A right pig’s ear of a photo

We went to the fruit and vegetable market at Piata Obor on Saturday as part of a renewed family drive to ensure we buy as much local (as in Romanian) produce as possible. Besides buying some fabulous potatoes (one leu a kilo), apples, parsnips, parsley, tomatoes, pears and some asparagus from, ahem, Peru, we also bought some pork from one of the many butchers in the main hala. Like the fruit and veg at Obor, the pork is almost half the price of what you pay in the supermarkets, and tastes infinitely better.

Anyway, while walking around we couldn’t help noticing a few more unusual treats for sale, from intestines and stomachs to pigs’ ears, a delicacy we just couldn’t help immortalising with a photo:

Piata Obor Bucharest Pigs Ears

And that was when the trouble started.

We are well aware that a certain American photographer who regularly comments on these pages often gets himself into all sorts of scrapes when trying to take photos in Bucharest in crowded places like markets. Yet until yesterday we had never had any problems (the Bucharest metro excepted). We try to be as discrete as possible, and avoid taking photos where we know such things are frowned upon (supermarkets, malls). Yet a market is a public space, and taking photos should not be an issue. At Obor on Saturday, it was.

No sooner had we taken the photo of the pigs’ ears than we were set upon by almost all the staff working at the butcher’s in question, and the one next to it. ‘He’s taking photos! He’s taking photos!’ they shouted, summoning the security guards. We played the dumb tourist and quickly walked away.

We can only assume that the traders in question are on the dodge and their staff illegally employed. Why else would they object to a photo being taken of their produce?

Answers on the usual postcard please.

Two Covers

Two new editions of our lovely In Your Pocket guides were published last week, one in Bucharest and one in Brasov.

They both have rather smashing covers:




Brits living abroad want to be able to choose not to vote

The trials and tribulations of the tens of thousands of Romanians who tried and, in many cases, failed to vote in last month’s presidential election have been well documented over the past couple of weeks. As we claimed in the immediate aftermath of the vote, even those who didn’t manage to cast a ballot had an impact on the election: many Romanians at home who may otherwise not have voted were compelled to do so by the pictures of their compatriots standing in line for hours in all weathers. (That and Victor Ponta being a total shit in preventing Romanians abroad from voting. You may, by the way, have noticed that Ponta yesterday announced he was chopping the anti-corruption agency’s budget by a third: that agency is the DNA, the one which has been putting the country’s biggest crooks – many of whom are members of Ponta’s PSD – behind bars).

Such goings on have meant that the country’s president-in-waiting, Klaus Iohannis, has had little choice but to make electoral reform one of his main priorities. That parliament voted against postal voting this week shows how much of a battle he faces to push such reforms through.

Coincidentally, there is currently a growing movement in the UK to reform how Brits living abroad vote. We have described before how Britain does it, so will not repeat ourselves, except to say that the UK diaspora votes either by post or by proxy, negating the need to vote at an embassy or consulate. This is the bit the UK gets right. Where it goes wrong is the rather unfair rule which limits the voting rights of non-residents to just 15 years. Bucharest Life for example – despite still holding a UK passport – does not now get a vote in any UK election.

It is the 15 year rule that campaigners are trying to change. It has the broad support of all the major political parties, except Labour. This is because Brits living abroad are by and large pensioners, who overwhelmingly vote Conservative. Labour by contrast want to implement a different kind of electoral reform and hand 16-year-olds the vote.

Ironically, the EU may come to the Tories aid: the EU is a champion of diaspora voting rights. How delicious it would be if the Tories were forced to change their anti-EU message for fear of alienating millions of voters living in… the EU.

It is unlikely that any reforms will be implemented in time for the UK’s next general election in May (which hardly bothers us: there is nobody to vote for) but we would at least like to have the option of voting. As Romanians know all too well, there is a difference between choosing to not vote, and simply not being able to.

So it’s a fountain…

Yep. According to the lads at Rezistenta Urbana, the Great Wall of Unirii is a fountain.

So that’s OK then.

In related news (also courtesy the increasingly indispensable Rezistenta), the beloved mayor of the Peoples’ Republic of Sector 3 and the man responsible for the Great Wall, Robert Negoita, has apparently been claiming – in all seriousness – that Bulevardul Unirii now looks better than the Champs Elysee.

We will leave it up to you to decide if he is right.

Meantime, here are some photos we took of the Great Wall yesterday. You will note that a few local residents have made their thoughts known…





Why Transylvania matters

Today, December 1st, is Romania’s national day. It marks the day in 1918 when Transylvania joined Wallachia and Moldavia to form (more or less) the Romania we know and – for all its many, many, faults – love today.

Now, for anyone who may wonder why December 1st remains such a big deal, we suggest taking a look at the map below, which shows the recent presidential election results to comuna (borough) level. Blue denotes those comune which voted for the liberal Klaus Iohannis, red for the ruling PSD’s Victor Ponta:

Map courtesy hotnews.ro. Click for the interactive version

Map courtesy hotnews.ro. Click for the interactive version

While there are now pockets of civilisation in both Moldavia and Wallachia, as well as along the coast in Dobrogea (always the most liberal part of the country‎), if you look at the map for more than a few seconds you really do begin to wonder what kind of a place Romania would be without Transylvania. (In fact, we suggest you don’t think too much: it’s far too scary. The word ‘fuedal’ – amongst others – springs to mind).

As one rather astute comment on an earlier post put it, the problem is that vast numbers of people in the PSD heartlands, in northern Moldavia and in Teleorman, Giurgiu, Dambovita and Ialomita have yet to have their revolution. Nobody died on the streets of Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej (Onesti) trying to get rid of Nicolae Ceausescu. These things matter.

So however much a day like today – complete with the obligatory Cold War-style pompous military parade – might try and paper over the cracks, the truth is that 96 years on from unification, Romania ‎remains a deeply divided country, and will remain so until those who still look east for inspiration – as though the enlightenment never happened – turn their heads towards the west and abandon the PSD.

We increasingly believe that they will not have to wait until the scheduled parliamentary elections of 2016 to do so: with the PSD tearing itself apart and the UDMR having jumped ship the government will fall sooner rather than later (and if hasn’t fallen by March-April time, we expect to see people on the streets. The deliberate attempts to prevent people from voting for Iohannis in the presidential election will not be easily forgotten. We do not expect to see anyone on the streets in Teleorman, however).

Anyway, to end, here’s our list – from a couple of years ago – of Five Brilliantly Simple Things We Love About Romania. Enjoy them all.

*Note that if for some bizarre reason you actually want to attend the military parade (soldier boys, tanks and other miscellaneous military hardware) it is this year taking place in front of (perhaps fittingly) Casa Poporului, as Bucharest City Council have been incapable of completing the renovation of the Arc de Triumf in time.‎ It starts at 11am.