Today (or, over the next few days, as time and talent allow) I will upgrade our current MT install. We are hoping for faster speeds and other little gizmos. It might go off without a glitch - but then it might not. I'm doing this on the weekend because the traffic is much slower then, but it will take me some hours even in the best of cases.
Thanks for your patience!
I recently wrote a Real Post Report for Bucharest.
A Real Post Report is something you find at a site called talesmag.com. Talesmag collects reports from expats around the world about what it's *really* like to live in a place. It was founded a few years back by some US State Department employees (anonymously, of course). It now includes reports from all sorts of people, but it still is pretty oriented towards the State Department.
I'm not a State Department employee, BTW.
Anyway, the idea is pretty simple... they just ask you to answer a list of questions honestly, and then they post the answers on their site. They've got over 100 countries covered. So if you're vaguely thinking of moving to, say, Botswana, there's probably a recent report telling you what it's like to live there.
My report is below the flip. (Oh, and we have an older report on Belgrade from when we lived there, too. 2+ years old, but still there under "Serbia".)
Lot of dogs in our neighborhood.
That's nothing unusual, of course. There are lots of dogs all over Bucharest. One reason is that Romanians really like dogs. Another is that, since the fall of Communism, crime has increased. It's still pretty low by American standards, but it's high enough that everyone is worried about it. So people get dogs.
Almost every house in our neighborhood has a dog or two. There are a few that stand out, though.
This is scary, on a personal level. Doug's mom is working for FEMA (and before you say anything, she's 74 years old and doing a hell of a job out there). She had been assigned to Beaumont, Texas. If you were listening to the news, you know that this is exactly where Rita is heading at the moment. So, she was evacuated yesterday -- to Lufkin, Texas. I'm hearing at lot about Lufkin at the moment, as that the shelters are closed down due to the masses of people pouring into the city. That there is no food, no gas.
We can't reach her at the moment (which might be due to her volunteering and just not answering either of her cell phones). We think she has reached Lufkin in time.
If you could spare a thought or two...
The heavy rains have stopped and the waters are receding. Here is an article about why the floodings were so severe. The picture shows how the situation was in many streets. We also find out that really we are to blame for the flooded streets -- don't shower when it rains, seems to be the morale of the story.
Like, did Jeb have the sword at home in a cabinet? And what will Chang think? Is Jeb no longer under the protection of Chang? Are there other mystical warriors and/or weapons in the employ of the Powers That Be? Or was Chang simply using Jeb, and now has a better, more pliable puppet to work through?
This seems rather silly. Surely it's better to be a little hungry than risk foreign contamination. Who knows what the British pack into their army rations! It might be mince pies! Mint sauce! Baked beans! The horror!
This piece of news is actually not all that new. Ten days ago, The Spiegel reported that German Care packages were turned back because it was feared that they were infected with Mad Cow Disease.
[They saw through us. Darn. And we thought we had found a new way to world dominance!]
There is only one fact that bugs me about this explanation. Those food rations are NATO certified Mad Cow Disease-free and, gasp!, are cleared for consumption by US army personnel, e.g. in Afghanistan. When Der Spiegel inquired, the US Embassy in Germany rather sheepishly declared that the ban on the NATO food rations would be lifted again.
I'm watching this with bemused curiosity.
It's been raining hard those past two days, almost without interruption. It is still raining hard. The sewers can't take all the water anymore and the soil is quite thoroughly saturated by now. So the water collects in the dips and potholes. Entire streets are flooded.
This gives car rides a certain thrill -- how deep is the water? Are there any scary potholes hidden under that giant puddle? Will the car in front of you break down and have you stuck in water up to your car door? And just in how deep water can you drive this particular car?
Alan especially loved the ride to his school this morning - the water splashed up on either side of the car, right to the rooftop. Any pedestrians on the way - we apologize, but you really have no business walking next to this new lake on the street. That was just careless of you.
The rain is supposed to stop tonight, then resume and finally give up on Thursday. We can hope.
Sunny, and not humid.
Last weekend Bad Mama, Big Daddy and Peanut came to visit from the motherland, Wisconsin! (These are their pseudonyms, of course. For instance, Peanut's real name is Cashew.) For opening day of football season I took them to New York City's premiere Packer bar, Kettle of Fish at 59 Christopher Street, owned by fellow Wisconsin expatriate Patrick, who is a prince among barmen. I also made them pancakes (which they all had) and jambalaya (which Big Daddy and I ate).
I may have caught some lurg from playing with Peanut, who is utterly charming and has an intriguing variety of stuffed animals which learned to speak when I was around. (Then again, it might have been from the subway.) Peanut's favorite word is "No!", which she wields with a dexterity that rivals Vyacheslav Molotov's.
Cold and rainy today, after two weeks of beautiful weather.
Yesterday, I took Alan and David to the northern part of Herestrau Park. I've mentioned Herestrau before, yes? It's the big park north of the city, about 15 minutes' walk from our house. Turns out it's so big that, even after two years here, I haven't explored it all. The northern end of the park (the part on the other side of the lake, for you Romanians) has a whole hidden region I'd never seen before -- with sculpted hedges and gardens, long broad paths for strolling, playgrouds, and even a Ferris Wheel. Who knew?
It was a beautiful afternoon, breezy but sunny and warm, and the boys had a great time. We ate pizza, then spent an hour just wandering around. The boys picked up sticks and vigorously defended us from dangerous trees and bushes. People were flying kites, and we stopped for a moment to watch. It was nice.
But this morning dawned grey and cold. Then the rain began. It's been raining for hours now, and blowing hard too... I was downtown this morning, and my umbrella kept turning inside out. (Of course, it was a cheap one that I bought for 100,000 lei outside the subway at Piatsa Universitatii. Still.) Now the grey day is darkening into a cold, wet, blustery night. Farewell, summer.
-- Speaking of the German elections: In my copious spare time, I sometimes blog over at A Fistful of Euros. They're covering the elections there, and doing it very well. (Not me. I write posts about Albania and such.)
One of the more amazing things about the German elections (to me) is how little the (US) blogosphere seems to care about it. Like, not at all.
I'm a little hurt. Don't you guys like us anymore?
(That is not a serious question.)
I can't say I'm happy about it. The choices were really bad this time around. I don't like Schrder, I dislike Stoiber, I am really not sure about Merkel, I don't think the Greens have been doing such a swell job, and there is no way I'm voting for the FDP.
However, I did vote for one of those. (I'm not telling but people who know me will have no problems guessing.) Because I believe that one ought to vote, even if the choices are quite limited, and I don't want to throw my vote away by giving it to a party that cannot possibly make the 5% cut.
Now, all I can do is wait and see what tomorrow brings. It'll be interesting, to say the least.
A conversation between Alan and his mother yesterday.
Alan: We speak many languages.
Claudia: Yes, we do.
Alan: American and German!
Claudia: And Romanian!
Alan: Yes. You speak German and Daddy speaks American.
Claudia: And what do you speak?
Alan: I speak American and German and Romanian.
Claudia: I also speak English and Romanian.
Alan, diplomatically: A little Romanian.
(I should add that this conversation took place in German, of course.)
Today's Romanian word is sat, "village".
Sat is one of those Romanian words that comes from Latin, but in a non-obvious way. There are a lot of these. For instance, the word for "earth"? Both in the sense of "the dirt, the ground" and "the planet"? It's piment. (Romanian diacritical marks not included. The actual pronunciation is something like "pummunt".)
That comes from the Latin pavimentum, which is exactly what it sounds like: stones, pavement. Why the medieval Romanians chose this instead of the perfectly good Latin word terra, I don't know. (Unless it's because they were busy turning terra into tara, which is the Romanian for "field, land, country".)
But I digress. Sat is interesting because it comes from the Latin fossatum. That's the gerund form of the verb fossare, "to dig". Fossare survives in English in the scientific term "fossorial" -- meaning digging animals, like moles -- and the word "fossil", a 19th century neologism meaning "that which is dug".
Anyway, in Latin, fossatum literally means "(the) digging". It was commonly used as a military term -- you'll find it in Caesar's Gallic Wars, for instance, applied to defensive trenches, ditches and moats.
The best guess -- and this is just a guess -- is that back in the Dark Ages, Romanian settlements were surrounded by just these sorts of defensive trenches. To the point that the Romanians started referring to settlements as "diggings".
Totally random note: when J.R.R. Tolkein designed an artificial language for his hobbits, he did much the same thing; there are hobbit towns called "delvings". Although in that case, it was because hobbits liked digging, not because they were living in terror of barbarian war bands sweeping down from the steppes and burning them all alive.
This has been a Romanian Etymology Friday. Thank you.
Did you know that Boas can cut their pregnancies short by up to 100 days simply by basking in the sun?
I call for this as the next evolutionary step in mankind. Womankind. Whatever.
I'm perfectly serious. Really.
When we moved to Romania in 2003, my (up-to-date!) guide suggested that if we were to go out to a restaurant, we should take some toilet paper with us, as this is not always supplied.
Even back then -- two years ago! gasp! -- this wasn't true. We've seen some truly disgusting toilets in Romania, yes. Some were just not usable at all. And were out of toilet paper. But the Bucharest restaurant toilets were usually OK. However, we did notice a trend over the past years.
So there are these Uzbeks in Timisoara.
Some of you may recall that, back in May, there was some unrest in Uzbekistan. To make a complicated story short, the Uzbek government -- a dictatorship run by an unpleasant fellow named Islam Karimov -- gunned down several hundred protesters. The Uzbek government calls these people "terrorists", but most of them seem to have been unarmed civilians protesting against the regime.
On the corner of Strada Brasilia and Strada Bruxelles, just across the street from our house, there's a walnut tree.
It grows in the corner of a garden, behind a cast-iron fence. But its branches arch out over the sidewalk and the street.
Posting always seems to come in clumps. So be it! Here in NYC, Bad Mama, Big Daddy, and the wonderful pixie Peanut are visiting for the weekend. Peanut is especially adorable. (That loud ticking sound you hear as the page loads is my biological clock. Wow, I am so single. I like going to art galleries, quirky books, and cooking for two. [Update: must be gridiron-sympathetic.])
I encountered a flutist in the subway station the other day, playing at exactly the correct acoustic position. You could hear the music at the subway's entrance, a gorgeous wall of sound. The station extends for at least 100 meters -- a long tunnel that is weirdly under-utilized -- and at the top of the steps leading to the lower platform the man stood lost in his music, looking like a figure from a Greek vase. Pure improvisation, and quite beautiful. The flutist's name is Linton Pate, and while he has a CD (he shyly warned me, "it's unconventional," but hell, I listen to Harry Partch) he has no web presence at all as far as I can tell. Well, now he does.
On the same subway ride I saw a guy with his surfboard out to catch some waves.
I haven't recommended any books lately. Here are two good ones: Encounter with an Angry God, by Carobeth Laird; and Nerve Cells and Insect Behavior, by Kenneth Roeder.
Every day, Romania creeps a little closer to joining the EU.
Here's the short version: Romania and Bulgaria are scheduled to become the 26th and 27th EU members on January 1, 2007. That's less than 16 months away.
But! The accession treaty has a special "safeguard clause", providing that if the candidates don't show enough progress, accession can be delayed by a year -- pushing it back to January 1, 2008.
And accession could also be delayed if any of the 25 EU members don't ratify the accession treaty. This has never happened, and it probably won't happen this time... it would create a major crisis if it did. But it is out there.
So what's the status at the moment?
My mother-in-law's greatest fear is that our boys will be too European to ever fit in once we get back to the US. I don't think that's really an issue - kids are adaptable and if they are not quite like other US kids, well, then I'm sure it's for the better, not for the worse. (At least, I'm keeping that hope up.)
However, this morning, my dear husband was compelled to comment: "They are such little European boys."
Why, you ask?
We got a passport for David yesterday.
Oh, we didn't actually get the passport. But we both went down to the US Embassy downtown and submitted the application... birth certificate, photos, all that good stuff.
Ion Iliescu is still around.
Back in May, I blogged a bit about how Iliescu was getting on in the aftermath of last year's election.
Not a lot has changed since then. Iliescu is still out there. He's still in the paper or on TV almost every day, and according to some polls he's more popular than ever. He's still locked in a complex relationship with PSD: they don't want him in charge, but they can't do without him.
One new development: Iliescu announced recently that he's forming a new "center-left social platform", in alliance with -- among others -- former Prime Minister Petre Roman.
Andy over at Csikszereda Musings reviews a recent study on Romanians and "EU values".
There's lots of interesting stuff in there. Andy's short review is a good one, but it may be worth your while to read the whole thing. (pdf file.) Okay, maybe not the whole thing -- it's 85 pages long -- but you can find the executive summary on pages 8-14.
And if you're interested in a foreigner's-eye view of Romania, check out the rest of Andy's blog, too. It's very good.
This is very funny. Now I wonder: how much would Romanians think this applies to Romania as well? You know, since Romanians are sort of the lost cousins of the Italians...
(Warning: I think it's hard to view this link in a modem connection.)
I am sure everyone is a little worn out from bad news. So, no posts about the administration that couldn't organize an orgy at an Ibiza rave. I don't really have anything to say to those people for whom ideology trumps evidence.
Instead, food! When I am stressed out, I cook. Yesterday I made cornbread pancakes, chicken and sausage jambalaya, and Key lime pie. (And now you see why I work out like a sonofabitch.) The pancakes used a Jiffy cornbread mix, so no recipe.
The jambalaya was sort of like Belle Waring's Red Rice recipe, except I only had one strip of bacon, so I fried that and put in two tablespoons of butter in the grease. Then I sauteed about 400 grams of chicken thigh meat before putting the vegetables in. I chopped four stalks of celery instead of just one, and instead of a carrot, a seeded and diced green bell pepper. I also threw in a few cloves of chopped garlic and some chopped parsley. Some olive oil too.
So Fats Domino and his family ended up staying with Louisiana State University's quarterback in Baton Rouge, along with twenty other people. Looka! has an ongoing update about New Orleans' musicians (scroll down a bit for today's update here). Antoinette K-Doe and Alex Chilton are still unaccounted for. The blog's proprietor, Chuck Taggart, is also the producer of "Doctors, Professors, Kings & Queens: The Big Olí Box Of New Orleans", whose profits will be donated to the American Red Cross. (And hell, even if they weren't, it looks mighty tasty.)
[Update September 7th: according to Looka! Alex Chilton and Antoinette K-Doe are alive and have been accounted for. Be of good cheer people of Google.]
Anyway, here are two poems on Louisiana and football. Trust me, you'll like them:
In 813 AD, the victorious Bulgarian khan Krum turned the Byzantine emperor Nicephorus's skull into a drinking cup, or so Theophanes recounts. Later it was used as a Quidditch trophy. The Lombard king Alboin did the same to the king of the Gepids, but this ended badly. Lord Byron found a skull on the family estate (a former monastery Kelo'ed by Henry VIII) and had a jeweler work it into a cup; being Byron, he wrote a poem about it. And admirers of the pirate Blackbeard turned his skull into a mug, or (accounts differ) the base of a punch bowl. The kapala has played an important role in Tibetan religion, while in Fiji the skull-cup helped give conflict resolution a sense of closure.
I call dibs. Because, you know, it's never too early to plan ahead.
Yesterday I was walking through the completely unhip part of the Lower East Side of Manhattan, a neighborhood of immigrant and working-class apartment complexes, near the East River between the bridges, adjacent to Chinatown.
There's a crowd of people standing next to an ambulance. Happens all the time in New York. I walk past them.
I'm very torn on the issue of looting. If my kids were dying of thirst, I'd raid a supermarket for water any time. I might even take some candy bars, hygiene products, bleach, and batteries.
But TVs, computers, Nike shoes and designer clothes are a different matter altogether.
The German government has offered help to the US. The German Red Cross and CARE Germany are collecting donations. Merck has pledged 2 million Euros in food and medical supplies.
Germany doesn't stand alone. More than 20 countries, among them France, China and Russia, plus the NATO and the UN have offered help. They could supply doctors, boats, airplanes, tents, blankets and generators. Food. Water. Expertise.
George Bush said thank you but no, thank you. The US are capable of dealing with this by themselves.
What the hey?
The need is very plain for all to see. The people are dying on the streets. Babies are dying in the Superdome. I'm sure the people don't really care which country the food comes from when it drops out of the sky.
It's not dishonorable for the US government to accept help from its friends because that's what friends are for. So what if you had a spat before and disagree on certain issues. So what if you were drifting apart a bit. Big deal. It's obvious that help is needed, so help should be accepted.
Think of your people first, George, and of your petty grudges later.
By his own admission, things are going badly for Sheriff Harry Lee and his crisis management efforts. Outside his mobile headquarters truck, two officers grip a stepladder while a third stands on the top rung waving his mobile telephone in the air, searching for a signal.
Inside Sheriff Lee, of Jefferson parish in New Orleans, is sitting at a table, fuming. He is doing his best to alleviate the biggest catastrophe he will ever witness, but lacks even the most basic of resources.
Some of HDTD's readers will know of my long-standing interest in the peculiarities of Southern politics, and will not be surprised that I actually have Harry Lee's biography. Like many Southern lawmen, he's been a little, um, controversial. Here's the official online version, and an article about the man. But man, is he pissed off now:
"Itís not getting better -- itís getting worse," he says. "This is probably the largest national disaster in the history of the US and the co-ordination that should be in effect all these days after the event just isnít happening. Itís lack of proper planning and lack of co-ordination. There are plenty of Indians, but no chiefs."
"My chief deputy said some of the other deputies are quitting on us. They want to be with their families. Well, I want to be with my family too but you donít quit in the middle of a crisis," he said. "My daughter rang me, crying. She said, ĎDaddy, canít you leave?í I said ĎYes, I can point my car west and step on the gas, but can I go and leave these people here? No, I cannot."
Meanwhile, Fats Domino is missing.
Update: Fats Domino has been found, and my friend Dana's grandfather (who was in a New Orleans nursing home) has been found! They're both OK.