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The Romanian Revolution Didn't End 25 Years Ago

When you can say "it's been a quarter-century" about something, it's not surprising that it feels like a lifetime ago. But during the most violent uprising of 1989, I can only remember peace. On the 22nd of December in Blaj, not a soul stirred. I remember looking out the window and all I could see was a ghost town. It seemed as thought even the stray dogs knew that it wasn't a good time to be out in the open. I think we all expected the army to come in. We heard about the uprising and deaths in Timisoara, we knew that Bucharest was in full revolt, and there was little information beyond that. I don't know why I don't remember anything on TV that day - maybe the antenna was broken and we had no signal.

I was secretely excited by the thought of seeing a real-live tank rumble past. And anyway, in my mind, the soldiers were the good guys. We also kept waiting to hear the gunfire that would signal that the revolution had arrived to Blaj, but there too, I was d…

Who Really Won The Romanian Elections?

If I translate my English posts into Romanian, it's only fair to return the favour. Although I'm going to cover the central theme of the previous post (written in Romanian), I'd rather let my writing take its course and let the text speak naturally, without relying on a source text.

The Presidential elections in Romania marked the end of the Basescu era. During his ten year mandate, he oversaw Romania's integration into NATO and ascension to the EU as well as Romania's most significant level of economic growth since 1989. He also presided over the ongoing theft of national and natural resources, supported corrupt colleagues and businesses, and was the star of numerous scandals including two referendums aimed at his removal.

During Basescu's mandate, I'd wager that Romanian morale reached an all-time low. The '90s, wild as they were, carried a certain optimism. Over time, however, the incompetence of Romanian leaders and their flagrant disrespect for thi…

Cine A Câștigat Alegerile De Fapt?

Sunt un idealist, știu. După ce-mi depășesc dubiile inițiale despre orice văd/aud/mi se propune, rămâne doar optimismul bazat pe faptul ca am încredere în intențiile bune ale omenirii -asta doar dacă sunt intrade-văr intenții bune. De obicei, îmi dau seama dacă-i cazul .

Acum mai bine de doi ani am scris primul meu articol în română. L-am întitulat Cum Să-i Dai Pe Toți Ticăloși Afara. L-am scris cu optimismul că (și) în Romania se poate. Știam asta pentru că, deși la vremea aceea eram venit de doar un an, încă nu întâlnisem oameni care nu erau bine intenționați. L-am scris in mare parte și din frustrare. O frustrare care încă o simțeam până la alegerile prezidențiale din 17 noiembrie. Deși Romania este o țară democratică, a căruia legii prevăd niște drepturi anume, cu un sistem de guvernare cât-de-cât transparent, puțini sunt oamenii care își asumă libertațiile democrației și care participă in procesul democratic pe de lung. Am vorbit despre acest process in articolul sus-menționat. E…

A Letter To The Romanian Diaspora

My dear friends,

Call me sentimental, but this image broke my heart.















Of all the scribbles on that lousy piece of paper, the one that ripped into me is not political, it's not directed at Ponta, and it has nothing to do with voting. It takes on many other overtones, however.
It is indignant, because you wrote that at a moment when you felt stripped of your dignity. It's despairing in its tone because you're fighting windmills. And finally, it's a very poignant cry for something that every human needs: a home.

If  the word "Londra" weren't written on that paper, I could imagine the same scribbles plastered all over a local sign. Except for that one exclamation, at the very bottom, in red pen. "Vrem Acasa!!!"

I understand the frustration of living in a place that, although hospitable, can never be like home. I understand the futility of imagining 'what if' you could live in Romania. I mean really live - not just survive - and benefit from g…

I've been busy

There was a roadtrip in August. Instead of leaving the country for more cosmopolitan destinations, my soon-to-be wife and I wanted to see what Romania has to offer. More than we were able to see in ten days on the road it turns out.
I'm still sorting pictures though, and probably at some point in the middle of winter, with summer nostalgia at its peak, I will have finished the post, complete with sun-drenched images.

Although I've become involved in a couple of new projects (in addition to work), there is no one thing that's keeping me from writing other than the feeling that I'd be doing it because I have to.

I could have written about the Canadians who opened a nice little bistro in Piata Muzeului. About the Cluj Comedy festival, about voting in the recent (and upcoming) election. There are also good things happening with local businesses, most notably an improvement in quality of products and services in some cases.

But there are still hard facts of life that remind…

O Ţara în Căutarea Sensului Existenței

Am spus că o să scriu și în română, și mă gândesc că ar fi cazul să încep cu un articol scris mai demult (în engleza). L-am ales pe acesta pentru-că din toate care le-am scris încă este relevant și va mai rămâne relevant câțiva ani. Așa e cu o țâra în dezvoltare, care-și caută definiția existentei sale. Spun asta pentru că nu este corupția și proasta guvernantă care ar trebui sa definească țara aceasta și nu cred ca-i destul să spunem că natura frumoasă ne definește, asta poate fi 'spusă' de multe alte țări. Deci, mai cautăm.

Bineînțeles, vor fi greșeli de gramatică și de lexic, dar cred ca esențialul se transmite.

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(Link to the original in English)
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Este incredibil de ușor de a devia de la subiect, atunci când încerci să analizezi psihicul, mai ales atunci când vorbim despre psihologia de grup, în sine o discuție încărcată în care liniile dintre realitate, generalizare, și stereotip sunt neclare. Cu toate astea, acest lucru este cu ce am de a lucra, deoa…

16 Reasons Cluj Is The Ideal City For A New Start

I wanted something different. The big-city rat race wasn't doing it for me. I wasn't in any state to settle at my job, to put a down-payment on a thirty year condo mortgage, to get a long-term girlfriend and then to rinse and repeat. A lot of it had to do with not knowing what I wanted exactly, but I knew I didn't want 'this'. And even when I first visited Cluj in 2010, I didn't think Cluj would be 'it'. After all, what could a Romanian city with less than half-a-million inhabitants have to offer anybody from a North American metropolis? It was almost a quaint notion. Still is in some ways.

Crossing the entire city, end to end, in twenty minutes? That's like a drive to the grocery store in Toronto. Tallest building has like, what, fifteen floors? Ha, how puny. There are bigger roller coasters back where I'm from. Oh, is that an Indian restaurant? Yes, the one and only. There is also an  iStyle for all your Apple needs. What's iStyle? Also, w…

Here Is Why Romania's Future Is Bright

The festival is only in its second edition, but following last year's inaugural event, Electric Castle has stirred up enough buzz to attract visitors from beyond Romania's borders. Walking around the festival grounds I had the impression that every other group was comprised of foreigners speaking Hungarian, English, German, or French. And judging by the license plates in the parking lots, every county in Romania was well represented. While there's plenty to be said about the artists and the music, there's something else I want to discuss in this post.

When you think "music festival", the image that comes to mind is that of overly excited youth on a drug and alcohol infused rampage, laying waste to everything in their path. Maybe it has something to do with the way festivals like to promote themselves; these are basically the images that stand out on most 'Official Aftermovie' videos from major music festivals. But obviously the experience is defined b…

Romanian Beauty

Not long ago, I wrote a short post on another kind of Romanian beauty, but I came across a blog that's full of stunning images of local scenery. It's nice to see somebody's taking the time to curate these images and offer them to an international audience (in English). Browsing through it helped whet my appetite for the upcoming Romania tour this summer.

Here's the link to the blog, and a bunch of sample shots.

Enjoy!

Sulina, Danube Delta


Rainy Street in Brasov




In My Country...

Many years ago, I dated a girl who was half Laotian and half Chinese. I liked that even though she was born in Canada, she had these backup cultures on which she could form her world view, just like I did. When we talked we'd sometimes get into discussions about things like the different ways in which Canadians, Romanians, Laotians, or Chinese prepare chicken. "I ate chicken feet and chicken hearts back in my country," I'd say. We'd both be grossed out (because that just isn't done in Canada) even though it's not unusual in our backup cultures to eat everything but the beak.

Then one day she said to me, "You're always talking about your country, but it's kind of boring." Ouch. She wasn't saying Romania is boring though, she meant that the cultural discussions we had were less interesting than talking about work, movies, music, and other random everyday Canadian stuff. Needless to say, we didn't stay together very long.

It's a…

28 Changes in Cluj Since 2011

It's now been three years.

My one-way trip from Toronto had me arrive on April 1st, 2011, the irony, right? I came in via Budapest. They don't even have that connection anymore.

Let's see what else has changed, in no particular order at all...

1. The mayor 2. The other mayor 3. The Janis on Eroilor is no longer there 4. There's a beautiful new stadium















5. Cluj are no longer a force in Romanian football
6. The steps to Cetatuia have been rebuilt 7. All you can eat sushi is a daily thing  8. More Canadians (and other foreigners) are calling Cluj 'home' 9. Quality of services is improving  10. There is a new park (Iulius)
11. You can now find a pretty decent burger around here  12. Saw the opening of the first (and probably still the only) Thai restaurant in Transylvania 13. Central Park got a haircut (a bit on the short side)
14. You can fly to more places in Europe (Basel is the latest direct flight)
15. The casino got a makeover
16. More festivals and events tha…

O Sa Scriu (Si) In Romana

De ce?

Pentru ca, de ce nu.

E si alceva. Mi-am dat seama ca pot macar sa traduc articolele vechi, scrise in Engleza, si sa le fac 'available' in Romana. Apropo, o sa scriu asa in felu meu, cu Englezisme si cuvinte inovative. Sper ca sunteti excitati, cum am fost si eu de cand am ajuns inapoi in tara. 

Are Romanian Women The Most Beautiful In The World?

More than once, I was asked to write about the beauty of Romanian women, but...

I have no words. Besides, I may be biased, but clearly it's a rhetorical question.

However, there is no shortage of Facebook pages and Tumblr blogs dedicated to the subject.






Image: Geanina Olaru @ weheartit

Reason I Love Living in Romania #76 - Ramsons

In the 100 Reasons I Love Living in Romania series that I started at number 58 a few months ago, I talked about the piata and the pleasure of eating real fruit and vegetables - a luxury that is now almost non-existent in North America thanks to supermarkets and seed providers like Monsanto. This Top 100 wouldn't be complete without a post on a very important discovery made at the piata: Leurda,  the Romanian word for Ramson, or, Allium Ursinum





Basically it's garlic. 
And who doesn't like Garlic? Vampires, that's who.
The rest of us should forever be grateful that garlic exists and that it make any dish taste better. It's like the bacon of non-meat ingredients. But common garlic is by no means practical; crushing it, peeling the skin, adding it to cooked dishes, and having to wash your fingertips really well after doing all that it make it a chore-like ingredient to deal with. It's worth it, but it's a chore.
Not so with Ramson(s). Like any leafy green, yo…

How To Love Romania Like A Foreigner

It's no secret that foreigners in Romania tend to have a much better opinion of the country than its native inhabitants. This, of course, goes for almost anywhere else, but it really stands out in Romania. It's easy to say that it's the novelty that attracts foreigners here. When you visit a new country, your senses are assaulted by new experiences and the more unpleasant bits of a trip get washed away by the euphoria of discovery. This doesn't explain what makes people stay though.
My experience, and that of others who've made the move to Romania, is that the initial appreciation doesn't need to depreciate as long as you follow these four simple rules.

1. Look at solutions, not just the problem - We all know that Complaining (with a capital C, yes) is a beloved pastime in Romania. It's normal to complain, humans do it all the time and it can be therapeutic. The secret to effective complaining is in splitting the discussion into the bitching session and the …

Is Cluj The Best City On Earth?

It's a question I ask myself at times.

Let's put it this way; I've been around. Maybe not all around the world, but halway-ish maybe. Sailed the canals of Amsterdam, biked from one end of Paris to the other, took the train from Budapest to Berlin, drove the 405 in LA, and yeah, I even rode a hay cart back in the day. But other than enjoying all these forms of transportation, I got to enjoy the places I visited. I don't know about you, but when I visit a place I always ask myself,  'would I live here?' While the answer is often 'yes, why not', the only place I moved to was Cluj.

Cluj, how do I love thee, let me count the ways:

1. I love your smell. It's like earth, and air, and city. I will never forget my first day here, when I  walked out of the arrivals building at the airport and breathed in your smell. Spring. You're the city of eternal Spring. On a balmy day, it's what you smell like, even if it's December, or August.

2. I love your…

Romanian Culture 101: Romania's Major Lazer

Of all the habits and baggage that one assimilates by moving to a new country, embracing Culture is the final threshold before 'going native'. Someone can learn a foreign language and still remain far removed its associated culture. It takes an amalgam of shared local experiences, relationships, and a daily dose of local customs before culture is assimilated - and incorporated. But I'm just scratching the surface here. There are countless other micro factors involved. And because we're dealing with a qualitative question, measuring the 'amount' of culture is at best subjective, and this preamble is, at best, casual.

Though born here, I've been gone so long that, very often, seemingly obvious cultural references go right over my head and I have to turn to my traditions consultant/girlfriend for guidance. This is especially the case where music is concerned. I confuse Enescu and Porumbescu, I have no idea what the lyrics are to the most popular campfire song…

Johnny Angel And The Stray Dogs Of Romania

There's this bullshit petition that's been floating around on twitter. An update to Romania's laws on stray dogs is going to result in the euthanasia of Romania's stray dog population. The animal activist set is in an uproar. In other words, in a country where a significant number of people survive on subsistence wages, and where they suffer the added indignity of being attacked by flea-bitten strays, this is the primary focus of the international civil society. I'm not going to link the actual petition because it has zero merit, but I'm going to address the absolutely false, misleading, and pretty much insane claims that it makes, one point at a time.

Let's start with the law itself. It defines a several new provisions to an already existing 2001 law that deals with "ownerless dogs" aka. 'Maidanezi' in Romanian, aka. Strays. I'm not going to put every single bit of it, just the clearly relevant aspects of it. Also added emphasis in bo…