Friday, February 27, 2009

Come on you blues

Last weekend Erika and I went for a romantic weekend to Sighisoara, possibly the most romantic city in Romania. (Erika is my wife, by the way, not somebody I was sneaking away with for some kind of illicit rumpy-pumpy, just in case you were about to shop me). We had noticed, quite by chance, on the kind of news ticker thing on Realitatea TV that there was something called the Sighisoara Blues Festival on and so we went to the Internet and looked it up and thought, "Hmm, that might be worth going to" and so put the wheels in motion to do so. My in-laws agreed for the first time ever to take the kids for a night, we reserved tickets for the Saturday night bit of the festival and booked a hotel in the citadel (the old, really romantic bit of the city. Not far from where Vlad the impaler was born, though he moved out when he was young citing the cloyingly nice nature of the place and went to live in the duller and more conducive to large acts of mass murder south of the country.)

I won't bore you with the whole dropping the kids off stuff, or the drive to Sighisoara, but let's just cut to the concert. It was in one of those old communist theatres untouched since it used to host weekly shows of the Young Pioneers doing a synchronised flag waving competition. We were up in the balcony, and the evening kicked off with a "surprise" - a band of kids from Romania. This, I have to say, didn't strike me as a good surprise at first glance, but in fact these kids were amazing. And when I say kids, I use the word advisedly. the guitarist and bass player were 14 and the drummer was....8. Yes, 8. They were incredibly proficient, and what a set of balls, to get up in front of a packed crowd and play so well. I found a clip of the 8 year old on you tube doing his drum solo. It's a drum solo, so you know, not that interesting, but still - he's 8. This is a packed theatre with perhaps 300 people in it? Maybe more?. 8. I may not have stressed this enough. He's 8.

Anyway, when they went off to rapturous applause after a few songs, our next band was the Ana Popovic Group. Ana P (as I like to call her) is a Serbian woman who seems to be based in the US. She and her band were technically proficient, but ultimately not really anything terribly exciting. As the hour wore on, past my normal father-of-young-children bed time, I began looking at my watch and wondering when they'd finish, and whether I'd be able to stay awake to the next band. It's not that Ms P was bad, just that she was just nothing very special. Anyway, here's a clip of her that night:

In the interval, and now that in think about it, quite amazingly coincidentally, we bump into a newly svelte-looking Romerican (and his Julierican - you may have to think about that one). This is miraculous because, to be honest I don't really know that many people in Romania - outside of Harghita County and Targu Mures, I'm guessing it's no more than 50. And I don't know anyone in Sighisoara. Plus Romania is quite a big place, and it's got over 20 million people in it. So to be having a beer in the interval at a smallish concert in a smallish town and suddenly bump into someone you know is fairly remarkable.

So, I'm tired, and wondering when I'll get to bed, and thinking about how old I've become, when on stage at about midnight steps Lucky Peterson, a man about whom I know basically nothing. And he blows the entire place away. He is absolutely incredible. He plays blues, jazz, soul, whatever he feels like. One of these people who just seems to be able to sense what the crowd will be into and to take it in that direction. Absolutely totally and utterly superb. He didn't finish until after 2 and I wished he'd stayed on longer. There are two youtube clips of him here, but they don't really capture how god he was - they are both at the end when he'd invited loads of people on stage as he was the festival's closing act, but really he was better when it was just him and his rhythm section. Still, Lucky Peterson - if he's ever playing a concert near you, go. Just go. (The whole concert will be on TVR Cultural at some point for those living in Romania, but I don't know when as the TVR website is not terribly helpful).

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Fat Tuesday

This is what my Yahoo mail account lists today as in the little "important dates" thingy at the bottom of the screen. But it's not called Fat Tuesday is it? I know that's the direct translation of Mardi Gras, but that's not a term that is used in English (other than by Yahoo Mail, obviously). Now I do realise that Shrove Tuesday is a specifically British English term and so I don't expect Yahoo to go with that, but why Fat Tuesday. Nobody calls it that, ever. What's wrong with Mardi Gras? Or Carnival? Or Carnaval? Or, here, at least, Farsang.

Anyway, happy Farsang, one and all. And for those of you who will be giving chocolate up for the next 6 weeks in some kind of half-hearted attempt to emulate Jesus staggering around the wasteland for 40 days, good luck.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


The big story in the Romanian media at the moment is about the murder of one of the country's top handball players in a disco in Vezprem, Hungary. He (Marian Cozma) played for the Romanian national team, and played for the local team in Vezprem along with a few other foreign stars. They were out celebrating a teammates new baby at the weekend, and then fight broke out and Cozma got stabbed in the chest and died (and two others - a Serb and Croatian, were badly hurt).

I have to confess that one of my first reactions on hearing this tragic story (when all I knew was that a famous Romanian handball star had been killed in Hungary), was to fear that he had been murdered by some crazy Hungarian nationalist intent on somehow getting his own back for Trianon or some such. Not that the manner or motive for the killing would matter to Cozma or his family or friends, but that if it were a hate crime, then it could turn into something more widespread and have long term political ramifications. As far as we know this wasn't the case and the team just got attacked for being in the wrong place at the wrong time while what amounted to a local gang/mafia type grudge was being played out.

However, the case is not without its ramifications and ethnic overtones. The men accused of killing Cozma are, you see, Rroma. So large swathes of the Hungarian press and its right-wing politicians have seized on this as clear evidence that this is an ethnic problem, and that "Gypsies" in general are to blame. A newspaper writer, for example, described gypsies as "not human beings, but animals". (In another recent case, a police chief was sacked for making racist remarks about Rroma, and then reinstated after public protest)

You can read a fairly comprehensive and thorough account of the whole tragic event here .

Some other articles in English: Bloomberg ;

As the economic crisis really begins to bite here, it seems that the Rroma will again start being blamed for all of societies ills. It's already pretty much government policy in Italy, and the opposition in Hungary are fairly clearly playing the anti-Rroma race card too.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

It's Global Warming Gone Mad

Being English I have to constantly keep in check my instinctive desire/need to write and talk about the weather. I do manage it for the most part, but occasionally I have been known to slip into it (f'rinstance when I talk to my parents on the phone). It's not that talking about the weather is a bad thing exactly, just that it sort of implies you can't think of anything else to talk about (which, obviously is often the case, at least for me). Also, living in the Coldest Place in Romania (TM), in which winters are brutal and vicious affairs, having previously lived in Vermont, USA in which winters are etc and so on, there is always the tendency to look down upon other people's weathers as being sort of a bit weak and pathetic (which I'm quite sure is more than a little irritating, at least judging by the "why don't you just shut up" reactions I get).

Anyway, because I have nothing else to talk about, and because I am not currently in a position of being able to poo-poo the mild and temperate weather of the rest of Europe, I feel it is time to comment on this so-called winter. For while the UK shivers and grumbles contentedly under severe snowstorms and people stocking up for the ice-age in Tescos, Csikszereda (and the rest of Romania, but it feels more noticeable here) is sitting around twiddling its thumbs in what appears to be spring. Which began about three weeks ago. There was a cold period at the beginning of the year when it was down to the standard -20 ish, but since mid January it hasn't dropped below zero. This weekend we picked snowdrops, for god's sake. Snowdrops in early February.

Every year, on February 2nd, as everyone who has seen the Bill Murray film will know, a groundhog (which appears to be some kind of large rodent, not dissimilar to a wombat) is dragged out of hibernation in the town of Punxutawney, Pennsylvania and asked to predict when winter will end. He's not terribly specific and just limits to his predictions to either "6 more weeks of winter" or "less than 6 more weeks of winter", which always baffled me when I lived in Vermont since the winter finishing in mid-march would actually be reasonably early, but there you go. I have no idea what he said this year, or indeed why I started this paragraph at all, but that's blogging while doing a number of other things at the same time for you. By the time you come to finish a thought, it started so long ago that you have no idea what it was you wanted to say, but being too lazy to delete the whole thing (I mean and waste all those words), you just plough on regardless.

So, the weather, then. It's errm a... thing, isn't it?

(If anyone happens upon this post while searching for the best blog post of 2009, I'm hereby nominating it as my candidate. )

Friday, February 06, 2009

More tolerance news from Italy

Piergiorgio Stiffoni (no sniggering at the back, that really is his name, apparently) who is a Senator from the ever-delightful Northern League party in Italy (and hence part of that country's racist government) on the subject of Romanians: "If an extraterrestrial came down to earth and asked me what Romanians specialised in, I would say "rape""

(That's my translation of Se un extraterrestre scendesse sulla terra - dice Stiffoni - e mi chiedesse qual e' la specializzazione dei rumeni, gli risponderei 'lo stupro', which since I don't speak Italian is quite possibly slightly wrong, but not by much I think)

If an extraterrestrial came to earth and asked me what members of the Northern League specialised in, I would respond "being disgusting bigoted xenophobic scumbags", and then I'd ask if I could borrow his ray-gun.