ever encountered.  It was like going home.
So Romanian President Traian Basescu finally got rid of his combover.
Back when Basescu was just Mayor of Bucharest -- was it only just six months ago? -- he had a rather spectacular combover 'do, of the sort sometimes known as a "bar-code". It kept the top of his head covered with hair, sort of, but he couldn't feel comfortable going outside on a windy day. Still, the combover fit well with his relaxed, man-of-the-people image.
Last week, though, he finally got it cut. And he's now unashamedly, Presidentially, bald.
(Yes, there is more important news happening in Romania this week. But hey -- combovers are just wrong. So when a man in the public eye finds the strength to walk away from one, it's an inspiration to us all, and worth noting.)
Some "before" pictures here, some more recent shots here.
Two things about the days after Orthodox Easter.
First, nobody is eating much. Everyone says they have burta plena -- full bellies -- from all the feasting over the long weekend. Orthodox Easter is both a family holiday and a food holiday; great masses of food are cooked, and it's bad manners not to eat. As a result, after the weekend everyone is indopat -- stuffed.
Second, there's a cool little tradition involving eggs.
Dead rat on the playground yesterday.
This was at Floreasca, which is a very busy playground with a big, modern play center -- tunnel-slides, latters, bridges, all that good stuff. It was about 11:00 in the morning on a holiday (Orthodox Easter Monday), so pretty busy.
The rat was a good-sixed specimen, easily 20 cm (8 inches) long, not counting the naked scaly tail. It had been dead for a little while. Say a couple of hours at least: the ants and the flies were already at it. It was lying next to the bottom of one of the slides. No sign what it died of, but it was definitely dead.
Busy playground, big dead rat. I can't have been the first person to see it.
So the Albanian language has these moods.
No, I'm serious. "Mood" is a grammatical term describing the relationship of a verb with reality and intent. And Albanian has some moods that English lacks.
-- Not clear? Okay, think about a common English verb... say, "eat". I eat, you eat, they eat. Now add modal verbs: I could eat, you should eat, they would have eaten. Those modal auxiliary verbs -- could, would, should, ought -- help set the mood of the verb.
Still not clear? Okay, some examples.
So, back from Tirana.
Tirana is a very odd city. Nobody is quite sure how big it is; the best guess is around 700,000, but Albania hasn't had a census in a while. The collapse of Albanian Communism led to an exodus from the countryside to the cities, so it's definitely a bigger city than it was, and maybe bigger than it should be. The surprisingly nice city center is ringed by a lot of less nice Communist-era ugly concrete apartment blocks, which in turn is ringed by shantytowns and zoning-free zones of wild and random construction.
The Alitalia flight was cancelled, so I'm stuck in Tirana for another day.
Stuck is maybe too strong. Tirana isn't horrible. (Well, if you're a foreigner, and have some money.) Still, I would rather be home with my family.
But anyhow. Since we're doing Albania, and also doing geek stuff, let me bring the two together.
I bought this month's Analog at a bookstore here in Tirana.