When I asked Heather to marry me, she had one caveat: “You have to serve in Peace Corps with me.” Her father had served in Nicaragua in the mid 70s and she grew up with stories of volunteering in a developing country. Inspired by adventure, she wanted to share the experience with her future spouse. At the time, I was looking for an out from the TV industry and neither of us had any crazy debt, so I decided “what the hell.” We were married in October 2006 and were on a plane to Romania in February 2007.
Romania was a wonderful, exciting, beautiful, challenging and old country. For 27 months we lived in a tiny town called Drobeta Turnu Severin. It was founded along the Danube river which formed the southwest border with Serbia. Our town is featured in Trian’s column in Rome and we got used to 2000 year old artifacts just hanging out around the area. I worked in non-profit development and Heather did environmental education and policy.
When we moved to Seattle, we found a local Romaian meetup group that holds a cultural party every summer. It has quickly become one of my favorite yearly events. I get to eat Romanian food, drink Romanian beer and flex my rusty Romanian language muscles. Most of all, it reminds me of how much I miss Romania.
Sunday morning musica populara. Much like the call to prayer from a minaret, Sunday mornings were filled with prayer from the orthodox churches. Townsfolk would also blare traditional Romanian music from their windows. This mostly happened in spring and summer and we looked forward to those mornings. She would make clatite (crepes) and we would enjoy coffee before heading out for the day.
Ţuică. Romanians have a delicious moonshine that they make from plums, apples or cherries. Ranging from 100-160 proof, it’s a clear alcohol that is delicious and potent. Every family makes it and a lot of pride is carried on its quality. I quickly fell in love with its slow burn and slightly sweet taste. It’s really hard to find in the Seattle area, so when I do find it I imbibe heavily.
Mici. Romanian barbequed sausages. Spiced and prepared with mineral water, no celebration is complete without these tasty little buggers.
Lapte de la bunica. Romanian milk comes cow warm. It’s delicious and not pasteurized in the slightest. Grandmothers sell it on street corners. When I came back to the U.S. I couldn’t drink our milk anymore because it tasted like chemicals. (This genre also includes Romanian cheese… specifically brunza)
Trainul personala. There are three different types to trains you can take in country. This is the slowest, cheapest one available. Most people will take this to travel within the region. It always offers an adventure, whether it is a gypsy trying to sell you gold jewelry or a grandmother trying to beat you down for opening the window on a hot summer day and letting the breeze inside.
Curent. This would be the breeze. Romanian superstition believes that if you open any two portals to the outside world (windows, doors, etc) which allows for the movement of air (aka. “a draft”) inside a room, you will come down with a number of serious medical ailments. Curent is the cause of teeth falling out, ovaries drying up, cancer, headaches, internal bleeding, and in serious cases, death. If anything caused a clash between American and Romanian culture, it was this. You could be stuck inside a packed train car in 110 degree weather, with chickens running around and cheese turning into… well, different cheese… and nobody will open a window. Why? Because suffering is better than death.
Lămâie. This is the word for “lemon” in Romanian. Phonetically, it’s like saying “luh-mooie-yay.” La muie is the word for “blowjob.” Phonetically it’s pronounced “Lah moo-yay.” Notice the slight difference. A native English speaker does not easily shop for lemons in Romania. Not without being slapped repeatedly.
In all seriousness, this last weekend’s Romanian potluck made me really long for being back in Romania. I had a great community with amazing friends. I loved the food, language and culture. If anybody is visiting Eastern Europe I really recommend taking a couple of weeks to sample the regional pleasures of this old and unique people. You will not be disappointed!