Woman: Wake up!  There’s a thief in the kitchen.
Man: Nonsense.  It’s the cat.
Woman: What cat?  We’ve never had a cat.
Man: We’ve never had a thief either.

The above is a rough translation of an exchange between two characters in an old Romanian film.  This passage found its way into the work of DribBler, a Romanian DJ whom Laura exposed me to.  I started collecting other Romanian musicians too.  I’ll have a stockpile by the time I get home (for anyone who’s interested).

After getting milk, juice and Red Bull (for Laura) from the grocery story across the street, I headed off to Piața Romana where I found a cafe called, ‘Casablanca’.  The cafe was located in another really great building with arches, high ceilings and a turret.  Great ambience.  In Romanian, I ordered Coffee and placinta (a Romanian pastry, not the thing that’s expelled from a uterus after birth).

Laura called at around 11am and we agreed to meet in the Metro station at Piața Victoriei, a square located one stop to the north of Piața Romana.  From there we took the Metro one more stop down the line and walked to TVR, Romania’s public broadcaster.

The last couple of days have been quite the emersion into the Romanian film & television thing.  On Tuesday, Laura and I had a meeting with ProTV (Romania’s 2nd largest broadcaster) about InJustice.  They’d never seen anything like it and seemed interested.  Now we were meeting with TVR and they also seemed quite keen.  Neither broadcaster was interested in versioning the show into Romanian.  It seems they actually prefer their television to be played in English, with Romanian subtitles.  Laura was a real pro in the meeting.  She was there to be my Romanian translator in case I encountered a communication problem, but in the meeting, she jumped in on the pitch, in english, and picked up on things I forgot to mention.  You’d think she’d been pitching the show for months.  She said it was weird for her to be a Romanian, speaking English in a business meeting, to three other Romanians.

We also to met with the National School of Film and Theatre.  I just wanted to aquaint myself with the place.  You never know if their students could be a resource for us down the road, should we ever shoot in Romania.  The school seems to have a world class curriculum, but suffers under the weight of funding pressures.  The Dean of Theatre wanted to use ‘InJustice’ as a teaching tool for his playwriting class… very cool.  I’ll send him a copy once I get back.

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Free Parking

Took the elusive bus 90 to Universitate and hung out at Cafepedia.  I worked on rewrites for IJ and looked at the costs of renting an apartment in Bucharest.  I have decided that I will make Bucharest a bigger part of my life.  I love this city.  That statement usually shocks other Romanians.  I want to live near downtown, in the old centre if possible, though I’m told to stay away from there because it’s filled with Gypsies.  I don’t really understand the Gypsy thing, but I guess it’s similar to the First Nations thing back home.  There’s some serious social problems among that group of people.  I’m really not knowledgeable enough to comment further.  Still, I have no problem with Gypsies and I grew up in a much rougher neighborhood than ‘The Old Centre’.

It started snowing in the afternoon.  Everyone was happy about that because Bucharest hardly ever sees snow.  Despite being from Regina, I couldn’t help but smile at all the joy those flat fluffy white flakes brought to me.

Laura called me at around 6pm and I headed to the Jazz Bar (with the ‘one table’ non-smoking section).  We met Andrea there, a friend of Laura’s, whom I spent time with on my last visit to Bucharest.  Andrea is special.  She got a new tuba for Christmas.  She has no idea how she got it.  She looks great, and is back in school where she’s studying architecture.  Over supper we fell into an argument about all the cars on the road in Bucharest.

Car ownership under communism was difficult to obtain.  Now, as times are more prosperous, people are buying cars like crazy because cars = status.  There’s too many cars on the streets, more cars than the streets can handle in fact.  Furthermore, people park them where ever they please… sidewalks, boulevards, unused portions of a turning lane.  Anything goes.  Cops don’t issue parking tickets and many cars are simply abandoned on public streets for months or even years at a time.  They choke traffic to a near standstill at times.  The concept of towing these vehicles and impounding them, or even issuing a parking ticket was mind boggling to Laura and Andrea.  “You can’t take someone’s private property away.  People have the right to own these vehicles.”

I responded by saying that with ownership comes responsibility.  If you leave your vehicle abandoned on public property, you deserve to have it impounded.  Furthermore, there’s no such thing as free parking in Regina.  When people have to pay to park, they’re encouraged to use other means of transportation, or avoid downtown.

I’m simplifying the conversation, but needless to say, the concept of paid parking, of impounding abandoned vehicles, and of issuing parking tickets were too crazy a concept for her to really imagine.  That’s saying a lot.  Laura is one of the most exceptional people I know.  She can talk to you for hours about Luis Bunuel, she can hot wire her PC and kick your ass at Warcraft with her level 41 Druid, she can tell you the capital of Alberta is Edmonton, she can speak three languages, she can talk global politics, economics, history, and she handles herself with the grace and ease of someone twice her age… but she can’t wrap her mind around parking.

Passport to Hell

Laura and I took bus 91 to Universitate and hung out at Cafepedia.  She read a book I brought with me, (‘Story’ by Robert Mckee) while I wrote.  After a few hours we headed off for the Unirii Shopping Centre, across from Unirii plaza.  Cosmote was open and I finally got my cell phone working.  We then set off to meet some friends of hers at a bar that was in the area.

Laura’s friend Tudor, has a Ph D in political science and left Romania to travel the world two months after the Revolution of December 1989.  He came back 10 years later to a country he barely recognized.  Along with his other friend Dan, we drank heavily and discussed politics, philosophy, and travel.

Romanians are a frustrated lot.  They have absolutely no faith in their political leaders. After 50 years of communism, followed by 20 years of a corrupt and scandal prone democracy, history tells them not to get their hopes up.  They see things taking a turn for the better with admittance into the European Union, but change is a bitch.  It’s happening too fast for some, not fast enough for others, and for everyone, it always seems to occur in the wrong place, at the wrong time.

The people I cross paths with always give me a crazy look when I tell them that I love Bucharest.  They can’t understand why a foreigner would see anything worthwhile in their city, or even their country for that matter.  Romania has been such a poorly run country, for such a long time, they’ve developed a kind of esteem issue.  I compare it to Regina a few years ago when it seemed nobody wanted to build their future in there, and were embarrassed to admit they even lived in the city.  Regina now leads the country in economic growth and people are moving to the city because it’s a place of opportunity.  I think Bucharest is walking the same path… I see great things for this city, and this country.  I see a highly educated population.  I see amazing architecture.  I see a rich culture.  I see beauty everywhere I look.  I see a city changing for the better.

Tudor encouraged me to try ‘A Passport to Hell’,  a type of flaming shooter.  Unfortunately (perhaps fortunately) the bar didn’t have all the ingredients.  Instead, Laura and I shot B52s.  As the place filled up, people started to dance, so Laura and I took a few spins across the dance floor.  We got home at around 1am.

Window

I started my day by walking through the grocery store across from Laura’s place.  Grocery shopping is quite the adventure when you can’t read the labels.  Booze is cheap.  Romanian distilled booze is cheaper.  Pizdos!

After making breakfast I set off alone for Universitate on Bus 268.  My first priority was to get my Romanian cell phone working.  I walked south along Bratianu Blvd.  My, how the place had changed since I last walked this stretch.  There’s a cool new building with a video wall covering portions of its exterior.  Unirii Shopping Centre was now a full meal deal mall with 5 levels.  Cosmote, my cell phone provider was closed for inventory.  Pula Mea!

I was hungry so I went looking for a place with ambience to hang out in.  Found a cafe called ‘Cafepedia’ with free wireless high speed internet.  The building was located across from the University.  I fell into some writing that I had to do for InJustice, and when I was finished, I started researching the 1989 Romanian Revolution.   I felt a chill going up my spine as I youtubed a video about it.  There, amongst the fighting and blood, and chaos, and debris, was the building I was currently sitting in.  I saw the window that I was currently sitting behind.  In that moment, I looked back out that window towards the ghosts of history from 20 years ago.

After a few hours, Laura joined me and we headed off to The Milk Log.  We closed that place down and then found our way to McDonalds for some late night cholesterol, then home on bus 368 where we watched movies until 4am.

The Language Thing

“Sugiamiai pula” is a common phrase used in Romanian diplomacy.  It means, “suck my dick.”  I watched an old lady shout it to a taxi driver who was honking at her.  If you stay in one place long enough, you’ll hear the phrase uttered as often as any other phrase in the language.  Romanians have an interesting relationship to their language.  If you ask someone how they’re doing (“Ce faci?”), and they’re having a bad day, they might say, “pula mea” (“my dick”).  It doesn’t matter if you’re male or female when you use that phrase.  On the other hand, if someone asks you what you thought of that really great party, you might respond with “pizdos”, which literally means, “vaginaish”.  So, “pula mea” is really bad, “pizdos” is really good.

There’s a time and place for everything.  Speaking english to a taxi driver is bad because they’ll rip you off.  I took a cab home the other night and the first guy I talked to (in English) told me the ride would cost 30 lei.  I said ‘no’, I’m going 10 kms and it should only be 16 lei.  He said 30 lei was the night rate.  I thanked him and found a different cab.  This time I managed to conjure enough Romanian to not only get a ride home, but I had to give the driver directions along the way.  It cost 16 lei and I didn’t use a word of english.  Pizdos!

While using english is bad in some situations, it’s the only way to get things done in other situations.  Laura and I dropped in on TVR (Romania’s CBC) and tried to set up a meeting for later in the week.  Laura did all the talking (in Romanian) and we got the run-around.  Later that day, we dropped in on ProTV (Think CTV) and Laura told me to do the talking this time.  We set up a meeting for the next day.

When you speak English in this city, people think you’re important.  English equals status.  Most people in Bucharest speak some english.  Most young people speak English quite well.  Laura first started to learn English in kindergarden.  Romanian TV and Radio is 95% English.

Still, I prefer to speak what little Romanian I’ve learned as much as possible.  I can order a beer, or a latte.  The only food I know how to order is spaghetti and placinta.  I can buy bus tickets.  I can greet someone.  I can say “please” (“va rog”) and thank you (“mulțumesc”).  I’m really trying hard to speak the language as much as possible because I’m trying to keep a low profile and blend into the city.  I’m also noticing that I’m treated really warmly if someone knows I’m an English speaker, but attempt to use Romanian to communicate with them.  They always get this big smile on their face.

New Year’s Day

I watched a stray dog sit patiently on the sidewalk at an intersection at a red light this morning.  When the light turned green it crossed, using the cross walk and got on with its day.  Did I really just see that?  I was a bit foggy after the previous evening’s festivities.

I rolled out of bed about four hours after my head first hit the pillow and decided to wander for a bit.  I soon found myself standing alone in Piața Romana on a brand new day, in a brand new year.  It was 10am.

Spent fireworks were laying on the streets and sidewalks everywhere I walked.  That was a HELLOVA party!  I talked about living inside a bubble before… where I was invisible to the city rushing around me… that was me being metaphoric.

This time, I really did have the city to myself.  No one was around, the streets were free of traffic, the shops were closed, and it was just me and that stray dog looking for a place to eat that wasn’t named McDonalds (though I suspect the dog was less fussy than me).  The sun was bright, the air was brisk, and this city of 2.5 million people seemed abandoned.  Nothing, except McDonalds was open.

Bowing to my hunter/gatherer instincts, I brought a couple of breakfast meals back to the hotel for Laura and I.  Soon after, we both found ourselves wandering the streets, looking for something to do.  All we wanted was a cafe to sit in while the fog in our minds lifted.  We found ourselves sitting in front of the National Theatre at Universitate in utter disbelief.  It was after 2pm and we still couldn’t find a place that was open.  We were getting cold.  It was then that Laura thought of ‘Gregory’s’.

We walked passed an outdoor skating rink in Unrii Plaza.  Music was blaring and families skated in packs around the rink, laps after lap.  It was a happy site.  I’ve seen quite a few outdoor rinks in Bucharest.  I didn’t realize that ice skating was so popular.  Having said that, no one knows what ‘hockey’ is.  I enjoyed the thought that I might be the best hockey player in Bucharest at that moment, despite the fact that I can barely skate, shoot, or stick handle.

Gregory’s is a sandwich/coffee shop that also serves beer.  It was open so Laura and I hung out laughing, talking, and watching life go by.  Beer in this country is cheaper than pop.  After about 4 hours, we took the Metro and later caught a tram to Plaza Romania to watch a movie, ‘Sex Drive’.  The movie played in English, with Romanian subtitles.

Once we got home, I crashed while Laura played Warcraft.

La Multi Ani!!!

For New Year’s Eve, I booked a room at the Howard Johnson Grand Hotel in downtown Bucharest, near a square called ‘Piata Romana’.  I used Hotels.ca and to my amazement, this five star hotel was available for $137/night (the cheapest rate offered by any hotel).  When Laura and I checked into our 10th story room, we found its greatest feature was a tall, deep, window sill.  We could both fit in it and could watch the world go by from a bird’s eye view.  Laura read a book in that window sill and I took a shower.

At around 7pm we headed out for supper.  We walked several blocks because taxi drivers in Bucharest get really annoyed with you if you’re only going 10 blocks.  They get paid per km and will actually refuse to drive you if the distance is too short.  Taxi drivers are universally disliked in Bucharest because their driving sucks, their attitudes stink, and they’re not that useful.  Furthermore, if they know you’re not Romanian, the rate quintuples.  Fortunately, the streets of Bucharest are the safest I’ve ever seen.  Young women walk the streets at night without fear.  I actually met Laura two years ago on a downtown street at 3am.

We made our way into ‘Old Bucharest’, a twisting winding collection of tightly packed, centuries old buildings and narrow cobble stone streets.  It’s really quite beautiful.  Many of the streets are torn up and architectural digs are underway.  Our first stop was ‘The Fire Club’, located in a building that’s older than Regina.  We hung out in the basement where the DJ was spinning all sorts of music, most of it currently residing in the reputiour of many a drag queen.  It seems Romanians enjoy mocking and dancing to really cheesy songs.  99% of the music was in English.  Laura knew all the words, and had a dance routine worked out for every tune.  We spent most of the evening laughing at ourselves.  Then, ‘The Final Countdown’ by Europe played and suddenly it was midnight.  The music kept going… there was no stopping the party to have a count down.

“La Mulţi” could be heard everywhere.  That’s how Romanian’s say ‘Happy New Year!’  It’s also how they greet each other for every other holiday occasion, including birthdays.  Efficient methinks.  Laura and I left soon after to join two of her friends, Raluca and Madalina, at ClubControl, a nearby club.  In the walk over, Bucharest sounded like it was under attack.  Fireworks exploded and echoed off the walls of buildings all over the city.  This went on for several hours.  The city was lit up and there was a palpable sense of euphoria in the air.

ClubControl was amazing… packed with people and music and ambience.  At one point, the girls left me on the dance floor alone and I found myself dancing with a perfect stranger.  We fell into a kind of improvised movement performance in the middle of the dance floor, reading each others’ body language and constantly shifting into different movement phrases.  She would throw out an idea and I would take it, work with it, then throw something back to her.  It felt like something straight out of our movement class back in Regina.  She said something to me in Romanian and I didn’t understand.  She smiled and said she thought I was a foreigner because Romanian men have no imagination when they dance.  Never in my life would I have imagined someone saying that about me.  Thanks Movement Class!

Laura, Raluca, Madalina and I left the club at 5am.  We headed out to McDonalds at Piata Romana for a bite.  I learned that Raluca will be studying screen writing next year.  We made plans to chat over coffee before I leave.  Laura and I headed back to the hotel afterwards.  I closed my eyes at 5:30.  It was the best New Years ever!