Joe Mabel > Travel writing > Letters from Romania 2001-2002 > It's a Jungle Out There

It's a Jungle Out There

30 Jan 2002

So remember how I had said that the renovations to the hotel weren't disrupting my life? Ha!

Saturday night when I got back to my hotel, the lobby had been stripped almost completely bare. Carpets, plants, and furniture gone. Walls stripped back to brick and cement. Pretty much all that was there was the marble floor and the hotel desk. "How do you like our new rustic look?" asked the clerk. He assured me that it would be back together in a week or so, and indeed plasterboard has already started going up.

Tuesday morning, after I had gotten up early, showered, and snagged a quick breakfast (just bread and jam) in my room, as I went to drop my key at the desk, the clerk said to me, "Oh, are you headed to breakfast?"

"No, I'm headed straight for the office."

"I'm sorry, but you are going to have to move out of your room. The renovations."

"OK, when will I have to do this?"

After a bit of back and forth it became very clear that the answer was "now". They were going to be tearing up bathroom plumbing that very day.

Now you have to understand that although I am staying in a hotel, I am not exactly living out of a suitcase. While here, I've acquired a guitar and a small stereo. I keep my clothes in the closet, not in my suitcase. My things in the bathroom spread out. I'm keeping a moderate stock of food, plus a knife, fork, and plate. And then there is that miserable C-PAP I have to sleep with [For the person who asked, it's a medical device that lets me sleep normally despite a rather severe apnea]. Etc. Plus, although in my three separate times here I've moved back or forth on the hallway, I've been in essentially the same room for several months now. It's not quite like if you were told to move out of your house on no notice as you were headed to the office one morning, but it's also not like when you are in a hotel for the weekend.

Why hadn't they told me, oh, say, 12 hours in advance? The clerk had no idea. The people on the other shift were supposed to tell me and didn't. (Why she hadn't told me a day earlier is another story, I suppose.)

Anyway, they were genuinely apologetic about doing this on no notice, and they have moved me to what is, at least in theory, a better room. It's actually sort of a suite (separate sitting room) which is not entirely a good thing: the TV and the bed are in different rooms, and the bathroom is actually smaller. However, it does have a balcony (fifth floor, a bit of a view, but unfortunately overlooking Calea Victoriei, not looking out onto the lovely Cercul Militar). We've been getting a sort of "false spring" here for a few days, and it was nice to go out on the balcony this morning.

Oh yeah. This was all such a last minute improvisation on all fronts that the new room was nothing like ready: bed linens needed changing, bathroom needed cleaning, TV wasn't working, refrigerator wasn't working (I guess the previous occupant must not have been concerned with either of these two things).

But now I'm in and all is well. Except for the chaos in the lobby. Even that has one benefit: My floor is where they've stashed all the plants that would normally be in the lobby. As Tarzan said, after visiting New York, "It's a jungle out there."

Meanwhile in other news...

Pretty close to closing on renting an apartment right near Cismigiu (but unfortunately without a park view) for my next (3-month) stint here. Your basic one-bedroom, although without a separate kitchen room (kitchen/ dining room living room are all rolled into one, but with a BIG terrace, as big as the living room. The couch is probably sleepable, I know that at least 2 of you Europe-based folks have said you might visit me here, now I'll have a place you can sleep.

Found another very good restaurant: a Turkish place called the Golden Falcon. Kebabs for the carnivores, tons of veggie appetizers for the rest of us. They have what Bucharest in Your Pocket calls a "live action menu", which is to say it's pretty much the same story some of you may know from going for dim sum: they come by with lots of food (in the case of the kebabs, not yet cooked), you point. The staff speak English (some of them very fluently), the clientele are rather international (I identified Brazil and Mexico among my fellow diners, don't know where else), and it's clear that Romanians (and especially Romania-dwelling Turks) go there as a "special occasion" place.

Visited the Storck Museum, which is the former workshop of sculptor Karl Storck, his artist wife Cecilia Cuţescu Storck (Cecilia Cutescu Storck ), and their sculptor son Frederic Storck. Cool building: they built much of it themselves around 1911. Cecilia learned to do frescos by doing some of the walls and ceilings. Most of the art in the place is their work (although there are also some older pieces they collected). All was well-executed, although rather conventional. Cecilia Cutescu Storck's work struck me the most: lots of good landscapes in varied media and some rather Gauguin-ish pastels of women. I realize that it's unfashionable to have been an after-the-fact impressionist, but she was a rather good one. She was also apparently a major mover and shaker in terms of organizing Romanian women in the arts. I'm actually surprised she isn't at all well known, especially given the recent efforts to uncover women artists who got short shrift from the international arbiters of art.

In visiting the museum I had a bit of an "oh yes, this is the former East bloc" experience: as I usually do in museums, especially museums of sculpture, I was sketching (in pencil, no issue of having ink or anything like that). After I completed one sketch, the woman running the place informed me curtly, in Romanian, that I had only paid (a tiny amount, maybe 30 cents) to visit, not to sketch. Then she stayed within 10 feet of me, tapping her foot or pacing, for the whole rest of my visit, not exactly a restful way to look at art. I'm guessing that she was wanting to close (it was mid-afternoon on a Saturday, and I was the only remaining visitor) but instead of being direct and saying that, she conjured a probably non-existent rule, hoping to flush me out of there.As I mentioned before, we're having a bit of a false spring. Snow will probably be back, but for now it has all melted off and days have been warm enough that at lunch time just a sweater is in order, no jacket. I know it won't hold, but it's been a nice break from winter. Some of the more optimistic/ambitious restauranteurs have even set up their terasas.

Work has been intense. Without going into details that might raise non-disclosure issues, I'm reading, reviewing, and commenting tens of thousands of lines of inherited code, and I'm also functioning as a resource for people who are stuck on any sort of problem, which means essentially random interruptions by about half a dozen different people. Usually, I can help them, which I guess is why they want me here. All of this is in an office which has been a little frantic lately, because some of the people are testing phone software and we don't have a separate test lab, so there are a lot of ringing phones that no one picks up. I don't know about all of you, but it is very hard for me to ignore a ringing phone.


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Originally written: January 30, 2002
Last modified: November 9, 2003

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