Csíkszereda Musings

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

Archive for October, 2005

Cluj

Posted by Andy Hockley on 31 October, 2005

Cluj was nice. It has that kind of faded belle époque grandeur even though it’s pretty much falling down in places. Under the Hungarians it (Kolozsvar) was the capital of Transylvania. It was the cultural centre, the academic centre, the administrative centre. And you can see that it was once important.

It’s still one of the most (possibly still the most) widely respected university in Romania, and it really does feel like a student town. In fact the first afternoon we were there every single person I saw walking round was either a student or someone doing a passable imitation of one. The population of the city is approximately 300,000 and to this is added something like 80-100,000 every term time. Some locals we were talking to told us that in fact the plan is that in the next 5 years the student population will be increased to something like 400,000. Yes, you read that correctly. Where they will fit is anyone’s guess. It already feels like the world’s most student dominated town. And I speak as someone who comes from Cambridge.

Those unfamiliar with Romania may have looked Cluj up or see on a map that it is officially called “Cluj-Napoca”. Napoca is the name of the Roman settlement in the same spot, and it has been appended to the name (I think during the Ceasescu years) in order to remind people of that fact (you see, if it’s Roman, then it has a history that predates its Hungarian one. It’s all very forced). In fact, the city has come to symbolise the worst and most ridiculous excesses of nationalism. In the late 90s the people somehow elected this psycho idiot called Gheorghe Funar (from the revolting PRM Romanian nationalist party) as mayor. He proceeded to do petty and childish things like painting all the benches and lampposts red yellow and blue (colours of the Romanian flag), and then in the middle of town, where there is a large statue of Mátyás Corvinus, a famous Hungarian king who was born in the town, he first removed the word Hungarian from the plaque, and then decided to have an archaeological dig for Roman ruins right there in the same square. This dig necessitated the statue being hidden behind a wooden screen, and then latterly moved somewhere else so they could dig under it. Fortunately at this point the director of the National History Museum stepped in and told him to sling his hook, but this big pit still exists right in front of the statue. Basically, as with most nationalists he was (and presumably still is – while he’s no longer mayor, he’s still alive) an exceptionally childish individual. I think the brain power involved in choosing to be an extreme nationalist is such a regression of humanity that one ends up applying the retardedness to all aspects of ones life.

I have a pic of the statue which I’ll put up later in the week. However tomorrow I have to do a mad day trip to Bucharest (5 hours in 5 hours back, for a one hour meeting), so I won’t be on till Wednesday.

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Posted in nationalism, transylvania, travel | 2 Comments »

Cluj

Posted by Andy Hockley on 31 October, 2005

Cluj was nice. It has that kind of faded belle époque grandeur even though it’s pretty much falling down in places. Under the Hungarians it (Kolozsvar) was the capital of Transylvania. It was the cultural centre, the academic centre, the administrative centre. And you can see that it was once important.

It’s still one of the most (possibly still the most) widely respected university in Romania, and it really does feel like a student town. In fact the first afternoon we were there every single person I saw walking round was either a student or someone doing a passable imitation of one. The population of the city is approximately 300,000 and to this is added something like 80-100,000 every term time. Some locals we were talking to told us that in fact the plan is that in the next 5 years the student population will be increased to something like 400,000. Yes, you read that correctly. Where they will fit is anyone’s guess. It already feels like the world’s most student dominated town. And I speak as someone who comes from Cambridge.

Those unfamiliar with Romania may have looked Cluj up or see on a map that it is officially called “Cluj-Napoca”. Napoca is the name of the Roman settlement in the same spot, and it has been appended to the name (I think during the Ceasescu years) in order to remind people of that fact (you see, if it’s Roman, then it has a history that predates its Hungarian one. It’s all very forced). In fact, the city has come to symbolise the worst and most ridiculous excesses of nationalism. In the late 90s the people somehow elected this psycho idiot called Gheorghe Funar (from the revolting PRM Romanian nationalist party) as mayor. He proceeded to do petty and childish things like painting all the benches and lampposts red yellow and blue (colours of the Romanian flag), and then in the middle of town, where there is a large statue of Mátyás Corvinus, a famous Hungarian king who was born in the town, he first removed the word Hungarian from the plaque, and then decided to have an archaeological dig for Roman ruins right there in the same square. This dig necessitated the statue being hidden behind a wooden screen, and then latterly moved somewhere else so they could dig under it. Fortunately at this point the director of the National History Museum stepped in and told him to sling his hook, but this big pit still exists right in front of the statue. Basically, as with most nationalists he was (and presumably still is – while he’s no longer mayor, he’s still alive) an exceptionally childish individual. I think the brain power involved in choosing to be an extreme nationalist is such a regression of humanity that one ends up applying the retardedness to all aspects of ones life.

I have a pic of the statue which I’ll put up later in the week. However tomorrow I have to do a mad day trip to Bucharest (5 hours in 5 hours back, for a one hour meeting), so I won’t be on till Wednesday.

Posted in nationalism, transylvania, travel | 2 Comments »

The Whisky Robber

Posted by Andy Hockley on 26 October, 2005

So, I was wandering round the Internet, reading stuff here and there, when I came across news of a book launch in the UK this week. The book that is being launched had been published in the USA last year to great critical acclaim, and is apparently a true story about an ice-hockey goalie who was also a bank robber in Budapest. Suitably intrigued I looked further into the story and discovered that this bloke is from here. Right here in Csikszereda. He’s quite possibly our most famous son, and this is the first I’ve heard of him.

So, anyway, more information. The book is called “The Ballad of the Whiskey Robber” and is by a bloke called Julian Rubinstein. The whiskey robber is actually called Attila Ambrus (or more accurately Ambrus Attila, I presume). He ends up playing ice hockey (as a goalie) for a team in Budapest, and supplements his meagre income by holding up banks. Before each hold up, he goes into a nearby bar and drinks a shot of whisky to steel himself. It sounds like the real meat of the story is partly the context in which it takes place: a Hungary in a transition from communism to capitalism. And partly the comical clouseau-esque investigation that takes place to capture him, and subsequently to recapture him as he manages to escape from prison. I have ordered it and can’t wait to read it. A real life celebrity, from right here. (To cap it all Warner Brothers have bought the film rights and Johnny Depp is lined up to play the lead)

Some links in case you’re interested:
The author’s homepage
Very extensive and interesting article on Hungarian website Pestiside

Posted in csikszereda, famous transylvanians | 4 Comments »

The Whisky Robber

Posted by Andy Hockley on 26 October, 2005

So, I was wandering round the Internet, reading stuff here and there, when I came across news of a book launch in the UK this week. The book that is being launched had been published in the USA last year to great critical acclaim, and is apparently a true story about an ice-hockey goalie who was also a bank robber in Budapest. Suitably intrigued I looked further into the story and discovered that this bloke is from here. Right here in Csikszereda. He’s quite possibly our most famous son, and this is the first I’ve heard of him.

So, anyway, more information. The book is called “The Ballad of the Whiskey Robber” and is by a bloke called Julian Rubinstein. The whiskey robber is actually called Attila Ambrus (or more accurately Ambrus Attila, I presume). He ends up playing ice hockey (as a goalie) for a team in Budapest, and supplements his meagre income by holding up banks. Before each hold up, he goes into a nearby bar and drinks a shot of whisky to steel himself. It sounds like the real meat of the story is partly the context in which it takes place: a Hungary in a transition from communism to capitalism. And partly the comical clouseau-esque investigation that takes place to capture him, and subsequently to recapture him as he manages to escape from prison. I have ordered it and can’t wait to read it. A real life celebrity, from right here. (To cap it all Warner Brothers have bought the film rights and Johnny Depp is lined up to play the lead)

Some links in case you’re interested:
The author’s homepage
Very extensive and interesting article on Hungarian website Pestiside

Posted in csikszereda, famous transylvanians | 3 Comments »

Religious revolution?

Posted by Andy Hockley on 25 October, 2005

According to this article, Romania’s 1989 revolution was actually a Christian one and not a political one. This came from the mouth of one Rev Peter Dugulescu who it says here led a prayer service in Timisoara on December 22nd which was the culmination of a week of protest. Now, according to people I have spoken to, the churches provided an important meeting place and in that sense they were a central part of the revolution. Also, the protests in Timisoara that kicked everything off, were sparked by the government’s decision to silence a Hungarian Reformat priest László Tőkés, who spoke out against the system, by evicting him and subsequently attacking him physically.

But to claim that this was some kind of religious revolution misses the point quite spectacularly. I have no reason to doubt the Reverend Dugulescu when he says that he led this 100,000 strong prayer service, although this fairly exhaustive Wikipedia article, doesn’t see fit to mention it. However, when he says things like “America is straying from its Christian heritage and inviting punishment unless its people come back to God” it’s clear he’s a couple of hassocks short of a pew. Whatever his status and his heroism in 1989, sounding off that the USA should become more fervently Christian (more!) is frankly terrifying. Bloody nutter.

Posted in romania | 9 Comments »

Religious revolution?

Posted by Andy Hockley on 25 October, 2005

According to this article, Romania’s 1989 revolution was actually a Christian one and not a political one. This came from the mouth of one Rev Peter Dugulescu who it says here led a prayer service in Timisoara on December 22nd which was the culmination of a week of protest. Now, according to people I have spoken to, the churches provided an important meeting place and in that sense they were a central part of the revolution. Also, the protests in Timisoara that kicked everything off, were sparked by the government’s decision to silence a Hungarian Reformat priest László Tőkés, who spoke out against the system, by evicting him and subsequently attacking him physically.

But to claim that this was some kind of religious revolution misses the point quite spectacularly. I have no reason to doubt the Reverend Dugulescu when he says that he led this 100,000 strong prayer service, although this fairly exhaustive Wikipedia article, doesn’t see fit to mention it. However, when he says things like “America is straying from its Christian heritage and inviting punishment unless its people come back to God” it’s clear he’s a couple of hassocks short of a pew. Whatever his status and his heroism in 1989, sounding off that the USA should become more fervently Christian (more!) is frankly terrifying. Bloody nutter.

Posted in romania | 9 Comments »

Romanian cycle paths

Posted by Andy Hockley on 24 October, 2005

The pavement outside the building in which Erika’s workplace resides is being dug up. Nobody is quite sure why. Well, one hopes that somebody knows why, but most people don’t. We asked the workmen for example, and they said that they were told what to do on a daily basis, and not informed of the final product they were aiming for. It’s obviously very hush-hush when the people actually doing the work are treated on a need-to-know basis. (The flaw in this system became apparent last week, when they had to take up a bunch of edging stones which they had laid a few days earlier and put them somewhere else.) We asked an officious looking bloke who was hanging round watching them work – not working or supervising you understand, just the kind of person who always gravitates towards public working situations and offers advice and the benefit of years of experience standing round watching work get done by other people – and he said that he had heard that they were building a cycle path. “A cycle path! In Csikszereda! About as likely as a shopping mall”, we snorted, derisively. Mind you, the piece of pavement being replaced is only about 200m long, and given that there are no other cycle paths in the town, it is just possible that something as ludicrous as an isolated, unconnected, useless piece of cycle path is just the kind of thing that would have occurred to the mayor.

I’m wondering if the people who live in this building have complained. (I should note here, that while I don’t work for Erika, I tend to spend my days working at “the Soros” as it is known. I could work at home, but (a) Bogi gets back at about 3, and she doesn’t really understand the concept of someone being on a computer and not playing games, and (b) I find I do even less work if I’m at home than I do if I make the effort to have a shower, get dressed, and commute the five minutes to here.) This building is an interesting sociological and intercultural communication case study. You see, the thing is this: Romania is a country dominated by Romanians (unsurprisingly). They (ethnic Romanians) are the majority and they make up somewhere between 84 and 91% of the total population (depending on what the real proportion of Roma in Romania really is). But here in Csikszereda they are the minority. This town is roughly 90% Hungarian and so the proportions are almost the mirror image of the nation as a whole. This creates a certain amount of resentment among the local Romanian population, of the “here we are in our home country, but everybody speaks a foreign language” kind. Obviously not true of everyone, but of some at least.

What does all of this have to do with this building? Well, here, most of the apartments are owned by the police and the military, and hence they are inhabited by Romanians (although the country as a whole is 90% Romanian, the armed services and police forces are closer to 99% Romanian). Here in this building they reclaim their majority status and can feel like there is a corner of Miercurea Ciuc which is forever Dacian (or something). Unfortunately for them, they are forced to share their building with Erika’s school, which of course, being a school, has a large number of people coming and going all the time, most of whom are Hungarian (reflecting the make-up of the community). For the more reactionary and nationalist members of the building (and let’s not forget that the army and police force tend to have a higher wanker quotient than most other members of any society), this is intolerable and they set about asserting their authority in childish and irritating ways. Last week, for example, they locked the lift door on the third floor so that you couldn’t use it to get to floor of the school. Other times one or two of them get drunk and storm into the office moaning about people being allowed into the building without someone checking their ID. It would be funny if it weren’t so frustrating and, at times, downright frightening (one advantage / disadvantage is that the school is staffed entirely by women – meaning, I suspect, that the complainants don’t usually get too belligerent, but also that whoever is there when the drunken boors decide that today is the day to re-assert Romanian dominance can end up feeling quite shaken by the experience). Most of them are completely fine, I have to say, but the one or two who aren’t fine, are quite nasty pieces of work.

It must have really pissed them off when this street was renamed Kossuth Lajos. Maybe the pavement digging is just another step in the same process.

Posted in intercultural communication, nationalism | Leave a Comment »

Romanian cycle paths

Posted by Andy Hockley on 24 October, 2005

The pavement outside the building in which Erika’s workplace resides is being dug up. Nobody is quite sure why. Well, one hopes that somebody knows why, but most people don’t. We asked the workmen for example, and they said that they were told what to do on a daily basis, and not informed of the final product they were aiming for. It’s obviously very hush-hush when the people actually doing the work are treated on a need-to-know basis. (The flaw in this system became apparent last week, when they had to take up a bunch of edging stones which they had laid a few days earlier and put them somewhere else.) We asked an officious looking bloke who was hanging round watching them work – not working or supervising you understand, just the kind of person who always gravitates towards public working situations and offers advice and the benefit of years of experience standing round watching work get done by other people – and he said that he had heard that they were building a cycle path. “A cycle path! In Csikszereda! About as likely as a shopping mall”, we snorted, derisively. Mind you, the piece of pavement being replaced is only about 200m long, and given that there are no other cycle paths in the town, it is just possible that something as ludicrous as an isolated, unconnected, useless piece of cycle path is just the kind of thing that would have occurred to the mayor.

I’m wondering if the people who live in this building have complained. (I should note here, that while I don’t work for Erika, I tend to spend my days working at “the Soros” as it is known. I could work at home, but (a) Bogi gets back at about 3, and she doesn’t really understand the concept of someone being on a computer and not playing games, and (b) I find I do even less work if I’m at home than I do if I make the effort to have a shower, get dressed, and commute the five minutes to here.) This building is an interesting sociological and intercultural communication case study. You see, the thing is this: Romania is a country dominated by Romanians (unsurprisingly). They (ethnic Romanians) are the majority and they make up somewhere between 84 and 91% of the total population (depending on what the real proportion of Roma in Romania really is). But here in Csikszereda they are the minority. This town is roughly 90% Hungarian and so the proportions are almost the mirror image of the nation as a whole. This creates a certain amount of resentment among the local Romanian population, of the “here we are in our home country, but everybody speaks a foreign language” kind. Obviously not true of everyone, but of some at least.

What does all of this have to do with this building? Well, here, most of the apartments are owned by the police and the military, and hence they are inhabited by Romanians (although the country as a whole is 90% Romanian, the armed services and police forces are closer to 99% Romanian). Here in this building they reclaim their majority status and can feel like there is a corner of Miercurea Ciuc which is forever Dacian (or something). Unfortunately for them, they are forced to share their building with Erika’s school, which of course, being a school, has a large number of people coming and going all the time, most of whom are Hungarian (reflecting the make-up of the community). For the more reactionary and nationalist members of the building (and let’s not forget that the army and police force tend to have a higher wanker quotient than most other members of any society), this is intolerable and they set about asserting their authority in childish and irritating ways. Last week, for example, they locked the lift door on the third floor so that you couldn’t use it to get to floor of the school. Other times one or two of them get drunk and storm into the office moaning about people being allowed into the building without someone checking their ID. It would be funny if it weren’t so frustrating and, at times, downright frightening (one advantage / disadvantage is that the school is staffed entirely by women – meaning, I suspect, that the complainants don’t usually get too belligerent, but also that whoever is there when the drunken boors decide that today is the day to re-assert Romanian dominance can end up feeling quite shaken by the experience). Most of them are completely fine, I have to say, but the one or two who aren’t fine, are quite nasty pieces of work.

It must have really pissed them off when this street was renamed Kossuth Lajos. Maybe the pavement digging is just another step in the same process.

Posted in intercultural communication, nationalism | Leave a Comment »

Adventures in language (edition umpteen)

Posted by Andy Hockley on 23 October, 2005

There are a set of Hungarian words which I learned quite early on in my life here, as I heard them on a daily (often hourly) basis. I have only recently noticed their absence from my life, and have come to the conclusion that I probably won’t be reacquainted with them for another 5 years or so. These were the words that Bogi littered her conversation with, constantly and unceasingly for pretty much the duration of her year as a five-year-old. I can probably time the day she stopped at almost exactly her sixth birthday. Unbidden, she just quit and went cold turkey without any kind of help from a support group, 12-step programme, or admitting that there was higher power greater than herself.

These words are the following:
1. pisi
2. kaka
3. szar
4. purc (sp?)
5. moslek
6. ganye (sp?)

For non-Hungarian speakers, the first two you may just about be able to guess the meaning of (though possibly not the pronunciations), the third means more or less the same as the second, though possibly with the rudeness quotient ratcheted up a notch (if 2 is poo, then 3 is maybe crap). The fourth, pronounced poorts, is a slightly milder form of fart – what I would have probably referred to as “guff” when I was of the age when such a thing was the height of comic genius. The last two are a whole new level of 5 year old insult. Moslek is roughly pigswill, which I don’t remember using as a form of cutting edge debate at that time, but would have if I’d thought of it. Ganye, which is some kind of village form of the word in my dictionary Ganéj, is manure or some other form of animal dung.

But now these words are lost to me. In years to come if I should ever have cause to dredge up the Hungarian word for pigswill, it’s quite possible that I won’t be able to remember it, despite it being part of my regular active vocabulary for nigh on a year. Fortunately, going on my experience with English, the number of times I may be called on to use moslek is vanishingly small. Mind you, I have a feeling that these words and their constant overuse are not unique to Bogi, so in five years I’ll get the chance to relive this exciting toilet-word-laden period of my life. Bogi, meanwhile has graduated onto using English words to express her displeasure at events around her. The other day she remarked to me as she was playing a new computer game, “This game is shit”, leaving me torn between uncontrollable laughter, wanting to dissuade her from being quite so graphic in her criticism, and complimenting her on a great sentence (she’s recently graduated from speaking English as vocabulary to speaking it as grammar).

And, finally, having brought up Nagy Imre (the artist) yesterday, I learn that today is the anniversary of the 1956 revolution led by his namesake in Hungary. (I’m not clear whether it’s the anniversary of the revolution or its brutal supression)

Posted in language | Leave a Comment »

Adventures in language (edition umpteen)

Posted by Andy Hockley on 23 October, 2005

There are a set of Hungarian words which I learned quite early on in my life here, as I heard them on a daily (often hourly) basis. I have only recently noticed their absence from my life, and have come to the conclusion that I probably won’t be reacquainted with them for another 5 years or so. These were the words that Bogi littered her conversation with, constantly and unceasingly for pretty much the duration of her year as a five-year-old. I can probably time the day she stopped at almost exactly her sixth birthday. Unbidden, she just quit and went cold turkey without any kind of help from a support group, 12-step programme, or admitting that there was higher power greater than herself.

These words are the following:
1. pisi
2. kaka
3. szar
4. purc (sp?)
5. moslek
6. ganye (sp?)

For non-Hungarian speakers, the first two you may just about be able to guess the meaning of (though possibly not the pronunciations), the third means more or less the same as the second, though possibly with the rudeness quotient ratcheted up a notch (if 2 is poo, then 3 is maybe crap). The fourth, pronounced poorts, is a slightly milder form of fart – what I would have probably referred to as “guff” when I was of the age when such a thing was the height of comic genius. The last two are a whole new level of 5 year old insult. Moslek is roughly pigswill, which I don’t remember using as a form of cutting edge debate at that time, but would have if I’d thought of it. Ganye, which is some kind of village form of the word in my dictionary Ganéj, is manure or some other form of animal dung.

But now these words are lost to me. In years to come if I should ever have cause to dredge up the Hungarian word for pigswill, it’s quite possible that I won’t be able to remember it, despite it being part of my regular active vocabulary for nigh on a year. Fortunately, going on my experience with English, the number of times I may be called on to use moslek is vanishingly small. Mind you, I have a feeling that these words and their constant overuse are not unique to Bogi, so in five years I’ll get the chance to relive this exciting toilet-word-laden period of my life. Bogi, meanwhile has graduated onto using English words to express her displeasure at events around her. The other day she remarked to me as she was playing a new computer game, “This game is shit”, leaving me torn between uncontrollable laughter, wanting to dissuade her from being quite so graphic in her criticism, and complimenting her on a great sentence (she’s recently graduated from speaking English as vocabulary to speaking it as grammar).

And, finally, having brought up Nagy Imre (the artist) yesterday, I learn that today is the anniversary of the 1956 revolution led by his namesake in Hungary. (I’m not clear whether it’s the anniversary of the revolution or its brutal supression)

Posted in language | Leave a Comment »