Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Spoiled Americans

I never fully understood the term "to be spoiled." To me the phrase had insidious negative connotations, a rotten food, not worthy of consuming, or a bad person on whom everything is lavished and wasted because they are so self-absorbed and egotistical.

Romanians thought spoiled ("rasfatat" is not really a direct translation) meant unconditional love and devotion to their children and protection from harm at any cost. It never had any connection to material possessions provided to a child. I remember the phrase used to designate an only child treasured by parents for his/her mere existence.

American "spoiled rotten," an idiomatic expression, eluded me as it did not exist in the Romanian language at the time. Perhaps it does now, 32 years after my departure. Language evolves and acquires neologisms and idiomatic expressions every 25 years and Romanian is no exception, it acquired a lot of English words that replaced perfectly good Romanian phrases. "Rasfatat stricat" would be a direct translation, however "stricat" can mean "not working" or, in vulgar vernacular, someone who is of ill-repute.

Do Americans really understand how fortunate they are to live in the best country in the world? Given the level of malcontent among young people, it seems that they are not aware of the standard of living in most countries or the level of misery they experience day by day just to survive.

As some of us recognize, U.S. is still the best country in the world to be poor and spoiled in. My family in Romania had no idea how unfortunate they were because the governing elites made sure they had no connection to the rest of the world. They were cut off from any outside influence except "Voice of America" and "Europa Libera" via short wave radio. My dad would sit huddled every night in front of his huge radio, the size of a dresser, trying to adjust the dial so that we could hear the words clearly, without any static interference. The commies went way out of their way to scramble the waves as much as possible but we were still able to receive some transmissions. We knew there was a better life and a better way in America, "the shining city on the hill." We wished to have a glimpse of this paradise someday and spoke in whispered tones about the wondrous life in such freedom. Dad used to say that he would kiss the ground if he could be there for one day before he died - he wanted to feel free.

Americans have slowly become a nation of entitlement seekers. Everything they do, from the time they are born until they die, is a right, an entitlement. They say with a straight, angry face and a loud voice, they are entitled to cradle to grave nanny state. They don't care who is going to pay for it, or where the money is coming from, they want it, and they want it now.

My own former students had grown more and more demanding over the years - they did not just want good grades for lack of effort and learning; showing up and paying their tuition in full were good reasons to get an A. As I was not accommodating such expectations, there were charges of bigotry and racism from time to time. Nothing came of them, as they were not true, but it was a waste of my time, the dean's time, or the president's time, depending on how far the student would go with his/her outrageous claims. Society would vilify and lawsuits would punish teachers who dared not comply with disingenuous demands.

I loved teaching and most of my students were good. It was a rewarding profession and I took pride in watching them become the leaders of today. But there were always bad apples in baskets of beautiful, fragrant ones.

I parked my car many times in full light to keep it from being vandalized; I was threatened by students, mothers with guns, or irate fathers over deserved grades; I had to deal with mentally disturbed students who had no business being in college much less among people, they belonged in a mental institution. I had students who had previously been in gangs, had tattoo markings, yet they had redeemed themselves; I loved touching their lives in a positive way. Who knew that I could have run for political office instead of being a teacher, it would have been much easier and it would have required less schooling!

It was human nature to be constantly dissatisfied with the current condition, but Americans took it to new heights and exaggerated the reality they experienced. This was true of liberals who vilified society and everything it stood for, negating all the accomplishments that America contributed to this planet. They were intent on re-creating America in their twisted image and drug-induced logic, apologizing for everything wrong America may have done, by destroying it bit by bit and installing an Utopian society that never existed or survived very long - an Utopian society they've read about in history books.

These were children who were encouraged to dream, were raised on the coddling of self-esteem as being paramount even though they may have failed miserably, children who were never told no to anything, and whose lives were shaped by money and protection from harm and disappointment at all costs. These were children who were given awards just for participating in an event or for not tripping across a stage.

Furthermore, the very young "progressives" who benefited from the "evil" capitalist system, were willing to destroy it in the name of social justice. This social justice, of course, was not meant in any way to include them. I didn't see any people in Hollywood giving away their entire wealth in the name of social justice. They just wanted to give away other people's money. What will happen when other people's money runs out? Whose money will be then confiscated? Did they not realize what "useful idiots" they were? What made actors in Hollywood such experts on socialism/Marxism or environmental science when they were mouthpieces who memorized lines for a living in front of a camera? Most of them were high school drop outs, never attended college, or dropped out after one semester.

Most of the participants in violent protests around the country were spoiled young liberals with a trust fund who never worked an honest day in their lives; they had all the time in the world to organize mayhem and disrupt society who had to work for a living. They were the perfect marionettes to be manipulated by a few very powerful men who wanted to control the world.

Would it not be divine providence and intervention if they were sent to live in the very countries they so admire and aspire to install in America? I am sure, they would change their tunes upon return and kiss the ground of this free country. It was this very freedom won with such loss of blood by many selfless, nameless, faceless Americans that gave them the license to spit upon the symbols they so despise. They truly are spoiled Americans who don't realize the depth of their ingratitude.

Living under Monarchy

Mom recounts what life was like under the rule of Kings: Carol II and Michael. She was a child and has vivid memories of the Princess Moruzi who ruled the fiefdom which included the ancestral village of Tirgsor.

Carol II (15 October/16 October 1893 – 4 April 1953) reigned as King of Romania from 8 June 1930 until 6 September 1940. Eldest son of Ferdinand I, King of Romania, and his wife, Queen Marie, a daughter of Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, the second eldest son of Queen Victoria. He was the first of the Romanian royal family who was baptized in the Orthodox rite.

Michael (born 25 October 1921) reigned as King of the Romanians from 20 July 1927 to 8 June 1930, and again from 6 September 1940, until forced to abdicate by the communists backed up by orders of Stalin to the Soviet armies of occupation on 30 December 1947. Beside being the current pretender to the throne of Romania, he is also a Prince of Hohenzollern. A great-great-grandson of Queen Victoria by both of his parents and a third cousin of Queen Elizabeth II, he is one of the last surviving heads of state from World War II.

Their home was castelul Peles in Sinaia. A historical monument, Peleş, inaugurated in 1883, is a Neo-Renaissance castle located in the Carpathian Mountains, in the county of Prahova, on an existing medieval route linking Transylvania and Wallachia, built between 1873 and 1914.

King Carol I (1839-1914) visited the region and future site of the castle in 1866, and fell in love with the rugged but magnificent mountain scenery. So, in 1872, a total of one thousand "pogoane", approx. 1,300 acres, was purchased by the King and Piatra Arsa region became The Royal Domain of Sinaia, destined to be a royal hunting preserve and summer retreat for the monarch. On August 22, 1873, the foundation for Peleş Castle, the city of Sinaia, and indeed for the country of Romania itself was established.

This princess owned most of the land and hired the villagers to plant and harvest the crops. The peasants were paid quite well. Each family received annual gifts of grain, vegetables, and fresh meat; they could hunt on the property free of charge; there was a village doctor paid by the princess to tend to the villagers' medical needs. Nobody starved, construction needs were met, banking needs were addressed, and a school was funded and staffed by the princess through the eighth grade.

When people passed away, Princess Moruzi paid for the funeral through an established fund to help the grieving family, the widow, and the children. Most received life-long pensions.

I asked mom how she would describe the overall feelings of the thousand or so families living in Tirgsor and she chose proud and content. Everybody labored to earn their keep and took pride in their lives and the feeling of belonging to a close-knit community. Weddings, baptisms, funerals, and holidays were occasions to celebrate life in a simple, pastoral setting.

Mom was born in 1932 and, as a teen, she remembers vividly when the Russians invaded their tranquil life in the name of "liberating" them from the Germans in 1945. Under the guise of liberation, the Russians pillaged their village, including the princess' personal belongings, furniture, art, until there was nothing left but the bare walls of her masion ("conac" in Romanian). Then they set it on fire. Princess Moruzi was forced to move to Bucharest with her daughter and died there of old age.

The Russians did not just steal everybody's valuables, they stole their hope. By the time the "liberators" returned to Mother Russia, all that was left in Tirgsor was the land which Romanian communists gladly confiscated in the name of wealth distribution (collectivization), and the Soviet Marxist ideology of enslavement.

Many villagers would have gladly stayed under the German occupation since they were treated so much better. The average Romanian citizen did not have any choice in their alliance with Hitler, the Prime Minister Antonescu dragged them into the war, but benefited from the kind treatment of the German garrisons during the occupation. There were many refineries surrounding Tirgsor and my hometown of Ploiesti. The Germans needed gasoline for their war machine. They would have occupied Romania with or without Antonescu's permission. This way, Antonescu was generously rewarded and so was the monarch.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The bells toll for Nicuta

Forty years ago, aunt Nicuta found a two month old baby discarded on a concrete slab at the farmer's market. It was late October, harvest time for grapes, apples, pears, quinces, and plums. She was swaddled in a dirty blanket that had seen better days. The stench of urine was overpowering - the cloth diapers must have been soaked. Nicuta asked about the baby's mother and an elderly man pointed to a young, pregnant peasant woman who was selling apples. She asked her gently about the name of the baby who was wailing pitifully - it had been crying for hours. It was very cold outside and she was very wet. The mother said she did not have a name yet, she was only two months old and she did not have time to name her, there were two others at home and one on the way. Nicuta approached her again and asked if she had considered adoption.

Aunt Nicuta could not have children of her own and longed to raise a baby. She and her husband Nicu were comfortable by Romanian standards, had a little house in the village, a small plot of land, a cow, a pig, chicken, a cat, a dog, and some money in the bank. She was a gifted weaver, made beautiful wool rugs and tapestries. She was certainly passed the age of caring for babies, but something tugged at her heart about this yet unnamed little girl. Nicuta felt that the child deserved a better life and she was just the woman to provide a happy home. She was told no but was undeterred.

She returned the second day to find the woman selling apples and ignoring the crying baby while tending to her stall of apples. She was oblivious to the needs of the child. She watched her for hours. The baby was never diapered, fed, or given milk the entire time. The tiny baby was so malnourished that her face was transparently ghostly white, with blue veins running across. Again, she was told no.

On the third day, Nicuta returned with a policeman and a representative of the local orphanage. Under communism, there were plenty orphanages for unwanted and abused children, as well as for those who truly did not have any parents or were abandoned because they were imperfect. My aunt, mom's oldest sister, wanted the baby to be taken to a proper home even though it might not have been hers. Questions were asked and the woman was invited to the police precinct the next day. Aunt Nicuta had to return home to Tirgsor that day. She was happy that she could help a neglected child. She left her address in case the police wanted to ask more questions.

She went home but the image of the baby was burned into her brain and could not sleep well the following nights. She told us about it, she wished she could have taken her home. She stopped talking about the incident but it remained in the back of her mind. She could not shake the feeling that she should have done more.

Two weeks later, a village policeman knocked on the door and told her that the baby she saw in Transylvania at the farmer's market was now under the custody of the state, and, if she was interested, she could apply for adoption. The mother had willingly given the baby up to the orphanage since she was overwhelmed and unable to care for it emotionally and financially. Aunt Nicuta could not say "yes" fast enough.

An attorney drew up the paperwork and before the ink was even dry, uncle Nicu and aunt Nicuta were back on the train on their way to Transylvania, to claim the baby from the orphanage. She was reunited with a slightly warmer baby but still very much underweight and malnourished. She had brought beautiful embroidered little hats, clothes, and blankets that she had sewn with her own hands years ago in expectation of a pregnancy of her own. The little baby was lost in so much lace and wild eyed from all the sudden attention, cuddling and forehead kissing. They named her Monica before they left the orphanage. She was to be baptized in two months when her overall health and weight had improved. A government worker was to supervise her mothering skills every day for the next six months to ensure the welfare of the child. The visits were impromptu and quite disruptive to their lives.

Monica grew up like a little princess, the apple of her parents eyes. She was sent to dental school and became a dental prosthesis technician. She married and had her own two children. She never searched for her biological mother, she always said Nicuta was her mom. Her siblings, after extensive search, found her recently, but, aside from meeting them, she had no interest to pursue a familial bond. She was totally devoted to her adoptive mom and dad. Nicu died a few years ago, he was partially deaf and blind but Monica and her husband took care of him until the end. He was the gentlest man I have ever met.

Two weeks ago, Nicuta, now 84 years old, with limited mobility from arthritis but otherwise healthy, was placed outside in the sun by her nurse who promised to return in 45 minutes to take her back into the house. Four and half hours later, when the nurse finally returned, without water and shade, my loving aunt had died of sun stroke. She had tried to get her walker which was leaning against the wall, but it was too far for her to reach. There was nobody around to ask for help, Monica and her husband were at work. She died in agony, alone.

The church bells toll for the beautiful life of Nicuta who died from socialized medicine nursing care neglect and abuse. Will the nurse be punished? No, human life has no value under socialized medicine. She was worth everything to us, her family, and especially to her loving and devoted daughter, Monica.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Freedom of speech

The words of my high school biology teacher are still etched in my distant memory, "democracy has gone to your head." I spent two hours in detention for daring to ask a question that contradicted the communist story line of Romanian history and it angered my history teacher, Mrs. Avram, because she could not tell the truth, instead she took her frustration out on me. To tell historical truth meant that she risked immediate deportation to a re-education camp. Whatever she believed, she dared not divulge it or diverge from the party line and revisionist lies. Mrs. Avram was Jewish and thus under much more scrutiny than ordinary Romanians. She was always dancing a fine line - as a Jew who had relatives in Israel, she was a potential spy. In the eyes of communism, we were all potential spies, however, being Jewish was a double risk. Her file with the dreaded Romanian Securitate must have been quite thick. There was an assigned spy on every street, apartment block, or village. Everyone knew who this person was, usually an elderly man or woman, either retired, or living on such a small pension that they were sure to die of starvation without the extra help from the blood money the agents provided.

What is freedom of speech? If I asked people on the street, I got as many different confused answers as I expected. That is because people talk about freedom of speech but have not really given it much thought. It is taken for granted that people can say whatever they wish, without any consequences. Is freedom of speech the guaranteed right to say what you desire without government censorship, is it freedom of the airways, freedom to write against the ruling elite, freedom to speak your mind politely even though others may be uncomfortable or disagree violently, including offensive speech? Certainly you cannot yell "fire" in a crowded theater. That is punishable by law.

Do we really have freedom of speech? Can we express opinions without consequences? Can we be banned to Siberia? Are we really banned to obscurity if we dare speak the truth? Do we become journalist pariahs like Michael Savage who was banned in Britain for speaking the truth? Few defended him on principle alone, even though they may have disliked him. Banning is not something new, many famous writers were banned during their lifetime for literary expression and political views. Many were sent to the gallows, the scaffold, the guillotine, and gulags, never to return. Some were sent to the Land Down Under when it was just a colony of criminals. Napoleon was exiled to Corsica. Ovid was exiled to Pontus Euxinus for his writings and his love affair with the emperor's daughter. You can certainly lose your job if you exercise your right to free speech, many have and still do. If you are in academia, you may or may not get tenure, depending on your views. If you are a liberal, it is a walk in the park. If you are a conservative, you might as well kiss your tenure good-bye. If you are a student whose opinions diverge from the teacher's, you are either assured a failing grade, or you become the mockery and insult board of your professor for the entire semester/year. Of all the places in the country I can think of, a university should be the number one defender of free speech. Based on my experience, most campuses are places where freedom of speech is stifled, carefully controlled, manipulated, policed, and relegated to a very small area called "free speech zone." However, to express your views on any topic in such a corner, you need permission from the university, such permission may or many not be granted and, if allowed, only for a short period of time. Students are coached and often paid how to properly protest an event that diverges from and contradicts Marxist propaganda. Political correctness is so pervasive and so gone amok, it borders on communist dictatorship censorship. Political correctness is speech censorship any way you slice it. Everything is censored unless it agrees with the university's socialist/Marxist views. Most professors are inveterate communists and I should know, I've worked with quite a few for years!

I remember my elation before I set foot in the United States and the trepidation at the prospect of being able to say whatever I wanted without any fear of being deported overnight to Siberia or being immediately subjected to harsh interrogation and communist jail. I say "communist" to distinguish it from the country club jail in the United States. Once inside a gulag, they threw away the key. You either came out a different person or you came out feet first. I had a friend, Dr. Cornel (not his real name, God rest his soul), who did hard time under communists in a lead mine. He worked there for 17 years and, when he came out, he looked rather ghostly. Nobody expected him to live much longer. He survived his ordeal and lived more than twenty years in a southern town. His only crime was that he owned property, a couple of homes and, as a physician, exercised his right of free speech. It was not enough that they confiscated his homes, his land, his property, and his medical practice, they had to teach him a lesson in a re-education camp as well, a lead mine, for 17 years! What a gravy train of free forced labor for the communists. And, they assumed, he would never, ever utter another word against communism, if he survived the back-braking work and the inadequate diet. The irony was that he became an ardent speaker against communism and was quite popular on the lecture circuit around the world. He received a comfortable pension from the U.S., had a nice home with a large fish pond and a boat. He was very proud of his lake and the Greek statues surrounding it. I knew he deserved any eccentricity or luxury his wallet could buy. Seventeen years of suffering and loss of freedom in a lead mine could never be reclaimed by material possessions.

I learned very quickly that there were consequences for speaking your mind - yes, we had freedom of speech, but, like insurance, if you used it, your premiums would go up dramatically. Every time I would point out shortcomings in the system and how it could be improved, I would hear the same worn out answer, "if you don't like it, you can go back where you came from." That pretty much put a damper on objective criticism. If you made a comment involving someone black, you were a racist, not a good label to overcome. An entire industry of "victimhood" was created around the accusation of racism. It had to be redressed with affirmative action, quotas, and financial reparations. Nobody forced anybody to do hard time in a labor camp, but it forced people into pariah martyrdom or professional suicide if freedom of speech was exercised.

Fast forward thirty-two years and I realize that we have lost any semblance of freedom of speech. Anything we say is labeled instantly racist. We cannot even punish black criminals anymore, it is racist. We cannot disagree with someone of a different skin pigmentation, we are racist. We cannot disagree with the Democrat Party, we are racists. We cannot be conservatives, we are racists. We cannot be patriots, we are racists. We cannot respect and demand borders, language, and culture, we are racists. If we are part of the Tea Party, we are racists. We cannot punish corrupt Congressmen who happen to be black, we are racists.

If there was a place I could choose to be poor and free at the same time, it would have been the United States. Lately, I am not so sure any more. The United States is beginning to resemble more and more a dictatorship, a banana republic. I am having PTSD attacks every day now. I call them communist deja-vu. Thirty-two years ago, when I left communist Romania in order to live under freedom in the United States, I would have never believed that Americans would be so stupid as to believe that a failed economic and political system in many other countries over the course of the last century, would actually work in the U.S. just because someone in power says so. This is not entirely a surprise, we have become an entitlement society, a give-me everything for free at any cost. I have been first-hand witness to the dumbing down of the American educational system by the very Marxist teachers licensed by the Department of Education, with the blessing of the National Education Association union membership and the blessing of totally oblivious and lazy parents whose only care was that their child/children received free meals. Even the most conservative states in the union seldom had more than a few conservative, American patriotic teachers amongst their ranks. Indoctrinating students via revisionist history and the staunch assertion that America was evil, capitalism was evil, and Americans had to be ashamed of their history and past worked. We created a generation of zombies who serve as useful idiots at various protests around the country and dutiful and devoted voters. It has never crossed their minds that they are voting themselves into a life of poverty and exploitation by the ruling elite, an economic status quo they will never be able to overcome through entrepreneurship or hard work. Violence, destruction of property, desecration of the American flag, of the national Anthem, of everything that represented our country for 235 years, anti-capitalism, and rabid anti-Americanism have become the American creed of the young and lost generation. It does not seem to matter that a large portion of the college-educated cannot find a job commensurate with their education and will not likely find one any time soon. Politicians with their messianic talk cannot create jobs, capitalists do. Freedom of speech against the "oppressors" is more important than putting bread on the table. Why worry? Uncle Sam and the government will provide for us all. Is that why you spent thousands of dollars on a college education, to become dependent on government welfare? I recognize the dependence we had to rely on in order to survive under communism. There was no other way, any creativity and entrepreneurship was squashed, literally, under the heavy boot on the neck by the communist ruling elite. I seem to remember this administration using this exact term, referring to the "evil" banks, oil and car companies, the very people who help create jobs and prosperity under capitalism. The phrase, borrowed from Stalin, Marx, Lenin, and Engels, is a reminder of the horrors perpetrated by communist elites on millions of innocent Iron Curtain victims who were starved, worked to death, or butchered by the "regime" for daring to question the efficacy and validity of their economic policies. Scientific socialism and dialectical materialism were actual courses taught in communist high schools and colleges.

I used to think that Americans were shameless because they had children out of wedlock and society celebrated their depravity. Churches dedicated special programs on Mother's Day to out-of-wedlock teenage mothers. Men were irresponsible when they abandoned their children as soon as they found out their one night stand was pregnant. Both sexes were shameless in their lack of respect for chastity and the sacred vows of marriage. Why take responsibility when the government stepped in and took care of both mom and infant through its taxpayer largesse welfare programs? Morality, honesty, and a total lack of an ethical compass have degenerated so far that nothing surprised us anymore, we considered it part of everyday life, it became PC. To me political correctness is really political control. Have we lost our freedom to speak to PC? I would answer that with a resounding yes. It has to be political correctness cloaked as religious tolerance that compels us to allow the Muslim Cordoba Initiative to build a mosque at Ground Zero, celebrating their victory over the Infidels worldwide, but particularly American Infidels, the most hated group by Islam. It is not tolerance that is forcing us to accept the final conquest and victory over our lands by Muslims, over the hollowed grounds where thousands of human remains are still buried after 9/11, it is sheer stupidity and ignorance driven home by our failed educational system.


Because my ancestors were both Romans and Dacians, I have superstition DNA running through my blood. I did not realize the degree of infection until I had my first child. Every day I changed Mimi's crib sheets I would find a large butcher knife under her mattress. I would take it and put it back in the kitchen. The next day, the knife would re-appear. It was so odd, it did not occur to me to ask mom why the knife was there every day. Then one day, without explanation, the knife disappeared. When I finally did ask mom, she explained that knives protected babies from evil spirits until they were baptized. Sure enough, Mimi had been baptized the day before. This reminded me of the fairy tale in which the king invited the fairies to cast good spells on his newborn but forgot to invite the thin-skinned one. The uninvited fairy gifted the little girl with a life of misery, locked in a castle until Prince Charming would appear to rescue her from a seemingly impossible to climb tower.

I knew about the proverbial black cat crossing the road. I always returned home when that happened, no matter where I was going, including school. I knew a bad grade or occurrence were sure to follow. But Romanians took it a bit further, they spit nine times and said an incantation before avoiding the black cat.

Mom and grandma Elena thought that wearing a shirt inside out meant that one is cheating on his/her spouse. My response was always, mom, I don't have a spouse, and what is a spouse? Was this somehow related to the English phrase, "turncoat?" Probably not.

The salt over the left shoulder was definitely Roman - it cast away evil spirits lurking around the dinner table. Walking under a ladder was also a bad idea. A broken mirror brought 7 years of bad luck.

Sneezing was a dangerous time since it was believed that, for a brief moment, the soul left the body and evil spirits could crawl in. People nearby would wish "noroc," "good luck," to keep the evil spirits from inhabiting your body while the soul was floating somewhere in the air.

Families in mourning had to wear black for six months or the deceased could not rest in peace. Close family members could not shave, wash their hair, comb their hair, look in a mirror or the deceased would become a ghost.

If it rained the day of the funeral or during the funeral, it was a sign that the deceased was sorry to go and had regrets that she/he had not expressed before their final breath.

Babies that had not been baptized and passed away could not be buried in the regular cemetery, they had plots outside the fence, as their bodies might be corrupted by evil spirits lurking in a holy place.

Newborns wore red ribbons tied or sewn into their little hats to protect them from the evil eye. Romans and Romanians truly believed that, if you had blue or green eyes, you had the power to bewitch a person and change their state of health and well-being. To escape a terrible fate from the evil eye, an incantation was said over a glass of fresh water from a spring into which a burning match was extinguished. The recipient of the evil eye had to drink the water in order to destroy the potential effect of any evil spell.

Brides had to step into their home with their right foot first. To do so with the left foot was sinister and invited terrible misfortune in the marriage. To prevent brides from tripping, a sign of bad luck, the groom would carry them over the threshold.

During the church wedding ceremony, two very large white candles, the height of a person and about five inches in diameter, decorated with a fresh flower bouquet, were lit and held by a bridesmaid and the groom's best man. The first candle to flicker out represented the death of that person.

Upon eyeing someone with a particular condition or witnessing a scary situation, the viewer would spit sideways three times and cross themselves three times to avoid a similar fate. This included seeing a black cat in the vicinity. Knocking on wood three times as in the Holy Trinity was a way to ward off evil spirits who might lurk nearby, or avoid the possibility of similar injury, i.e., knock on wood, I hope I never get divorced.

Children were not supposed to talk or sing at the dinner table or else risk marrying a gypsy. Since nobody wanted to live in a tent and travel in a covered wagon, kids were pretty quiet at suppertime. I may have told mom at least a couple of times that I did not care since gypsies made good roasted sunflowers and I wanted to be a sunflower vendor when I grew up.

Whenever I had a headache, mom was convinced that I was a victim of the evil eye. She would make me sit still, moved around me three times while she mumbled incantations, and then my headache was supposed to disappear. Too bad the nerve endings on my scalp were not getting the memo. This pseudo-method was never demonstrated that it worked, but mom and many others like her tried it anyway.


I suppose I had lots of pets as I was growing up, geese, dogs, cats, rabbits, chicken, cows, pigs, horses. None of them fell in the category of house pets. They hanged around the yard and some in the house but were never allowed to spend the night inside grandma Elena's house. The closest pets or pests, depending on your viewpoint, who slept and lived with us were fleas that colonized her beds, our clothes, and her rugs. We were constantly flea bitten, my skin looked like the canvas of a flea artist. The sheets and the night gowns were covered in blood from the numerous bites suffered during the night. Occasionally, mamaia, as I called grandma Elena, would get serious about flea control and spray DDT. They died for a while until the eight cats or so hanging around the house would track them in again, carrying a myriad of newborn babies. DDT was strong but was eventually banned in the U.S. and production ceased. That did not stop Romanians from using it - they had stockpiled it for decades.

There were no vets to take pets to, give them shots, special food, special diet, treatment for wounds, etc. Cats and dogs had to be resilient, learn to live with injuries, lick them and make them better, or kick the bucket. Surprisingly, in spite of utter neglect, cats and dogs lived longer lives than most pampered pets in the U.S. We had large animal vets to treat cows, horses, donkeys, goats, pigs, and sheep. Even they were not exactly living it up at Club Med. I remember at least 4 pigs who had to be put to sleep because of trichinosis. The vet tech was called on special occasions, when large animals were sick, had stopped eating, or had a difficult birth, such as a cow with a breech birth, and breaking the calf's ankle bone. The bone never healed and the vet had to put it to sleep. I cried because I bottle fed the calf and named him. It was a bitter pill to swallow, losing my charge.

Pets had to fend for themselves in the bitter colds of winter. Dogs had a dog house with an old raggedy blanket on the dirt floor and nothing else. Cats lived a little better, they could sleep in the attic where it was quite cosy in the midst of dry, warm hay and lots of rats and mice. Chicken, ducks, cows, pigs, goats, sheep, and horses were huddled in the barn where temperatures were a little milder. Mamaia would bring in the house the newborn calf, goat, sheep for a few days then return it to its mother. My Bogart lives like a king by comparison. Nobody would fuss over kitty litter, a warm house, a warm cat bed, wool rugs, yearly trips to the vet for shots, or medical treatment for the many scrapes he gets from the altercation with animals crossing his territorial domain. He certainly does not have to suffer from flea infestations and neither do we.

Surviving on table scraps, most cats and dogs were mangy looking, yet somehow they survived accidents or animals diseases. I supposed the lack of vehicles on the road spared many animals an early death. Feeding pets store bought, specially made for animals packaged food was non-existent. And if it did, people could not afford it.

Farmers were very utilitarian when it came to killing animals for their fur - they used it to make warm clothing and hats but also ate the animal. No PETA would shame them into giving up slaughtering an animal in exchange for survival and warmth. The one shameful story makes my skin cringe. The village had a pit in a hallow where all unwanted pups and kittens were dumped as soon as they were born. The hole was so deep, nobody crawled out and no food or water was delivered. I can still hear the howls and faint meows of despair, hunger, and pain. I was just a kid when I realized what they were doing. I cried for days begging grandpa to deliver food and to put a stop to it. I was hoping his could convince the village elders to find a more humane way to deal with unwanted pets. Spaying and neutering were impossible and too expensive. People were poor and primitive in their mentality. I would go and throw food into the hole but they died of thirst first. Runaways were lucky - their babies were safe from the hell hole.

Romania was eventually admitted to the European Union. Prior to the adherence, many written and unwritten laws had to be changed. Cruelty to animals was redressed in cities by allowing feral dogs and cats to multiply to the point where herds roamed the streets out of control. Dogs became more than a nuisance, attacking small children on a regular basis, maiming many, killing some, and even injuring adults. One such vicious attack killed a Japanese businessmen in downtown Bucharest, while he was attempting to enter his high rise apartment building. His femoral vein was torn by the vicious bite and he bled to death. It was not unusual to see a feral cat or dog enter a department store or grocery store looking for food and people shrugged their shoulders. PETA made its way into Romania, and no more dogs were put to sleep or mistreated. Consequently, they multiplied wildly, as no veterinarian euthanasia was allowed. Country folks continued their cruel traditions unchecked.

Rats and mice had a plentiful life on the farm. They had corn and wheat in the attic and lots of food in the cellar. They burrowed between the walls and made their way to the attic. On any given night, there was a concert of tapping feet, going back and forth inside the walls, between the attic and the cellar. Eventually the colony grew so large, the house had to be destroyed and grandpa rebuilt nearby with brick and mortar, a much nicer home.


Most people do not understand what orthodox is - they think Jewish. I am not sure most orthodox people truly understand the mystical side of their religion. I can feel it when I enter a majestic cathedral in Europe, richly decorated with lavish columns, statues, icons, and symbols lost in translation and in our understanding. I was torn many times, upon standing inside St. Peter's Basilica, between my feelings of awe at the magnificent and opulent construction and my feelings of sorrow at the sacrifice so many millions of poor people had to make in order that such a jewel of architecture and art could be enjoyed by generations after generations. Did they starve in order to pay heavy taxes, what horrid living conditions had they endured, were they forced to work long hours for meager pay in order that this basilica be built?

Orthodox religion predates Catholicism by a year or two. If you ask a catholic, they will tell you Catholicism is the oldest organized form of religion in existence. Some historians and orthodox themselves believe The Orthodox Church to be the One, established 2,000 years ago by Jesus Christ and his Apostles. Daddy used to tell me that our family originated with the Apostles since our last name is Apostolescu, Romanian for "of the Apostles." Christianity struggled to exist during Roman times when they were forced to worship in tunnels underground Rome. Domitila's catacombs contain one of the first underground Christian churches.

The Orthodox Church is officially called the Orthodox Catholic Church and commonly referred to as the Eastern Orthodox Church. The Church is composed of several self-governing ecclesial bodies, each geographically and nationally distinct but theologically unified. Each self-governing body, often but not always encompassing a nation, is shepherded by a synod of bishops whose duty, among other things, is to preserve and teach the Apostolic traditions and church practices. As in the Roman Catholic Church, Anglican Church, Oriental Orthodoxy and some other churches, Orthodox bishops trace their lineage back to the Apostles through the process of Apostolic Succession.

The Orthodox Church claims to trace its development back through the Byzantine or Roman empire, to the earliest church established by St. Paul and the Apostles. After baptism, a person is blessed with the Holy Spirit and must embark on a spiritual pilgrimage of striving to be more holy and "Christ Like." Most babies are baptized shortly after birth and there is a God-mother holding the newborn at the altar while the ceremony is performed. She is a stand-in mom in case something happens to the real mom. The God-mother is revered, loved, respected, and celebrated through her entire life. My own God-mother, aunt Stela, passed away a month ago. Although I miss her and have not seen her since 1985, I feel blessed that I was able to speak to her weekly until her last five days of life when she was in and out of consciousness.

The Biblical text used by the Orthodox includes the Greek Septuagint and the New Testament. It includes the seven Deuterocanonical Books which are generally rejected by Protestants and a small number of other books that are in neither Western canon. These books are used in the Divine Liturgy. Icons adorn the walls of Eastern Orthodox churches and cover the inside structure completely. Countryside Orthodox homes have an area set aside for family prayer, usually an eastern facing wall, on which are hung many icons. City homes do not have such "altars."

The calculation of Orthodox Easter is very complex, the Sunday following Paschal full moon (PFM), pronounced, "Pas-kul." Easter Sunday is the date of the annual celebration of Christ's resurrection. The Easter Dating Method has to maintain the same season of the year and the same relationship to the preceding astronomical full moon that occurred at the time of his resurrection in 30 A.D. Easter dates vary and very seldom coincide with the Protestant Easter. There was a joke about a priest who kept kernels of corn in his jacket to be able to tell parishioners how many days were left until Easter. He would quickly count how many kernels he had left in his jacket pocket after he had carefully thrown one kernel out each day. His housekeeper had thought, upon discovering his stash of corn, that the Father liked corn, so she added a handful into his pocket. When he met with a parishioner and was asked how many days until Easter, he proceeded to count the corn. Exasperated, after he counted and counted, with no end in sight, he told the parishioner that there wasn't going to be Easter that year after all.

Certainly there was no Orthodox Sunday School to attend and nobody taught us lessons from the Bible. Older females in the family would tell stories each evening after supper, while we sat around on benches outside in the garden or by the side of the road. All homes were surrounded by tall wood fences and had a very large bench in front of the main gate, outside the fence. This bench was the gathering place for many villagers who happened to walk by on their way home. I heard many fascinating stories this way, sitting at my grandparents' feet.

Aunt Leana, who was a deacon at Popesti Orthodox Church, had a well-worn Bible from which she would read stories every time I visited. She had an oil lamp by her side, large magnifying glasses tied with a string, and a large bowl of fresh fruit and grapes from her orchard. We sat on the porch or in her tiny and cozy two-room mud brick house. When her eyes got tired, she would start singing Gregorian chants and nasalized humming which she often did, accompanying the readings during Liturgy.

We had no Bible lessons - 40 years or more of communist rule forbade the owning of a Bible, open prayer,Bible study in school, and church attendance. Believers were ridiculed as missing their marbles. Atheism was the state religion. The only people who were really semi-free to observe their religion were the elderly. The communists decided that they already had a foot in the grave and one on the proverbial banana peel, who cared if they went to church? Consequently, most of the regulars were little old ladies. That's because men died much sooner than women - men pretty much counted on being survived by their wives. These ladies helped the priest with daily chores, cleaned the church, polished the silver icons, mended the kneeling pillows, cleaned the candle wax off the floors and candle holders, tended the surrounding gardens, planted the flowers, the shrubs, and cut the grass around cemetery plots with a scythe.

Easter and Christmas were the only holidays when church attendance grew tenfold. The commie handlers allowed the masses to celebrate, but took notes cautiously and carefully. We carried lit candles at midnight around the church, sang Gregorian chants, prayed and celebrated our humanity from God. Food was brought to church and shared with everybody in remembrance of Christ and beloved family members who passed away.

There were Catholics in Transylvania in western Romania, among Swabians and Hungarians, a few Baptists here and there, Lutherans in western Transylvania, and Muslims in eastern Romania, at the Black Sea, close to the European side of Istanbul. I remember visiting a mosque with my aunt at the Black Sea - it was more like a museum visit, the mosque was empty. Neither faith enjoyed much freedom, they were on par with the Orthodox. The only concession made was the use of their own language, i.e., German, Hungarian, and Arabic.

The American Bible Society had donated Bibles to the state after a terrible earthquake - they wanted the victims to find comfort in the word of God. The state, however, decided to recycle them into toilette paper. The quality of print and material was so good and the quality of manufacture so poor that the words of the Bible were still legible on the rolls of toilette paper. I had just started studying English and I pointed that out to my dad. We were appalled and saddened by the offensive abuse of the Holy Book.

Baptisms, funerals, and weddings were certainly not frowned upon. Communist elites tried to replace weddings with civil ceremonies, but most people preferred to have both. The church ceremony was always viewed as more meaningful. Everybody had to be baptized and given a name, even commies accepted that. And, of course, funerals, nobody escaped death, and, since there were no funeral homes, churches were the logical place for the last rites and passage to the other world. The last ride to the cemetery was done with pomp and circumstance, a funeral band, and a horse-drawn carriage or a large truck bed, depending on the status of the deceased.

Friday, July 2, 2010


We never had enough food to satisfy everyone. Often we went to bed hungry. We were skinny and malnourished. Even vitamins were unavailable - the communists rationed everything in order to make ends meet. They were selling everything of value that the country produced as fast as they could say, "sold." Even old oil reserves were gone - new ones were hard to explore as oil layered through hard rock at depths impossible to drill. Most food in high demand was exported to Germany and other western nations in exchange for technology and hard currency, usually the U.S. dollar. We were left with bones and empty shelves. I suppose bones were good for soup, our basic lunch and dinner staple. Bread was relatively cheap and we ate lots of it. Ceausescu, the insane communist president, wanted to industrialize the country as fast as possible, at the expense of the standard of living of most Romanians - the elite in charge was spared, they lived like kings. So what if we had to eat bones and wilted vegetables? It was for a good cause, the Utopian socialism. Never mind that everybody who tried this scientific socialism had failed miserably, we had to keep on trying, repeat the same mistakes until we got a different result - a formula for sheer lunacy.

I will never forget my shock when I entered an American grocery store for the first time - Horn's Big Star. I was amazed at the vast choices and availability of fruits and vegetables out of season and fresh. I did not have to fight other shoppers for the last bottle of milk, pat of butter, or loaf of bread. I did not have to get up at 4 a.m. to stand in line for a 7 a.m. opening of the store. I did not have to carry rationing coupons with me. Groceries were bagged and carried to my car with a smile. The owner was friendly all the time and offered to order items that were not stocked daily. Nobody fought over food, there were no empty shelves, ever, and people did not have to go hungry. Yet I could not fathom why people bemoaned their poverty and hunger, while visibly showing signs of obesity. It was a compliment to tell someone they looked good, they were fat. Fat meant that they had plenty to eat, no starvation. Fat people were considered well off. The "evil" corporations took advantage of Americans, oh, my. I believed them to be spoiled, bratty adults, tired of overabundance and self-indulgence, having everything handed to them, while making more and more impossible and outlandish demands.

I don't look at food the same way Americans do. I know the toil behind a cluster of ripe grapes, the sweat behind a fragrant apple, and the backache behind a perfect strawberry just picked off the vine. Food is not a pleasure to be cherished socially in a fine restaurant, or with friends and family, it is instead sustenance and survival. Americans tend to overeat because food is so bountiful and cheap. We spend only 15% of income on food. Romanians and other poor nations spend a much larger portion of their incomes for daily staples of simple food. I never look at an orange or banana the same way my husband does. He sees a fruit that is either overripe or too green, something mundane that can be bought in the grocery store on any given day. I see perfection, a real treat, something eaten on special occasions. The scent of an orange brings memories of Christmas, the Christmas tree candles casting shadows on a solitaire orange hanging from its boughs with a red ribbon, and the smell of fresh spruce.

My favorite snack was roasted sunflower seeds, they were cheap and plentiful. The only problem was that the purveyors of such fine foods were the gypsies. Mom was horrified because they roasted their seeds in the same aluminum tubs that they washed clothes in and tripled as chamberpots. She invented the most outlandish stories to discourage me from running to the gypsies with every last nickle and dime I had to purchase sunflower seeds. They were cleverly wrapped in rolled newspapers. There was no such thing as packaging or plastic bags in stores, people had to improvise. Even the farmer's market in summer time used rolled newspapers in the shape of a cone as wrapping. Newspapers were magical, we used them for toilette paper, napkins, wrapping paper, bathroom reading material, to clean windows (the ink shined them better than Windex), blankets on grass, head cover from light rain, origami hat to shade from the sun, protective cover for books, and to shine shoes.

Food was cooked simply with sunflower or rape seed oil. Rape seed oil was more plentiful - there were fields of yellow flowers as far as the eye could see. The oil was heavier and thicker than sunflower oil. We either fried or boiled our food. Baking was rare, usually at Easter and Christmas. We ate lots of soup made from various green leaves in summer time, tomatoes, Feta cheese, cucumbers, green beans, cabbage, green peppers, lettuce, and green peas. We sliced them up and ate them raw with bread. We did not have salad dressing or mayo. Preparing mayo at home for potato salad was very time consuming and required a lot of elbow grease. We did not have mixers. Mom was a master at cooking a three course meal from one chicken. This happened once every ten days. We had chicken soup, chicken and rice, and fried chicken, all from one live chicken purchased at the farmer's market. Dad had the unpleasant task of having to cut the chicken's head off out in the yard. Mom had to dip it into boiling water to be able to pluck the feathers. To this day, I can smell the peculiar aroma of dipped feathers in hot water, it would make me gag every time. I used to hide because I did not want to see the poor chicken hopping around in the yard headless. I knew we had to eat protein to survive but I disliked the way in which the chicken was slaughtered and could not stand the smell of plucking. Had we had peanut butter and soy beans, I would have made a conscious decision to avoid eating chicken. It was cruel to kill them this way. We ate more pork in winter time since they were slaughtered around Christmas. Beef was not part of our diet since it was usually very tough - they waited for the cow to be on her deathbed before they drove it to slaughter, it was too valuable alive for milk, butter, and cheese. We ate fried fish and sardines a lot, usually fried whole with bones in and heads, and, shock, whale meat. We bought blocks of whale meat imported from Japan. The process of killing such a magnificent and relatively rare animal had not occurred to me at the time. Grandpa's favorite food was tripe soup. Tripe was the lining of the cow's stomach and it looked and tasted rather rubbery. Lots of people considered brains a delicacy. I am proud to say that I never touched this unnecessary risk to one's health. My dad liked fried livers - I found them disgusting, along with all the organs associated with the chicken or the cow.

During Lent, mom and I would make eight-shaped sweet dumplings with walnut pieces. It was an orthodox tradition. I asked her why in the shape of an eight, but she did not know, it was tradition. During funerals, the older women would make a wheat/barley seed sweet concoction that would be given to the poor in memory of the deceased. Since we were all poor, everybody ate "coliva."

Grandma Elena's cure for everything was chicken soup and fried liver. The thought of fried liver turns my stomach even today. My comfort food was boiled potatoes and french fries. As a toddler, I learned that grandma boiled potatoes for the pig and I raided his trough frequently to my grandma's desperation.

Sweets and sugary foods were rare, consequently few people were obese or suffered from diabetes. Summer time was fruit and watermelon heaven. If we could not buy it at the farmer's market, we went to Mamaia's house - there was always an endless supply of fruits in season that could be picked. And, if she did not have it, there were the neighbor's. Taking food was not considered stealing as the villagers, with their meager resources, were very generous. I climbed prune trees, peach trees, apple and pear trees, and anything else that was edible. Grandpa Ilie's venerable old walnut tree was off limits - it had been planted by his grandfather. There was a tree not far from the outhouse that produced a yellow berry, the size of a raspberry. We climbed that tall tree many times for juicy berries, with total disregard for the proximity to the outhouse. Why would we care? We were kids and ate anything that tasted good and we never washed them.

We only got in trouble when picking radiant red poppies in a wheat field that belonged to the communist co-operative and the watchman chased us with an ax. I still remember the sheer terror of impending death by decapitation with an ax when I see red poppies. He was so angry, perhaps the poppies were his opium stash and we stumbled upon it accidentally. I can still smell the pungent odor of the stems.

My American born children were very wasteful with their food. When they were very young, we took regular trips to Pizza Hut. Half of the pizza was usually squandered after they were full. I scolded them that some Chinese children were starving and they should learn to order only what they could consume. With a cocky attitude, my girls offered to mail them to China or challenged me to name a few Chinese starving at that moment. The wastefulness was lost on them.

We never knew what eating out meant. Fancy restaurants were off-limits for the unwashed masses and fast food restaurants did not exist. Nobody fed us breakfast and lunches at school. The government could not care less if we went hungry, had money to buy food, or had time and energy to stand in lines in sub-zero temperatures for hours. We ate better and stuffed ourselves at weddings, baptisms, and funerals. Easter and Christmas were also occasions of good eating and over stuffing. Going on a picnic was reserved for party elites who revelled in their new-found power to grab the best accommodations for themselves and their families.

I can only remember a couple of occasions when I ate out - at lake Snagov with Manescu and his wife - he had money and power none of us could even dream of. Both were very influential in the communist party. The second time I dined in decadent luxury was at my wedding, in the restaurant rented by my father.

There was no such thing as spending the night at the house of a friend or pajama parties. First of all, pajamas were hard to find. Secondly, parties were considered bourgeois, unless you were part of the ruling elite. Nobody in his/her right mind would be willing to feed half a dozen kids at an overnight party when food was hard to procure and families could barely afford to feed themselves.

Nobody kidnapped kids because they were too expensive to feed. You could let them walk to school alone, take the bus, and they always came back. Besides, with all the levels of police tripping over themselves everywhere, nobody dared to do anything illegal or stupid that would land them in jail, doing hard time in a real gulag, not some Club Med on steroids.

Nobody had birthday parties or birthday cakes. It was a luxury reserved for those in power. Occasionally, my dad would take us for our Sunday promenade and feed us cake at the bakery on the boulevard. I always felt special, daddy's little girl, because dad sacrificed his allowance to buy me a decadent piece of velvety chocolate cake. It was the ultimate luxury for me. There was ice cream in the bakery as well, but it was a rare treat. The ultimate luxury was Profiterole, an ice cream and cake concoction that only the French could make so divine.

Few people owned a refrigerator and if they did, it was very small. It was thus necessary to buy food every day. Mom, dad, and I took turns shopping, but it was mostly mom's duty and mine. We purchased vegetables in summer time at the farmer's market and had to be quite choosy as our food budget was limited. The state had green groceries but the shelves were mostly empty. Some had a few wilted leaves of spinach or potatoes with worms poking out of holes. The Colorado beetle loved potatoes! I did not know where Colorado was, but I was positive it was infested with bugs since this fast-multiplying pest had hitched a ride so many thousands of miles away, arriving in Romania on a plane and devouring our precious food.

In winter time it was more difficult to find vegetables. There were some canned fruits and vegetables, quite expensive and often inedible as cans and jars were poorly sealed. Meat was plentiful as it was easier to preserve by curing with salt or curing with lard. My grandparents had a basement that had a constant low temperature and they stored some fruits and cured meat and salty, smoked fish.

Why did we shop every day for food? Was it because we liked fresh more? Was it because we had no refrigeration? Was it because we had no cars and could only carry a day's supply of food with two armloads?

My love for bread formed when I was six years old and mom sent me to the store with three lei wadded in my sweaty palm to buy French bread. I loved French bread, and, if I was lucky, it would still be warm from the oven. I would eat half the crust by the time I made it home. It was worth the spanking I got every time for ruining the loaf for everybody else. Wheat bread was round and less expensive - we had no idea that the fiber was stripped from the white bread. We thought the communists were lucky because they could buy French bread any time they wanted while we had to eat darker bread which was harder to chew.

Grandpa spoiled me twice a year with a chocolate bar filled with raisins. Raisins - it was heaven. They were hard to come by - grapes were turned into wine, it was much more profitable than raisins. Besides, all the winos paid heavy taxes for their drinking curse.

Every family owned a couple of seltzer bottles made of heavy gauge green or blue glass. A refill center would pressurize gas and water into this bottle for a small fee. In Roman style, wine and seltzer were mixed half and half to make the wine last longer. Although a wire mesh was cupping the seltzer bottle while being filled with water and CO2, accidents happened and people would be decapitated or maimed. I thought it a heavy price to pay for some one's addiction to drinking. Children would mix seltzer water with syrup and have an instant soda. There was no such thing as Coke or Pepsi. They were introduced on the market in Romania in the early 1980s but only the privileged few had access to buy it.