The Non-Smoking Section

Laura and I started the day by taking the bus to her favorite coffee shop, a Jazz Bar/Coffee Shop with a tropical theme.  Not bad for -4 C outside.  The place was packed so Laura and I were forced to sit in the non-smoking section… which consisted of one table, shoved in a corner and covered under blankets.  I nearly hit the floor laughing.  It really represents the epitome of Romanian attitudes towards smoking.  You can smoke almost everywhere… and why not, a pack of smokes costs about $3.  It’s not that non-smokers are ostracized, it’s just that with so many smokers in this country, non-smokers are a quiet, contented, minority.  You can’t smoke on buses, trollies, or the metro, and there’s a massive building sized poster on Magheru Blvd encouraging people to quit smoking.  Cigarettes come with a warning and graphic images on the package.  People know its unhealthy… it’s just a huge part of the culture.

After working on a script for IJ for a few hours, Laura and I headed off to Plaza Romania, the 2nd largest mall in Europe.  It was a mall just like any other mall, and it was filled with franchises from all over the world.  I bought some more minutes for my Romanian Cell phone (6€) and then ate supper at Pizza Hut.  I didn’t use Ketchup, which Laura found mind boggling.  No one in Romania eats pizza without Ketchup.

Laura’s friend Irene was also at the mall.  She offered us a ride to the train station to pick up Vladimir, Laura’s friend.  On the way out my jaw dropped, ‘Holy shit, you have Starbucks!?’

Laura responded, ‘What? You think we just fell out of a tree here?’  Despite her sarcasm, she hadn’t actually ever had Starbucks.  I bought us all Grande Caramel Lattes ($18 total).  Laura never tasted anything like it.  Lattes everywhere else in Romania come in smaller quantities and taste great, but very different from Starbucks.  They’re a lower temperature and people drink them from a straw.  Can’t explain it, it’s just a fact.  After the train station, Laura and I took the Metro to Universitate, a square in front of the National Theatre.  There, Laura took me to a really cool, artsy, smokey bar on the top floor of the building called ‘The Milk Log’.  You could feel the ghosts of past productions still living in that space.  Bucharest is a city thick with really great spaces such as this.

Most of them are full of smokers.

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Time Bubble

I woke up yesterday morning to the sound of men shouting at each other in the street outside Laura’s window.  It sounded really intense, then I heard a series of gunshot bursts.  Holy Shit!  Is this really happening?

I crept up to the window, worried about getting hit by stray bullets.  As I peaked over the window ledge, it turned out to be four men dressed in traditional Romanian garb, cracking whips and shouting holiday greetings to the neighborhood.  Laura said this was a common occurrence in Bucharest at this time of year.

I’m living in a time bubble right now.  In fact, time has become completely meaningless to me.  The time on my computer tells me its yesterday evening, and the time on the wall tells me it’s 4am.  Yet I sit awake, doing my thing, and my body thinks it’s mid afternoon, except it’s completely dark outside my window.  I love this feeling.  I eat when I’m hungry, sleep when I’m tired, and wander when I’m aimless.  It feels like the world doesn’t even know I exist.  There’s no pressure to get anything done, no phone to ring, no deadlines to meet.  I could be a ghost.  I was thinking yesterday, as I wandered around downtown that if I got hit by a bus, the world wouldn’t even know for several weeks.  I’m not even carrying identification.  It feels so good to be invisible in a foreign land.

Everything is foreign to me.  Buying a coffee is an adventure.  I can’t read the signs.  Every time I round a corner, it’s a brand new discovery.  The sound of people talking is a kind of jibberish.  I have to really pay attention to understand what’s going on around me.  It’s so easy to unplug from the world in this place, yet at the same time, live so fully. I’ve never felt more alive.  Nothing is taken for granted and every little thing becomes significant.

I still get shit done.  I started work on a script a couple of days ago, and I wrote a press release for ‘InJustice’.  I did research on Romanian Television, the market share for each channel, and what their programming slate looks like.  I wandered into the National Council for Cinematography yesterday, trying to set up a meeting, but everyone is off for the holiday season.  Laura and I are going to drop in on the University of Theatre and Film to see if we can talk to anyone about the lay of the land.

The last time I was in Romania, it was an eye popping, life changing adventure.  This time I feel like I have a different agenda.  I am living as a local.  I’m staying at Laura’s place.  I cooked breakfast yesterday.  I learned enough Romanian to buy bus tickets, and I use public transportation.  I plan to live in Bucharest for extended periods of time while I write and research.  To this end, I’ll looking into the ins and outs of renting an apartment.