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Showing posts from 2015

A (Very Brief) Year In Review

A post like this could start with dates, it could present a chronology of events, either public or personal, and finish with an optimistic outlook on the next twelve months; a forecast based on the perceived good fortune of family, friends, work, and the state of our world. But I'll go with a few anecdotes and some thoughts on this measure of time that, once passed over, becomes little more than an archive revisited by historians and nostalgics. What's done is done and all that sort of thing... There is a lot to be said for the theme of Community in 2015.  There were a couple of weddings and new members in the family, new team mates at work, a Greek tragedy (almost), Refugees, Colectiv, Paris. The theme of solidarity abounds, surprisingly more so in Romania where grassroots associations seem to be getting more vocal and civil society is starting to find its voice . There are, of course, also plenty of sobering reminders that most of us are far from being masters of our

What Is A Platform?

A country is a platform. This was obvious to my friend when he called me last week and asked what I was doing. "I was just talking to the missus about how a country is a platform." "Yeah, it is" he said, like it's old news. He's a startup guy, he knows the deal. But the missus had just been saying how it was easy for me to say because I work in the world of tech and only techies will get the analogy. I said to her, "I got news for you, we all live in the world of tech." You don't have to work for a tech company to post or to view YouTube videos. You don't need to know anything about tech to get a ride with Uber, or to book an apartment on AirBnB. Amazon has over 200 million customers most of whom don't work in tech. Wikipedia is read by students, teachers, and any shape of curious person there is. Don't get me started on Twitter, Facebook, Google, or, while I'm at it, the internet as a whole. Few tech products are

A Brief History of Romanian Protests

Don't let anybody ever tell you that street protests don't change anything. Over the past three years, massive protests have yielded dramatic results in Romania. February 2012 : The protests were ignited by the proposal of a government bill to privatize certain aspects of the healthcare system. The bill was vocally opposed by then undersecretary of state, Raed Arafat, who was then urged to resign by the president, Traian Basescu. The protests, in support of Arafat- and against Basescu -  grew into the eventual anti-government, anti-austerity protests. Outcome: Prime Minister, Emil Boc, resigns. The proposed healthcare bill is also dropped. September 2013 : The "Romanian Autumn" protests and the  Rosia Montana  issue. I even wrote about it here . I won't go into the details again, but looking back, I would say that even more than the 2012 protests, this is where Romanian civil society was born. For the first time since the fall of Ceausescu the politician

Fire Hazard

When I first moved to Cluj, I was taken in by the party scene. No last call, good vibes, cheap drinks. The perfect party cocktail. It's a potent mix, it usually delivers, and everybody goes home happy at the end of the night. But every time I descended into smoke-filled party dungeons like Janis, Diesel, Stuf, and others, there was always this niggling thought at the back of my mind: "Fire Hazard." When I first started working security during my university days there was this very zealous guy training me. He wore black leather gloves, a duty belt with mace and cuffs, a utility knife, a bulletproof vest (which, he said, required a permit), and he wielded a hefty Mag Lite. Pretty much the stereotypical security guard, cop wannabe. This getup might be normal for security guards in the US, but not in Canada. Anyway, this one lesson really stuck.  As as we patrolled the hallways of a large condo we had to check all the common area access doors. We get to the first door

10 More Reasons Romania is Better Than America

I get it. The US is special. I hate to say it, especially as a Canadian, but it is. But it's mostly special because of the America that it used to be. The idea of America is special. There was, once, an American Dream within the reach of any hard working man. It was a country that offered unprecedented freedoms and opportunities unmatched by any other. The great melting pot was about inclusion towards one common goal, it was not divisive, individualistic and driven by a Bergeron-esque vision of 'equality'. Assets were not based on decades-long lines of credit, and salaries kept up with cost of living increases. I could go on about 'the way things used to be' but you can look it all up if you're interested. If you live there, you should be. The reality in America is different now. Sure, it's still the land of plenty. But the plenty is not all good. Plenty of debt, plenty of poverty, plenty of obesity, plenty of civil unrest coupled with plenty of he

From The Outside, Looking In: Part 2 (Times New Romanian)

Not to be confused with Times New Roman, the font, nor the satirical Romanian version of The Onion , Times New Romanian is as much a travel diary as it is a cultural exploration of a country through foreign eyes. The thirty-eight interviews that Nigel Shakespear presents form a mosaic of experience across the length and breadth of Romania. We have the stories of Brits, Americans, Indians, Italians, Dutchmen (and women), and others who, for a variety of reasons, now call Romania home. Few say they would go back to the place they were born and many can't imagine a life outside of Romania. You would think it's a story of the perfect melting pot, but if these voices prove anything it's that personal perspective and social integration can be mutually exclusive. One can love Romania and be critical of it at the same time. Many Romanians, I think, aren't able to do this. At least, not in the same way that foreigners do. It's a zero sum game with Romanians, while fo

On Refugees and Migrants

My parents entered Canada after their refugee claim was approved by the Canadian embassy in Paris -where they had also been granted political asylum following the events in Romania during December '89. When we (the kids) followed, a little over a year later, we got winter jackets and new bunk beds courtesy of the federal government. As a Romanian I'll always be grateful to Canada for the warm welcome. As a Canadian I'm proud to share in Canada's (arguably pre-2000) reputation of peacemaker and global good guy. That preamble is to say that it's difficult for me to remain impartial to the current refugee crisis. It hits close to home both figuratively and literally. I've got to where I am today because a then-foreign government opened its borders to our family. As a result, I got an upbringing that allowed me the opportunity to fulfill my yet unknown potential (that's because the best is yet to come). There's no missing the irony in the fact I've r

Reason I Love Living in Romania #8 - Lovage

We all know the ranking is arbitrary, but this one definitely is up there. As with the other " Reason I Love Living in Romania " posts, this is also food related. And why shouldn't it be? Leustean (EN: ' Lovage ') is pretty much the most savoury plant on earth. It lacks the pungency of basil, but it is no less aromatic. It's not as sharp on the nose as mint is, nor as fragrant as thyme, nor as earthy as oregano or parsley. While the comparison to celery is not completely out of order, it's still like comparing rucola to leaf lettuce.  An added bonus is the plant's versatility; you'll find that it works in pretty much any hearty comfort food. I've recently used it in a peperonata and it was a clear upgrade from the usual parsley. Like Sriracha, you could basically put it on a piece of cardboard and it'll be tasty. Finally, it stores beautifully. Roll it in shrink wrap and freeze it as long as you want. It's just as good when

All You Need Is Word

This isn't that important, probably not that interesting either, but it's been bothering me for a while. A major deficiency of mine is that I tend to get hung up on irrelevant minutiae even when I shouldn't. Couple that with some mild OCD and you'll find me wasting time on a fruitless endeavour, "just because". This weekend I spent several minutes designing the Steaua Bucharest logo in Microsoft Word.  Steaua Bucharest, by the way, is now known as FCSB. Romania's biggest football (soccer) club has been reduced to an acronym as a result of legal wrangling over trademarks and dues. You see, Steaua Bucharest, like pretty much every other team in Europe, isn't just a football club. They are a sporting association under whose umbrella you'll find basketball, water polo or weightlifting teams. The club was originally established as the sporting branch of the military, much like the Russians and Bulgarians have their CSKA teams, or the Serbs with FK P

The Un(Re)Told Festival

This time next year - in late July to be precise -  Cluj will be gearing up for the second installment of the mythical festival trilogy started with this year's Untold Festival. The 2016 " Told Festival " will host new names alongside most of this year's headliners. David Guetta, Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike, and the messiah of trance, Armin Van Buren, will bless Cluj Arena once again with Drop after Drop after Drop . It will be magical! My eardrums are quivering in anticipation, my joints already ache for the four days days of walking, standing, jumping, and hopping. As the modern adage goes: Eat, Sleep, Rave, Repeat. Repetition is indeed the name of the game here. From loops to samples to drops, it doesn't matter if we hear some songs/loops/samples more than once, because it will fit right in with the theme - an offshoot of this year's mythical fairy tales, we'll be going back in time to revisit the "Memories!" from this year's event

Extended Vacation

This is not so much about going anywhere, just about the absence I've taken from blog writing. There is no good excuse as to why the posts have thinned to a trickle, but they have and I'm going to need to cut the vacation short someday soon. Stay tuned.

From The Outside, Looking In: Part 1 (Never Mind The Balkans, Here's Romania)

I’ve been toying with the idea of starting up a book review blog ever since January when I decided that in 2015 I’d read a book a week. I’m now four books behind schedule. It turns out that no matter how fast you read, getting through 52 books also takes dedication.   But the universe has a way of helping you along when you set a clear course and (try to) maintain your heading. Several weeks ago, I was contacted by a couple of readers (both unaware of my reading goal, hence ‘the universe’ explanation) who introduced me to a couple of books that I quickly added to my reading list and, very recently, to my tally. So you can see where this is going... Mike Ormsby’s NeverMind the Balkans, Here’s Romania (also translated into Romanian ) and Nigel Shakespear’s Times New Romanian ( TNR ) are each worth their own review, but they complement each other so well that, having read both, I’d feel odd writing about either without bringing up the other. The foreigners who live here are pr

Why Romanians Don't Like Romanians

To my knowledge, this national self-loathing is a uniquely Romanian experience. Maybe we share it with some of our neighbours, but I doubt it. I've never seen a people dislike their own as much as the Romanians. This is going to be highly generalized, but as with most things I write here it's rooted in personal experience and observations. Don't hate the player, hate the game. 1. Romanians like the exotic, to be Romanian is the antithesis of what it means to be exotic. 2 . Romanians are often prejudiced. The thought process goes something like this: If you're Romanian you're probably bereft of interesting experiences and financially limited. You're from 'the-worst-country-on-earth', after all. If  you're well off, then you're just a rich asshole (probably a thief, too). Either way, your Romanian-ness ensures you're seen as a person with limited horizons who likely can't offer anything new or different. If you're Western Europe