Romanian Summer Diary 6

Saturday 4th August ­ ­– Things I have seen in Romania ­

A cow grazing by a brand new glass-plate office suite
A drunk old man falling into the gate to his house while trying to open it
A 1970s Romanian-built Renault with BMW badges
A funeral parlour blaring out rap music
A taxi firm called Trans Prod
A 17th century church glazed with UPVC windows
A crazily leaning shack proclaiming itself the Hotel Lido
A pig on a balcony on the block of flats opposite
A gyspy woman walking along a smart shopping street while breast-feeding
In time-forgotten villages, gleaming cars with Italian plates outside the houses
A hearse with “FUN” on its number plate
A tree in a beauty spot with beer cans stuck up its branches – Christmas come early?
A company called Semi-Daniel – a case of split personality?
A herd of sheep on a train
A horse and cart in a supermarket car park
A beggar with an Armani T-shirt
A seller of Dolce & Banana watches
In the market Crowds of old women weeping at the death of the Romanian Orthodox Patriarch

All of these would be ample opportunity for any photographer or journalist. They would send back a report peppered with “local colour”, confident that they have got to the heart of the place. Some, more enlightened, might skirt away from the really obvious ones – the cow, for example, reflected in the plate-glass window – dismissing them as clichés. And certainly the list is full of such clichés, almost all of them boiling down to contrast: between old and new, communist and capitalist, Orient and Occident.

Romania as a country is not afraid of clichés. We get on with it, the typical shrug of the shoulders and benevolent nod of the head accompanying us. Perhaps in this crazed sunshine, there are some Western niceties which just don’t apply.

The budding teachers at the English school are learning…

Tuesday 15th August The Brits have left and another year will run its course of change before the next summer school. Each year we take the volunteers to the Black sea coast for a few days, and then to Bucharest, before the tearful journey to the airport. We ask ourselves, and so do they, whether what they have seen is the true face of Romania. Among this year’s highlights there have been desperate phonecalls for a comfort stop on the way to Constantza, trunks lost whilst skinny dipping and midnight rowing on Herastrau lake in Bucharest. Occasionally we get returning volunteers: I remember this, is so and so still there, is that still going, the kid I taught then has gone to university. I, too, am like that now – in my native country a visitor, with a bagful of memories and apprehensive of new experiences every year, relieved to go back home and eager to return the next summer. Invariably.

I am yet to find how much of the attraction in all this lies in the security of the past and how much in the challenge of the new. All in a summer’s teaching job.