Joe Mabel > Travel writing > Letters from Romania 2001-2002 > Romania: Winter, luggage, Q&A

Romania: Winter, luggage, Q&A

9 Jan 2002

Hello, again, from the cold cold East.

Actually, today it got up to almost not freezing, which meant that in sunny spots things melted and now we will have lots of slick ice.

For those who may not know, I was in Barcelona with several other people for the holidays, notably including my brother & my friend Helene. I got an interesting lesson in having totally different ways of being efficient and lazy than other people: notably, I like to get in motion fast and early so that I can linger at a museum, park, cool neighborhood, or whatever, but I hate being slow about getting to the museum, park, etc.

Anyway, I got back here January 2. My luggage arrived about 48 hours later: it apparently took a trip to Amsterdam and didn't invite me along.

Let me tell you, Bucharest on January 2 is very closed. More closed than Barcelona on Christmas Day. It is not easy to buy a toothbrush. The hotel restaurant staff have the day off. And I had a cold (no, I guess that isn't because it was January 2, and I'm mostly over it now.)

When they talk about the 12 days of Christmas here, they mean it. Only on Monday (the 7th) did the city return to something like normal. Even so, early January "normal" is pretty slow: 2 live theaters active (as against maybe a dozen in December), maybe a dozen guests in my hotel (down from about 30-40), and of course with the end of local harvest season the public markets are much quieter.

My hotel is taking advantage of the lull to do some renovation (which hasn't bothered me) and to cut breakfast back from a reasonably decent buffet to a process by which you have to remember roughly what they tend to have and ask for it in broken Romanian. The latter has not been a pleasure: it's a lot easier to grab a third glass of juice than to flag down & ask a sullen waiter.

For some odd reason, almost no one here seems to fully understand that if you want to get snow off your sidewalk, etc., the thing to do is to go after it right while it is slushy. You see workers out chipping at the stuff in the freezing early morning, then no one doing anything when you could practically remove it with a piece of cardboard.

Fortunately, work at my office is not organized according to similar principles. But, due to non-disclosure, I can't really talk about that beyond syaing it goes well and that RDC seem to be spreading their wings so I'll be back in the US Feb 3 [later revised to Feb 11 because I decided to take some vacation here before my return], apparently to stay, although who knows where my next work will be. [My next work turned out to be 3 more months at the same job.]

Now that I have experienced a bit of a Romanian winter, the thought of fuel-less years in the Eighties seems far more palpably horrible than when I had merely read about it. My hotel is well heated, and this time of year it is a minor but discernable pleasure to just have a dinner of bread, cheese and mineral water in my room and spend an hour playing a guitar. None of this would be a pleasure in the cold.

I guess that's all been a bit dull to read. So I'll try fielding some of the questions I've been asked.

Q: How do people in Romania curse?
A: I don't know the language well enough to really answer, but it seems like all the mild stuff is religious - "Dracul" ("Devil") is very common - but the heavy stuff is bodily/sexual (and I wouldn't venture examples). I don't get the sense of any really elaborate curses like in Greece or Hungary or Arabia.

Q: How's the public transport?
A: Fairly good: subways, trams, busses seem to run well and prices are in line with the economy (a subway ticket is about 18 US cents). Taxis aren't bad either, although you have to be careful to go with a reputable fleet, because most of the independents overcharge. And I do mean overcharge: you can end up paying more than in NYC.

Q: Do they really have those weird postal rules?
A: Probably. I'm told the post office is a horror to deal with. D-ul Ionescu's assistant, Cristina, insists on insulating me from even trying to deal with it...and even so, I gather that most of the postcards I've tried sending have never arrived.

Customs is really bad, too. It can be a paperwork ordeal to get anything into this country, unless it comes in with a traveller.

If anyone else wants to help outline my ignorance, just ask me some more.


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Originally written: January 9, 2002
Last modified: November 9, 2003

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