I'm as guilty as the next Vlad. When it came to Romania, I thought mountains and vampires and petite gymnasts and bloodthirsty dictators, with a hope for women with razor-sharp cheekbones and rock-bottom prices. Well, at least I was right with the last two. We're back on the road with Word Travels, the first stop on the European leg, a long flight to Amsterdam with a transfer eight hours later to Bucharest. Due to the eruption of a volcano in Alaska, the cross-continental flight flew as south as possible, extending the journey aboard the old KLM jet, making King Fu Panda on the old TV sets up front an unusual highlight amidst the tedium.
Schipol Airport, where a bottle of water will set you back five bucks, but we catch a train into Amsterdam to kill the time, drink some coffee, tap morse code on the glass to the daylight whores in the Red Light District. Back to Schipol, back on the plane, welcome to Bucharest at midnight, where I'm feverishly having visions of small children with long, skinny fingers. Julia wanted to do a story about the Roma, or Gypsies, if you're less PC, but was met with indifference from local Roma organizations, and stern advice from locals about the reality of wandering into a tent city. For the record, Roma are not from Romania. In fact, a local politician dug himself a pile of donkey shit by suggesting that Roma should be spelt "Rroma" to avoid confusion. Regardless, Romania takes its names from the Romans, who occupied the country for a brief century or so, but have left their mark in the form of the name and language, the only Latin-based tongue in the region. Romanians are also well known to be blessed with a passionate, fiery Latin spirit too.
After our adventures in Lithuania and Latvia last year, we have a saying on the road: Welcome to Europe. Meaning Welcome to a land where men where white pants and pink shirts.
*Welcome to a land where supermodels work in bakeries and coffee shops
* Welcome to a land where you can drink in public.
* Welcome to a land of cobblestone, outdoor cafes, and flashy wealth amongst abject poverty.
* Duh. The last representing road humour whenever someone makes a comment about the obvious, like: that Church is really old and impressive, or, Bucharest has over 100,000 stray dogs, and one is ripping its teeth through my thigh muscle right now! Welcome to Europe.
Bucharest is big and cosmopolitan, like any capital city, although it does have a pretty whacked recent history. The country was practically pillaged during decades of the corrupt communist crackpot Ceausescu, until it shook him off in a public rage that resulted in him and his loony wife Elena being tried, sentenced and executed within a few days of fleeing for their lives from Bucharest's fed up population. A thousand people lost their lives in the turmoil of the revolution, as the army at first tried to keep the people back before turning their rifles around and pointing it at their megalomaniac boss. I'm standing at a monument where the army opened fire on protestors, killing hundreds. Now I'm standing by the old communist party headquarters, where 100,000 people gathered to watch Ceausescu flee by helicopter. This was in 1989, and I remember reading about the revolution when it happened, although it would be nearly 20 years later before I would come to understand it. Today, since the fall of Communism, Romania's economy has recovered, it has joined the European Union, although has yet to adopt the Euro. Ceausescu House of the People, the second largest public service building in the world after the Pentagon, sits at the top of wide boulevard like a giant ivory elephant. Today is houses parliament, an art gallery, functions and banquets, and the remaining 1000 or so rooms sit dormant, an echo of greed and power run amok. To build it, Ceausescu practically demolished the historical old town, displaced thousands, burning what little remained of Bucharest's past after it was bombed by the Allies in World War II. Like their Latin counterparts, the Italians, the Romanians initially sides with the Nazis in the war, before the highly regarded King Michael switched sides and they joined the Allies. They were rewarded by the Communists moving in, purging educated intellectuals and liberals, and introducing decades of a corrupt one party fear-based rule. But this is water under the bridge, or more accurately, the water that flows in the fountains of central Bucharest, beneath a sweltering mid-30's summer sun, and circled by crazy traffic.
A while ago, my friend Katherine told me about this "drinking group with a running problem" called the Hash House Harriers. Apparently people meet and have a human "fox hunt" involving lots of running, beer chugging, dirty name-calling and outrageous fun. Kat is a diving instructor and I thought she had the bends. Then I looked online and found that the Hash House Harriers exists in 178 countries, with over 8000 clubs organizing weekly Hash runs open to all and sundry. Born out and largely followed by the expat community, the first Hash took place in 1938 in Malaysia, and has since grown into the worldwide phenomenon it is today. There are even Hashers and their female equivalents, the Harriets, running wild in Antarctica. A story that would let me see the city, run about, drink plenty of beer, sing dirty limericks and meet people who are into the same, is right up my alley, so I arranged to joined the Bucharest Hash House Harriers for a later afternoon run with the crew in tow. The spirit of Hashing is one part college dorm, one part teenage prank, one part marathon training, and one part adults behaving badly. Needless to say, I ran, I drank, I was initiated with beer and flour, I sang, I drank some more, and hung out with an assortment of characters fielding Hash names like Tampon Jelly, Midnight Itch, Holefinger, Moby Dick, Gutentight and Canny Fanny. The Religious Advisor, Crash Test Dummy was instrumental in setting it all up, gathering the group of Scots, Americans, English, Swiss, German, Australian, even a Romanian, for our viewing pleasure. An upcoming article will explain more in further detail, save to say that I was given my Hash name, which will be with me for life, as a punishment for wayward research. With its own vocabulary and titles for members of the mis-management, I read about the Grandmaster and the Cash Hash, the Front Running Bastard (FRB) and the poor sucker who is DFL (Dead Fucking Last). I also incorrectly read about someone known as the Big Wanker, so when I asked who the Big Wanker was, well, naturally, that would be me. Soaked in beer and flour, the songs continued to the pub, and my first night in Bucharest, jetlagged to a fate worse than hell, I ended up drinking beer from my sweaty shoe, and scrubbing solidified flour from my ears. I can't wait to get home and join the Vancouver Hash House Harriers, because seriously, who knew grown-ups could have so much fun?
Continue reading Robin's Romania report at his website: http://www.moderngonzo.com/reports/romania.html
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