Joe Mabel > Travel writing > Letters from Romania 2001-2002 > Departure

Departure

On my last Saturday in Bucharest I went by the Peasant Museum for a bit of last-minute souvenir shopping and got into a conversation with a fellow American who turned out the be American Ambassador Michael Guest (not quite as much of a coincidence as it might seem, since diplomats are among the shop's most frequent visitors). After all, you take your out-of-town and out-of-country guests to the best place in town to buy souvenirs, and who has more foreign visitors than a foreign diplomat? No bodyguard in attendance, somewhat to my surprise, given the wartime level of security around the American Embassy (although that has been slowly tapering off as Sept 11 recedes into the past).

I'd heard quite a bit about Ambassador Guest. He's a career diplomat, but his appointment to be ambasador here was quite controversial: he is openly gay, and as I have several times remarked, that is not an easy thing to be in this culture; tougher yet because of the protocol difficulties that result from the fact that neither Romania nor the US gives official recognition to his relationship with Alex Nevarez (I had to look that name up just now, nor would I have recognized if I'd heard it) which is, I gather, in fact though not in law, a marriage. Also, anyone who remembers the whole Charles Hormel thing knows that it's not necessarily and easy thing to be openly gay at high levels of power in Washington, DC, either. I guess it's a bit like Nixon being the one to open up to China (or, for that matter and to my displeasure, Clinton eviscerating the welfare system): the people who would normally have unleashed the dogs were held in check because G. W. Bush was their man, while the opposite party was hardly going to complain. Ah, that triangulation thing.

[(June 2003): My correspondent Mihai adds: "Congratulations to the US Secret Service and for Romanian SPP (Serviciul de Paza si Protectie) for guarding Michael Guest so discreetly. Of course he is well guarded - a successful attempt against the American ambasador would be a serious blow for Romania (from an Arab terorist or a Romanian gay-hater fascist). A few years ago, there was an unsuccessful atempt against the Indian ambassador while he was walking with his wife in a park (IIRC the attackers were Sikh)."]>

That evening I closed out my visit well, spending the evening with Adrian Mihalache, his girlfriend Monica, and another friend of his, a very charming woman named Mihaela whom I had met at Adrian's booklaunch. Adrian and I got together a bit early (about 4:30pm) at my apartment, hung out a bit and polished off a bottle of sparkling wine that remained from Wednesday's party, then went to meet our companions for the evening at Teatrul Nottara, where the smaller basement theater (which I had never before been in) was hosting a Vienese theater company called Pygmalion, who tonight were doing a 2-character play by Gierun Tino, based (very loosely) on Kafka's Amerika, although totally omitting the Grand Theater of Oklahoma ending, which I think rather alters the tone of the whole thing. Just like Nahum Tate made a King Lear that was not King Lear by adding a happy ending, I have to feel that Tino performed this process in reverse by depriving Amerika of the happy ending Kafka presumably intended (although with an unfinished work this is harder to say definitively). Afterwards we went out to the Lăptăria Enache for a last round of drinks.

There. Does that sound like someone who just listened to German for 2 hours and has been drinking? Maybe I should gather up all the verbs at the end of my sentences. Maybe I, at the ends of my sentences, all the verbs up should gather. Afterwards for a last round of drinks to Enaches Lapteria out we went. (To both Monica and Mihaela Enaches Lapteria a new experience was. Adrian had before once there been. I hope, that at least some of you this paragraph entertaining are finding.)

Theater in German is a very tricky mental shift after six months of Romanian, but after the first few minutes I tracked fine. The piece was probably written (or at least chosen) with the idea of an audience that would not all be native German speakers: the style was broad and many jokes were repeated more than once (but then Germans like to do that anyway). Fun play, fun evening, glad I saw the play but I could have done with 10 or 20 minutes less of it, which might have been achieved simply by telling each joke only once. Or only twice.

Melissa says I'm blogging and have been since day one. Maybe. It's all in what counts as blogging. Blogging, which for the uninitiated is a shortened form of "web logging" usually means to me a site which is largely about the internet itself, or perhaps about news stories not all of which may be posted on line. I think of the classic blogger as a person who spends a LOT of time sitting at a computer reading other people's posts (or reading the online newspapers, or whatever) and whose site consists largely of second-order commentary on other sites. Certainly until the last few entries, I've been largely innocent of that, but the E.Z. thing kind of pushed me into that mode.

Anyway, I spent my last morning in Bucharest just walking around and making a last few sketches. Beuatiful day there, hard day on which to leave a place.

I'm writing this from Amsterdam. What a contrast. It is more like moving a century or so than moving a few thousand kilometers. From a place with a relatively uniform ethnic demographic to a place where the native Dutch are almost lost in the shuffle; from one of Europe's poorest cities to one of its richest; from a city that has survived war, earthquakes and Ceaucescu to one that neither side even bombed as WWII raged through it (they took it all out on Rotterdam, at least on a building-wrecking level).

Actually, the center of Amsterdam is in some danger of becoming a parody of itself. Always a commercial city, Amsterdam will give 'em what they want, and if they want hookers, pot, cybercafes, bars, expesive boutiques, stupid souvenir stands, and Asian food, well, why make them go all the way to Bangkok? Or even to the neighborhoods that traditionally had each of these things? It's gotten to where you can find Thai food more easily than Vlaamse frites and bagels more easily than pankoeken. Still, a fun city, if you don't mind that even in a three star hotel half the guests walk into the elevator smelling like yesterdays bongwater. (Wonder if this decreases appreciably at the four- and five-star level? Or do the rich just show up here to do more expensive drugs?)


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Originally written: May 19, 2002
Last modified: May 5, 2006

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