Back in the USSR
|You don't know how lucky you are, boy...
here I am in Chisinau (KEESH ee now), capital of Moldova, not to be confused with Moldovadere, a well-known New Jersey refrigerator cleaning firm. Chisinau (literally, "land of no teeth")is a glum place. No one smiles here. Yes, I can say that about all 4.4 million people, with the kind of absolute confidence that comes from being a career ignoramus.
The city has wide streets full of maples with enormous leaves which are beginning to fall. People here pick them up and use them as blankets. Not that it's cold here. But somewhere during the 14 (not 12) hour train ride from Bucharest I seem to have misplaced my testicles. No, no, it's fine. I don't need help. I'll find them. But thank you.
There are several kinds of furry round hats to be seen on the denizens of the city, many worn by officers in various uniforms who seem to be keeping a keen eye on the locals. Perhaps they're on the look-out for rogue Transdniestrians (say that five times, quickly). Tomorrow if all goes well I'm going to go even further into the Soviet past into the non-country of Transdniester and its quasi-capital, Tiraspol, a suburb of Interpol, which is the kind of town where everyone knows your name...really.
I've already sampled many of the local attractions, beginning with the charmingly Moldovan Andy's Pizza. Beer and a pizza for 2 and a half bucks. My kind of town! The first indication that Chisinau might be more like Canada than I'd first thought was in reading Lonely Planet on the train and finding out that the most revered restaurant goes by the name of The Beer House. That sounds so Canadian, doesn't it? Where do you buy your beer, Ontariariarioan? "Why, at the Beer Store." "You will like my country, Ontariariarioan. Here is Beer House."
It gets better. The local brew is called "Chisinau". There's creative advertising for you. A young Moldovan can go to The Beer House and get snockered on Chisinau, and never for a moment lose track of where he or she is or what they're drinking. I don't think this concept would work in Canada, though. I mean, we have "Canadian", which masquerades as a beer, but naming a beer after a city? "What're you having, Pokey?" "Why, I'm having a Toronto, Doug, just like I always do." That would be a big seller. Which is not to say that Chisinau lacks class. Just this afternoon I was at a fancy local cafe, getting ignored by the kind of louche, slouchy literature/theatre student posing as a server that these places are renowned for. The cafe's name? "Coffee Beans". Of course.
You can tell there isn't a lot of money coursing through the gutters of Chisinau. There are a lot of casinos and tacky fast food joints. In places it looks a bit like Niagara Falls, except with monumental socialist architecture. My hotel is in this grand tradition, seventeen floors of scowling maids and coughing, cheap-suited guys with bad hair. The lobby is so dark spies wouldn't even have to try to hide. It's called the Hotel National. Of course.
Oh, I saw "Borat" in Bucharest yesterday. I was embarrassed that I laughed. I mean, talk about taking some cheap shots at easy targets. As a social-democrat-bleeding-heart type, I was actually embarrassed for the various evangelicals, rodeo guys, dour feminists and frat boys this guy humiliated. This guy ain't the next Lenny Bruce. He's the next schoolyard smart-mouth laughing at the earnest kids trying to do their best.
It didn't help that the village scenes were filmed in Romania. I'd say don't see this film, but then I'd be reactionary. See it and decide for yourself, and then send an email to somebody.
As for me...the carousel is now well and truly off its axis, wheeling across the fairground lot, scattering women and squashing small, loud children. Seven cities in the next two and a half weeks. Stay with me if you will. I'm always glad of the company!