We arrive in Bucharest at midday. We are only passing through; we have two options for catching a bus north to Sibiu, over the Făgăraş mountains. One option is very soon, the other gives us slightly more time. It seems simple: A taxi driver waves to us after we have found our ATM machine, and hefts our bags into his trunk. We get in, and negotiation commences.
Four hundred lei to the bus station, the driver suggests. No meters. We do the math. It comes out somewhere north of $125. This seems high. Absurd, we say. We’ll take the bus.
“It is very far. At least 40 kilometers,” the taxi diver says. We have no idea where the station is, as it was unfindable on Google maps. He might be right. Yet the rate on the door says it is only 1.9 lei (about 64 cents) per kilometer. I point this out.
“Oh, no,” He shakes his head. His mustache bristles with authority. “In town only. Two hundred lei.”
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A red station wagon screeches to a halt in the middle of the intersection. A young man leans out the driver’s window, shouting furious English-language obscenities at the top of his lungs. “You goddamn bitch, you fucking piece of fucking.… I should fucking…aaaaAAAHHHHHH…”
He pulls his head back inside, throwing the car into reverse. A minute later the car lurches forward, and the brakes squeal a second time. Again the young man leans out the window and shouts until tangling himself in his own cursing. The little audience gathered outside the coffee house laughs and claps appreciatively, and the actor turns to give them a sly smile.
Inside, the regular is delighted. “I used to see this in New Zealand. Two cars race up to a stoplight right next to each other, like this, you know?” His hands mime the cars’ sudden stop. “Guy gets out of one and the other driver, the idiot, rolls down his window. First one punches him right in the face, and then gets back in his car and drives off.”
Laughs all around. “That was a movie?” somebody asks.
“No, no, that was real.”
A shoemaker’s shop. Custom-made, fashionable leather orthopedic shoes are displayed in a row behind the glass window. The shoemaker and his partner, a young man and woman, stand relaxed in the doorway. He wears a shirt with white-and-blue horizontal stripes, giving him the look of a French sailor, or a waiter on San Francisco’s Belden Place. Her arms are folded, and she leans casually against the doorjamb, listening. They are talking to a third man, who holds a bicycle with one hand and a small notebook in the other, in which he has written the shop’s address. He gestures with the book, and then lifts one foot, nods toward his sneaker’s rubber sole. My feet are unusual, he is saying. There have never been such feet as this, such difficulties, such geological formations. Steppes, I have, crags and badlands, regrettably placed mountains. Footquakes.
It is no problem, says the shoemaker. He is barefoot, himself.
A bit of cross-blog pollination. A friend and I are doing periodic posts on things we happen to be reading. Here’s the latest, on Gyula Krúdy, a pre-WWII (and mostly pre-WWI) Hungarian writer sweet as summer berries, and deeper than he appears at first.
Gyula Krúdy: Seduction and Innocence
Stunning how completely the Iranian trials replicate their Soviet models. From Juan Cole, quoting a translation of official Iran news radio:
Asked if his current position was under the effect of his imprisonment, (former vice president Mohammad Ali) Abtahi said the situation in the prison helped him to reach a conclusion about the recent incidents. Abtahi said he had no problems and concerns in the prison and praised his “courteous and polite interrogators.” He added that his friends who have not been arrested yet share the same idea. He concluded, however they “have not the courage to express the same ideas.”
This is horrifying. More so because we have seen this before, seen generations of brilliant intellectuals and dissidents wiped not just off the planet, but out of history, out of memory. Now again.
Don’t forget the Greens.