Monday, October 30, 2006

Fall Back

I hate it when the clocks go back. Not the act of putting them back so much, or the day itself (though I also reject this weird conceptual argument that it "gives you an extra hour in bed" - how? It's a Sunday. Unless you attend a 8 am mass, you really don't get an extra hour in bed, since you have no reason to get up early anyway).

It's the fact that subsequent to this chronometric retrogression, the evenings, which previously were gently "drawing in", in one fell swoop vanish entirely from the daylit schedule. It sucks. I understand that this year the US hasn't gone back at the same time as Europe (or even Canada), because Congress has voted in something called the "Halloween Act" so that kids can trick or treat in more daylight. Seriously, I'm not making that up.

It also, of course, heralds winter, and round these parts winter is a long tiring slog. According to the news yesterday, winter is coming. I couldn't work out when it was coming, but presumably it is soon, since the news that winter is coming sometime is not really news at all.

Anyway, it's half term and we are off to the in-laws for a week, and I will therefore be offline. Enjoy halloween, the day of the dead and whatever other events come up this week.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

4 tier Europe?

I remember a few years ago there was talk of having a two tier EU. There would be the countries that believed in it and wanted to work together for some undefined glorious European tomorrow in one tier, and the countries that didn't believe in it but were too scared to be left on the outside in the other tier. The UK of course was one of the latter.

Since 2004, we've effectively had this two tier Europe, but it's slightly different from what was first thought up. This is down to Europe admitting a series of buffer states to protect it from the perceived terrible ravages of immigration. These buffer states (look it up on a map if you don't believe me) form a thick barrier of cabbage, sour cream, and beer from the Baltic coast of Poland in the north, through the former Czechoslovakia, Hungary and down to the Adriatic in Slovenia. This cabbage curtain effectively allows the Western end of the continent to limit immigration from further east (though they clearly need to set up some kind of floating buffer states between north Africa and various Spanish and Italian islands, to really make sure they've blocked off all the avenues.)

In admitting them, existing European states made choices as to whether to allow citizens of those nations (now to be EU citizens) should actually be allowed to live and work anywhere they liked in the Union - what the EU was supposed to be all about in short. To its credit, the UK opened its doors, unlike many of the nations which were supposed to be all about EU integration and the like. This was often talked up in comparing the relative economic performance of placeslike the UK and Ireland which opened up and France and Germany which didn't.

So for a while we had a three speed Europe - countries who were actually making use of the idea of the union to gain ground economically; countries who were not doing that, but were "old Europe" and hence more powerful in the grand scheme of things; and the countries being stripped of their human resources to fuel the UK's economic growth.

Now, however, cowed by tabloid scare headlines and racism towards gypsies, the UK and Ireland have decided to close the door to Romanians and Bulgarians, thus creating an underclass of Europe within the Union itself. It's fucking disgraceful. Is my country run by the Daily Mail? It certainly feels that way.

Now Romania could respond to this with reciprocity, making life hard for Brits who want to live and work in Romania, and in fact that would be a good idea (despite the fact that it would be a pain in the arse for yours truly). But the fact is that there aren't that many of us who want to be here, and most who do come work for large multinationals who can afford to jump through bureaucratic hoops. Instead, what the Romanian government should do is to make it hard for Brits to buy property here. The UK press is full of articles about the advantages and benefits of buying property in Romania and Bulgaria, and a policy denying Brits the right to own property in this country would upset a lot of people over there (and the kind of people who are likely to be having dinner parties with politicians and journalists). So, Calim and Traian, what do you say? Give New Labour something to think about, the xenophobic scumlords that they are.

Here are the most recent comments of the BBCs Europe editor on the subject of Romania and emigration 28th September (the comments section at the bottom is worth a read, if only to get all steamed up about people such as the cretinous "Steve H, of Littlehampton"), and October 26th (ie today - hence not many irate comments yet from Little Englanders (Littlehamptoners?))

Five of the best

The most intriguingly named products & businesses in Romania:

Discounting such classics as Heavy Tools Clothing Division, The Transilvanian Trousers Company and meaningless advertising slogans such as "Cosmote: In Touch With Life" (Really. WTF?)

5: Crimbo Gas. Not that funny, I'll grant you, but it always amuses me to see this company's ads around the place, being as how "Crimbo" is kind of a cloyingly cutesy way of referring to "Christmas" in the UK

4: Bords Eye. No that's not a spelling mistake. Just as there is a company called Birds Eye in the UK which sells frozen food, in Romania (at least) there is a brand of margarine called Bords Eye. It's a Northern Irish version I suspect. Wonder if they make sajt too? "It's Bords Eye sajt, so it is"

3: Gyno Drinks. I see the van with this company's name on the side driving around Csikszereda sometimes and it always (without fail) reminds me of "Vegina" (the vegetable drink in an edible can) featured on the Alan Partridge radio show.

2: Stalinskaya Vodka. Who came up with this brand name? Really. Are we going to see a German style lager introduced onto the market called Hitlersch?

1: Antrax Import and Export. Classic. It really needs no more elaboration does it? I'll really start worrying if Antrax start exporting Bords Eye.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

October 23rd

Bit of a busy week, round these parts as I am in sole charge of the little ones, but we'll see if I can get through a quick post about Monday evening before the littlest one wakes up.

So, as mentioned earlier Monday was the 50th anniversary of the Hungarian uprising in which a large number of very brave people rose up against their oppressive regime, and were eventually crushed with the assistance of the Soviet army. This obviously didn't happen here, since we are not in Hungary, but there was a fairly large commemmoration event here. At 6.30 we went out to join the candelit march that was starting from "Freedom Square" outside our apartment. We couldn't get a candle/torch, as they were reserved for bigwigs apparently, but undaunted we managed to get over the disappointment. The parade/march/walk/amble was conducted in almost complete silence (though I'm not sure if that was deliberate or just because people weren't feeling very chatty), and led us up Timisoara Boulevard and then up past the theatre to the Hungarian Consulate. By the time we got there it was a fairly big gathering, of at least a couple of thousand, which for this town is a major turnout.

Speeches were spoken by various dignitaries - somebody from the Hungarian foreign ministry, the consul, some religious leader, a local politician one who has his own blog even (in Hungarian), and various others. It was getting a bit parky by this time, and Paula was getting tired so I led her home, while Erika and Bogi braved the nighttime chill of the Carpathians for a while longer, but not quite long enough to witness the unveiling of a new statue representing "The Angel of News" (I think). I saw it yesterday though, and it's not the most attractive piece of public art I've ever seen, but probably I'll get used to it.

I wanted to include some photos to give you a taste of the evening's events, but sadly my camera chose that night to seemingly expire. I'm hoping I can resurrect it somehow.

I asked around to find out what would have been the channel for this news to reach Csikszereda back in 1956, and was given a number of possible answers (nobody I asked was actually alive, so it was a bit of guesswork) - that they heard on Romanian media (which seems like it may have happened after the fact - it's hard to imagine that 1956 Romanian government would have been happy about spreading news of a popular uprising); that they heard on Radio Free Europe; and that people near the border could get Hungarian TV and they would obviously have heard, and it would have got passed around Transylvania, slowly spreading eastwards. That last one appeals to me (aesthetically, not because I like the idea of people being denied information) - it conjures up bards and wandering minstrels and the like.

Anyway, the events, such as they were, were quite moving and passed by without incident, which is obviously more than can be said for the similar commemorations in Budapest.

Hungarian readers may be interested to learn that the 1956 events more or less destroyed the far left in the UK (obviously no major deal compared to what upheaval it caused in Hungary). After the seond world war, the communist party was quite strong in Britain, but 1956 split it completely asunder between those who supported the uprising and those who advocated mother Russia sending the tanks in. To this day, the derogatory slang term for Stalinists in the UK (yes there are some) is "tankies".

Monday, October 23, 2006

Half a Century

No time to write much today, but thought I'd pass on this link which is full of photos and audio and video files relating to the Hungarian uprising of October 23rd, 1956.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Music videos and Csik from above

An aerial view of Csikszereda (taken in winter obviously)

I wanted to share a couple of videos from YouTube with you, so I went along and attempted to blog them (this is a new verb meaning to stick them up here) but apparently I can't becase I recently moved this blog over to "beta.blogger" which means that it's more fully integrated into Google (or some such bullshit). This is, of course, in the week in which Google actually bought YouTube. It baffles me, frankly. (Plus my gmail account seems to be not functioning well at the moment). All in all I am significantly less well-disposed towards google than I was about a week ago.

Anyway, I can't embed the videos here, but I can give you some links:

Here is Iubire by 3 Sud Est, which you may recall me dissing last week. Now you can see for yourself the boys and their hard-as-nails image contrasted with their not-quite-so-hard falsettos.

Here is Erika's current favourite. Ghiţa by Cleopatra Stratan. Now I'm usually of the opinion that any record made by a child (or children in the plural) ought to be avoided like the plague. But somehow this one is kind of infectious and nowhere near as obnoxious as it should be.

And finally, Mahala Rai Banda, a gypsy band who are really excellent. This song is impossible to not start tapping your feet to. Mind you, they'll never make it on to MTV Romania, where I have seen the other two. It's a shame.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Star Wars

On Sunday night Real Madrid arrived at Otopeni airport. This event was trumpeted like they were ...well, I was going to say royalty, but if it had been Juan Carlos showing up, for example, there would have been much less fanfare. Like gods maybe. The TV stations all had someone stationed in the presidential lounge of the airport where the team would appear (why in the presidential lounge I have no idea, why they couldn't come through passport control and customs and baggage reclaim like the rest of us is beyond me, but you know these are overpaid and overhyped celebrities we're talking about), and the sports sections of all the Sunday evening news shows were all taken up with exciting trivia such as whether Posh Spice would be on the plane and what exact route the bus was likely to take from Otopeni to the Marriot Hotel. Two stations even elected to cover the arrival and subsequent bus journey live in all its detail. Really, I swear I'm not making any of this up.

The excitement continued to build on Monday with press conferences being covered in full, training ground action and various sundry bits of information. Then yesterday came the reason that this exalted bunch had deigned to touch down on Romanian soil and bless us all with their presence. The match against Steaua. ["Star Wars" as one channel oh so cleverly billed it - you see Madrid are all stars and Steaua means star. Oh ho.] Sadly, for Romanian football fans, many of whom had travelled across the country to watch this game, and who had played vast amounts for a ticket, Steaua had seemingly been watching too much awestruck breathless TV coverage themselves, and they too seemed to feel unworthy of being on the same pitch as the wealthy has-beens from the Bernabeu, capitulating miserably and losing 4-1.

Still, the upside of that result is that we won't have to endure weeks of Gigi Becali crowing on TV with the compliant Romanian media hanging on his every word. Even more pleasingly the killer third goal was scored by black Brazilian forward Robinho, thus being one in the eye for the bigot Becali and the racists who seem to make up a reasonable proportion of Steaua's fan base.

I have to say that the fawning arselicking of the Real team and their presence in Romania did the nation as a whole no favours. They're not messiahs, they're just overrated footballers. Steaua deserved to be in the Champions League group stages (much as it pains me to say it), and Romania is just as much part of Europe as anywhere else. This media-led prostration at their feet is pathetic. It's at times like these when I feel an understanding of those who can't stand football.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Viral Blogging

Is it just me or is the word "meme" really, really overused? And more than just overused, but used really badly? And does it represent the fastest that a word has been perverted and come to be almost meaningless? It was only invented in the mid 70s after all, and as I understand it it means something like a cultural item that gets passed down through generations (basically a cultural version of a gene). Thus the passing of a set of questions from one blog to another is in no way related to a "meme", and I wish here and now to state my objection to that term being used to describe this practice.

Far better to use the other commonly known word for this that I have seen - "blog tag" (or though when I was a lad it was called tig rather than tag, so for the purposes of this entry I will use blog tig).

I have been aware of this blog tig game for some while through the reading of other blogs, and have pretended to look upon with mock disdain for this little game, while all the time feeling desperately sad that no one ever tigged me. That is, until now, and I have been saved from a life of ignominious tig free blogging, by Romerican. Finally I have arrived, finally I can say my blogging experience is complete.

So, without further ado, since I am now "it", here are my answers to the questions posed:

Three things I love about Csíkszereda

The market - gorgeous fruit, delicious vegetables, intercultural interactions, friendly people, open air browsing, the place where Romania converges on the town, with stall holders from all over the country. I have heard from four different people that the rumour is it will all be closed down now that Romania will be in the EU, but I suspect (hope to hell) that they are wrong and this is just one of these ridiculous rumours that go on with EU accession (I remember when the rumour in the UK was that bananas would have to be not too curved under EU rules. And obviously that was bollocks too)

- not mine, obviously, since I'm a bit crap, but everybody else's. I think it's cool that so many people here speak two languages fluently. I spoke to a Romanian couple who live here recently who put the (Hungarian) Minimax cartoon channel on for their young daughter because they want her to learn the language, even though they themselves don't speak a word of it. It's all cool.

Small town/Big fish
- I like the fact that it's a small town, so you know everything you need to know, and everyone you need to know (that last one is important in Romania, where it's who you know rather than what you know). But I also like the fact that the town has more importance than a town of similar size would have, thanks it to being the county town of Harghita and thus the de facto centre of the autonomy for Székelyföld movement. Plus it's the market/hub for a large region, so the population that use the town is much greater than the actual number of people who live here. And finally the annual pilgrimage makes it very lively - at least for a weekend.

Three things I hate about Csíkszereda

The cold - I can handle the cold for the most part, even when it drops down below -30, but it's just the sheer relentlessnees of it. Month after month after bloody month.

Nationalists - Hungarians who bang on about how terrible Romanians are and teach their kids to hate the language (and in so doing effectively hold back their own children - idiots), and Romanians who are so aggressively pissed off about living in a town in their own country in which they are not the majority that they take it out on everyone they meet, and also whine and complain to the national media (and the PRM) about how terrible it is to live here like some kind of oppressed minority. Give me a break, scummers.

Lack of things to do - what can I say, it's the flip side of small town advantages. We also have small town disadvantages.

Three places in Csíkszereda I like to go with friends

Friends? What are they? Going out? What's that all about? I have children.

Lobogo Panzio - not actually in the town, but a great restaurant in the mountains half way to Udvarhely. Great food, great location.

Outside on Petőfi Utca - any of the terrace cafes on a sunny day. Enjoying the weather, watching the world go by, on the street that makes Csíkszereda a good place to be.

Gambrinus Csarda - outdoor beer garden type place with large barbecue thing going on. Good place to sit and enjoy a nice large glass of cold draught Ciuc of an evening (and at 20,000 ROL for a large one, you can't really go wrong can you?)

Three things an outsider would not understand about Csíkszereda

Language - The fact that the first language of the city is Hungarian and not Romanian - even though we're miles and miles from Hungary.

Football - Is there any other European city in which football is so unimportant? It still baffles me, to be honest. It's all about ice hockey, and the local football team aren't even in Romania's third tier (which means that they're really really bad - there are 3 divisions in the second tier and 9 in the third.)

The main square - a vast windswept plaza stuck in the middle of the town for no reason (or at least no reason known to anybody but Ceausescu, as it was one of his architectural masterstrokes). Not attractive, not a nice place to hang out, just not, basically.

Fanciest neighborhood in Csíkszereda:
Csiksomlyo. Not really a meighbourhood, technically, but rather a village which has become an effective suburb of the town. Where all the rich people now live.

Ugliest neighborhood in Csíkszereda: Probably the Mosquito district, which was built on a swamp (hence the name). But this town is saved from real ugliness by the mountains around - however ugly the buildings are, you can always look up and be reminded of the world beyond the communist era apartment buildings.

OK that's done. Now to pass on this blogging virus (more apt than a meme I feel) - to Paul and to David (the latter one in a probably vain attempt to get him back to his blog).

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Local news

There's an awful lot of construction going on at the moment here. I mean it's not Dubai, but things do seem to be moving (not sure in what direction exactly, but moving nevertheless). In particular there are three very big construction projects that ever since I moved here had been completely frozen it seemed. A big apartment building on our street, a large unspecified piece of concrete opposite the apartment and looking directly onto "Taps Ter" (thanks Ada), and a huge indoor sports complex. All of these buildings were half finished (at best) and looked like they would remain that way for ever. But now there is action. The apartment building is nearly finished. The sports hall thingy likewise. Even the grey piece of concrete nothingness across the way has suddenly sprung into life, and is being operated on by a large team of workers (it is going to become a high school, I'm told). Already the complaints have started though - there'll not be enough parking places for the high school, and why would we have a high school right in the middle of the town? The sports hall is already rumoured to be inaccessible for the mere plebs of the town and the facilities will only be available for a select few.

Various other town clean up operations are underway too - new signposts, a new one way system, with wide seeming pavements, and even cycle paths everywhere. The cycle paths are a little bit problematic as no-one has seen fit to advise the general population as to what they are, so you see people having conversations on them, using them for pushchair pushing, just wandering around aimlessly on them, while cyclists attempt to weave in and out of them as best they can. Still, it will all look very good when it's done. (Though with winter right round the corner, everything may soon be put on hold for 6 months) I'll take some pictures later and regale you with the new Csikszereda.

In other exciting local news, Sport Club Miercurea Ciuc, the ice hockey team, have won the Romanian Cup, beating Steaua Bucharest 4-3 in the final. This occasioned much rejoicing and celebrations, with people staying up and out on the streets as late as 11pm, the wild party animals that they are. The team are also currently joint top of the Hungarian ice hockey league and top of the Romanian one (though the Romanian league season is always merely a precursor to another final against Steaua)

Thursday, October 12, 2006


In the absence of any content from me today, I'd like to point everyone in the direction of Dumneazu's post about the peasant market at Negreni this last weekend. Sounds fantastic. Having read it, I asked a couple of people here if they knew something about this peasant market "Oh, yes, Fekete Tó" they all said, like it was common knowledge and I should of course have known about it. I'm definitely going next year.

And for one more link of the day, the website of Hans Ven der Meer, Dutch photographer, who has managed to put together a fantastic series of pictures of football being played in various different settings. Doesn't sound too promising, I know, especially if you're not into football - but believe me, it's worth a look. There are two pictures from Romania, in case you need local interest, and for Hungarian readers at the end of the strip are some fascinating shots (unfootball related) from mid-80s Budapest.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Further adventures in Wikipedia

I have once more been drawn to Wikipedia – this time because I have discovered that something I wrote is referenced there in an article. I know that probably says quite a lot more about the authenticity of Wikipedia rather than the learned and academic nature of my blogged ramblings, but there you go.

Long term readers (you poor, poor, bastards) may remember a post I made last year regarding music in Romania, in which I mentioned, among other things, the band 3 Sud Est and their very camp video. [At the bottom of the wiki-page about 3 Sud Est, footnote 1]. Well, at this juncture, I am extremely non-committal to announce that 3 Sud Est have a new single out, featuring a significantly more macho video that last year’s effort. [I’d like to kid myself that I am responsible for this image change, because of my mocking of the one for Cu capu-n nori - and let's face it, since they could have found out about that cruel taunt by simply reading it on Wikipedia, it may just have been so]. So, the new video (the song is called “Iubire”) involves our favourite threesome dressed in sharp suits and wearing wraparound sunglasses, like a group of bouncers in a provincial nightclub*, standing at the back of this hi-tech studio, while a dancing woman cavorts around in the foreground. They (3 Sud Est) never smile throughout the video, thus emphasizing how fucking rock hard they are. The problem of course is that this new image is shattered every time they open their mouths to start singing, as they (all three of them) appear to be castrati.

Frankly, this post is just a pathetic attempt to be the third English language source on the existence of 3 Sud Est, such that I get another Wiki-footnote.

(* By nightclub here, I mean that in the English sense of “discotheque and bar which is open after the pubs have closed” rather than in the Romanian sense: outsiders ought to know that the English word “nightclub” in Romania actually means knocking shop or strip club. I have no idea what bouncers at a provincial Romanian nightclub would look like, or indeed even if there are any, since I have never been to such a place. I swear. It’s just a vicious rumour.)

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Down on the Pharm

Going to the Chemist’s in Romania is, quite frankly, a pain in the arse. Not actually literally a pain in the arse, though I suppose it could depend on what you’re going there for. No, literally, it’s a pain in the feet, and just metaphorically a pain in the arse. The thing is that pharmacies are one of the few businesses which have apparently remained unchanged since Ceausescu’s time. As you walk through the door of the average pharmacy, you step out of the 21st century (well, let’s say you step out of the late 20th century – this is Romania after all) and enter into this faded netherworld of old posters and long queues and overly complex bureaucracy and strict state controls. This feeling is not helped by the fact that the clientele are (as they are in chemists everywhere in the world) predominantly elderly and unhealthy.

I will attempt to describe this step-back-in-time for those of you lucky enough not to ever have to go to a Romanian pharmacy. Firstly, you can’t see in them from outside, since they have these small grimy windows which often have bars across them, or if there are lower windows they are frosted. I don’t know why. Then you go inside, pushing aside the large iron framed door, to the world that time forgot. The floor is concrete. Just concrete. There is a large area of nothingness in the pharmacy itself, which may, in more upmarket establishments, have a chair here or there round the side, or even a set of weighing scales (presumably so that you may see how much weight you lose while waiting to be served). Around this central void, there are barriers of varying degrees of sturdiness punctuated by serving-hatch style windows. Regardless of the actual composition of the barriers (full wall, counter, half glass wall, even no barrier just space defined by the windows), the impenetrability of it is unquestioned. Something about the lay out and design of the space tells you in no uncertain terms that stepping beyond the defined limits of the customers’ area would lead to imprisonment and possibly a beating of some sort. Probably involving the securitate.

Behind the windows, are a number (never greater than 3, usually 1) of women in white coats. They’re always women, and I’ve never ever seen a male pharmacist in Romania. Behind them, and sometimes surrounding them, are various pharmaceutical products, that you cannot touch, unless they hand them to you through the little window. There are also little wooden drawers and cupboards that look like they haven’t been opened since sometime before the moon landing.

So, you join a queue. If there is only one pharmacist, then you join the only queue. And you wait, patiently, in line with all the other people in the queue. And you have to wait a long time, because every transaction involves not only the handing over of prescriptions, money and drugs, but also the laborious filling in of numerous forms and ledgers full of information. In many of these places they now have computers too, looking seriously out of place, but the benefit of these machines seems to be that the information needs to be entered now both onto the computer and into the ledger.

Now the big problem with all this, other than the olde-world, Dickensian drudgery of it all, is that you have to do this no matter what you want to buy. This system is not just for those who have prescriptions that they need filling. It’s for everything – from aspirins to tampons to baby food to vitamin C pills. Now luckily, a few of those things (notably baby food and tampons), have escaped from the system and are now also available in regular supermarkets and the like. But certain things, notably headache medication and other over-the-counter remedies, are not available elsewhere and have to be bought at the pharmacy in this painfully laborious way. Why it is not possible to use the dead zone in the heart of the shop for some display cases and have a till at the entrance for those who don’t need prescription drugs is beyond me. It’s all about control, it seems. And for ensuring that if you have popped in for some paracetamol because you have a small headache, that by the time you actually get the paracetamol you have a raging migraine. I’d love to take a picture of the interior of a pharmacy here so you could see I wasn’t making any of this up, but frankly I fear that if I got a camera out in the middle of any one of these establishments, I’d be arrested and shipped out to some gulag – or at the very least, forced to live in the Dobrogea and dig canals.

Interesting to note that things are obviously not dissimilar in Hungary. I wonder if this retail-pharmaceutical refusal to embrace 1989 is typical throughout Eastern Europe?

Monday, October 09, 2006


Paula recently started cruising. No, no, that’s not what you’re thinking of, it’s something entirely different. It is the official term (I have learned) for that period when she (or any baby, to be honest) starts trying to pull herself to a standing position. She’s only actually been crawling properly for about a month, having spent some while attempting to crawl with her head on the floor as well as her four limbs (go on, try that, it’s dead tricky), and the teacher in me would like her to perfect that skill before moving onto something infinitely more complex, but you know, she won’t be told.

I have no idea why it’s called cruising though. It’s all very confusing. I had always assumed that the preferred holiday of blue-rinsed American over-70s was known as “Going on a cruise” rather than “Cruising” precisely to avoid the confusion around the activity described in the second, most commonly understood definition here. “What are you doing for your holidays this summer, Myrtle?” “O, Walt and I thought we’d do a spot of cruising”. I mean it would lead to endless confusion and suggestive double-entendres wouldn’t it? “I heard Walt and Myrtle are cruising this summer”, “Oh, I bet they are”. But, now, to my surprise, I learn that the word has been co-opted by the parent community to mean something entirely different. How I wish these words weren’t besmirched by their being used by these marginal societal groups, to mean something faintly unsavoury. Oh, for a simpler more innocent world, when cruising was picking people up in toilets and not something involving watching babies repeatedly fall on their arse.

Is nothing sacred? The next thing I’ll discover is that cottaging is a word also used to describe the infant practice of burping lightly and allowing a small pool of half digested milk to spill from the mouth and be deposited on ones (and ones parents’) clothes.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

In praise of the Hummer

When I lived in the US I had a policy that every time I saw a Hummer I would perform the universal gesture of “you are a wanker” at the car (and hopefully the driver – though since they have tinted windows, I was never sure). I’m actually not sure that the “You are a wanker” gesture is that universal actually, which may have saved me from some angry Hummer drivers shouting at me or attempting to run me over. (In case you, too, are unfamiliar with it, place an imaginary small apple in your right hand, and don’t clutch it too tightly. Then with palm and thumb upwards, wave the hand desultorily back and forth in the direction of the object or person being addressed. Know the one?)A Hummer, yesterday

A Hummer, by the way, is this very big car that only the terminally inadequate drive. It makes your average Toyota Landcruiser or Ferrari Testarossa look restrained and subdued choices. They do something like 3 inches to the gallon too (for everyone else, that translates as approximately 10cm per 3 litres). They scream “Look at me! I don’t give a shit about anything or anybody” from the top of their huge ostentatious metal lungs. I hate them.

But someone once pointed out to me that they do have a positive element to them. It works like this: In life, in general, it is possible to divide people into the categories of wanker and non-wanker. At a rough estimate, I believe about 6% of humanity fall into the wanker category. However, at first glance it is impossible to tell a wanker from a non-wanker, and a person’s wanker rating is only discernable through prolonged exposure. Thus if you discover that somebody is a wanker, you have already wasted at least a minute or two of your life getting to know the aforementioned wanker. Some wankers are obviously easier to spot than others, but it’s still a waste of a (very small, admittedly) portion of your life. To hear some people tell it, one can actually be married to someone for 15 years before you find out.

This is where the Hummer comes in. It instantly identifies the driver as being among the 6%, thus saving you time, energy, and (possibly) embarrassment. There are extremely few things in life that have the same instant usefulness. Member of the Hummer driving demographicSomebody reading “The Daily Express”? Maybe they picked it up n the train, after someone dropped it, and are just quickly scanning it. Maybe they are doing some research on racist scummery in the English press. Someone who goes fox-hunting, certainly, but you don’t see people walking around town in their hunt outfits. The point is you can’t be absolutely sure. Driving a Hummer, however, is cast iron. Even if it’s not theirs and they borrowed it from a friend - it still means they have a friend who has a Hummer. Do you see how fantastically useful they are? It’s like the wanker community are now allowed to wear a big flashing neon sign on their heads saying “I am a Wanker. Avoid me” – and being wankers, they actually go ahead and do it.

I’m not sure if Romania has anything similar to the Hummer as a badge of wankerdom. Possibly driving a car with Bucharest plates, but that would place everybody from that city with a driving licence in the wanker category, which can’t be correct, even if at least 50% of such drivers do seem to be dangerously out of control psychos. Voting for PRM, obviously, but the disadvantage of the secret ballot is that you can’t be sure who did vote for them. I have seen one or two of those Porsche Cayennes around, and they seem like the new Hummer in the regard.

Friday, October 06, 2006


I made a cake yesterday(it was Erika's birthday). Not very interesting I know, but for me it was quite a new thing. While I fancy myself as a bit of dab hand in the kitchen, I tend to stick to main courses and starters, and avoid the baking/dessert area of the cook's ouevre. I have the feeling that aside from once or twice making a cake from a packet mix, that this was the first time I've ever made a cake from real ingredients using a recipe and that.

And it was delicious too. It was a carrot cake, which occasioned much suspicion from Bogi ("Carrot cake?" [quick mental translation, and then, incredulously...] "Murok tészta!??!"), and a certain amount of humour from everyone else. Mostly involving stuff about rabbits. But I had the last laugh when it turned out to be so good, and even the ridiculing Bogi, who normally treats my food as if it were alien in the extreme, enjoyed it. I mean I do realise that if you've never had carrot cake or heard of carrot cake before it does sound a bit weird - it is after all cake made (partly) from a vegetable. If some foreigner came into my house and started to bake a kohlrabi gateau or an artichoke eclair, I, too, would probably be a tad sniffy.

Thursday, October 05, 2006


For no reason other than my own pride, here are a couple of recent pictures of Paula.


I am finally getting around to updating the sidebar on this blog with regional English language blogs (something I've been meaning to do for ages). If anyone reading would like to recommend/suggest any I might have missed, please let me know.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006


Today’s word of the day is Irredentist. It has absolutely nothing to do with the person who fixes your teeth.

One who advocates the recovery of territory culturally or historically related to one's nation but now subject to a foreign government.
[Italian irredentista, from (Italia) irredenta, unredeemed (Italy), Italian-speaking areas subject to other countries; see irredenta.]
ir re•den tism n.
ir re•den tist adj.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2003

As you can see it’s quite posh, and dead clever, and being able to use it (and use it correctly) bestows great kudos on the user. It has the added cachet of being derived from an Italian political movement, which obviously means the word has a certain style and élan.

Now the reason it has come to my attention is that I’ve recently found myself marveling open-mouthed at the behind-the-scenes pages of Wikipedia. When you look at something on Wikipedia, you see something akin to an encyclopedia entry, explaining and outlining a concept, person, place, or what have you. We all know that it’s edited by users and therefore you have to be a little bit careful with the information contained therein, but in general I reckon it’s a pretty good resource. However, when you look at an entry there, you may not have noticed the little tabs at the top of the page through which you can look at the history of a page and the discussion surrounding what’s gone into the entry. Here, for example, is the entry for Harghita County. Clicking on the tab marked “Discussion” will lead you into a strange nether world of pedantry, nerdiness and (in the case of all Wiki articles on places in the Hungarian speaking part of Romania) nationalism.

This is where I have encountered the words “irredentist” and “irredentism”. They are usually used as the last resort in an argument on a Wiki page, when nothing else makes sense, the loser will shriek something like “Well, I don’t care. It’s irredentism”. An example of something that is “irredentism” in this way is the alternate (ie Hungarian) spelling of the name Harghita as Hargita. Now the argument seems to go like this (and this is repeated all over Wikipedia articles for this region):
A: The county is Harghita. That’s the spelling recognized by the Romanian government.
B: Yes, it is, but the majority of the people living in the county spell it Hargita (since they are Hungarian)
A: Ah, but it’s a Romanian county – and it wasn’t even invented as a county until the 1960s so it has never existed as a Hungarian county
B: yes, but it has a Hungarian spelling which the population use because the county is named after a mountain (which has been there since before the 1960s)
A: But what does it add to the article to give it two different spellings? How is this useful?
B: Well, it’s supposed to be an encyclopedia right? Are we rationing knowledge/information now?
A: Well, I don’t care, as far as I’m concerned it’s irredentist.

Thus, in the hope of A, bringing the argument screeching to a halt and allowing him to walk away the victor for using a big word and stating opinion as fact. Obviously utter bollocks.

People like A, and I’m mentioning no names, but you can find some if you spend long enough looking through these dark-side-of-the-wikipedia pages, would have you believe that me calling my blog Csikszereda Musings is in fact irredentist. i.e. That I am concerned with returning Transylvania to Hungarian control, and that my decision to refer to the town in which I live as Csikszereda is proof of that. So, lest I be accused of irredentism, I would like to make it plain that I have no desire for Transylvania to be ruled from Budapest, and furthermore, know nobody who does (I suspect there are a few people in Hungary who advocate for it, but I’ve met no-one in Transylvania that way inclined). I just call this town Csikszereda because that’s what everyone else calls it here, because that’s what it’s called in their language. We all recognize that the Romanian name is Miercurea Ciuc, of course (a name which is directly derived from the Hungarian name), but frankly both names are equally valid. I, in short, am no form of dentist – either irre- or otherwise.

Now, this use of a word as an attempt to silence argument is not new. Those of us on the left are often rightly accused of throwing out the word “fascist” at anything we disagree with. Which is obviously just as bollocks as the use of irredentist for similar purposes. (Intriguingly, fascism is another word which has its origins in an Italian political movement. What is with Italy and these words?). The right has recently cottoned on to this “soundbite argument” style and has started throwing around the word “Islamofascist” in an attempt to lump wars on Arabs and other Muslims together with the war on Nazi Germany. It’s all bollocks.

Anyway, to sum up, arguing that Transylvania ought to be a part of Hungary = irredentist. Calling Miercurea Ciuc Csikszereda = not irredentist.

(I ought to point out that most of the people who edit and then discuss edits on Wikipedia seem to be perfectly normal reasonable individuals (if a tad obsessive and pedantic), and that indeed there is a refreshing amount of agreement between most Hungarian and Romanian editors. It’s just one or two mad ones. And if you thought the “discussion” pages were seriously manic, then try out the Mediation cabal pages. Blimey.)

Tuesday, October 03, 2006


Yesterday, I may have inadvertently led you to the conclusion that Csikszereda is an unexciting town in which nothing ever happens. (Actually it wasn't so much inadvertent as advertent). Well, I was having you on. Nothing could be further from the truth. Here are three things which have happened very recently which show, in clear and explicit tones, that this town is in fact, rocking, and is, perhaps, as insomniac as New York.

  1. We have celebrities: On Friday, I had lunch with the departing participants from my course, in the pleasant beergarden-like ambience of Gambrinus Csarda. At the next table, there was a bona fide celebrity. Now I appreciate that people who live in capital cities and the like are always seeing celebrities, but up here, they’re a bit of a rarity. This celebrity was none other than pneumatically-chested (ahem) “top model” and (sustained bout of fake coughing) “actress” Nicoleta Luciu. If you want to look her up on Google images, I’d suggest you don’t do it at work. [She was pointed out to me, I wouldn’t have recognized her. Honest.]

  2. We have Culture: I was idly watching Euronews yesterday, as you do, particularly when the “Agenda” section comes on. This involves them using up some time on a slow news day by highlighting a few art exhibitions going around Europe at the time. Suddenly I looked up from doing something or other, to see, to my utter shock, the words “Miercurea Ciuc” on the screen. Yes, that’s right. An exhibition here (specifically, the “Going Glocal project”, which is taking place at the Ko.Ke.M gallery) was featured on Euronews. Impressive huh? I must now go along to the gallery (it’s actually in the same block that we live in, so it ought not to be a major hassle)

  3. We have a successful professional sport team: Sport Club Miercurea Ciuc, our ice hockey team, and possibly the only thing that keeps many people going through the winter months, is, this year, participating in both the Romanian league and cup (as normal) and the Hungarian league and cup. Not sure how they’ll fit all the games in, but they’re so far doing very well in the Hungarian league, having played 6 won 5 (although 4 of those 6 games were against the weakest team, the other two, one of which was won was at the league’s strongest team). The Romanian season hasn’t begun yet.

Plus of course we have a consulate – and most Romanian towns cannot say the same. Bucharest obviously does, Cluj does, I’m sure. Timisoara might do, and possibly Sibiu and Constanta. But not many others. I don’t even think Brasov does. Hah!

So, Csikszereda – boring hick town stuck in the mountains, or happening cultural destination? You decide.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Small potatoes

The potatoes this year are very small. Very little else is talked about on the streets of Csikszereda this year.

“Oooh have you seen how small the potatoes are this year?”
“I know, it’s shocking isn’t it? I’ve never seen such small potatoes”
“They look like soil encrusted ball bearings”
“Or largish hailstones”
“I saw some the other day that could have been plums”
“Plums? They’re quite big. For this crop, I mean, since after all they’re very small this year”
Blah blah blah, etc and so on

I exaggerate slightly – while this is not exactly the world’s most exciting town, and is unlikely to make the shortlist in all but the most surreal “most exciting town” competitions – not ALL conversations are about potatoes. But, being one of Harghita county’s principle exports (along with mineral water, rocks, and Ciuc beer), potatoes and the quality of the annual crop are a fairly significant part of public discourse.

I believe, quite firmly, that the 2006 crop of miniature potatoes is yet another warning of the “End of Days” , and that it is directly mentioned in the book of Revelations:

“And lo, there shall come a time when the rise of the Antichrist will be heralded by a year of very small potatoes¹ and ye shall hear the veritable complaining of the peasantry whose livelihoods depend upon reasonably proportioned tubers. At this time of small potatoes, ye shall know the antichrist by his patronage of the “Star” of Bucharest and the fact that he is known by the number 666 ²”

So, we’ll soon all be taken up. Or not, depending on whether God reckons we’ve been good or not. Judgmental tosser.

¹ There is some debate among scholars over the translation of this word from the original text, since “potatoes” weren’t discovered by the Judao-Christian world until Columbus went to the Americas. Some contend that the end of days will actually be heralded by a crop of very small turnips.
² The name “Gigi” can (in English) be rendered as “GG”. Placed together with the initial “b” it is clear that in certain fonts “GGb” is in fact the number of the beast. Coincidence? You be the judge.

Sütő András

Sütő András has died. He was, until last night, one of the most famous living Transylvanian Hungarians. To Hungarians he is a great playwright and novelist, who, through his work, highlighted the cause and charateristics of ethnic Hungarians living outside Hungary. To the outside world he is probably most remembered for being blinded in one eye by the Romanian nationalist peasant mob that was whipped up and bussed in to Targu Mures in 1990 to attack a Hungarian student demo. The mob attacked the offices of the Hungarian politcal association and attempted to kill Sütő - obviously they failed, but did instead manage to poke out one of his eyes. He always remained in Targu Mures/Marosvasarhely, rather than moving to Hungary.

Short biography.

And here is an obituary (the only English language one I can find at the moment using Google News)