Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Year Comes to a Close

I won't be in Romania for Christmas or for New Year's Eve, so this will be last post written from Romania for 2011.  I'd have really liked to experience a Romanian Christmas, but I would miss my family and my boyfriend, Nate, way too much to stay away from the United States.  Since most of my friends in Constanta are returning to their respective home countries for Christmas, I might have found myself mildly bored anyways.  So, I'll be returning to the US on Thursday evening.  I'll take two flights: Bucuresti to London and then London to Boston.  It looks like a short little trip when you look at the departure and arrival times, but then you throw in the seven hour time difference and car travel on both ends and suddenly I'm travelling for about 22 hours!  Lucky for me, my friend Atilla is flying out of Bucuresti for Istanbul the same day, so I get to carpool to the airport in Bucuresti, rather than taking a series of buses or trains.  Woohoo!

Giorgos, who has, in fact, eaten pasta before.
Now, last time I posted I made mention of an upcoming pasta party.  I also mentioned that it was inspired by my friend Giorgos's inexperience with that delicious food.  Well it turns out that Giorgos has, in fact, eaten pasta before.  He has had little experience with noodles and apparently does not think that anything eaten by Italians counts, so a different use of terminology made our original goal of the pasta party a moot point.  Oh well!  Fortunately, just about everyone in the whole world who ever lived and did not have an allergy or sensitivity to gluten or wheat or normal food in general (*cough* LJ, *cough*) loves pasta.  So, everyone was still happy to come to our pasta party.
The ingredients for our pasta party
Some of the prepared food (but not all!)

We may have gone overboard.  I say may because the surplus of pasta we had actually helped to contribute to the overall vibe of the party, which was a success, so perhaps if we had merely made an appropriate amount of pasta the pasta party would not have been quite so fun...  Or I could just be making excuses...

Plenty of pasta
Based on this photo, I estimate that we purchased 4.3 kilograms (9.5 pounds) of pasta...for 7 guests.  Perhaps more than a pound of pasta per guest was more than we needed, but we really wanted to have a wide variety of pasta available.  We ended up only cooking about 3 kg of it... well, maybe it was more like 4 kg after you add in the homemade ravioli, which was pretty dense.  At any rate, everyone ate to his heart's content and then I continued to eat nothing but pasta ever since, and I was joined by people for leftovers, who consumed four meals of pasta.  Somehow I couldn't persuade the strapping young men in attendance to bring home bucket loads of the stuff.

I did not cook on my own, though.  I was assisted throughout the entire process by the magnificent, irreplaceable, Josephin.  And after a few hours, we were joined by my perfect counter-part, Hates-to-cook-but-loves-to-clean Angelina.

Josi gets creatively crafty

Josi was also the brain behind our decorations for the evening.  Besides making pasta and pasta sauce, we also tried to have a flag for each nationality present.  So, we bought flag toothpicks, but this set didn't have Bulgaria, Greece, Turkey, or Russia, so there was a problem.  We decided to hack apart the flags of other countries to create flags for our guests.  This is where I should mention that I have no office or craft materials at my apartment.  I had: a blue pen, a black pen, paper that was printed on one side, candles, and sewing scissors.  With these materials, Josi created a Bulgarian flag and a Greek flag.  We considered making a Turkish flag, but the whole crescent moon and star thing was complicated, and we just ran out of time and got lazy for the Russian flag...  At any rate, considering the materials available, particularly that we were using melted candles as an adhesive, we did spectacularly.

The Greek flag, before we sealed it shut with wax and before we trimmed off the extra stripes on the bottom.

I won't go into painstaking details about the food present.  Suffice to say there was pasta in lots of shapes, and there were several varieties of sauces.

Daka and Josi just couldn't wait to try the tortellini.

I fear I've gotten off track.  I should have told you the attendees of this pasta party several paragraphs ago.  The responsible writer in me knows I should just insert may cursor in the text somewhere and remedy this problem, but an unidentified, lazy part of me would rather explain all this to you and then tell you now.  Clearly that lazy bit of me won out.  At any rate, in alphabetical order by ethnic nationality: Daka of Bulgaria, Josi of Germany, Achilleas of Greece, Giorgos the Macedonian from Greece, Angelina the Russian-Tatar Romanian who was born in Uzbekistan, Atilla the Turk, and Katelyn from the United States.  No two ethnicities were duplicated at our party.  Yay!
Our lovely guests

After dinner we played Apples to Apples.  Somehow Giorgos won.  (If I just leave that without explanation it sounds a bit mean.  Giorgos, God bless him, has the worst English skills of the bunch of us.  Apples to Apples is basically a vocabulary game.  He won rounds several times without even knowing the meaning of the word or phrase he was playing.  And he won the entire game.)

Other things of note at our pasta party: Daka brought homemade ketchup from his grandmother in Bulgaria.  It was my first time trying homemade ketchup.  It was yummy and has some sort of unidentified (by me) ingredient that tastes like Christmas.  I'm hooked.

Ketchup from Daka's grandmother.  I didn't snap a photo until I'd  already finished half the bottle.
On Saturday I went ice skating with a group of kids and trainers from Money Sense.  It has been four years since I last went ice skating, and I expected to be dreadful.  Far from it, after four laps or so, I no longer had to touch the wall at all!  This was truly a miracle to me, but I went on babbling about how grateful I was to my grandmother, since I was 1/4 French Canadian, and surely this was the reason I could stay upright on ice skates.  I am proud to say that I only fell once, and it was all Emil's fault!  One of my Money Sense students fell on the ice and I had no choice but to stumble to a hands-and-knees stop or to tragically skate over his fingers.  Sure, a good skater could have avoided the fingers without falling, but I was willing to sacrifice myself to save Emil's fingers....I'm just that heroic.

The Money Sense gang who came to ice skating.  To find me, look for my hat.
Such a pretty hair pin!
That evening Angelina gave Josi and I our Christmas presents.  She did such a great job picking them out.  My favorite gift is the amazingly beautiful hair pin she gave me.  It is from Russia and is carved from birch.  It is just gorgeous!  She also did her own translations of a Russian zodiac for me and Josi.  Now I'm not a believer in astrology and I'm not going to make any of my decisions based on anything I hear from astrology, but it's a little uncanny how accurate it was about my personality and about Josi's personality.  It more or less described our personalities to a T.

On Sunday I had dinner with Mihaela, my landlord, and her niece, Flori, and Flori's boyfriend, Cornel.  (I've mentioned them before in my earlier posts.)  We helped Mihaela to put up her tree and to decorate it.  Flori and Cornel also gave me a snowman mug and a big bar of chocolate for Christmas, and I took some special requests for souvenirs from the US.

Flori and the Christmas tree, pom de cracuin
On Monday I had a Christmas party with some of my students from the university.  Five students came.  The attendance was disappointing, but the turnout by food was exceptional.  There were several bags of chips, several platters of amazing pastries, four bottles of soda, and I brought crepes.  We listened to a bit of Christmas music and we watched Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Santa Claus is Coming to Town.  It was fun, but it would have been nicer if more students had come.
At the Christmas party.

Tomorrow is my last full day in Constanta before I leave for two weeks, so I have a lot to do.  I have to teach class, buy some last minutes gifts, and go to the closing event for Money Sense.  Then I hope to see Angelina one last time before I go.  To make things a little less stressful tomorrow, I have to pack and to clean my mortifingly dirty apartment tonight.  But I don't want to, so I am blogging instead...

Well I've procrastinated enough, so it's time to get to work.  Perhaps I will post something from the states, otherwise, see you all next year!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Christmastime is Here!

"Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat!"

Some of my Money Sense students had me pose in this Santa hat they brought.
I have never felt so multicultural.  OK, not myself, per se, but my life in general.  I am making more friends every day!  On Saturday night, Josi, Angelina, Atila (Angelina's boyfriend), and I spent the evening with Josi's neighbor, Achilleas, and his friend Giorgos.  Now in the course of the night, it was revealed that Giorgos has never eaten pasta!  He had only even tasted it once (twice after I had him try the rice noodles I ordered)!  Now Josi--who buys two or three kilos of pasta every time she goes to the store--and I decided hat this is a great travesty.  We then decided to remedy Giorgos's affliction and we have planned a pasta party so that he can sample different varieties of pasta and sauces.  If everything goes as planned, representatives of the following countries will be in attendance: the United States, Germany, Russia, Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria, France, and Romania--that's eight nationalities among nine guests (Achilleas and Giorgos are both Greek)!  It should be a fun night and a nice send off before Christmas, when we will part for two or three weeks.

Having dinner, desserts, and drinks at the Irish Pub

Have I mentioned how tall Romanians are?

I can't believe I forgot to mention it in my last blog post, but on December 2nd, I got my residency permit to continue to stay in Romania for more than 90 days.  I'd love to show it you, but I am sure it would be an awful idea to post a photo of my ID card online...  Having my residency permit could be extremely helpful when I return from the US to Romania after Christmas, since the airlines sometimes won't let you on to the plane if your return ticket is scheduled for a date in more than 90 days, unless you have a residency card.  I just squeaked by with 87 days from my entry to exit of Romania for this leg of my stay, so I didn't have any troubles, but other ETAs had some problems and were nearly turned away from their flights.
The city hall wishes you a Happy New Year!

Now from the title of the post, I am sure you have been expecting to hear about Christmas here and are starting to despair, thinking I have strayed away from the most heartwarming holiday season.  Fear not!  Constanta is all aglow with lights, and I paid a visit to the Christmas piata.  What is so Christmas-y about this piata?  Well...not all that much, but there were gingerbread cookies!  Now, it may not have been very strong in its Christmas theme, but it had a nice variety that is missing from the other ordinary piatas.  In fact, there were no fruit or vegetable sellers.  Vendors sold meats, cheeses, candies, cookies, apple cider, tuica, palinca, carved wooden wares, ceramics, hats, scarves, preserves, and homeopathic remedies.  I bought an amazing hat for myself.  It is super fun and warm, and I love it!  After seeing it, Achilleas and Giorgos decided they needed hats just like mine for themselves, so yesterday they each bought one, in gray.
My new hat!

The Chrismas piata, at Casa de Cultura
Now, continuing on the subject of Christmas, I was hard at work...er...spending the earnings of my work...buying Christmas presents for folks back home.  I got a gift for my parents that I am really excited about, but can't mention because it will ruin the surprise, but I'd just like to say it is great, and now I want to buy more for other people.  I did a lot of this Christmas shopping near and at one of the biggest piatas in the city, Tomis III.  While I was there, I stopped in a dairy and bought, among other things, some raw milk.  Today I turned some of it into hot chocolate, and it sure was delicious!

Raw milk
Also on the topic of Christmas, Josi and I were hunting for Christmas presents at one of the malls when we kept running into green-shirted middle schoolers with plates of cookies.  We were very confused about it all, and then we got to the mall's top floor.  It was covered with costumed children, masquerading as Santas, Christmas trees, snowmen, and other Christmas-y or wintery disguises.  We had stumbled upon a costume contest and craft fair.  There were also many tables where ladies were selling their handicrafts.  If I hadn't spent so much money already earlier that day, I might have gone hog-wild, but I thought of all the nice things I had bought and restrained myself.  As it turned out, those middle schoolers were part of some sort of eco group that promoted sustainability and something to do with raising money for housing for the elderly (although I am basing this on the broken English of a 12 year-old, and the connection between the two must have been lost in translation).

I'm not sure if she's supposed to be a sugarplum fairy or a snowflake, but this little girl sure is cute in her costume!

On a completely unrelated note: Can you tell college students live here?  (A view of a dorm window)

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Pudding, Scented Toilet Paper, and Cranberries

Chocolate pudding.  In the US, the identity of chocolate pudding seemed so straightforward and clear to me, but now that I live in Romania, I am met with confusion surrounding this delicious, viscous goop.  The first problem is that chocolate pudding sometimes masquerades as other foods.  For example, if you serve chocolate pudding hot, it is "ciocolata calda," or hot chocolate.  Of course, what we call hot chocolate or hot cocoa goes by this very same name.  Therefore I was unpleasantly surprised at one restaurant when the ciocolata calda I ordered was in fact warm, thick pudding that could not be drank but was nonetheless served in a mug.  Similarly, I bought a packet of mix for chocolate "ingetata," ice cream.  Today I made it, following all the directions correctly.  When I tasted it, I was once again unpleasantly surprised, for this "ice cream" was just frozen chocolate pudding.  And again, at the store I bought some sort of prepackaged dessert that was advertised as some sort of mousse.  When I tried it....yep, it was chocolate pudding...with small chocolate lumps.

Toilet Paper.  I have observed that Romanians like scented toilet paper.  I can't say for sure, but I'm pretty sure this is a Europe-wide sensation, based on the multi-lingual packaging of the TP.  Since I always considered scented TP to be a novelty item, I was delighted to see so many different colors and scents of the stuff available in the stores here.  There are periwinkle-colored, lavender-scented rolls and orange-colored, peach scented rolls, and last week at the store I stumbled upon seasonal scents.  I discovered and bought a pack of "winter perfume" toilet paper.  It's an unexciting white color, but it smells of oranges and cinnamon and makes my bathroom smell pretty.

My winter toilet paper

Cranberries.  These are apparently an exotic fruit in Romania.  Not only is it ridiculously difficult to find fresh cranberries, most Romanians I ask have never eaten a cranberry before, except possibly in juice form.  This has been devastating to me.  When Thanksgiving rolled around, I was able to more or less recreate all my favorite foods, except cranberry sauce.  Ever since, I have been scouring the city for this evasive berry, but to no avail!  The closest I got was an old man at the piata (farmer's market) who told me he has some at home and would bring them the next day.  Well, I returned the next day, asked about the cranberries, and I got the same story; he had some at home and would bring them tomorrow.  Not wanting to eternally repeat the process, I ended up buying what they told me was a compote containing cranberries, but I think it must have something else mixed in too, because it has a bit of a prune-y taste to it.  I haven't given up hope of finding cranberries, but until then, I'll slather my next chicken meal with his bizarre compote and see if I can convince myself it's cranberry sauce.

What I've been up to:
Last Thursday was Romania's National Day of Unification.  December 1, 1918 marked the unification of Transylvania with the rest Romania, completing the country.  The main boulevards of Constanta were decked out in Romanian flags and the university was closed down, but that was the extent of celebration of the holiday.  Actually, that's not completely true.  I did spend my evening at a Turkish friend's apartment, eating Turkish kebab and then playing Apples to Apples with a crowd mostly consisting of Romanians.  So, I went to a party, but it had little to do with Romanian nationalism.  

Meat at the Turkish butcher.

And now it is cooked, perhaps too much.
On Friday I went out to a karaoke night with students and trainers from Money Sense.  We had lots of fun!

Choosing a song at karaoke.

 That night, the hard work of some city workers was made manifest when the snowflakes lights all lit the main boulevard in Constanta.
Bulevardul Tomis all decked out for Christmas
 I've continued to have lots of fun at Money Sense.  Sometimes we aren't always on task...
Doing the Romanian penguin dance.