Csíkszereda Musings

My life in and around Csíkszereda, also known as Miercurea Ciuc.

Archive for June, 2005

New Lei

Posted by Andy Hockley on 30 June, 2005

Tomorrow, July 1st, ushers in a new era for Romania. The Leu (which apparently is the singular name of the currency here, not a word I normally have occasion to use as there are roughly 35,000 of them to one Euro. The much more commonly needed word -the plural- is Lei) is being thrown out in favour of a brave new currency – New Lei. These will be the same as old Lei but divided by 10,000. So, while a beer now costs something like 30,000 Lei in the future (tomorrow) it will cost 3.

It’s probably a good idea, but I can’t help feeling they chose the date poorly. On paper “July 1st” has a nice ring to it, it’s exactly half way through the year, it sounds like a good day to change currency. But it’s a Friday, and there are many things to be done in the introduction of this new money, and thus everything is shut. The banks have been closed since yesterday. The post office is closed (irritatingly as I apparently have a package to collect). If they had changed over on the 3rd (Sunday) one wonders if it may have been a little less disruptive.

[A bit later: The shops are closed too. I’ve just been out to buy myself a snack. Not today. Bloody new lei. I already hate it]

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Posted in bureaucracy, romania | Leave a Comment »

New Lei

Posted by Andy Hockley on 30 June, 2005

Tomorrow, July 1st, ushers in a new era for Romania. The Leu (which apparently is the singular name of the currency here, not a word I normally have occasion to use as there are roughly 35,000 of them to one Euro. The much more commonly needed word -the plural- is Lei) is being thrown out in favour of a brave new currency – New Lei. These will be the same as old Lei but divided by 10,000. So, while a beer now costs something like 30,000 Lei in the future (tomorrow) it will cost 3.

It’s probably a good idea, but I can’t help feeling they chose the date poorly. On paper “July 1st” has a nice ring to it, it’s exactly half way through the year, it sounds like a good day to change currency. But it’s a Friday, and there are many things to be done in the introduction of this new money, and thus everything is shut. The banks have been closed since yesterday. The post office is closed (irritatingly as I apparently have a package to collect). If they had changed over on the 3rd (Sunday) one wonders if it may have been a little less disruptive.

[A bit later: The shops are closed too. I’ve just been out to buy myself a snack. Not today. Bloody new lei. I already hate it]

Posted in bureaucracy, romania | Leave a Comment »

A large pumpkin sized piece of news

Posted by Andy Hockley on 28 June, 2005

So, I have an announcement to make of earth shattering proportions. Not to any of you I’ll concede, but to me at least. Erika is pregnant. So, our little family of 3 will shortly become 4.

The working title of this little ball of genetic legacy is (at present) Pityoka. Pityoka is the Transylvanian Hungarian word for potato (not quite as comical as krumpli, I’ll concede). Pityuka (a word which is to all intents and purposes indistinguishable from pityoka to my anglo-saxon ears) is one of the diminutive forms of Istvan (Steven), so it is actually a name of sorts. Anyway, we don’t know yet what sex pityoka is, but we won’t be calling him spud whatever he/she comes out as. I’m buggered if I’m going to refer to him/her as ‘it’ over the next few months and I can’t be bothered to go through the whole him/her (s)he palaver, so I’m going to toss a coin right now to decide what pronoun to use when referring to the little nipper in this blog. If it’s heads (specifically, it says here, Constantin Brancoveanu’s head) it’s – at least for literary purposes- he; If it’s tails (or in this case the side that says 1000 Lei) it’s she. Oooh, how exciting.

Tails. She.

So, little pityoka is growing rapidly. I know this because I have looked at various websites which tell me so. In fact all of them, without exception, compare the size of one’s growing offspring to foodstuffs. So in the very early days she was a grain of rice (basmati? arborio?) and then soon after a lentil (puy? red? – as you can see there’s a certain amount of accuracy which is lost though this method). Later she grew to be the size of a raspberry, a cherry tomato and a fig. I think if I remember correctly she’s now about the size of a lime. I wonder if they keep this going after she’s born 2 years old: Your baby is now the size of a large roast suckling pig. It’s just another example of the assumption that all people looking at these websites are not people who would feel more informed by comparisons like “your baby is the size of a ball bearing” and “this week the baby is the size of the knob on top of your gear stick”. Still, works for me. Mind you it’s easy at this early small stage. What’s going to happen between weeks 35 and 39? are we going to go through the entirety of the melon family? Cantaloupe. Now there’s a good name.

Obviously I’ll keep you all informed about the week’s foodstuffs and other fascinating pieces of information about young Pityoka. Erika is feeling like crap most of the time, sadly. (We are told that this may be a sign that Pityoka, contrary to my little coin toss stunt above, is a boy).

If you, the readers, wish to suggest names, donate money towards us buying a larger flat, or knit some socks, please feel free to do so.

[I wrote this post more than two weeks ago, but have held onto it for a while as we have been experiencing some difficulties, which the cream of the Csikszereda gynecological community have been having trouble diagnosing. Or at least have been inexpertly deflecting our concerns. “There’s nothing apparently wrong, but you might be having a miscarriage”. Hmmm, thanks for the help. I cannot contain this news any longer in my puffed-up paternal chest, however, so since all seems to be stable for now, here it is. Probably Pityoka is the size of a small new pityoka by now. Which is appropriate.]

Posted in food, paula | 12 Comments »

A large pumpkin sized piece of news

Posted by Andy Hockley on 28 June, 2005

So, I have an announcement to make of earth shattering proportions. Not to any of you I’ll concede, but to me at least. Erika is pregnant. So, our little family of 3 will shortly become 4.

The working title of this little ball of genetic legacy is (at present) Pityoka. Pityoka is the Transylvanian Hungarian word for potato (not quite as comical as krumpli, I’ll concede). Pityuka (a word which is to all intents and purposes indistinguishable from pityoka to my anglo-saxon ears) is one of the diminutive forms of Istvan (Steven), so it is actually a name of sorts. Anyway, we don’t know yet what sex pityoka is, but we won’t be calling him spud whatever he/she comes out as. I’m buggered if I’m going to refer to him/her as ‘it’ over the next few months and I can’t be bothered to go through the whole him/her (s)he palaver, so I’m going to toss a coin right now to decide what pronoun to use when referring to the little nipper in this blog. If it’s heads (specifically, it says here, Constantin Brancoveanu’s head) it’s – at least for literary purposes- he; If it’s tails (or in this case the side that says 1000 Lei) it’s she. Oooh, how exciting.

Tails. She.

So, little pityoka is growing rapidly. I know this because I have looked at various websites which tell me so. In fact all of them, without exception, compare the size of one’s growing offspring to foodstuffs. So in the very early days she was a grain of rice (basmati? arborio?) and then soon after a lentil (puy? red? – as you can see there’s a certain amount of accuracy which is lost though this method). Later she grew to be the size of a raspberry, a cherry tomato and a fig. I think if I remember correctly she’s now about the size of a lime. I wonder if they keep this going after she’s born 2 years old: Your baby is now the size of a large roast suckling pig. It’s just another example of the assumption that all people looking at these websites are not people who would feel more informed by comparisons like “your baby is the size of a ball bearing” and “this week the baby is the size of the knob on top of your gear stick”. Still, works for me. Mind you it’s easy at this early small stage. What’s going to happen between weeks 35 and 39? are we going to go through the entirety of the melon family? Cantaloupe. Now there’s a good name.

Obviously I’ll keep you all informed about the week’s foodstuffs and other fascinating pieces of information about young Pityoka. Erika is feeling like crap most of the time, sadly. (We are told that this may be a sign that Pityoka, contrary to my little coin toss stunt above, is a boy).

If you, the readers, wish to suggest names, donate money towards us buying a larger flat, or knit some socks, please feel free to do so.

[I wrote this post more than two weeks ago, but have held onto it for a while as we have been experiencing some difficulties, which the cream of the Csikszereda gynecological community have been having trouble diagnosing. Or at least have been inexpertly deflecting our concerns. “There’s nothing apparently wrong, but you might be having a miscarriage”. Hmmm, thanks for the help. I cannot contain this news any longer in my puffed-up paternal chest, however, so since all seems to be stable for now, here it is. Probably Pityoka is the size of a small new pityoka by now. Which is appropriate.]

Posted in food, paula | 12 Comments »

Pigs

Posted by Andy Hockley on 23 June, 2005

I have had the concern for a while that Romania’s imminent accession to the EU will be the ruin of its traditional rural lifestyle, and that the overall effect will be for big corporate agri-business to move in. This article about Smithfield Pork seems to confirm that fear. Just to ram the point home here – these huge meat production companies are the biggest scumbags in a world not exactly lacking in scumbag corporations. These “people” who run these disgusting companies treat animals as products merely to be used as outputs and pumped full of hormones, protein and other shit so that they fatten up as quickly as possible. They disgust me. The average age – average – at which girls get their first period in Arkansas which is full of these pig factories is 9. Nine. The water supply, the earth, everything is polluted with these bastards’ hormones. Sorry, if you came here today looking for some interesting news about Romania, but I can’t sit silently as Romania is turned into another animal production line for factory farms.

Posted in EU, rants | 15 Comments »

Pigs

Posted by Andy Hockley on 23 June, 2005

I have had the concern for a while that Romania’s imminent accession to the EU will be the ruin of its traditional rural lifestyle, and that the overall effect will be for big corporate agri-business to move in. This article about Smithfield Pork seems to confirm that fear. Just to ram the point home here – these huge meat production companies are the biggest scumbags in a world not exactly lacking in scumbag corporations. These “people” who run these disgusting companies treat animals as products merely to be used as outputs and pumped full of hormones, protein and other shit so that they fatten up as quickly as possible. They disgust me. The average age – average – at which girls get their first period in Arkansas which is full of these pig factories is 9. Nine. The water supply, the earth, everything is polluted with these bastards’ hormones. Sorry, if you came here today looking for some interesting news about Romania, but I can’t sit silently as Romania is turned into another animal production line for factory farms.

Posted in EU, rants | 15 Comments »

Jam

Posted by Andy Hockley on 20 June, 2005

We made jam today. Well, Erika made jam and I looked on in amazement and did the heavy lifting when necessary. Is there anything easier than jam? I had no idea it was so simple. 5 kilos of strawberries, cleaned and put in a large pot with lashings of sugar. Left overnight to release vast amounts of juice (and they did release an amazing amount of juice. Juice which when I illegally tasted it was the most delicious heavenly nectar on god’s green earth, or something. Why does no-one package this stuff in tetra bricks and flog it?). Then this morning, we removed the strawberries from their own juice and slowly simmered it until reduced to half its original volume. Chuck the strawberries back in, cook for an hour-ish and then transfer to jars. Close tightly and store on the floor of the living room near my feet in some kind of blanket arrangement so that they cool as slowly as possible (which apparently makes the jam set free of any setting agent). No idea if it will work, but frankly who cares, whether it sets or not it’s bloody gorgeous. We are still eating the jam Erika made last year at this time, and it’s quite possibly the best jam I’ve ever tasted. Only rivalled by my mother’s bramble jelly.

In other news, despite my bitterness at the Orthodox nun who we saw fare-dodging a few weeks ago, I sincerely hope this article is not about her. I think “I don’t understand why journalists are making such a fuss about this” would have to go down as quite possibly the most macabre and sick quote I’ve ever heard. Good to know that such enlightened practices are still going on in my home country. I’m close to speechlessness.

A completely gratuitious picture of Erika and Bogi from just over a week ago. Posted by Hello

Posted in food, news, pictures | Leave a Comment »

Beer

Posted by Andy Hockley on 20 June, 2005

There are three things that Csikszereda is known for by the rest of Romania. However, it is not known as Csikszereda by most of the rest of Romania, and I’d wager that most Romanians would look blankly at you if you asked them about Csikszereda. (On the other hand, if you asked about Kolozsvar they probably would recognise that as the Hungarian name for Cluj even though the population of that city is mostly Romanian.) So, I’ll begin again…

There are three things that Miercurea Ciuc is known for by the rest of Romania. One is the fact that it is more or less the coldest place in the country. Regularly temperatures here are lower than everywhere else during winter. The second thing is this bloke Csibi who was arrested a few months ago. He was the local mafia boss and his arrest made national news in Romania for days. I didn’t realise that it was still part of the popular image of the rest of the country a couple of weeks ago, when someone told me “Yes, I know Miercurea Ciuc, it’s where that bloke Csibi was from”. Even the first time I came here, a year before his arrest, his mansion on the edge of town was pointed out to me “That’s the mafia boss’s house”, so it wasn’t much of a secret. I think when he was finally nicked, the majority of the local police force were implicated as well, which may explain why he was able to continue godfathering in full view for so long.

The third thing that Miercurea Ciuc is famous for is the beer. “Ciuc” beer is possibly the most famous Romanian beer, and while most people possibly don’t realise it they are quite familiar with Csikszereda’s castle, our most famous landmark, because it’s pictured on the label of the beer. I heard an interesting rumour about that picture because it depicts the castle in red, white, and green (see below). Red, white, and green, for those who don’t know, are the colours of the Hungarian flag. The rumour was that only Ciuc bottled here had those colours and that on the beer bottled elsewhere the castle was all white. I have since discovered that this isn’t true.

Posted by Hello

[The label. A tad out of focus, sadly, but represents the way it is often perceived, I suppose. ]

This leads me on nicely to my long awaited first post about Romanian beer. I know many of you have been patiently waiting for this moment. So, here goes. The first thing to be aware of when discussing Romanian beer is that there really isn’t any Romanian beer any more. There are a number of well known brands, none of which is still owned by Romanians. The brewery here, for example, is owned by Brau Union Romania which in turn is owned by Heineken. As such they not only make Ciuc, but also Golden Brau, Silva, Silva Dark, Harghita, Gambrinus, Gosser, Schlossgold (alcohol free) and Heineken. I’ve quite possibly left one or two off that list. The other big player in the market is Miller SAB, which is some combination of Miller (US) and South African Breweries. They make, among others, Ursus, Ciucas (cunning name, huh? Like a Dutch beer called Heinekenish), and Timisoreana. Interbrew (Stella Artois) make Hopfen Konig and Bergen Beer (all in a brewery owned by Efes Pilsen of Turkey), and there’s a brewery near Bucharest which is used to make Carlsberg, Tuborg and Skol. How do I know all this intensely fascinating information? Well, I spend two afternoons a week teaching at the brewery and I learn things. It’s all very fascinating (to me at least). Like the other day I learned that while all Ciuc beer is made in Csikszereda it’s not all bottled here. Some of it is transported away by tanker and bottled elsewhere (partly because there isn’t enough bottling capacity here, and partly because it’s cheaper to transport beer than bottles of beer). I mean how exciting is that? OK, you’re right, it’s not exciting at all, but it keeps me happy.

So, in order not to bore you any further, a brief ranking of Romanian beer
1. Ciuc. Yes it’s my home town beer and yes I work there, but this is a genuine ranking. I suspect it’s all the spring water here that makes it such a delicious crisp clean pint.
2. Ursus. Just behind, but still very drinkable. For some reason when I was in Bucharest recently it was much easier to get a glass of Ursus than Ciuc, which has serious market penetration issues in the capital. Ursus is from Cluj.

These are by far the best two. Lagging far behind are Ciucas, Bergenbeer, Harghita, Silva etc. But those beers are at least drinkable and satisfying on a warm (or other) day. The only beer that I would completely warn anyone off is Timisoreana, which is absolute piss. Sorry to be so brutally frank, but there’s no other way to describe it. Given a choice between a glass of Budweiser (the American one, not the delicious real Czech one) and a glass of Timisoreana, I’m really not sure which one I’d choose. It’s that bad. I have no idea why it’s so insipid and watery, but it is. I detect the hand of Miller rather than SAB in that one.

So there you go. I hope you enjoyed this insight into the world of bere. If you want to know more about the ins and outs of the trade, just let me know and I’ll tell you things like which brewery in the Brau Union stable has a canning line, and the ins and outs of dark beer. If you choose not to avail yourself of that opportunity, your lives will almost certainly be no poorer.

Posted in food, romania | 5 Comments »

Jam

Posted by Andy Hockley on 20 June, 2005

We made jam today. Well, Erika made jam and I looked on in amazement and did the heavy lifting when necessary. Is there anything easier than jam? I had no idea it was so simple. 5 kilos of strawberries, cleaned and put in a large pot with lashings of sugar. Left overnight to release vast amounts of juice (and they did release an amazing amount of juice. Juice which when I illegally tasted it was the most delicious heavenly nectar on god’s green earth, or something. Why does no-one package this stuff in tetra bricks and flog it?). Then this morning, we removed the strawberries from their own juice and slowly simmered it until reduced to half its original volume. Chuck the strawberries back in, cook for an hour-ish and then transfer to jars. Close tightly and store on the floor of the living room near my feet in some kind of blanket arrangement so that they cool as slowly as possible (which apparently makes the jam set free of any setting agent). No idea if it will work, but frankly who cares, whether it sets or not it’s bloody gorgeous. We are still eating the jam Erika made last year at this time, and it’s quite possibly the best jam I’ve ever tasted. Only rivalled by my mother’s bramble jelly.

In other news, despite my bitterness at the Orthodox nun who we saw fare-dodging a few weeks ago, I sincerely hope this article is not about her. I think “I don’t understand why journalists are making such a fuss about this” would have to go down as quite possibly the most macabre and sick quote I’ve ever heard. Good to know that such enlightened practices are still going on in my home country. I’m close to speechlessness.

A completely gratuitious picture of Erika and Bogi from just over a week ago. Posted by Hello

Posted in food, news, pictures | Leave a Comment »

Beer

Posted by Andy Hockley on 20 June, 2005

There are three things that Csikszereda is known for by the rest of Romania. However, it is not known as Csikszereda by most of the rest of Romania, and I’d wager that most Romanians would look blankly at you if you asked them about Csikszereda. (On the other hand, if you asked about Kolozsvar they probably would recognise that as the Hungarian name for Cluj even though the population of that city is mostly Romanian.) So, I’ll begin again…

There are three things that Miercurea Ciuc is known for by the rest of Romania. One is the fact that it is more or less the coldest place in the country. Regularly temperatures here are lower than everywhere else during winter. The second thing is this bloke Csibi who was arrested a few months ago. He was the local mafia boss and his arrest made national news in Romania for days. I didn’t realise that it was still part of the popular image of the rest of the country a couple of weeks ago, when someone told me “Yes, I know Miercurea Ciuc, it’s where that bloke Csibi was from”. Even the first time I came here, a year before his arrest, his mansion on the edge of town was pointed out to me “That’s the mafia boss’s house”, so it wasn’t much of a secret. I think when he was finally nicked, the majority of the local police force were implicated as well, which may explain why he was able to continue godfathering in full view for so long.

The third thing that Miercurea Ciuc is famous for is the beer. “Ciuc” beer is possibly the most famous Romanian beer, and while most people possibly don’t realise it they are quite familiar with Csikszereda’s castle, our most famous landmark, because it’s pictured on the label of the beer. I heard an interesting rumour about that picture because it depicts the castle in red, white, and green (see below). Red, white, and green, for those who don’t know, are the colours of the Hungarian flag. The rumour was that only Ciuc bottled here had those colours and that on the beer bottled elsewhere the castle was all white. I have since discovered that this isn’t true.

Posted by Hello

[The label. A tad out of focus, sadly, but represents the way it is often perceived, I suppose. ]

This leads me on nicely to my long awaited first post about Romanian beer. I know many of you have been patiently waiting for this moment. So, here goes. The first thing to be aware of when discussing Romanian beer is that there really isn’t any Romanian beer any more. There are a number of well known brands, none of which is still owned by Romanians. The brewery here, for example, is owned by Brau Union Romania which in turn is owned by Heineken. As such they not only make Ciuc, but also Golden Brau, Silva, Silva Dark, Harghita, Gambrinus, Gosser, Schlossgold (alcohol free) and Heineken. I’ve quite possibly left one or two off that list. The other big player in the market is Miller SAB, which is some combination of Miller (US) and South African Breweries. They make, among others, Ursus, Ciucas (cunning name, huh? Like a Dutch beer called Heinekenish), and Timisoreana. Interbrew (Stella Artois) make Hopfen Konig and Bergen Beer (all in a brewery owned by Efes Pilsen of Turkey), and there’s a brewery near Bucharest which is used to make Carlsberg, Tuborg and Skol. How do I know all this intensely fascinating information? Well, I spend two afternoons a week teaching at the brewery and I learn things. It’s all very fascinating (to me at least). Like the other day I learned that while all Ciuc beer is made in Csikszereda it’s not all bottled here. Some of it is transported away by tanker and bottled elsewhere (partly because there isn’t enough bottling capacity here, and partly because it’s cheaper to transport beer than bottles of beer). I mean how exciting is that? OK, you’re right, it’s not exciting at all, but it keeps me happy.

So, in order not to bore you any further, a brief ranking of Romanian beer
1. Ciuc. Yes it’s my home town beer and yes I work there, but this is a genuine ranking. I suspect it’s all the spring water here that makes it such a delicious crisp clean pint.
2. Ursus. Just behind, but still very drinkable. For some reason when I was in Bucharest recently it was much easier to get a glass of Ursus than Ciuc, which has serious market penetration issues in the capital. Ursus is from Cluj.

These are by far the best two. Lagging far behind are Ciucas, Bergenbeer, Harghita, Silva etc. But those beers are at least drinkable and satisfying on a warm (or other) day. The only beer that I would completely warn anyone off is Timisoreana, which is absolute piss. Sorry to be so brutally frank, but there’s no other way to describe it. Given a choice between a glass of Budweiser (the American one, not the delicious real Czech one) and a glass of Timisoreana, I’m really not sure which one I’d choose. It’s that bad. I have no idea why it’s so insipid and watery, but it is. I detect the hand of Miller rather than SAB in that one.

So there you go. I hope you enjoyed this insight into the world of bere. If you want to know more about the ins and outs of the trade, just let me know and I’ll tell you things like which brewery in the Brau Union stable has a canning line, and the ins and outs of dark beer. If you choose not to avail yourself of that opportunity, your lives will almost certainly be no poorer.

Posted in food, romania | 5 Comments »