Thursday, August 13, 2009

Rolling Towards the Past- Moldova via Romania

For those with little time, you are invited to skip to the bottom where you will find all the Videos and more Pictures. And Please remember to click on pictures to enlarge them for more details. There is a section just dedicated to Moldova, once again for your selection.


Slamming the doors of the car, knowing this seals my destiny for the next two weeks, I begin to think of what it is I'm actually expecting, feeling, thinking, etc. As usual, my consideration happens only after the action is set forth. Although I have never considered myself to NOT be American, I have also discovered, just at this moment, that no one around me considered that I WAS. This train of thought, through the refreshing breeze brought in from the opened highway window, was brought on as I imagined people asking me where I was from. I imagined a stranger in Moldova asking me this, and instantly I compared it with my experience of the last 20 years. Finally, when a stranger asks me where I am from, I can say " Oh, just around the corner", but in short, I am from HERE. I am one of YOU. You are one of me. Of course, I will never be more Moldavian than American. Life has made too many changes for that to be true. But maybe I will feel some unity the way I have never felt before. And I got excited thinking who will be the first to ask me.

In Moldova, I will not be exotic, however I will have roots. I think that is important to feel at least for a week in your life. Me and this stranger will not have friends in common, or like the same current song, but as I answer their question of where I am from, I will feel my feet planted 26 years deep below me as I stand there talking to a family stranger.

With all fantasies and philosophy put to rest for the ride, we finally make a stop at the end of the day at Arad, Romania after a short drive through the city. Hotel Fortress, though not so much a fortress it is still guarded like one, by three street dogs. This did not make a fun walk with Winnie, but I had a huge stick in hand since they managed to scare the shit out of me. The non English speaking "clerk" managed to sign language some information about our room, but failed to tell us there was no air conditioning. Early morning we were awoken only to be told that the hotel staff is ready to leave and are only waiting for us. No it was not that we woke up late. It was actually 8 am, it is simply Romania. Funny, but true, we left as they requested without the inclusive breakfast we were promised. The reputation of the hotel was only saved by the owner of the hotel who had come out to talk with us. He was pretty cool, told us some stories, and we were on our way.
Arad, the city of door-less tramways and home to the happiest wild weeds who seem to have found a way to go unnoticed as they rule the streets.
As we pass Romania, I can say it is the most Americanised poor country I have ever seen, proved only by the juiced up guy with plucked eyebrows, wearing a bright pink tight T shirt and some surfer short, who was pumping our gas. Huge fitness gyms (4 floors) and even bigger shopping centers with Home Depot-ish knock off stores are seen scattered between large stretches of farmland, and little villages. The contrast made me laugh every time we passed such a center. With such centers to take up your time, it seems the people have no time to pick up the dog corpses rotting on the streets every few yards. (dont worry no pictures of such glamour).
Also seen driving are many churches, despite the early Communist influence, which are all brightly painted and knew. Which brings me to all the fence painting going on in the middle of the day on a Tuesday. It seems like people take their fences and house colors very seriously, because instead of working (god knows where) all the people in small villages are out painting their fences and houses. Despite the majority of the properties and land falling apart, people seem to appreciate the magic of bright colors and it shows by the facades if these little shacks. Men and women seem to gather in pairs or groups and enjoy festively painting with pride and admiration in their 100 year old clothes- in almost every little village we passed. All fences were bright white, and houses varied from such bright colors as baby blue, hot pink, sunshine yellow, or canary coral :D. Although the people look like they haven't changed since our time in this region, with old babushkas walking around in floral dressed and kasinachkis on their heads, the cars on the road were surprisingly modern. Only once in a while would an old style Ruski car be seen.
Also scattered on the road, between villages, are masses of hitch-hikers, who left me wondering how long will they stand there before they actually get a ride, and random monuments with nothing or no one around, which left me wondering how long will it stand there until it is actually visited be someone. Perhaps the hitch-hikers should gather at the monuments and waste their time at least looking at something. However, these older babushkas and dedushkas, who were the hitch hikers, got around pretty rapidly as I started to notice.


(below) Hitch-hikers... gypsies in this
case they are gypsies

exciting stroll and dinner in Brasov, a beautiful city, we finally crossed all of Romania to take one last rest before entering Moldova: Galati (pronounced Galtz). The city where I THOUGHT my grandfather was born, was not only a destination for touristic reasons but a place I thought I might find some birth records. We stayed the night, and wasted a whole day in search of papers that never existed. My grandfather, as it turns out, only lived there for a few years, but had NOT been born there. Although it was a technical waste, I did get to visit the synagogue where my gramps used to work and spoke with the friendly remains of a Jewish community. When I asked the man attending to the place "How is the Jewish community here?" he answered "We have one Jewish cemetery not too far from here, a bit run down, THATS where the Jewish community is, they're all in the graves!". Although a bit explicit, I can understand his frustration and vulgarity. Not nice to be chased out of your own city.
And we did manage to have one adventure as we were told upon leaving that there is a parking controller standing on the street where we parked. "Yea but you told us that we are allowed to park here...".... " No mam, we said you could park there, but its not actually legal. If she catches you getting into your car, she will charge you 6 Lei" .."SIX LEI?!?!"... "Yes mam, that comes out to 1 Euro". Well one euro or not, the battle has begun, and the hunting instincts kicked. Crouching under windows to peek at her location, me and Emir devised a plan of action. As I distract her with my luggage and Pooh bear, Emir covertly runs with all his strength to the vehicle, with just enough time to jump in and lean the seat back before she shoots a cautious eye his way. With her attention diverted once again, he starts the engine, hits the gas peddle, jumps out into heavy traffic turning his wheel like his life depended on it, turns the corner out of sight, where he picks up his scam ladies, and within seconds,2 suitcases, 3 bags, a dog and the accomplice are all packed and underway. Whewwww what an event. As we laugh, filling the car with giggles of energy, we realise this was so much more eventful than paying the damn euro!

As it goes, with it being VERY late, we proceeded onwards to Moldova. Brasov

The synagogue where my grandfather used to work-
although empty and currently serving no purpose, its pretty majestic in its simplicity and its presence in such a small city.

All those things aside, the drive was actually quiet beautiful, and the view was breathtaking. Green lush vallies and hills lined with sunflower seas. Literally, it was sees of sunflowers. We were lucky enough to have crossed the border into Moldova and be well on our way inside it during dusk and right before the sunset. We decided to make the most of it, and stop wishing we were running through the fields, and actually do it! It is one of my most favorite memories from the whole trip.. I hope you can tell through the pictures....


So this is where it begins. First, I must tell when that moment came which I have been waiting for since that fateful day as I entered the car and slammed the door. It was of course at the border between Romania and Moldova, our first border. Without even expecting it, as our car received the OK to proceed to the officer, we opened the window and handed in our passports.
"Where are you from?" .... " Im from Bendery"... without even realising my moment has come I answered nonchalantly... "Ahh... nasha... nu prayeshai" (ahh, youre one of us, go ahead)... just then it hit me, and yes, the moment was, proven by my tear filled eyes, very fulfilling. I have no idea why I got emotional. But it shows it was something I have been missing. And that was my introduction to Moldova.
(of course I wont go into how we waited an hour in 100 degree weather, with no air conditioning, in our car for the border gate keeper to decide to let a line of 10 cars through).

All of a sudden, the radio was not in German, nor Hungarian, nor Romanian. It was in Russian and playing familiar songs that I have only come across in Russian restaurants. As we pulled to to pedestrains to ask for directions, they too were speaking Russian, and to my growing enthusiasm every damn last one of them asked me where I was from. HA! Im from Bendery niggaaaa!! WHATCHYA GOT NOW?! hahah... they were all happy to help me and all curious as to where I was coming from or going and how the hell I ended up 20 minutes in the wrong direction hahah. Maybe its because Moldova is a land with NO FREAKING ROAD SIGNS. But who needs road signs? doesnt everyone know where these roads lead? No worries, stopping in these dirt roaded, goat chasing, heavy drinking villiages was all the more fun when youre lost. Its actually very surreal, because not only do they look exactly like my grandmas and grandpas they seem to think that we are related in some way... I mean we both know Russian...
"Izvenaus, mi nemnoshka zabludilis, mi ishim darogu v Bendri...(Excuse me, we're a bit lost, we are looking for the way to Bender)
And in reply
"Ah nu vernis nazat tuda tam gde, nu ti znayesh, vasa tamgde shivjot, e paverni na prava v storanu parehmaterskayu...." (Oh, well go back to where, you know, adam lives and turn right towards the hair salon...)
It was great to already have so many people to rely on.

Its a good thing the road through Moldova was so pleasant, because I was going to need ALL that good feeling to help me get through the "border" to Banana Rpublic. Thats what me and Emir cleverishly dibbed Transdniestria. As it turns out, Bendery is behind the so called border of this self proclaimed country which no one else in the world recognizes to be one. In their own words, they have been wrongly treated by the Moldavians and want nothing more to do with them or their new adaptation of the old traditions (Romanian traditions that is, since Moldova never existed as its own country but was just a part of Romania). So they have put up some sort of self made border with self made officers given orders be some sort of self made government (oh wearing self made uniforms!). Of course we suspect the "self" in self made is actualls "Russia" since nothing would be possible without a financial backing. So this is how you get into Banana Republic a.k.a Transdniestria: You come to a random stop sign barely visable. When nothing happens, naturally you procede, when all of a sudden a man jumps our from some sort of booth which looks like a port-a-potty. He asks you for your documents, and after registering you, he tells you that you have broken a law. You have failed to stop at the clearly marked stop sign. Naturally, you would like to defend yourself and you explain to the officer that in fact you did stop for several moments but saw no one or no thing so there was only one thing to do, which was to procede slowly. No, you did not stop, and therefore you disrespected me. Follow me to the toilet.. I mean.. my office where you will pay the bank. As you enter this "office slash bathroom", you notice a whore lying in bed, and to your surprise she gracefully dresses and walks off into the darkness. The man requests a 30 euro payment. I suppose the story here ends for most with them paying the damn 30 euro or whatever the sum he just concucted is. But I am not only broke, proud, sneaky, and Jewish (joke), but I am also a fan of a challenge. So After shmoozing for a few seconds about how this is where I am from and this is my "rodina" (mother country), he begins to have some "sovist" (I dunno how to translate this.. reasonability, sense?!?) he desides to ask us to give him whatever we can afford for it to be fair since he makes only 10 dollars a week. So we give him 5 and call it a day.
WAIT WAIT... thats just border number one! theres more

Border number two was easy but VERY intimidating. It consists of Russian "Peace Keeping troops" Who have the biggest or longest army riffles pointing at you as they ask if you have any questions. No? you can proceded. Who the hell can think of a question when a big angry Russian commi soldier is pointing a riffle at you in the middle of the night, surrounded my bushes big enough to cover all three of us in the car. We proceded.. thinking its over... oh boy!

So border control number three was a bit more comical (well looking back... as it was happening I didnt know what to expect. With all the stories I heard I was almost ready to disappear from this earth).
Pulling up we came across men.. well boys... we were asked once again for our business here, how long we plan to stay and so on, we then had to "register" our vehicle, because as they explained, we might sell it illegally here in Bendery. I wanted to argue my point of having a dog and about 3 tons of luggage, and besides how the hell were we supposed to leave without a car anyways?!? There are no trains running to Transdniestria since Moldova cut it off. But never-the-less, you don't try to marry logic and communism together, so we proceded.
"Ok, we need photo copies of your license, registration, car insurance, and passport"
"we don't have copies but you can gladly take a look on these, or make copies"
"We don't have a copy machine, but it is required for your entry"

Hmmm... this became a perdicament. Here we are, 11 PM in the middle of nowhere on some crazy loony bin border, about 5 hours away from a hotel (none in Bendery) with no where to go.. oh and after 12 hours of driving. It turns out that I cant call into Transdniestria from Moldova, and my uncle cant call me from TN (lets make it short) to Moldova because of the conflict. So Im forced to call my mom to call my uncle who then calls her who then calls me. WOW. You think YOU'RE CONFUSED... add hunger, fear, ass stiffness, fatique, desperation, a barking dog, guns, Russian technical words that go on longer than the Nile river, and a lot of other emotions. To make it short, we paid them to leave the car there on the border so that we can enter for the night and stay at Petya's house and return in the morning with copies. Which is what happened. So 7 am sharp, we're up like true Peiyaneri to find a damn xerox machine store, to make it to the border by 9 before the shift change. Some more yelling occurred here, good thing it was directed at my "uncle" who dared to ask how long I am to wait by the door since no one else was in line. But more funny was the following: Registering the car, beside the copies, consisted of me writing a report of the car. They need a detailed essay about the size of the car, the dimensions of the engine, the engine number, the car weight, and I mean what the hell should they do with all this information?!?! Anyways, the last thing I needed to fill out was the liscence plate number and color of the car. The car is white. In Russian its Belij. Not so easy when you haven't used cirilic letter since you were 5. I gave it a try anyways and spelled out the following: ЦВЄТ:БЛЯ
I expect those who can read Russian to laugh just about as loud as those burly scary soldier men did. In fact even the general was called over to take a look. Instead of "White" I wrote most of the word "Fuck". Yes. As they laughed heartily at my scribble, I didn't know how they would punish me. Would it be a stick to the head, or maybe a trip to Siberia. But no. They crossed over the mistake, rewrote it and as it happened the laugh I had bestowed on them warmed their little hearts, I was set free, and the world was good again. I know its crossed over, and then I tried to change the last letter to an A but still.. you can make it out if you try, for those who dont believe. Of course I have no pictures of the border as it is strictly forbidden, and I think I've had enough adventure for one day.

My first impression of Bendery is that its much larger than I imagined, and despite earlier belief the streets are wide, and there is not many stores of eateries or anything in general. However there were many trees and flowers, and a few squares. As the day progressed I saw more and more people on the streets and that made me happy. I had a few conversations with random women at the registration house (YES, more paperwork) who were quiet unhappy with the situtaion and hated how they were being treated. I dont blaim them, when we asked a secretary what the procedures are she finally answered after completely ignoring our first two attempts, by saying "You've got eyes, read the damn sign on the door and come back when your mind is in order". Ouch. I have a video of this cow... I think its funny. She also kicked my uncle out of the room after he made a joke. I asked him who the statue was of that was somewhere behind the desk. He said Visotskij (who was an old Russian singer and of course NOT the man whom the statue was meant to honor). Lacking her humor bone, the cow kicked him out of the room. HAHAHAHAH oh man! You have to laugh to keep from shitting in your pants! Well the video isnt so great, but hey, why not.

Here are some pictures of the town. For some, nostalgic, for others, boring :D

Next following several pics are Bekker/Milman Dvor

Dnester nabereshnaya Moms School

Babushka Eta's House

Zaks (... I dunno, wedding house)
Moi Radom, the place I was born:


1 comment:

Karmasitter said...

Boobsie! Awesome! The "cow" at the hotel makes the cracked out couple from the rafting trip seem like glorious people, no? lol...your mom's school looks pretty sweet though! Enjoy your hometown :)

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