Romania


A Yorkshire tea tin, a beer mat from a Yorkshire brewery, Timothy Taylors in Keighly, and a Royal Doulton ‘Yorkshire Rose’ cup and saucer.

Some might say the Yorkshire Rose china, from Royal Doulton, is too fine for Yorkshire tea, but we can be posh tha knows

This is the first Yorkshire Day (today) for several years for which I’ve been in Yorkshire. I and Petronela have been in Romania, specifically in or on the way to the Romanian Bucovina.  My ‘heart’ is divided between the two, so much so that I have said that when the time comes I want half of my ashes scattered in each place.

It’s odd to me that although quite a few of my short stories and ‘poems’ are set in or inspired by Yorkshire, my first attempt at a longer tale is set in London, but a London of over a half a century ago. My most recent visit to London was several years ago and the experience resolved me never to go again.

I’m in no way a patriot. I’ve never felt a strong urge to say I’m English, nor British, though I do have some satisfaction in being able to say I’m a tyke. I drink Yorkshire tea or Yorkshire beer and although I’m not a ‘city person’ I enjoy an occasional visit to its largest city – Leeds. I think the Yorkshire moors are heaven on earth and appreciate the dry humour of Yorkshire folk.

So , today, here’s a toast – to me, in true tyke fashion:

Eres t’ me ‘n my wife’s ‘usban’,
Not forgettin’ missen

and a motto

Eat all, sup all, pay nowt
‘ear all, see all, say nowt.
Un if tha iver does owt fo nowt
allus do it fo thissen

My spelling of the dialect.

Advertisements

Standing among Romanians queuing to vote in the EU election in Leeds on Sunday I could only feel ashamed at the turnout in the UK election for the EU parliament on the previous Thursday.

Photo of Romanians queuing to vote in EU election in Leeds

Romanians queuing in Leeds to vote in EU election and re corruption

Only a little over one third of British voters turned out to vote.

I have not been able to find out what percentage of Romanians living in the UK turned out but it doesn’t really matter; it was almost certainly well over a third but more important were the problems put in their way: long queues to vote with polling stations closing at 9pm leaving thousands unable to vote despite queuing for hours.

I believe that was a deliberate strategy on the part of the Romanian authorities, dictated by the leader of the ruling party, the PSD; it is not for the first time that it has happened.

It reminded me of my early days in Romania, shortly after the ‘revolution’, queuing for sugar, perhaps butter, only to find that after a few hours in the queue there was no more; sometimes it had never existed!

Photo of Petronela just after joining the queue at about 2pm

Petronela joins the end of the queue at about 2pm

Personally, I joined the Romanians in Leeds in the first place to support my Romanian wife Petronela but also to show support for the wonderful Romanians who endured the insult from the Romanian authorities with their usual good humour. They have an amazing ability to turn disaster or tragedy into stand-up comedy.

They were not slow to show their appreciation of this crazy Englishman joining them either (nor that I could speak their language).

Six and three quarter hours in the queue

Photo of inside voting area at about 8.40pm as Petronela is about to vote

Once inside the voting area the reason for the long wait became clear – one table of officials writing everything by hand for three separate votes. Photo as Petronela waits to vote at about 8.40pm

We joined the queue at 2pm. My wife was able to vote at 8.45pm – six and three quarter hours in the queue. For certain there would have been a hundred or two waiting to vote when the polling station closed 15 minutes later. There were many thousands left in the same situation in other UK cities and many thousands more in cities throughout Europe.

At least one good result

Nevertheless, there was at least one good result. Romanians were not only voting for members of the EU parliament but also (putting it simply) whether corrupt members of their government should escape prosecution. Shortly after the vote Dragnea, the leader of the ruling party, the PSD, who had become as close to a dictator as makes no difference, was in jail.

Leaving the queue behind, still largely good humoured though just beginning to chant “We want to vote” (in Romanian obviously), I had even more reason to feel ashamed to be British. On our way through the city centre to catch a bus we had to negotiate a group of well-heeled hooligans embroiled in a street fight. Fortunately the police quickly intervened and we were able to pass safely.

Many of us British do not appreciate how lucky we still are to live in this country despite the nonsense which our politics have become. Let’s show appreciation by using our right to vote, hard-won by so many, next time we have the opportunity.

PS. I do not intend to return to posting regularly about political issues but just had to record last Sunday’s event.

Some time ago (10 February) I posted that I had ‘found’ and subscribed to the Oxford English Dictionary ‘Word a day’. A little later I completely ‘lost’ the urge to write – not only blog posts, but stories, poems, even trying to complete my first ever ‘novella’. There has been one exception: I’ve been writing letters, handwritten with a fountain pen, to distant friends and relatives, something I’ve not done for decades.

Not ‘writers’ block’

This loss is the first time it has happened to me in almost 60 years of writing, first earning my living at it as a journalist or copy-writer, later – much later – beginning to blog and write fiction, both for ‘fun’. It was not so-called ‘writers’ block’, the urge to write but losing inspiration; just no urge to write at all with the exception of the letters.

This morning, opening ‘Word a day’, I discovered a word I did not know – kakistocracy – and that jump-started me to write this post. I know only two countries well enough to apply this word to their Governments: the UK and Romania. The word means “government by the least suitable or competent citizens of a state”. Some of the recent utterances or actions of both Governments could hardly better prove the point.

Whether this reawakening of my muse extends beyond this post is yet to be seen but I have an idea tumbling about it my head, prompted by a member of our writers’ club – in turn prompted by my letter writing – who suggested each member should write a letter to someone. My idea is to write ‘a letter to a stranger’, someone who may not exist. If this gets me going I’ll surely post it here.

Word a day

I have been disappointed with the ‘word a day’ more than once recently, when the word was Indian or even Chinese. Oxford English Dictionary? And I do wish when a quotation is given, to illustrate use of the word, the source is given.

RomFlag

The Romanian flag


Only two weeks ago I posted
about Latvia’s 100th birthday. Today (1 December 2018) we celebrate the 100th birthday of Romania – when Transylvania and Banat came together with ‘The Principality of Moldova and the Romanian Country‘ (difficult to translate not to be clumsy) to form Romania. Since then, of course, the meddling of politicians has taken away parts so the northern part of Bucovina became part of the Ukraine and Basarabia became the Republic of Moldova; as so often when outside politicians (usually from the USA and us, the UK) mess with other countries we are still suffering as a result of this meddling, with trouble in the Ukraine and in the Middle East.

In my 100th birthday post for Latvia I suggested seven things which many people might not know about that country. I wonder if I can do the same for Romania. I’ll try, though a couple might be contentious.

Seven things you may not know about Romania

  • Currently about 9 Romanians leave their country every hour in the hope of finding a ‘better life’ elsewhere. The population has been reduced from 23,210,000 in 1991 to 20,170,000 last year. Most of the people leaving Romania are young and highly qualified or skilled, which we and other ‘western’ countries benefit from. There are, of course, also a significant number who do not mind getting their hands dirty (sadly often ‘exploited’ and not given a fair wage), doing jobs which the indigenous population shy away from; again we benefit.
  • Although the oft quoted “Romanian is the second language in Microsoft” may be a myth the American software giant certainly employ a lot of Romanians and established two of their global business support centres in Romanian cities. I can tell you from personal experience the country produces wonderful doctors too.
  • Romanians have an amazing ability to learn other languages. This is only in part (I think a small part) due to nobody wanting to learn Romanian (unlike me). An example is my wife who, starting from just nine words of English when she arrived here in 2004 by 2006 had a command of English sufficiently good to become a fully qualified teacher in UK and began to teach her subject, history, (and others) in high school.
  • Romanians who live in the countryside or buy from there know what fruit and vegetables should taste like. I will never forget when I first tasted a carrot freshly dug, or a bell pepper freshly picked, a tomato or the sour cherries known as ‘visine‘. If you avoid the supermarkets (I’d better not get started on that! – despite the ‘organic’ nonsense now being overtaken by the equally ridiculous ‘bio’) you can still have that taste today. The only equivalents we can find easily in the UK are bilberries from the Yorkshire moors (equally good as their Romanian equivalent, afine) or wild blackberries (mure in Romanian).
  • Although the belief of many Romanians that Henri Coanda invented the jet engine cannot really be supported he certainly did describe and point to practical applications in aviation of what became known as the ‘Coanda effect‘, which we see (or hear) when we fly on commercial aircraft today, when the ‘flaps’ are extended on landing and takeoff.  It is also used in fighter aircraft to allow them to fly at a slower speed. The international passenger airport serving Romania’s capital was renamed from ‘Otopeni’ (a nearby locality) to ‘Henri Coanda’ in May 2004.
  • Although Romanian Nicolae Paulescu developed an extract from a pancreas which, injected into a diabetic dog, normalised blood sugar levels when the Canadian team which received the Nobel prize for the ‘discovery’ of insulin were only just beginning its development, he was not included in the prize. A former head of the Nobel Institute, Professor Arne Tiselius, later admitted he should have been.
  • Just a personal view, of which anyone who has been reading my blog for any length of time will be aware, although many tourists will head for Transylvania when visiting Romania, the area in the north of Romania known as the Bucovina is more interesting, has at least equally beautiful landscapes and delicious food but old traditions are generally better kept. But if you want to see them you should visit soon – they are already less well preserved than when I first arrived in Romania in 1993.
Photo of a small piece of the soda bread, on a floral paper napkin

I didn’t expect to be writing a post about soda bread so I didn’t take a picture of the loaf. Only today, when I found that it was delicious when a day old I decided to post, by which time this was all that remained.

It is well-known that ‘Irish’ soda bread is good only on the day it is made, or so I have always understood (and that has been my experience). Consequently, I only made it when we had an ‘out of bread’ emergency, as yesterday, with no time to make a more conventional loaf (shop bought bread in the UK is not good, even in my opinion expensive ‘artisan’ loaves. I’ve been spoiled by German breads).

Because there are only two of us I always struggled to make a small enough quantity to eat on the same day (I hate discarding food but the birds were happy).

As Wednesday is one of our ‘veggie days’ we decided yesterday to eat an avocado each followed by ‘iahnie’ (pronounced, roughly, yak-nee-ay), a puree of butter beans for us but of the much larger ‘boabe’ (bwar-bay) beans in Romania, with bread. It’s usually flavoured with garlic, maybe other things like herbs.

No bread so I made a soda bread (but not the ‘real’ one as it calls for buttermilk, which I did not have). We ate it straight out the oven – the iahnie is cold. As usual we had some over so it was put in a bag, hot, still steaming when broken, with the idea of giving the birds a feast today. But, guess what, it was soft and absolutely delicious today when we ate it for our lunches. Poor birds!

Here’s the recipe I made:

250g wholemeal bread flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2 tsp salt
200 ml full-fat milk
Juice of a lemon
1 tsp honey

Mix the dry ingredients well in a bowl. Pour the lemon juice into the milk (it’s magic!). Stir in the honey till dissolved. Make a well in the flour etc, pour in the ‘artificial buttermilk’ and mix with a spatula till the ‘dough’ is ‘together’. Shape into a round loaf, put on a floured baking tray (I use coarse semolina), cut a deep cross in the top and put in the oven preheated to 180degC (that’s my fan oven; I guess 200degC for ‘conventional’ oven). Bake for 30 minutes or till it sounds hollow when rapped on the bottom.

Note. This made a very ‘sloppy’ dough, difficult to handle and shape, so next time I’d add a bit more flour.

 

Finding 3 VHS tapes featuring aspects of my teaching of English in Romania a quarter of a century ago (post on 8th August), together with meeting two of my former pupils, were definitely the highlights of this summer’s visit to Romania. If another project comes off there will be another highlight but ‘Murphy’ being as he is I will only post about that if it comes to fruition.

However, after finding the tapes while clearing my parents-in-law’s attic I was disappointed not to find two books I had hoped were there. After clearing the attic we set about a store room at our small apartment nearby and another couple of ‘gems’ emerged from 14 years of dust.

Enlarging English vocabulary

A picture of the opening pages of the book, generously inscribed by Gheorghe, “To my friend Roger Livesey. My greatest thanks. If you had not helped me this book would not have appeared. Iași, May 21st 2000.One was one of the books I hoped to find in the attic. Titled Everyday topics it was written by my good friend Gheorghe Stan, Head of English at Liceul National in Iași when I taught there. Its declared aim was to  provide a larger vocabulary for intermediate and advanced learners of English. I may well have been able to find a copy of this book at a second hand book dealers which abound in the university city of Iași but, not teaching English any more, I wanted only the copy Gheorghe presented to me with its generous inscription. I was delighted to find it.

An ecumenical English course

Picture of A leaflet about thr course showing Students with (then) Archbishop Daniel, with me on his left.

A leaflet about thr course showing Students with (then) Archbishop Daniel, with me on his left.

Another ‘gem’ was a complete English course I wrote for an ecumenical project set up by the then Archbishop Daniel, now Patriarch of the Romanian Orthodox Church. The students came from many different east European countries. Mostly beginners, the idea of the course was to enable them to describe their church, both in a spiritual and a physical sense, in English, quite a tall order as they came only with their own languages (or some also with Russian) – Albanian, Armenian, Bulgarian, Czech, Estonian, Kazahkstani, Kyrgystani, Latvian, Russian, Slovakian, Ukrainian and, of course, Romanian – from many different backgrounds and several different churches. It was a wonderful few weeks with many social events between lessons.

I had taught on a similar course two years previously but in 2003 I was course director and wrote all the lessons, so finding them (around 50 overhead projection transparencies) was particularly interesting.

Love letters and all

A final collection of ‘gems’ was cards, photos and letters to Petronela from the beginning of our relationship, including the first ever letter I wrote to her, before our relationship began.

Well worth choking on the dust of so many years of hibernation!

With Paula, my pupil a quarter of a century ago, in her home in the beautiful Bistrița valley

With Paula, my pupil a quarter of a century ago, in her home in the beautiful Bistrița valley

After a seven and a quarter hours drive, including a couple of stops, I’m back in the city, Romania’s second largest city (after the capital) in terms of population – Iași. I’m not happy.

Iași is not a bad city as cities go, but I would not choose to stay in it, nor any other, for any length of time in the summer. The things which would attract me, the theatre which is also the opera house and the philharmonic hall with its superb resident orchestra and choir, have no programme in the summer.

Bucovina

The summer is a time to spend in the beautiful countryside of northern Romania, for me the area known as ‘the Bucovina’ – basically the ‘county’ (județ) of Suceava – and the neighbouring ‘county’ of Neamț, where we have just spent a few days. The motivation to visit there was two-fold: to take Petronela’s parents to visit three monasteries in Neamț ‘county’ – Neamț, Agapia and Varatec (my favourite) – and to visit another former pupil from 24 years ago, Paula (see post, post and post).

Highlight of the trip

Paula lives in the beautiful valley of the river Bistrița, so after visiting the three monasteries, staying two nights near Agapia, we continued south to the large lake of Bicaz, then turned up the Bistrița valley to Vatra Dornei, staying a couple of nights in Broșteni and visiting Paula and her family in Borcă. Needless to say, the highlight of the trip for me was the visit to my former pupil, now a teacher of English in Broșteni.

Varatec monastery – my favourite

Petronela and me at the Varatec monaster

Petronela and me at the Varatec monastery

The Varatec monastery is not one of the famous painted monasteries of the Bucovina; apart from it being a particularly beautiful monastery tended by its resident nuns, not monks, it has fond memories of taking Petronela’s grandmother there for Easter (whatever your faith, or none, the night before Easter Sunday at a monastery is an experience not to be missed if possible).

If you are just having a holiday in Romania there is little reason to stay in a city. None of them other than Bucharest is so large you cannot stay in a bed and breakfast outside the city and go in to visit places of interest, eg the open air museums with their collections of traditional houses or those castles which are within the cities, eg the ‘cetatea’ in Suceava, Bucovina, or the old city within Sighișoara in Transylvania. Even Sibiu has lost its charm for me, the craftsmen and women with their wares around the large central square in the 1990s being completely replaced by bars and restaurants.

Transylvania and the Dracula nonsense

Don’t be misled by the concentration on Transylvania; parts of Transylvania are certainly beautiful but what drags so many tourists there is the myth of Dracula but, for example, Bran castle near Brașov has little if anything to do with the real ‘Dracula’, Vlad Țepeș, who in turn has nothing to do with vampires, and the Dracula hotel at the top of the Tehuța pass between Bistrița and Vatra Dornei is even more of a nonsense.

The decorated monasteries

Of course if you visit Romania I would say ‘a must’ is a visit to the decorated monasteries of the Bucovina but be careful; everything around them and within them is unjustifiably expensive. The most renowned, Voroneț, is not for me the most attractive – I prefer Moldovița or secondly, Sucevița.

Humor monastery

An attempted visit to one of the less renowned, Humor, on our way ‘home’ was abandoned when we saw the entrance price and the levy to take a photograph (I visited it more than once many years ago when there were no charges). Having said that, Humor is one where the external images are best preserved despite being one of the earliest to be decorated. It is also perhaps one of the most interesting (just Google ‘monasteria Humor’ for more details why), but in my opinion that does not justify being ‘ripped off’ (the craft items on the stalls around are also overpriced and the genuine items mixed with a lot of rubbish from maybe China and India). There are no entrance charges or fees to take photographs in the Neamț monasteries.

Bureaucracy – Romanian + EU

Apart from visiting Petronela’s parents in Iași city, we unfortunately need to spend a time here to attempt to complete various ‘administrative’ tasks which can only be completed in a city, in our case only in Iași. Despite Romania being one of the best internet connected countries in Europe, there is little you can do to tackle the formidable bureaucracy on line, made all the worse by Romania now being in the European Union.

Next Page »