Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Tuesday, July 13, 2009: Bucharest, Romania
Michael has posted something about the first half of the day, with Anca and Mihaela--so, although that meeting was the main focus of the day, I’ll leave that description to him. I’ll focus on the after-meeting biz.
In the second half of the day we searched up some bookstores and looked for nonsense in them. Ultimately, however, the later part of the day found us in tourist mode--walking for miles with a map and a camera in hand. Bucharest is a fascinating mixture of traditions and history. For me, it was my first experience with “the East.” In the morning we heard roosters (in the heart of the city) and a Muslim prayer chant echoing though the alleys. There were ornate, North African screens and designs in the windows on some of the older buildings, and we stopped for a beer at an Egyptian restaurant that came fully equipped with apple flavoured tobacco hookahs, which we smoked.
There were hints of the communist past in some of the deserted buildings, and in some of the rather distinctive, extremely huge buildings left behind by the executed dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu. But there were also neighbourhoods that spoke of the opulence of the Austro-Hungarian Empire--and then there were all the people--the kind, warm and handsome Romanian. There is casualness, or coolness you might say, to Romanian women and men that I have never really noticed in my travels other places. There is simply a relaxed confidence in so many people here that it just makes you feel good.
One way I have tried to understand places I visit is through the graffiti that you find on a particular city’s walls. Bucharest strikes me as peculiarly interesting in this regard. The graffiti in this city is unusually comical, nonsensical at times, and is filled with stylized representations of absurd or extreme situations and people. Michael has likely already posted a few of the photos we took of this local art. To me, this graffiti represents something about Bucharest; its existentially confused 20th century history--and the need for the people to write a new story in a new way. I hope you like the photos.
Late in the evening we found ourselves sipping Romanian beer and eating local game for dinner. There was a sort of Romanian mariachi-type band that was wandering about the restaurant. Oddly they were playing Elvis Presley songs. They asked me if I had any requests and I happily obliged by asking for a Romanian country-dance song. They dove into it with enthusiasm. It was great. By the way, I am not kidding when I report that we ate bear for dinner.
PS. No kidding. Not boar--bear.
PPS. We got an email today from Wim Tigges, eminent scholar of nonsense literature in The Netherlands. Professor Tigges is probably the only person who has ever published TWO books focussed on the academic study of nonsense literature. He is HUGE in our field. We were very excited to get his email, and to accept his invitation to visit him at The Hague, in Amsterdam, on August 13.
PPPS. Michael wore a funny hat today and looked like he was on safari.
PPPPS. Michael eats much more--and more often--than I do.
PPPPPS. I am not “obsessed” with the idea that flowerings of nonsense occur during times of social unrest. It’s just that it’s all I ever think about--and it’s the only thing that matters. And Michael discussed this with me and I think he said something that sounded like "it sounds like a healthy attitude.”