Saturday, July 31, 2010

George is in Romania.

God I hate cold openings, don't you? Now I have to explain: George is a good friend of the family who happens to be from Romania yet hasn't visited the place since she left with her parents over a decade ago, until now. is in? I don't have time to answer that one in full, so for now just think of it as the opposite of "is out."And Romania? that's a country, I think.

She left on the 22nd and will be gone till August something-or-other. She's already been to the Black Sea, museums, camping in the mountains -- and she's going to visit Dracula's castle! I'm extremely jealous so while she's away, I've decided, I'll do a little traveling of my own, except I'll have to use my Imagination.

So I went to the library, and guess what I found! First, The Land of Green Plums by Herta Muller, the most recent winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, and former member of the German-speaking minority of Romania. She set all her books during the regime of Ceausescu -- can you say bleak? -- and, I gotta say, two pages in and I'm already very confused.

I also tracked down a cookbook, Taste of Romania, which also included some other neat things, proverbs, folk tales, and a little history. As for the food... actually, there are a lot of typical, decent-sounding recipes in there -- in between the haggis and calves brains. (Yes, George, I took that from the e-mail I sent you. I do that kinda thing all the time: 90% of the stuff on this blog was lifted straight from pamphlets I found at highway rest stops)

Now, allow me to present some Romanian proverbs I found in that cookbook. The author took them from a Romanian book of eight thousand proverbs, which in turn were taken from a ten-volume (!) set. Note that some of these were split into two or more lines (here the line breaks are denoted by slashes, as is customary), apparently in verse but without obvious meter or rhyme. I can only assume that the Romanian originals had these qualities...
  1. He who steals an egg today/Will steal a cow tomorrow.
  2. Give an egg today/You will receive a cow tomorrow.
  3. Bread as fresh as can be/Wine as old as can be/Wife as young as can be.
  4. A sharp vinegar breaks its own bottle.
  5. Big fires are made even in small ovens.
  6. Even the sea has a bottom.
  7. Don't laugh at the donkey./The time will come when you will need/To mount him.
  8. The husband doesn't know/What the village knows.
  9. Water and fire cannot become friends.
  10. From the word to the deed/Is like from the earth to the sky.
  11. Don't run after the wagon that doesn't wait for you.
  12. Being lazy, he shuts his eyes and opens his mouth.
So, there you are... Some are common enough and have English/American equivalents. Some are awesomely deep ("even the sea has a bottom"), while others make you wonder where the cameras are. A few have already entered my vocabulary.

I get hints of what it means to be a Romanian from those proverbs, and I have gleaned more from encounters with George's American-based family. My impression is generally ungenerous: distrustful, stingy, ornery, paranoid (gee, I wonder why...). From my experience, Romanians are -- at risk of sounding racist -- angry little brown people who have an affinity for stuffed animals and silk shirts.

Some more "food for thought" may be in order:

Bucharest, Romania's capital and largest city, during the nineteenth century became known to some as the "Little Paris of the East," due in large part to the importation of French culture -- particularly art, architecture and food -- by the Romanian aristocracy. With this nickname we all win: the rest of Europe, and America are allowed a a crusty laugh at Romania's expense, while loyal proponents of the, uh, "Romanian Way" -- George's uncle among them, apparently -- have something to hold over the heads of neighboring backwaters -- the rest of Europe, and America among them, apparently. (It is as yet unconfirmed that maps have reached "the Tiger of Eastern Europe.")

At least one man, I read, was of the opinion that one of the happiest times in Romanian history was the approximately 200 years it spent as a Roman province, Dacia. But Rome pulled out, leaving the natives to ceaseless enemy onslaughts, often with only the Carpathian Mountains for protection.

A country that small and powerless doesn't create the waves of history but instead gets tossed about by them. Often the best plan was to ride along wherever the waves would lead. But then this strategy has sometimes necessitated joining Hitler, which lead to some 700,000 Romanian deaths just the same. And the Romanian Jewish population went from around 800,000 at the start of WW2 to just under 10,000 in 1992? Oy... but who am I to judge?

Today, the Romanians are a people of recovery and rebuilding. Out from under "communist" rule since only 1989, the country seemed to be making great progress to economic strength in the early '00s. It joined the EU in 2007 -- kinda -- and earned itself the nickname "the Tiger of Eastern Europe." Ah, but the most recent economic downturn seems to have hit Romania especially hard... Oh, well...que sera, sera -- Romanian for "let's drag our leader's body through the streets."

1 comment:

  1. 2 Corrections: No Istanbul :( and George's Uncle, holds it over the head of the backwaters, not grandpa. He know's better. He's been to Paris... the real one.

    Also it grows on you and you have to see it for yourself. I'm completely detirminded to show this place to you and Hannah.

    PS Dracula's castle: LAME. Sadly.