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martes, 23 de diciembre de 2008

Electoral promises - the aftermath

During electoral campaign, huge, irresponsible promises, were made. Now, it´s the new government task to try to make them true (or, as a local journalist-showman, Micea Badea, said the other night, to start the "yes but no" discourse).

Most of these promises were related with raising salaries to teachers, doctors, policemen... The raising of salaries for teachers beginning in October 2008 was approved by the Parliament in September. I wondered then:

1) How the hell a responsible Parliament could make a promise compromising a budget, the one of 2008, that has received approval in January, and, with no extra incomes, no extra money to allocate to that raising.
2) How the hell a responsible Government will be able to fit that salary raising in next budgetary period, 2009. No doubt that salaries in Romanian education are low... However, no doubt either that Ministry of Education budget can´t easily handle such a raise (forget absolute numbers, let´s talk abour relative weight of the promise: a 50% raise, let´s not forget that).

So I'm know leaving Romania for Christmas, and at last found data answering my two hell questions:

1) The raise from October was possible by transfering money already allocated for educational infrastructures (10% of the Ministry's total budget) to that raise. As a result: a) Ministry cannot pay some works already performed, but had not been invoiced before October. b) Ministry cannot begin pending works, school renovation, etc. An by the way, teachers have not received yet all the promised money (bureaucracy...)

2) Inflation has been quite high in the last semester of the year; the RON/EUR rate in September was 3,6, more or less, and by the end of the year we have almost trespassed the psycological barrier of 4 RON/EUR. So well, if the tendency continues, maybe it will be able to raise the salaries after all... With no effect on teachers welfare.

If you can´t have both, what's more important for education, good facilities or content teachers? Difficult decision... But there´s no need to promise anything if you´ll be having none. Think before talking. Make numbers before promising.

domingo, 21 de diciembre de 2008

Strada Verona, Bucharest (December 2008)

Walking through Strada Verona one more time, enjoying the graffities and stencils, as it's my habit, finding this time a poster on 30th November Parliamentary Elections.

So the country is a plunger-like piece of meat, so people didn't vote (30% participation in Bucharest, less that 40% in the whole country) but went out for the three-day weekend (Monday 1st December was a national holiday in Romania), as everyone knew would happen (was that dat selected on purpose or just without thinking?)

One weekend at the mountains = 3 days.

One expressed vote = 4 years.

Come to vote on 30th November!

(PD-L 2008 campaign poster)

Anyway, the participation wouldn't have been high in any case: no high-quality campaign (I would like to find a country with high-quality political campaign, though), no feeling of change, no confidence on the system...

And the results: the Parliament divided in thirds, and a government agreement between the conservatives (PD-L) and the socialdemocrats (PSD). Formally, an unnatural pact; and some people I know think likewise. Some others, however, think of it as a pact between two forms of past communist elites showing their real face...

Who was more communist, who stole the most last time in power., who made promises, who carried them out.. Dunno, myself, as I lack, in order to take sides, a serious knowledge of Romanian political trackrecord.

So I won't do light ideological comments on this elections. But, what about governability? From my point of view, Romania need a stable government with capacity to make decisions, important decisions to counteract economical crisis and to encourage absortion of European funds granted for 2007-2013 period through adequately planned and managed development programmes. With Presidential elections to be held in Autumn 2009, I don't think THIS government will be able to be THAT government; even in the event that its members and the parliamentary groups supporting them get on well enough and the opposition behaves in a constructive way, tha political show will surely be on again in six months...

However, I've been told that this is not the first time in post-1989 Romania that such a weak, unnatural pact has been in office, and it lasted... So, once again, I'm quite speechless with regards Romanian politics. Maybe I shouldn't be doing light comments of any type, after all.

sábado, 6 de diciembre de 2008

A month onwards: from St. Nicholas to the Three Wise Men

Had I been still a child, had I been a Romanian child, had I been a child living in Romania, yesterday (5th December) I would have gone to bed early. I would have cleaned my shoes, put them on the window and go to bed early, waiting for St. Nicholas (Sfantul Nicolae, Moş Nicolae) to bring me some sweets or a new pair of boots on 6th December, Saint Nicholas day.

St. Nicholas will be back on 24th December, in his worldwide tour, disguised as Santa Clause and with a red suit sponsored by Coca-Cola. Many children will go to bed earl, wondering the presents to come on Christmas Day. Not my case (has I been younger, of course): at my house, during my childhood, we still followed the Three Wise Men (Los Reyes Magos) tradition.

The Three Wise Men (Melchor, Gaspar and Baltasar) come every 5th January from far away, from Middle East, from Arabia. Children, who have written a letter asking certain presents, go to see them when they arrive, in a big parade, throwing sweets and carrying presents for the children that have been good in their camels, the coal for those who have been naughty. Then, children come back home, leave water for the camels and Christmas seewts for the Three Wise Men, and hurry to bed: no matter if you have been good all year, if you see the Three Wise Men when they come to your house to leave the presents, you won't get any. Would I be still a child, I could get up early next 6th January, open my presents, have chocolate and "Roscón de Reyes" at breakfast, play all day and say good-bye to Christmas: I'd be back to school on 7th, maybe 8th January.

In this world where kids are too well informed, I wish you all to have around during Christmas some child who still live under the illusion of a magical Christmas: no matter if he or she sleeps badly on 5th December, on 24th December or in 5 January, but let him or her be nervous at least one day! And let us to smile with that.

domingo, 16 de noviembre de 2008

Tu, înainte de toate!

Este es el curioso slogan del PSD (Partido Socialdemócrata) en Bucarest para las elecciones parlamentarias rumanas del 30 de noviembre. ¿Individualismo socialista, un nuevo híbrido ideológico?
"Mereces toda la atención. Tú, antes que nadie"
"You deserve all the attention. First of all, you"
This is the PSD (Social Democrat Party) slogan in Bucharest for the parlamentary elections that will be held on 30 November. Socialist Individualism, is that so, a new ideological hybrid?

viernes, 14 de noviembre de 2008

Organizamos la rebelión de 2009

"Revelion", en rumano, es la fiesta de Fin de Año.

P.D. Si os llevaran a celebrar Fin de Año en el sitio donde saqué la foto, probablemente os rebelaríais... es el típico sitio de Comuniones, Bodas y Bautizos, del tipo "nos encanta el canal de televisión Favorit". A ver, no me voy a poner purista y criticona del folklore rumano.... No creo que aguantara mucho tampoco un canal 24 horas de jotas y muñeiras:

jueves, 30 de octubre de 2008


Vuelvo de nuevo de un viaje relámpago a Rusia, y me traigo conmigo tan sólo una tableta de chocolate Alionka. En realidad no es mi marca preferida, pero esta niña siempre me ha resultado muy cercana, y ahora, mientras cojo una onza, me hace compañía...

Farther East again, what did I bring with me back from Russia, an Alionka chocolate tablet. To tell the truth, it's not my favourite Russian chocolate brand, but this little girl always makes me feel more at ease...

sábado, 25 de octubre de 2008

El Cristo de la Aviación

Rumania, como España, es un país de importante tradición religiosa. Creo que la Iglesia Ortodoxa rumana (y en general todas las iglesias) goza de mejor salud en Rumania que la Católica en España, aunque me resisto a afirmarlo categóricamente: nunca me he aproximado esta cuestión seriamente, de una manera científica (número de creyentes y practicantes, interiorización de reglas sociales y éticas de conducta, peso socioeconómico y político de las respectivas iglesias), y tal vez me dejo engañar por mi propio entorno personal en España, profundamente agnóstico, por no decir ateo y anticlerical.

En cualquier caso, son, sin lugar a dudas, dos países religiosos en lo que se refiere a su historia, sus tradiciones culturales y la geografía de sus ciudades. Las principales fiestas son fiestas de origen religioso que se esperan con impaciencia y se disfrutan igualmente aunque se las viva desprovistas de su peso religioso (Navidad, Semana Santa, procesiones y romerías, días grandes con sus patronos y patronas...). Por su parte, los pueblos y ciudades se construyen en torno a las iglesias y sus campanarios en España, en torno a sus iglesias porticadas y cruces pintadas en Rumania.

La religiosidad rumana se percibe muy bien en una de las estatuas principales de la ciudad, la estatua a los Héroes de la Aviación (Lydia Kotzbue, 1935) que se encuentra en la Plaza de los Aviadores. Antes de conocer la fecha de realización, 1935, suponía que la estatua era de la época comunista, por su estilo tan similar a las estatuas del realismos socialista. Pero no. Históricamente no. Desde el punto de vista de las corrientes artísticas, tal vez.

Encuadrarla en el realismo socialista hubiera sido, en cualquier caso, demasiado simplificador, siendo, en realidad, una de las pocas Crucifixiones que he visto al aire libre, con su Cristo y sus plañideras. Este Cristo musculoso, estas vírgenes masculinas a sus pies, esta cristiandad clandestina, es para mí uno de los símbolos que me vienen a la mente cuando pienso en el siglo XX rumano, en lo poco que empiezo a conocer de él, de manera fragmentada y caótica.

jueves, 9 de octubre de 2008

Strada Verona, Bucureşti

La cita es la definición de socialismo realista, tal y como apareció reflejada por primera vez en una revista literaria soviética (Literaturnaya Gazeta) el 25 de mayo de 1932, marcando el fin del idilio de los vanguardistas y el gobierno comunista. El concepto de "hombre nuevo" es un concepto de doctrinas fascistas de los Legionarios de Corneliu Codreanu. Las pintadas de la pared (sólo se ve una parte en la foto) son francamente sugerentes y surrealistas. La moraleja del conjunto: ni idea.

The quote has been taken from an article published at the Soviet cultural journal Literaturnaya Gazeta on 25 May 1932, more or less when the love story between the artistic avant-garde and the Soviet power ended. The concept of New Man, from fascist ideas of Corneliu Codreanu´s Legionaries. The graffittis on the wall are quite appealing, and frankly unrealistic. The idea hiding behind the scene: I haven´t got a clue.

"Las masas reclaman un realismo socialista honesto, verídico y revolucionario"
"Masses demand an honest, truthful and revolutionary socialist realism"

El Hombre Nuevo, octubre 2008
The New Man, October 2008

martes, 7 de octubre de 2008

Ofertas temerarias

Existe un concepto en el ámbito de las licitaciones públicas que habría que introducir en el mundo de la política: se trata del concepto de "oferta temeraria", término que define aquellas ofertas que establecen un coste desproporcionadamente bajo para los servicios o trabajos propuestos, en detrimento de la calidad de los mismos, y por tanto que deben ser desestimadas en el concurso.

En Rumania ha habido elecciones municipales en junio, y habrá elecciones generales en un par de meses; por eso estoy oyendo últimamente muchas ofertas temerarias. Kilómetros y kilómetros de carreteras, mejora en la calidad de vida, mejores servicios, políticos menos corruptos, recogida de basuras, depuración de aguas, circunvalación de centros urbanos. Todo todito todo se ejecutará en los próximos cuatros años, en un país a salvo de las convulsiones del sistema financiero internacional (donde, por cierto, el leu ha bajado en dos semanas de 3,6 RON/EUR a casi 4) donde la economía va a seguir creciendo, afirman, en los próximos años a más de un 20%, y la construcción, sobre el 10-12%.

Muchas ofertas temerarias... Algunas de las de reir por no llorar:

1) ¿Xenofobia en Italia, paro creciente entre los inmigrantes rumanos en una Europa en recesión, necesidad de mano de obra cualificada en Rumania? La solución la tiene Mircea Geoană, el Presidente del PSD (Partido Social Demócrata), que en un mitin ante emigrados en Milán, prometió 20.000 Euros a los rumanos que volviera a Rumania a trabajar.

2) ¿Sueldos bajos y creciente coste de la vida en Rumania? Salarios medios de 900 euros, pensiones medias de 400 euros para 2009, promete el PD-L; el sueldo medio actual no supera los 300 euros, para que os hagáis idea del tamaño del farol.

3) Pero hay faroles mayores, porque ¿para qué esperar? Sin medias tintas: el Parlamento (PSD+PD-L, aunque también diputados del PNL y de otros partidos han votado a favor) ha aprobado una subida del 50% de los sueldos de los profesores a partir del 1 de octubre, aumentos del 20% en las pensiones para el 1 de noviembre, y subidas de sueldo de un 10-20% para los policías. El Presidente ha recurrido la decisión de aumentar el sueldo a los profesores (se trata de un sistema semipresidencialista al estilo francés), afirmando que el presupuesto no puede sostener una decisión tan temeraria y electoralista. Y probablemente tenga razón, ya que no sólo se trata de cuadrar los números para 2009, recortar allí y poner allá, sino que se pretende ejecutar esa decisión desde ya, sobre los presupuestos de 2008, que tendrán sus compromisos que soportar, compromisos que serán, por mucho dinero que se cuele entre las manos, muchos.

Tendrá razón el Presidente, y es triste reconocerlo, porque la verdad es que los sueldos en la enseñanza secundaria no rebasan los 1.000 lei mensuales (unos 300 euros), y se trataba de aumentarlos hasta alcanzar los 1.700 lei (500 euros). El aumento de las pensiones en un 20% a partir del 1 de noviembre las situaría en 700 lei (2o0 euros). Aun así, y aunque le reconozca el problema presupuestario, las declaraciones de algunos de los partidarios del Presidente también me dan escalofríos: por la radio oí a una tertuliana afirmar, tan pancha, que los funcionarios públicos no tienen derecho a reclamar subidas salariales, porque su sueldo sale del bolsillo de todos. Con esta actitud el país tampoco va a ir para adelante...

Promesas temerarias por todas partes. Justo ahora acabo de recoger de mi buzón un folleto de propaganda que ofrece apartamentos y oficinas en un edificio nuevo "a 10 minutos de Plaza Victoriei y a 15 del aeropuerto de Otopeni". Sólo los que conozcáis Bucarest comprenderéis lo temerario de esta afirmación, visto el estado del tráfico y de las comunicaciones de la ciudad. Ofrecen facilidades de pago, no sé muy bien cómo en el contexto bancario internacional (ah, es verdad, que no afecta a Rumania, dicen algunos por la radio... habrá que creerlo) y con el sistema de hipotecas en pleno proceso de reforma, y por tanto con expedientes paralizados y/o a punto de paralizarse en los bancos mientras se adaptan a la nueva regulación (proceso que, según mi experiencia en este país durante este año, sabemos cuando empieza, pero veremos cuándo termina).

Bueno, y para terminar este cúmulo de despropósitos con tono de sainete, un guiño a mis amigos de Moscú. Acabo de leer hoy que Bucarest recibe desde 2006 asesoría de las autoridades moscovitas para resolver el problema del tráfico... y que están tan contentos con la asesoría que han decidido prolongar el acuerdo. Recordadlo cuando estéis atrapados en vuestros propios atascos, debéis estar en una ciudad con un tráfico bien gestionado, y mira tú, ni os dais cuenta...

lunes, 6 de octubre de 2008

Regalos de empresa / Business presents

El otro día tenía una reunión de trabajo, de esas que suelo tener. Eran las diez de la mañana, y yo llegaba legañosa y saboreando todavía el primer café de la mañana en el paladar. "¿Un café, un té, tal vez agua?", me ofreció el director general mientras me invitaba a sentarme, "no, gracias, estoy bien así", respondí educadamente, y empezamos a hablar del asunto que me había traído hasta allí. A punto de acabar nuestra reunión, me dice el hombre, "así que ni café, ni té... pero vino sí querrás ¿o no?". "Es un poco pronto...", respondí, sorprendida, pero a la vez preparándome para beber por educación un vaso de vino que, realmente, no me apetecía nada a esas horas. No era la primera vez que me ofrecían alcohol en una reunión de trabajo antes del mediodía, había sido en otro país, en otra reunión, pero también un director genral, también del sector de la construcción. Aunque, la verdad, aquel hombre no me parecía del tipo que se toma un carajillo para desayunar. "O sticlă!", me aclaró. Una botella. Me quedé parada unos segundos, no entendiendo muy bien de qué iba el tema, y repasando mentalmente mi vocabulario rumano, que me juega más de una mala pasada. Pero sí: una botella, no había duda, quedó confirmado cuando levantó el teléfono y le pidió a su secretaria que me preparara una bolsa con dos botellas de vino rumano, una de blanco, otra de tinto.

No es la primera vez que me hacen regalos extraños durante reuniones de trabajo en Rumania, extraños al menos para mí y para cualquier que no sea un un presidente, un alcalde, tal vez una estrella de cine. Pero hace ya unos meses, durante mis primeras semanas en Rumania. yo llegué un 10 de febrero, y el 14 era San Valentín, el 1 de marzo el Día de la Primavera, el 8 de marzo el de la Mujer... Y en todas esas ocasiones, la costumbre local es regalar flores a las mujeres, grande ramos de rosas a las novias, esposas o madres, ramilletes de flores silvestres a las compañeras de trabajo o a las amigas. También yo recibí alguno de esos ramos durante mis visitas y reuniones de trabajo. Pero ya entrado marzo la época de repartir flores a diestro y siniestro se acabó. Aunque no lo creo, si hemos entradoen la época del reparto de vino y empiezo a recibir una botella en cada reunión mientras dure la vendimia, no os preocupéis, que ya os informaré...

The other day, as usual, I went to visit a Romanian company, one of these working meetings I have. It was around 10 am, I had just had a coffee at home. I started to talk with the general manager about the issue that had brought me to his office. "Would you like a coffee, a tea, water?", he asked me. "I'm fine, thank you very much", I answered, and we went on talking. half an hour later he asked me again, "so you don't drink coffee, tea, water, but maybe wine?". "Not so early..." I has already been offered once cognac before 12 am, in other country, in other meeting, by other general manager, so while I answered I was also preparing myself to accept politely that glass of wine, a glass that was, truly, a too early glass of wine for me... Anyway, I was a bit surprised, that man didn't seem of the early-drinker type. "O sticlă!", he said. A bottle. He called his secretary and asked her to prepare a bag with two bottles of Romanian wine, one of red wine and the other of white wine, for me to take home.

It's not the first time I've been given weird presents during business meetings in Romania, but I was taken by surprise (who wouldn't, by the way, unless you are a Prime Minister, a President, a King, used to such attentions) because that had happened some months ago, during the first weeks I spent in Romania. I arrived on 10th February: 14th February is St Valentine's day, 1st March is the Spring Day, 8th March the Women's Day... In all these occasions women receive flowers, girlfriends and wifes receive big bouquet or roses, for example, but colleagues or friends, also receive small (nice) bouquets of wild flowers, or lilacs. So I received a couple of them, too, during business visits and meetings. Then March ended, and that flower-giving habit disappeared. I suppose we have not entered in some wine-giving period, but don't worry, if I do get a bottle of wine every meeting I have in Autumn, I will let you know!

miércoles, 24 de septiembre de 2008

Surfing the city

I'm reading a book by Nick Hornby, Slam (2007), and his main character, a teenager, tells something about London that reminded me of Bucharest right away:
Whoever invented skating is a genius, in my opinion. London gets in the way of every other sport. There are tiny little patched of green where you can play football, or golf, or whatever, and the concrete is trying to eat them away. So you play these games in spite of the city and, really, it would be better if you lived just about anywhere else, out in the countryside, or the suburbs, or some place like Australia. But skating you do because of the city. We need as much concrete and as many stairs and ramps and benches and pavements as you've got. And when the world's been completely paved over, we'll be the only athletes left, and there will be statues of famous skaters all over the world, and the Olympics will just be a million of different skating competitions, and then the people might actually watch. I will, anyway.
It sounds so right... But then, why don't I bump into skaters around here so often? Maybe Bucharest is a step further (or behind)... There's no lack of pavement, but of smooth pavement; plenty of stairs and ramps, but discontinuous ones, shabby and full of holes.

Just an idea.

I know I must be patient with this in-construction, promising city, but some days it's difficult, I get tired... Sorry about that.

lunes, 22 de septiembre de 2008

Happy Birthday, Leo!

Leonard Cohen turned 74 years old, and he did it on the stage, in Bucharest, yesterday (21st September), and I was lucky enough to be there... A great concert, a long concert (almost 3 hours!): yes, that´s right, he´s 74 years old and can still perform during 3 hours... Looking happy, enjoying what he does, making us, who can´t sing but can listen, to enjoy ourselves too. A lively concert, but also a farewell concert; he´s not a dumb, he knows it well. We are not dumb either, at least not so dumb not to know it too. Thus, for those of you who couldn´t come along, for those of you who would have come along, also for you were meant his last words at the end of the concert: "Thank you for keeping my songs alive all these years".

But hey, maybe you still can go, share some time with Leonard Cohen and his great backup musicians, as the Leonard Cohen World Tour 2008-2009 hasn´t finished yet! He didn´t leave Europe yet! Take your chance! They are still new venues to be added for 2009... But in the meantime, I will share with you some moments of the concert (all my gratitude to the anonymous "You Tubers", in this case drstana...):

Of course, he sang one of my favourites, "First We Take Manhattan". A great singer has always great followers: my Spanish friends will know "Manhattan", from Omega album (Morente/Lagartija Nick), which deserves a wider audience:


And although he didn't sing another of my favourites, Boogie Street, I didn't mind that much: maybe I can't sing, but I have learned to hum quietly, and in my heart I always will be back, and back, and back to Boogie Street...

miércoles, 10 de septiembre de 2008

Let's go "parking"

I live in a city where walking is not allowed... or at least so it seems some days, when pedestrians have to walk on the road because cars took over the pathways, when construction sites melt down destructively and invade the streets, when you can't look up at the beautiful faсades because you're too busy watching the floor... However, I somewhat cannot be completely mad at a city with such huge and nice parks. Bucharest may be a highly polluted city, but I think it might be the greenest polluted city I've ever been.

When the streets push you out, and you don't feel like staying at home, there's two things you can do in Bucharest: either you go shopping or you go "parking". There's many parks scattered around the city: huge forests like Herastrau, wide meadows like Titan or Tineretului, English gardens like Cismigiu or Botanic Garden. Lively parks, all-age parks where you can find children and mothers, old people spending the day (sad people spending the night), teenagers, couples, dog owners and disowned dogs, birds, frogs...

Bikes everywhere; the very bikes you hardly see on the bycicle lanes. Teenagers playing ball, badmington: pensioners playing backgammon, draughts or chess. Ponds with boats and terraces and, very often, a small amusement park with some some roller coasters, jumping beds and bumber cars. On Sundays, an orchestra plays folk music at Cismigiu.

There's a couple of things I've seen people doing in Bucharest parks I hadn't seen before, not in Spain. Right now, I can recall three. One: Romanians do like a lot cotton sugar, not only children but also grown ups buy and eat it (I think I haven't since I was 10 or even less). Two: you can weight yourself, there's some people that sells sweeties, pop corn or sweet corn, there's painters and cartoonists, and there's also other people that let you weight yourself on a bathroom scale. Three: a weird "park" sport, like a tennis doubles match, but using a football ball and feet. I've asked around and none was able to give me a clue on the rules.

I love to wander around these parks, dodging bikes and scatters, listening the distant hum made by 20 games of chess being played at the same time in some clear beyond the trees, wondering if I am already too old to eat pink sugar cotton... or maybe just too Spanish.

martes, 2 de septiembre de 2008

Torre de Paracaidismo (Parachute Tower)

¿Alguien quiere saltar?

Esta torre de entrenamiento para saltos en paracaídas está en Cluj; hay otra en Bucarest, aunque en peor estado... He encontrado algunas referencias sobre existencia de torres similares en Bakú (Azebaiján), Katowice (Polonia) y algunas bases militares de Estados Unidos. Poco más. Es ya tan raro encontrar algo poco documentado en la web que casi me parece desenterrar un pedacito de historia...

La información (poca y fragmentada) que he encontrado en la web es, en cualquier caso, bastante curiosa. Al parecer, este tipo de torres se construyeron entre los años 30 y 40, y se han llegado a utilizar hasta los 80 para entrenamiento de paracaidistas (fundamentalmente para entrenamiento militar). La idea es de origen ruso (¿por qué será que no me sorprende?). Allí se habían utilizado desde los años 20, con la estructura de madera; un comandante estadounidense avispado, James H. Strong, vio el negocio, diseñó un prototipo de una versión mejorada con estructura de metal y se aseguró la patente para Estados Unidos. Vendió varias al ejército en Estados Unidos... ¡y en Rumania! (¿Guerra Fría bolsillo caliente?). Pero muy pronto se empezaron a construir no sólo como equipamiento militar, sino como entretenimiento... La más famosa parece ser una en Coney Island, que ya nació con ese propósito, y que llaman "la Torre Eiffel de Brooklyn". También hubo una, al parecer, en el Gorki Park de Moscú. Quién lo iba a pensar, así que hasta los Parques de Atracciones deben una parte de su desarrollo a la innovación militar...

Wanna jump?

This is a parachute jump training tower situated in Cluj; there's another one I've seen in Bucharest, but in much worse shape. I found in the Internet some reference to similar towers in Katowice
(Poland), Baku (Azebaijan) and US military bases, but no more. Nowadays it is so strange to find something that has less than 1.000 references in Google that I feel as if I was unveiling a hidden secret from past...

The few and fragmented information I found is, in any case, quite amusing. Apparently, thse kind of towers were built in 1930s-40s, and were used for training (military, mainly) of parachutists. The Russians invented this training system (that doesn't surprise me, somehow), using wooden structures for military training of pilots since the 20s. James H. Strong, a smart US Comander swa the business opportunity, designed a prototype with a metallic structure and obtained the US patent for it. He sold severla to US army... and to Romania! (Cold War?). Very soon he started to adapt them to be used also for entertainment; the most famous one, in Coney Island ("the Brooklyn Eiffel Tower") was built for that purpose from the very beginning. It also used to be one of this kind in Moscow Gorki Park... Who could think that even Adventure Parks owe their development to military innovation...

domingo, 31 de agosto de 2008

A Transylvania & Bucovina non-Dracula tour

Some friends came over during my holidays and we made a short, 8-days, 1.300 km. trip from Bucharest to Transylvania and Moldavia. [Don't mistake Moldavia -Romanian region- with the Republic of Moldova -an independent country-]. An orientative map of our route is the following:

We were not after the Dracula's legend (supposedly based on Vlad Ţepeş), but maybe it will be more entertaining to describe our trip related with the Dracula tour, as most of names if cities and regions will say nothing to you, and Dracula is a well-known character. So beware, a vampire is hiding behind these lines...

After some problems with car hiring, we headed West, taking one of the only two motorways currently existing in Romania, the one to Piteşti. The traffic jam in Piteşti was huge and, still with a fresh memory of the traffic jam suffered in Bucharest, we decided to take the risk and take a secondary road. A very lucky choice, as there was no traffic, and we passed by a bunch of nice Wallaquian vilages on our way to Curtea de Argeş, where the Transfăgărăşan road to cross the Carpathians starts, leading to Sibiu through Bâlea glacier lake (2,034 meters of altitude). With most of the national roads under repairing works, we did the same many other times, always a good option if the weather is good and the sun is still on the sky, as at night the walking peasants, bikes, horse carts, cattle and straw dogs are no more part of the landscape and become a real danger... More danger of killing than of being killed, but it's not, in any case, a confortable environment to drive.

Just where the Carpathians begins lay the ruins of the Poienari Citadel, the main fortress used by the Wallaquian prince Vlad Ţepeş against the Turks during the second half of XVth Century. If you have to chose one, this would be the "real" Dracula fortress.

We stayed two days in Sibiu, a beautiful Saxon town (Hermannstadt in German) that was 2007's European Capital of Culture, and had subsequently its historical centre renovated. The "eyed" roofs are maybe its more remarkable feature. Then, on our way to Bukovina we visited Alba Iulia and Cluj-Napoca, watching from the distance the impressive Turda gorge, other Romanian natural wonder we had to leave behind. Cluj-Napoca (Kolozsvár in Hungarian) is, with 300.000 inhabitants, the third largest city in the country, an important economical, cultural and scientific center whose buildins whispers about a rich XIX Century bourgeois history, and whose statues, flags and graffities shouts about the complex Magyar-Romanian relationship. Had I chosen national feelings and interethnic relations as the driving idea of my story, Cluj (ruled by the ultranationalist mayor Gheorghe Funar, from România Mare -Big Romania-, between 1992 and 2004) would have deserved, for sure, a whole chapter. But I chose Dracula instead, and we must move forward.

We headed East and passed Bistriţa, leaving Transilvania for Bucovina just for a couple of days. We visited some of the famous, UNESCO-honored painted monasteries from our "base camp"at Gura Humorului, a summer location, a shtetl without Jews, a remembrance of recent, non-literary terrors. 100 km before, in the border between Transilvania and Bucovina, is Tihuţa pass (or Borgo Pass, according to Bram Stocker) the entrance to Dracula realms, the Bârgău Mountains, another impressive landscape in this hilly country made of ups and downs. So, if you want, you can call this place the "fictional" Dracula homeland, although Vlad Ţepeş never put a foot on this area, and no castle or fortress ever existed. There is now a "Hotel Castel Dracula" in Piatra Fântânele, at the top, that is more respectful with the environment than one would have expected, with very few "thematic park" elements appart from the name. Not a bad place to stop by; Lemonade is served cold, I don't know about blood.

On our way back to Transilvania we went fast accross Neamţ region to spend more time at Bicaz gorge and Lacul Roşu (the Red Lake), one of the most weird places I've ever seen: a lake created by an landslide in 1838, where the fosilized remnants of dead trees still can be seen. Another good spot to dream of camping and hiking, another good location for made-up terror stories about lost camp children or flooded villages.

We spent our last three days back in Saxon Transilvania, visiting Braşov (Kronstadt in German) , Prejmer Peasant Fortress (a very special fortified church), Bucegi Mountains... Being in a reasonable distance from Bucharest (let's not messure on km here, but on driving hours, 2-4), so maybe still some of you reading this will be come and visit these places or others we couldn't visit because of lack of time: Sighisoara, Fărăgaş, Piatra Craiului, Sinaia... And Bran Castle, "Dracula's castle", a war fortification with no relation either with Bram Stocker's Dracula or Vlad Ţepeş life that, once reconstructed, became one of the many summer residences of Habsburg royal family during XX Century. At an easy distance from Bucharest (1,5-2 hours), some smart guy noticed its touristic potential, sticked a poster at the entrance and won the game. Thus, you visit a worthy place, but with a very different story (Habsburg-related) than expected, and with the surroundings spoilt by oversized Dracula souvenir shops. Let's call it, then, the "touristic" Dracula's Castle.

And then just the way back to Bucharest left, through Prahova Valley and Dambobiţa County, from Bucharest surroundings to its outskirts, from the outskirts to its distant neighbourhoods, and from there to the city centre, to Cişmigiu park, where everything started and where no vampire has ever be seen. However, some evenings, while hearing the birds croaking like crazy when the sunset comes, I can't help thinking of Hitchcock's birds...

martes, 29 de julio de 2008

La ciudad es nuestra

"Oraşul e al nostru", la ciudad es nuestra: no quiero olvidar a los deheredados de la tierra, al cuarto mundo que se esconde en la gran ciudad, a los borrachos sin remedio, los solitarios enloquecidos, los ancianos de pensión ínfima, las madres gitanas mendicantes, sus hijos mendigando también a dos manzanas de distancia, los niños de la calle, los adolescentes de la calle, los perros abandonados... todas las clases de vagabundos que uno se encuentra en esta gran ciudad.

Porque si bien es verdad que uno se encuentra menos miseria de la que esperaba cuando bajó del avión a este país desconocido, o mal conocido, que no tiene nada que ver con la imagen que tenemos de él, la vergüenza del cuarto mundo existe. Y la vergüenza de los abandonados en la carrera hacia el capitalismo (todos esos pensionistas mendicantes) también. Pero sí, es cierto, menos de la que uno esperaba. Una unidad de medida un tanto personal de la miseria urbana sería evaluar cuánto tarda uno en ser plenamente consciente de este cuatro mundo que le rodea.... Por ejemplo, en Quito, Ecuador, estuve sólo 36 horas, y desde la primera fui dolorosamente consciente de los niños de la calle, de esos niños de la calle tan apartados de todo que han perdido el don de la comunicación, nunca lo tuvieron, nadie les ha enseñado, y saben hablar lo justo para pedir unos pesos, acercar la caja limpiabotas, enseñar unos chicles, animalitos de seis, cinco, cuatro... tres años. En Bucarest no sé si fue el efecto sorpresa de las luces de la ciudad, pero tardé en percibir plenamente sus sombras. Sin embargo, hay cuestiones en las que no valen relativizaciones, comparativas, proporciones (hay más, hay menos): la aspiración es el absoluto, la nada, kaput, finito, aquí, en Madrid, en Nueva York, en Moscú... Aquí y en China, como decimos en mi tierra.

Me duelen los ancianos de esquina, que no extienden la mano para pedir porque les cuesta horrores hacer lo que están haciendo, pero piden igualmente, y agradecen murmurando y mirando hacia el suelo. Me duelen los niños de la calle, y los adolescentes de la calle que pasean en manada, como animales gregarios, sin pudor, sin pensamientos, apretando algunos de ellos su bolsa de pegamento. Me duelen los vagabundos locos y las madres mendicantes, presentes en todos los agujeros del mundo.

Me duelen los perros de la calle, pero menos que en otras ciudades; en general se les cuida, existe una cierta costumbre de "adoptarlos" en las comunidades de vecinos. Aun así, los perros abandonados conservan una mirada de dolor y perplejidad ante el abandono, y el resto, los callejeros de toda la vida, que parecen más satisfechos... habrá que verlos, como la cigarra, en invierno y en la nieve.
Pero en cualquier caso me duelen menos; tal vez poque he carecido siempre (lo confieso) de esa empatía con los animales que algunos tienen, tal vez porque sigo reservando la mayor parte de mi corazón para las personas.
Y también de mi pudor: por eso todas las fotos que veis aquí son de perros. Porque aunque en mis paseos con la cámara de fotos me encontrado con estampas magníficas (tal vez sea mejor decir "magníficas"), me cuesta sacar la cámara, robarles a los dueños de lo oscuro de la ciudad una imagen, y sobre todo no soy capaz de hacerlo de cerca y arriesgarme a que se den cuenta, a que me vean. Acostumbrados como están a ser parte del mobiliario urbano, tratados como tal, ya tienen bastante todos los días como para que venga yo con mi cámara y con la excusa del costumbrismo a recordarles una vez más que son un mero objeto.

Así y todo, espero haber conseguido transmitir con palabras lo que decidí no plasmar en imágenes.

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