Joe Mabel > Travel writing > Letters from Romania 2001-2002 > Breughels on the Hoof

Breughels on the Hoof

17 Dec 2001

Back in Bucharest after a whirlwind week in Seattle. My Seattle visit coincided with Hanukkah, so I ate my year's ration of latkes. My thanks to all the hosts, hostesses, and cooks.

I am remarkably un-jet-lagged, quite a contrast to my arrival in Seattle last week.

Temperatures here are just below freezing (much better than just above), with about an inch of snow covering everything. Christmas decorations are now up. They look good. Nothing excessive. In a city that has relatively few streetlights, a few boulevard-spanning decorations make quite an impact. I suspect that much of the restraint derives from poverty rather than taste, but the effect is good. The light bulbs are mostly white, with the occasional red and green: that aspect of restraint must be taste rather than poverty.

Yesterday evening, Cişmigiu (Cismigiu) Park was like a winter scene by Breughel external link (plus some electric lights, minus a few drunks). A large pond had been largely turned into an ice skating rink. There were probably a hundred skaters, but they were only about a tenth of the crowd. Courting lovers, families with thermoses of coffee (I guess there were no thermoses in Breughel's time, but this is the 21st century), etc. I apparently arrived just after the cafe in the park closed: 30 minutes earlier and there would heve been hot spiced wine. Interesting to see so much of a crowd: when its a little warmer, the park is pretty nearly deserted at night, another reason why just below freezing beats just above.

As any reader of Hans Brinker knows, not everyone who wants to move around the ice can afford a decent pair of skates. I actually did see some wooden skates, something I've never seen before, but more predominant was just sliding around in street shoes, typically no-name tenny runners.

The most amusing activity was a game/sport in which people had cleared the snow off of some long straight narrow tracks off to a side of the pond, away from the skaters. The tracks ran parallel to one another and were each about a meter wide. There were clearly no real rules except the laws of physics and the general Romanian [or at least Bucharestean] aversion to any real violence, but the game centered on getting a running start on the snow-covered part of the pond and then hitting the track with your best skiing/skating/moshing moves. Even saw a little bit of crowd surfing! The participants were mostly (but not exclusively) youthful (maybe 12-24), mostly (but not exclusively) male. One roughly 17-year-old girl probably had the best moves. Someone get that girl some (silver?) skates.

Head-on collisions were rare, but the excitement was much enhanced by people strolling across the tracks at right angles to the sliders, often missing them by small margins, sometimes being grabbed and carried along. The physics of inelastic collision can be pretty entertaining when a fast-moving 80-kilo man sweeps up a dawdling 12-year-old.

Eventually a fur-hatted policeman apparently decided that people were having too much fun and stopped this, shooing the "sliders" either back to the more official rink or out of there entirely. Actually, he probably made a more or less reasonable judgment that it was getting a little dangerous, but I believe in people's right to entertain themselves by risking a broken limb.

Breughel (any of them) would doubtless have enjoyed the scene. On the other hand, I suspect that as Pieter B. was on the way back to his inn after sketching the village revelries, he didn't have to deal with pimps on the square outside the door asking him, "You like pretty girls?" (Yes, generally I do like pretty girls. On the other hand, I rather systematically don't buy people. Please get out of my way, slimeball.)

Random observation: in a place where most restaurants don't post a menu outdoors and many restaurants cover their windows, it can be very hard to choose a place for dinner. I would greatly like to thank the folks at Bucharest in your Pocket external link (the paper version is genuinely useful) for helping me sort through this maze.

This time around I am ony here for a week: then on to Barcelona for the Holidays, before I properly settle back in here for January. Keep the home fires burning.


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Originally written: December 17, 2001
Last modified: November 9, 2003

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