Tag Archives: Romania

Brief Romanian encounter

Apologies for radio silence – the last few days I have had the joy of a brief return to lovely Romania, where I was speaking at a conference in Bucharest. This is the first time I’ve been back since my PhD fieldwork 5 years ago, so I was really happy to be there (even though Bucharest is far from my favourite place in Romania). I was pleased that my language seemed to hold up and I could understand and be understood, and I think it is the first time that I have ever been to Bucharest where I haven’t felt on edge or like I need to be looking over my shoulder (it’s not helped by the fact that I usually stayed somewhere else in the country, and whenever I mentioned I’d be going there absolutely everyone would go “ooh, you really don’t want to go there” and be full of tales of ne’er-do-wells, muggers and thieves). This time I was relaxed, and wandered round more than I ever had before.

The conference went well I thought, and it was great to revisit my PhD material, particularly now that I’m not working on anything related to central/eastern Europe in my new job. I was a bit nervous about speaking, I had run through my paper in the hotel the night before and it went way over the allotted time, so I had to chop out quite a bit of it and I was worried it wouldn’t make sense, but people seemed to like it and asked interesting questions. I also chaired and acted as discussant for another panel the following day, I’d never been a discussant before (it involves summing up and generally making intelligent comments about the presented papers, and asking questions, pointing out areas for development etc) so was a bit nervous about that, but it seemed to go OK too.

The day before the conference I had a free day so as well as picking up some Romanian books from the university bookshop that I’d really struggle to get hold of over here, I did what I’ve been meaning to do but never had the time before, and went on the tour of the Palace of Parliament (known more colloquially as the House of the People – Casa Poporului) which is the massive building that Ceausescu had built in the 1980s, razing thousands of homes and churches in the process, and which is probably the most famous building in Romania, most likely to appear on pictures from Bucharest. I’m really glad I did it, though it was also pretty sobering, remembering all those who had suffered for its construction, and the megalomania that was behind it. The tour took the best part of 2 hours, at the end our guide told us we’d only seen about 5% of the building and had probably walked about 3km.

Here are various photos, firstly the Arcul de Triumf and Herastrau Park, near where I was staying:




Then various photos from inside and outside Casa Poporului (including me on the balcony – apparently Ceausescu intended it to be the place where he and visiting dignitories could wave to the people; this ambition was thwarted by the revolution and the only person who has actually waved to the people from it was Michael Jackson). The first chandelier is apparently the largest chandelier in Europe, and requires 4 people to change a lightbulb – I must admit I couldn’t help but think of *that* Only Fools and Horses scene:








Finally the logo of the Academy where we had the conference. We were given a tour of the building and talk about its history, where it has to be said women were noticeably lacking. In fact amongst all the portraits and photos of distinguished members, this was the only woman we found!


4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days

(Disclaimer: discussion about abortion, some may find it upsetting)

This is the name of a Romanian film that we went to see a couple of weeks ago at the Glasgow Film Theatre. I’d been trying to see it all last summer while I was in Romania (narrowly missing the opportunity to attend a showing with the director and main actors, thanks to turning up at the box office only an hour after it opened to find that tickets had been sold out 20 minutes earlier), and was really glad to have the opportunity to see it at last. It won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival last year, and lots of other awards since, and there is all sorts of huffing and puffing going on in the Romanian press that it wasn’t nominated for Best Foreign Film at the Oscars this year.

It’s based in 1987, in the last few years of the Ceausescu regime in Romania, and follows two friends, one of whom has arranged to have an abortion, which from 1966 until the revolution in 1989 was illegal in Romania due to Ceausescu’s desire to increase the population – the unwanted children who ended up in orphanages were another result of this sick extreme pronatalism, many of them handicapped due to the result of unsuccessful abortion attempts. Many thousands of women died from the complications of illegal abortion – usually haemorrhaging or infection – and many others (along with the people who performed them) were jailed. The film is just about the one day that the abortion takes place (in a hotel room).

So, as you can imagine, it wasn’t an evening of light entertainment. Far from it in fact. But I have to say I think it is a really important film – I found it really authentic in its oppressiveness (Romanians I have spoken with who lived during those times have also said this) and Anamaria Marinca who plays the friend gives an absolutely outstanding performance. It’s not one for the squeamish (there is a lingering shot of the aborted foetus towards the end), but most of the unpleasantness is off-screen – either you know what is happening and that’s enough, or you don’t know what’s going to happen and it’s really tense.

What happened in Romania between 1966-1989 is why I can’t just be simply pro-life. What has happened since the end of 1989, when it was made legal (abortion rates are still high, and even though they’re coming down, the rates of non-use of modern reliable contraception are scarily low still, so abortion is in effect used by many as a form of contraception), is why I can’t be simply pro-choice. In an ideal world there would be no need for abortion as all women and men would be educated and empowered to make effective contraceptive choices and have access to effective contraceptive methods so that no child would be unwanted. But this isn’t an ideal world, many people don’t have the education or freedom to make those decisions or ability to access those services, and governments don’t always prioritise sexual health and family planning services so that even when people want better contraception it simply isn’t available to them. I’m sure I’ve said it on this blog before, that I tend towards the more liberal end of the conservative view – abortion is wrong in an ideal world, but in the non-ideal world we live in it should be safe, legal and rare (I think that phrase is from Hillary Clinton). When I saw an abortion on TV a few months ago, I couldn’t watch, everything in me was crying “no!”, but making it illegal isn’t the answer. I’ve got too much experience of Romania to ever be able to agree that making abortion illegal is anything other than inhumane. I think the problem with the pro-choice/pro-life duality is that only one party is accorded rights, either the mother or the child, and so the debate is never anything other than totally polarised. It’s messy, but I don’t think you can look at one set of rights without considering the other. I’m not sure that that will make the debate any less polarised though – it’s going to stay messy for a long time yet.

When I started this entry I just intended it as a film review, I think I got a bit carried away (hence the disclaimer at the beginning, added later!). I don’t know what the answers are. But I don’t think the polarised answers that dominate the debate at the moment offer a full solution either way. All I can do is try to think about where I (and the Church, and people of faith) fit in, and how we can best bridge the gap between the pro- and anti- brigades – not as an intellectual chin-scratching exercise that makes us feel worthy, but because there are real people and real lives – adult and child – behind the debates.

Incidentally, if you know the book (and film) “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Attwood – although fictional and set (I believe) in the future, it was inspired by the Romanian extreme pronatalist policies.

Celtic Connections 2008 – part 1

I will get back to the honeymoon blog entry, but I wanted to blog about the Celtic Connections concerts we have been to so far this week. Not that I want to make you jealous or anything 🙂

First up, on Wednesday we were at the ABC, which is a former cinema but is now a concert venue. The event was called Balkan Night, and featured two Balkan bands, plus support. The support band was a Scottish group called the Stobo Village Band, and here is the only decent picture I took that evening, which is of them (they played traditional Scottish music and were very good):

Celtic Connections - Stobo Village Band

The two headline bands were firstly Balkanopolis, a band from Serbia that did both traditional and jazz music. We both thought that the jazz stuff was a bit inaccessible, but the traditional stuff, particularly when they included singing, was fantastic. The lead guy played loads of instruments (various whistles, flute, clarinet, sax, mandolin etc) but most notably played some bagpipes which looked like they had been made out of a potato sack with knots at the end and which he had to blow into to inflate before he could play them. Because of the shape and colour of the bag, I thought that it looked like a plucked turkey when it was inflated, and when he held it I had to laugh because it reminded me of how Rod Hull held Emu. The second band was from Croatia and were called Kries – I’m not sure how to describe their music, but the Celtic Connections blurb referred to their singer as “shamanic” and I can see where they got that from. We liked this band a lot. Here are pictures of both of them – Balkanopolis on the left and Kries on the right (they’re not great pictures though):

Celtic Connections - BalkanopolisCeltic Connections - Kries

On Thursday we went to the Old Fruitmarket (I think my favourite venue for seeing music in Glasgow) for my personal must-not-miss-at-any-cost concert. The support band were, once again, excellent – an Irish trad singer called Nuala Kennedy and her band, who certainly warmed us up (I did take a couple of pictures of them, but the photos weren’t very good), just in time for a band that I first saw last year when I was in Sibiu, Fanfara Ciocarlia who are a gypsy band from Romania. I remember having a blast last year, and this year they were just as good. We were right near the front, having pushed forward after the support act had finished, so I got some better pictures this time, as you can see:

Celtic Connections 2008 - Fanfara Ciocarlia

Then yesterday we were out again, this time to a venue called the Classic Grand which I’d not been to before (on the way out I overheard someone saying that in his childhood it had been a cartoon cinema, and then a porn cinema, before becoming a concert venue and club). The support act were a Swedish group called Den Fule, who were OK, but I felt didn’t really know what they wanted to be – trad, jazz or raaaaarck. When they dabbled in trad stuff I liked it, but they rarcked out a bit much for my taste (although, I have to say that this was the first ever time that I have seen rocking out on the bass clarinet, which I found quite amusing). The band that we’d come to see though was one that I saw last year when they were a support act and who I’d liked much more than the headline act. Last night, just like last year, Moishe’s Bagel were brilliant – well worth seeing if you want a good night:

Celtic Connections 2008 - Moishe's Bagel

They were just as good in somewhere like the Classic Grand, which is quite a small intimate space, as they were at the Fruitmarket last year.

Earlier today we went to one of the Come&Try workshops which get put on every year. In fact we had tickets to do this workshop last year but then were both ill so had to miss it. It was Come&Try Waulking, which is an amazing fusion of Gaelic song and physical work traditionally used in the Hebrides during the manufacture of Harris Tweed. Basically a whole crowd of people around the table sing very rhythmically whilst pummelling a line of Tweed in and along the table (the pushing it in and out reminded me of the hokey-cokey!) in order to shrink the cloth, waterproof it and get the dye to set (in the olden days this was done by soaking it in stale urine, nowadays they use chemicals at this point, we just poured water on it!). We learnt the songs first – the two people facilitating the workshop sang the whole thing, and we sang what were known as “vocables” (I presume that’s how it’s spelt) which were kind of the Gaelic equivalent of “fal-de-dee” which didn’t have meaning within the song but were used to emphasise and keep the rhythm etc. I actually knew a couple of the songs already as they had been recorded by Capercaillie, one of my favourite groups, but it was really good going through them and learning a bit about the Gaelic pronunciation. Gaelic’s a beautiful language, we overheard it spoken in Stornoway while we were on honeymoon and it has the most wonderful sound to it, and I also think it looks beautiful written down – maybe one day I’ll get round to learning it. After learning some songs we put them with the tweed, and I must say it was a fascinating couple of hours! Here are a few pictures from the workshop:

Come and try - waulkingCome and try - waulking
Come and try - waulkingCome and try - waulking

You might be able to see from the final photograph that we also had the end of the workshop filmed by Gaelic children’s TV – the girl on the bottom right, in the grey top, is their presenter. So maybe that’s another few seconds out of our 15 minutes of fame!

Once the workshop was over we browsed round the stalls which were in the foyer of the Concert Hall, and I’m afraid I indulged in something I’ve wanted to buy for years and years and never got round to – a whistle (plus a teach-yourself book). I could have bought both the big and small whistles, but figured that as well as not really being able to afford the big one, with the lack of time available to me at the moment it would probably be enough to get my head round the small one. If all goes well, maybe I’ll buy the big one next year. It will be nice to try something musical again, having not played anything for so long.

We’re off to another concert this evening, and next Saturday evening, and I’m going to one mid-week with some colleagues from work. I’ll report back on those next week.

Hot Toddy

I have got what feels suspiciously like the onset of Lurgy. This is not good.

I asked HD if I could have a drop of his whisky in my tea for a hot toddy. He wouldn’t let me (he drinks posh whisky), and made me open the (wait for it) 1 litre tetrapak of rum that I bought from Romania in the mid-90s, which cost about £1. I haven’t ever quite dared open it – as if rum in a carton wasn’t bizarre enough, this particular rum even has a sell-by date! (of 1996!!!!!*). However, needs must, and I have decanted most of it off into an empty wine bottle (I’m not planning on drinking the entire litre, but if this lurgy takes hold then I’ll be needing more hot toddies, and we can always pour the leftover rum over the Christmas pudding). It looked a bit like engine oil, but I haven’t keeled over yet so hopefully it will do the trick without causing too much gut rot.

* I also have a small carton of vodka with a sell-by date of 1994. Also from Romania, unsurprisingly.

In other news, Virgin Broadband is rubbish. Gah.


[I wonder who’ll be the first to make a comment about I’ll have a vowel please Carol?]

So, it’s my last day in Sibiu, and my penultimate day in Romania. Which means that I’ll be probably offline for the next few days (though knowing me I’ll maybe squeeze in a bit of internet time later today). I have all sorts of mixed feelings. Really Really Happy to be heading home at last, and being able to spend some time with HD and think about the wedding. Also really looking forward to getting my teeth into my interviews and the whole analysis process – apart from the actual fieldwork, this is the bit of the PhD I’ve been really looking forward to. Dreading having to do the teaching again. Worrying I’ll forget the language after being immersed back in English again. Looking forward to being immersed back in English again (jokes about Glasgow accents notwithstanding). Excited about HD moving to Scotland and us getting married soon (that’s the best thing 😀 ). Annoyed with downwiththissortofthing.com (see I think the penultimate September blog entry for explanation) in a Really Big Way today – and wondering if they’re inadvertently talking to me about ‘vocation’, about what I’m meant to be and do (though absolutely not in the way they’d want!).

But also a bit sad that I’m leaving Romania again – there’s something about this place which is really under my skin. No doubt I’ll be back 🙂

Thanks for praying. It’s sort of been half answered and I’m feeling better – but I still need that email!


An interesting day today (we won’t mention the insomnia in the small hours this morning though – grrrr), including a trip to a couple of villages in the countryside round about Sibiu. The scenery was lovely, and the weather too, but unfortunately the sun meant that it was too hazy to take any decent photos – the tops of the mountains peering through the haze were really something, but it wouldn’t have worked on film (well OK memory card, but you know what I mean).

I have had to hand over a tiny bit of control of a tiny weeny bit of my research to someone else in order to get some more information, and I don’t like it at all! Despite my best efforts, I still want it to be All About Me. We’ll see what happens.

On a related note, for those of you who pray please can you say a few for something research-related that is niggling me and is potentially worrying. I really hope I’m making a mountain out of a molehill, but I’d just appreciate an email from someone specific to reassure me. Thank you 🙂

Retail therapy

I decided to pop along to the supermarket today, as when I was here in the summer they were selling 2GB memory sticks for a tenner so I thought I’d get a couple more while I had the chance. Sadly, they weren’t there anymore (they had 2GB memory sticks but they were more than 4 times the price, so I didn’t bother). To make up for the disappointment I have bought a couple of DVDs instead from the bargain bucket, and some vaguely healthy food so I don’t have to spend the entire week eating crisps and pizza (it’s a right pain not having a kitchen!).

In other news, I have just had to give my supervisor a provisional title for a conference talk that I will hopefully be giving next year, based on preliminary findings from this period of fieldwork. I’m kind of looking forward to it, except that everyone else on my panel is really experienced and has published tons of stuff and know what they’re doing, whereas I’ve published nothing in my field and don’t really have a clue what I’m doing. I’m going to have to be so careful not to leave it till the last minute (what with wedding planning and possible house moving between now and then leaving it till the last minute is a distinct possibility) – if I’m organised I’ll be able to blag my way to sounding knowledgeable and authoritative. If I’m not I will just be embarrassing.

The trials and tribulations of radio stardom

So, I blogged last week about being interviewed for national radio, and the various hideous indignities and unintentional hilarity that ensued. Now I’m in the internet cafe I’ve just checked the website to find that I can’t listen to it tonight (for it is tonight that I am broadcast to the world) after all as the computers here don’t allow any plug-ins to be installed (it means I can’t see anything on YouTube while I’m here either).

I suspect that’s probably just as well actually, it’s bound to be cringeworthy. When I’m home this weekend I’ll see if they have a “listen again” feature (I suspect not actually, but it’s worth a try).

This week

I’ve arranged my programme here in such a way that I have most of today and all of tomorrow off. This is good because I am knackered. It has also meant that I wasn’t flapping when I had to wait an hour for my phone to be unblocked so I could use it here, and meant that I have had time to do boring stuff like change money, and also that I can wander round and relax a bit. Most importantly, it means I can have a lie-in tomorrow. Hooray!

The only (minor) gripe is that the TV in my hotel room doesn’t work. They did say yesterday that it would be fixed today, but they don’t seem to be in any great hurry to sort it out. It isn’t just laziness that I want the TV – it has been quite useful to watch the news programmes here, good for my language and also to have a clue what is going on in the world outside of my research. Plus in Bucharest a couple of days ago I woke up in the small hours and couldn’t go back to sleep, and having the TV on really quietly was as good as someone singing lullabies.

I’ve wandered round and noticed a few more changes. The flowers outside the Dumbrava department store are amazing (in the summer they were very lethargic and limp, they didn’t seem to like 40 degree temperatures any more than I did, but they’re looking great now), the Hotel at the bottom of my old road which was being renovated has now opened, large parts of roads which were building sites are now properly tarmacked (I’m sure that’s not how you spell it, but neither one ‘c’ nor two ‘c’s looked right), and for some reason the council seems to have stuck the same sign (showing it is a “Historic Building”) on every building, which is really rather spoiling them I think. And I can’t get used to the big stage not being in Piata Mare, there’s a big gap there now! Though the statue I always felt a bit sorry for* that was hidden right behind the stage is now fully visible.

* Yes I know it’s an inanimate object. I’m just soft.

More travelling

I’m in Romania again! More than that, I’m in Sibiu! In the old internet cafe! Hooray!

[That’s quite enough exclamation marks thank you. -Ed]

And I have all sorts of emotions churning up at the moment. To deal with the easy stuff first – Sibiu. There are a few changes (the big stage and the topiary have disappeared from Piata Mare sometime in the last 2 months and aren’t there any more) but basically it’s pretty much the same place (the giant egg is still in Piata Mica and I had delicious pasta and wine in the cool restaurant this evening). I’m disappointed to be missing some great culture later this month – “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” is on general release at the cinema from the day I leave (crappest of crap timing there), a few days of World Music in a couple of weeks’ time, and the (well-established, not just Year of Culture stuff) anthropological film festival at the end of the month – maybe after I’ve finished the PhD and having to teach by the end of October I’ll try to make the film festival a regular pilgrimage – a whole week of documentary films from around the world, in one of my favourite towns, how wonderful is that?! But – I feel ever so weird, typing here just a stone’s throw from my little flat, and – it’s not my flat any more and I have to turn right instead of left when I leave the internet cafe and go to a hotel instead. I guess it’s just tapping into this huge longing for “home” – and let’s face it, I’ve got less than a week before I’m back in the UK and it’s officially The End of fieldwork, so it’s not the most traumatic experience, but it is very real nonetheless.

More obliquely, when I arrived in Bucharest yesterday and was on the bus to the hotel, I had the strangest feeling (especially given that I’ve never been particularly fond of Bucharest), that I was somewhere familiar – “home”-like almost – it felt like I could breathe again, for the first time in a couple of months. Don’t get me wrong, I really like Chisinau, and have many friends there, and having been there 2 months I was really starting to get a feel for the place. But (and I think this relates to my last post) I think that living with a family rather than in my own place, and in a society that is generally more conservative, had started to become stifling. And then leaving Bucharest today, on the bus heading for Sibiu, that feeling was even stronger. I’ve reflected more than once since being away that if I was still resolutely single (as until last year looked like it was going to be the case) then I would really seriously consider at least buying a flat in Romania, if not moving. There’s something about the place which is very “me”. Mind you, if I was still resolutely single I wouldn’t be able to do much about it anyway without also being resolutely rich, and that’s never going to happen.

Anyway, all this is idle talk – less than a week and I’m properly “home”. I can’t wait.