Eastern Europe


Grumpytyke is back, I hope fairly frequently, after a long absence, and I’m trying to decide whether to resume with the wide ranging subjects which I wrote about before – Romania, VW campers, classic minis, haiku, Yorkshire and food and cooking, and a few more as the mood takes me – or to limit myself to one or two themes. That might be difficult for me.

I just ploughed through emails going back to February this year – helluvalot of spam – and was glad to see a lot of ‘old friends’ still posting, though some seem to have disappeared in recent months. Apart from one short post in February ‘explaining’ my absence I haven’t really posted or looked at emails for about a year.

Me

Much of my absence has been due to a major health problem. I was diagnosed with prostate cancer, had my first ever stays in hospital and spent a while with tubes and bags limiting my movement. Hopefully it’s under control for the moment. I might have something to say about the wonderful overworked nursing staff in the NHS, but the often abysmal administration, management and systems, in a future post. (more…)

Icon of Saint Dimitrie

This icon of Saint Dimitrie, Dimitrios (Greek) or Dumitru (Romanian), is one of several in our home

Today is Saint Dimitrie’s day, so also ‘my’ day as Dimitrie is my name too, given to me when I was baptised on 26th October. In the Eastern Orthodox Tradition, the name day corresponds to the day on which a saint “fell asleep”, or died (Gregorian calendar).

I was given the name in the Orthodox church of ‘Stefan cel Mare Domnesc (the Lord’s Church of Stephen the Great), Iasi, the church I attended when I lived in that Romanian city (and the church in which I was married).

Although in Romania the saint is known as Dumitru, I chose the Russian version – hence Dimitrie – and that is how my several Orthodox priest friends, and some other friends, call me.

When I was in Romania people would call at my home on this day and share a drink and a snack, or even a celebration meal. Now, in the UK, I receive email messages and ‘iconograms’ from friends and relatives in Romania, especially from my Godparents – Godfather Vasile, now a mathematics lecturer in an Australian university, and Godmother Gabriela. (more…)

I don’t have a lot of time for blogging at the moment – the weather is superb for walking and photography but unfortunately that means it is also ideal for some much needed ‘tender loving care’ for Lofty, our beloved VW camper. However, having just cooked and eaten the obligatory full English breakfast I thought I’d use the 15 min ‘digestion’ pause to get this off.

The Romanians are almost uniquely able to have a joke on themselves and, being far better generally educated than the majority of people coming out of UK schools, are able to do it with a wit and substance sadly lacking in much of what we see from British commentators. I just love the poster campaign launched by the Romanian paper Gandul (‘The Thought?) in response to that from the Guardian. The posters are in English so English speakers can understand them even if the accompanying text is in Romanian.

http://www.gandul.info/news/why-don-t-you-come-over-raspunsul-gandul-la-campania-britanica-nu-veniti-in-anglia-update-10528548

So here are some of the Romanian poster words, each of which has a postscript “Why don’t you come over. We may not like Britain but you’ll love Romania”. There are many more gems.

Your weekly rent covers a month here – pub nights included

Our Tube was not designed with sardines in mind – sorry sardines

Our newspapers are hacking celebrities’ privacy, not people’s phones

Our air traffic controllers have seen snow before. They were unimpressed

We don’t have a congestion charge here. We believe congestions are punishment enough.

Our draft beer is less expensive than your bottled water.

And my favourite – almost absolutely true:

Half our women look like Kate. The other half, like her sister.

Most of my followers will know I have a serious love affair with Romania and Romanians and the majority of Romanians coming here so far are very well educated, hard-working and an enormous benefit to our society. But this doesn’t mean my eyes are closed to the problems: corruption is endemic (but worse in Bulgaria) and certainly a large number of Romanians coming here have come to commit crime and will do so in the future (the Romanians would say that they are not Romanians, but gypsies, and while I cannot support this racist statement there is an underlying truth).

So, much as I love Romanians and their country, the concern about freely opening the door to them is well-founded.

But it will be great for Britain to have a boost to the population of people who can actually speak English!

Sunday 3 Feb 2013. Another multi-tasking day, I’m starting to write this while I cook the obligatory Sunday ‘traditional full English’ breakfast and scanning a film to put some pictures here; I felt I must do this post after reading a recent ‘News’ item from WordPress about using internet in teaching:

http://en.blog.wordpress.com/2013/01/31/educators-on-wordpress/

The special 'Allstars' project room from we did internet teaching projects using first one, later (here) two, 'obsolete' laptops. This is 'Allstar' Daniela with me, 1994

The special ‘Allstars’ project room at industrial High School No.1, Burdujeni, Suceava, Romania, from which we did internet teaching projects using first one, later (here) two, ‘obsolete’ laptops. This is ‘Allstar’ Daniela with me, 1994

I think I might have been a bit of a pioneer in this field; the teachers in UK, Canada and USA with whom I did the projects in 1993/94 certainly were. Oddly enough, I had referred briefly to my email projects for teaching English only a few days ago when I did a post about how I became an English teacher in Romania.

For most of the projects we used a single obsolete lap-top on which the children took turns; it had been discarded by some Arizona school; later I got a second. There was no Windows available to us (though it had been launched about 10 years previously); we used MS-Dos and saved our work on ‘floppy discs’. We supplemented the emails with airmailed communications and exchanged photographic prints. The slide show below, click on any picture to see it, tells some of the story.

The ‘Allstars’ as they chose to call themselves, from class 9s (‘gymnasium’ or middle school) in the industrial school no.1 in Burdujei, Suceava, did projects with schools in Liverpool, Canada and Northumberland on histories of their respective countries and other subjects; the much younger Bunnies, a special needs class in school no.11 in Suceava, did a project with special needs children from the ‘Jim Allen’ elementary school in Pensacola, Florida, on their respective towns.

Both these groups of Suceava children were not expected to achieve very much by the Romanian system. However, the head teacher at School no1 was very supportive, even giving the group its own small project room (top picture). The head teacher of school no.11 told me at the beginning I was wasting my time with the special needs children. He was gracious enough at the end of the year to admit that he had been wrong, when they invited him to a year end exhibition of their project. Their teacher, Vasilica, never had any doubt; she had no special needs training, no special needs resources; she taught them with love alone.

The Leo Club of Suceava Burdujeni

The Allstars went on to form a Leo Club, despite their parents’ objection to them doing any voluntary work (this came from the enforced unpaid labour as ‘Pioneers’ under the Communist system) and, among other activities, they worked with special needs kids in the orphanages; some of them eventually took some of the 30 available places at one of the two top high schools – the leading school for humanities and languages – in Suceava, something no-one would have believed they were able to do. There was already a Lions Club in Suceava, instigated by a French Lions Club soon after the revolution.

Working with the Allstars and Bunnies and many other Romanian children was probably the most enjoyable and satisfying part of my time in Romania, if not in the whole of my life.

That year, or the year before, I presented two or three papers on the use of internet for teaching English as a foreign language at a conference which had physical audiences at centres in the USA and Mexico but contributors from around the world via internet. I had to go 600km to the capital, Bucharest, to find the facilities to take part, which I did in the middle of the night in Romania. The papers were eventually published in the conference proceedings; I’m hoping those will turn up in my ‘store’ in Romania.

I worked in one school which had a more ‘modern’ computer network and I think the operating system was Linux; if I remember correctly we emailed using a program called Pine. I think I first saw Windows in about 1996, when I began to teach English in the computer studies high school in Iasi, though I didn’t do the email projects there; I taught the curriculum more conventionally.

Two students on the week long course I did at the University of Bratislava, Slovakia, on using computers and doing internet projects for teaching English

Two students on the week long course I did at the University of Bratislava, Slovakia, on using computers and doing internet projects for teaching English

The work with computers and internet projects not only took me all over Romania, showing teachers and pupils how to use computers and how to do such projects, I was even lucky enough to go to Slovakia for a week and do similar things with students as the University of Bratislava. What a lovely town!

Old battered films

Although most of my photographs taken in Romania seem to have been left there – prints, negatives and slides – as I cannot find them here, a few weeks ago I finally got around to taking some films which I did bring back from the canisters in which they had been stored for years. I had to leave them under some weight for several weeks to get them flat enough to cut into strips for the scanner, and I cut them a few days ago. I’ve just sorted out some to scan for this post – it’ll take weeks or months to do them all (about 60 35mm films). Unfortunately the pictures I want for here are on three, four or more different films and as I might as well scan them all rather than just the shots I want it’ll take a couple of hours or more (Tuesday 5 Feb: in fact it took all day and more so the intention to post this on Sunday went by the board!).

The films are rather battered and bruised and the colour is way off after their treatment over the past 20 years or so. I hope they are interesting nevertheless as I don’t have time to do any ‘repairs’, though I hope to do so sometime.

Back to cooking and tv

However, after I’ve finished with the films for this post I’ll go and scan a film (black and white) I shot yesterday for my photo blog – while making some bread (we’re out) and getting ready to cook the evening meal – it’s pork chops from a named farm nearby via our excellent local butcher; left to my Romanian wife she’ll cook them Romanian fashion – for at least an hour – rather than the 10 minutes they deserve. Some things can benefit from the long cooking like, strangely enough, runner beans, which become something quite different and eat very well with mamaliga (Romanian corn meal mush or ‘polenta’) when cooked for an hour and a half.

And all this before my Sunday evening tv marathon begins with the news at 6pm (over dinner). Then there’s ‘Country File’, followed by ‘Call the Midwife’ (how good to have a drama with good stories, no violence and where the characters have a vocabulary other than four letter words), and then ‘Ripper Street’, which has enough interest to overlook the sometimes gratuitous violence.

Although I’ve said before that photography and cooking have quite a lot in common (or perhaps because of it), it’s quite difficult to scan films and cook at the same time. Apart from trying to remember to wash my hands before putting on the cotton gloves to handle the film, or remembering to take the scissors to cut the film but the knife to cut the vegetables (for braised red cabbage with Juniper, steamed caulifower and brussel sprouts, and roasted potato wedges) I have a big worry that I’m going to cut off a finger or steam a film!

I’d better get the scanning done soon. It’s creeping up to 6pm and I’ve started on the cook’s obligatory (unless they have a medical condition forbidding it) red wine; although it’s vital for cooking it ain’t so good for scanning. In fact, it’s beginning to look as though the scanning will not finish by 6pm, so this post will not be posted until tomorrow (didn’t make that either).

This blogging ‘lark’ has taken over my life; how the bloggers who post ten times day, especially those who write something rather than just post a picture each time, do it I don’t know. I started this blog to write about my interests but now blogging itself has become an interest and I find myself writing about that.

I’m conscious that I wander about a bit in my posts but no apologies – two of my favourite blogs do this too. Food and Forage Hebrides hides super recipes among all sorts of insights into life on a Hebredian island; My French Heaven tucks anything from Coco Chanel or how to clean silver to long distance sailboat racing in his wonderfully illustrated food blog, though admittedly not usually in the same post.

Because I have no particular theme for this blog, I am often torn between several subjects. I’ve shunted off classic photography to another blog, but even that’s a problem as there are so many commonalities between cooking, which I often write about on this blog, and the processing side of ‘classic’ photography (ie on film) – measuring, timing, weighing, careful attention, care (even love) – come to think of it, much of that applies to the taking of photographs too.

fragi

Fragi – tiny Romanian wild strawberries

As I’ve said before, I’ve no need of the WordPress daily prompts; my problem is how to find the time to write about everything which motivates me to write, especially as I have an hiatus in my soujourns on internet as I spend two days away from home attending to the ‘communications’ needs of the small charity for which I work (and I’ve recently introduced  a weekly blog for that, though it’s a very simple one).

Then there’s the whole ‘grump’ thing; I originally set up this blog to ‘have a go at’ so much I find wrong with the world, particularly the UK, today. And I’ve written almost nothing about music, which has been an inseparable companion for the whole of my life. It’s coming: I’ve got a major grump boiling up about ‘Classic FM’ radio, which – X-Factoring everything including Beethoven – is getting close to being shut off permanently in my home.

This afternoon I made a small pot of tea (my Romanian wife doesn’t drink it), Yorkshire tea of course (no, it doesn’t grow on the moors here but we know how to select the best) and, fancying something sweet, I spread a couple of slices of my home-made bread with ‘strawberry’ jam. But I don’t like strawberry jam! Except for a very small summer window, strawberries with any really ‘good’ taste no longer exist. The ‘window’ coincides with one of my pet hates – Wimbledon – but this is the English strawberry season.

However, the strawberry jam I ate this afternoon would blow your mind. I say ‘strawberry’ but this was made with miniature versions of the fruit we buy, or maybe grow, here – between 0.5 and 1 cm across. They grow on the lower slopes of the Romanian mountains and are called ‘Fragi’ (that’s ‘fradge’). Even as jam they taste extraordinarily good, but picked fresh on a Romanian mountain they explode in the mouth insisting “This is what a strawberry should taste like”.

Red cabbage with quickly seared pork shoulder (forget the old wives' tale that pork must be well cooked if you want some flavour)

Red cabbage with quickly seared pork shoulder (forget the old wives’ tale that pork must be well cooked if you want some flavour)

That’s not to say there’s nothing in the UK which tastes good – there are many British bloggers I read who show that to be untrue – so today I’d like to sing the praises of red cabbage, which I’ve been cooking to accompany quickly seared slices of pork shoulder around taking some pictures and processing the film for a grumpytykepix photo post – probably tomorrow morning.

The picture above isn’t up to much but I forgot to tart up the plate and take a photograph before I dived (or is that dove?) in.

So, for two people: chop up quarter of a small red cabbage (they’re actually purple of course). Chop up a large shallot (or onion) alongside. Spread freshly ground black pepper over it, sprinkle on a pinch of salt and a handful of juniper berries, tip into a saucepan with a knob of butter and a bit of oil (any good oil will do so long as you avoid the over-publicised poison – margarine). I’d add a chopped up Granny Smith or Bramley apple but then my wife wouldn’t eat it. Put on a low heat with a tightly fitting lid for about 45min, stirring occasionally, until it’s well cooked. Delicious and the perfect accompaniment to pork. I tried some Stella Artois cidre with it (it was a cheap offer in the local supermarket). OK, but a poor substitute for the real thing from Somerset, or Britanny.

I wonder if this post might unearth some former students of mine:

Aliya, Kazakhstan; Daily, Estonia; Diana, Belarus; Jozef, Slovakia; Kaisa, Estonia; Pavlina, Czech Republic; Ruslan, Ukraine

More about the poster below.

Poster for English course, Ecumenical Institute, Iasi, 2004

I found this proof of a poster while visiting Romania in August this year, sorting through papers I had left in store there. I made the poster to promote an English course I was teaching at the Ecumenical Institute in Iasi (no copies of the poster itself; just this proof showing some corrections to be made before printing). Not particularly interesting, but I used pictures of and quotes from my students at the end of a course at the Institute the previous year (2003) and that made me wonder what they are doing now. We had such a wonderful time together, especially as the course wasn’t limited to the classroom and we made trips, including to the wonderful Bucovina, together.

The course was for the World Council of Churches and students from various former communist bloc countries were chosen on the basis of their likely use of better English in ecumenical activities. For every one of them it was the first time they had been out of their own country. Perhaps not all the students are on the poster and I cannot remember for sure the names and countries (Kyrgyzstan?) of any others, but they will be in the picture on a commemorative mug made for each of them to take home. The archbishop Daniel, also in the picture, took a keen interest in the course; he became Patriarch of the Romanian Orthodox church in 2007.

World Council of Churches English course, 2003, Iasi, Romania, commemorative mug

I thought I’d see whether posting it on my blog might get through to at least one of the students. By the end of the course they were pretty good friends so may well have kept in touch with each other.

So, Aliya from Kazakhstan, Daily from Estonia, Diana from Belarus, Jozef from Slovakia, Kaisa from Estonia, Pavlina from the Czech Republic, and Ruslan from the Ukraine, or any other student who is on the picture on the mug, I’d love to hear from you and to know how your English is now!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 166 other followers