Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Observations on the Road

I must be recovering from my as yet unidentified illness (strep? virus? something altogether more sinister?) because I can finally sit down and face a keyboard with an ounce, albeit exactly one ounce, of enthusiasm. The boys have been whisked away to a cabin in the mountains for an evening of cool mountain air. It is just me and the laptop with our newly acquired wireless connection, which a neighbor has generously allowed us to filch.

Things I have learned/observed on this foray:

1. Do not allow your Italian hotel to do your laundry, especially without even looking at the price list. 5 euros for a pair of skivvies. Not worth it. Another 6 euros for a "sweater" i.e. a t-shirt. Lesson learned.

2. Italian woman are advised to drink one glass of wine per day after the first trimester. One woman was told that she was putting her baby at risk if she didn't drink red wine because you can't get the same health benefits from any other source. American women are forbidden to drink any alcohol.

3. If you thought you were shocked when the six-year-old gypsy boy asked for your half-eaten package of crackers, wait three minutes. In that time he will have fended off his little sister and crammed all the crackers in his mouth. Then he will return and beg for the half-consumed bottle of bodza soda. I didn't give him my soda. I was horrified. Is it acceptable to allow a child to drink from a bottle that had my germs and spit? (Every year I have relearn how to live in a city with children for whom begging for my snacks is considered acceptable--to both the child and the society that tacitly allows it.)

4. Air conditioning is good. Even though not everyone here shares this opinion (see note in number 6 regarding cold water, tiles). And in fact I abhor the abuse of stale frigid air in the States. Yet this past week and a half has been unbearably hot AND I had a fever. I have spent entire days languishing in my undies trying to catch a breeze. Air conditioning is good. All things in moderation.

5. Romanian medical care is scary for me. Okay, medical care in a foreign land is always nerve-racking. I have a throat infection of some kind. We go the doctor (I won't mention the line or the envelope of cash) who can't take a throat culture because I ate crackers. (Is that the case in the US?) Besides they only take cultures before 10:00 am and not to mention that it would then have to be transported to the hospital in the oppressive heat. In the meantime, the doctor prescribes something to soothe my throat. When L. goes to the pharmacy, the ladies say "Oh, we only give this with a doctor's prescription....use this instead." And he bought what they recommended. Note: we had a doctor's prescription. (And the lozenges are manufactured in Bombay, a city whose fantastic lack of public hygiene is central to the book I am reading, Maximum City by Suketu Mehta.)

So, the next day we go to the hospital. Downstairs there are hordes, those exiting press cotton onto their open wounds where blood was drawn, and it costs 2 lei (less than one dollar) for the test. Upstairs there is no line and it costs 13 lei (roughly four dollars). We go upstairs. I had been instructed: no food, no brushing of the teeth. After a rough night of mouth-breathing and coughing, my breath had its own zip code. It was 8 am. The woman gagged me. It is Tuesday. If negative, they will know by Wednesday. If positive for strep, it will be Thursday or Friday. Did I mention the peeling paint, the windows propped open on chairs, the dust, the crowds?

6. In Transylvania common knowledge dictates that you must NOT drink cold water or you may catch a cold or make your cold worse. (You also can't walk barefoot on tile, even in a freakish heat wave, for fear of catching a cold.) In my mothering, I was given ICE CREAM when my throat was raw and swollen. I have to bypass Grandma and the kindly neighbor lady to sneak a glass of chilled water from the fridge. Where are my saltines? Where is the 7 UP? Where is my vanilla ice cream?

7. Transylvania lacks a restaurant culture. Home cooking is supreme. (I miss salad. I miss tall, cold glasses of 2% milk.)

8. They iron underwear. It is not a fetish. It is because all the clothes are dried on the line. They dry into hard lines that must be ironed. Even the undies. (I haven't worn several items of clothing that I brought because I don't have the heart to request their ironing, which leads me to number 9....

9. Hired domestic help is not an option. We couldn't make it on our own here. The massive amounts of time it takes to shop, cook, clean, iron, and make order in the house overwhelm us. Yet I am still shy about it. Hence, the unused clothing I carted all the way here.

10. Language is personality. Or, rather, lack of language is lack of personality. I glow in English. I flounder and sulk in Hungarian. I understand most of what I hear, when I try. Now I need to produce in a second tongue.

If I had the energy to go back and reread some of my former entries while traveling in Romania, I would surely find that I repeat myself. Yet, this is part of the lessons learned. We have to relearn them.

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