Monday, July 24, 2006

Day Five: July 22, 2006
On The Road

I realized the other day thay my 20 year high school reunion is today. An old friend called me at home to see if I was going to be there. I didn’t even know about it. I contacted another guy who said he was going and that I wasn’t on the “Where Are They” list. Blues. I went to the one 10 years ago (holy crap, it’s been 10 years) and reconnected with some old friends. That lasted for a couple of years. It would have been nice to re-reconnect and then lose contact after another 2 years.


I wrote yesterday about Bucharest being a city in transition, trying to escape from a long history of communist rule. One thing they could do is stop calling areas of the city, “sectors.” It’s very “1984”, you know? I read something about some guy who’s the mayor of Sector One. That crappy pizza I had a few days ago? It came from a chain which has locations in Sectors 1, 2, 3 and 5. A new one coming to Sector 6. No, I don’t know why Sector 4 got shafted.

Oh, I was also informed by one of you loyal readers that the reason it makes no sense that Bucharest is the Paris of Eastern Europe is because it’s not. Budapest is the Paris of Eastern Europe. It’s hard keeping my pests straight. Thanks for the correction. Keep those cards and letters coming.

I also mentioned all of those huge buildings left over from before the revolution of 1989. As nice as those buildings are, they’re starting to get covered with billboards and corporate logos. They look like minor league baseball stadiums. I guess the country really needed the money, especially right after the fall of the Ceausescus. I wonder how long it took western-style capitalism to swoop in, offering briefcases full of money in return for a little bit of corporate branding.

Today was an off day. Wait, today was a good day. We were off today. That’s what I meant. We met in the lobby at 10 for our trip into the Transylvania section of Romania. It’s a couple of hours north of here. But first I dipped into what I thought was the free Continental breakfast. It’s entirely possible that I crashed a breakfast that was set up for some seminar. Either way, the banana bread was fantastic. I saw Robert down in the lobby. He went to the casino last night and made some friends. I’m so happy for him. We’ll have to set up some play dates. Shane is from Texas and Chris is from Atlanta. He also met some women who work in “PR.” Yeah, public relations. I’m sure. So fast forward a few hours to later on tonight. I went to the casino with Robert just to look around and Shane and Chris were there. We’re introduced. Chris is a dead ringer for an old Dairy Queen client of mine (Hillary, Melissa: he looks exactly like Canada Chris). Let me set the stage: Chris is African American. So we’re introduced and I’m staring at him with a shocked look on my face because I can’t believe that I’m here in Romania and I run into an old client of mine! He obviously doesn’t remember me so I say, “didn’t you used to work at Dairy Queen?” The answer is no. Awkward enough but Chris says something like, “I’ve never been asked that before.” I think he thinks I was saying that he must look familiar because he once served me at a Dairy Queen. I could have let it go but I lapsed into my stumbling apology and goofy laugh thing. Then Chris walks away. Smart move, Chris. It was only going to get worse from there.

Topher may have cracked the code of Bucharest radio. Besides the fact that you never hear a complete song because the DJs always break in somewhere around the middle, Topher decided that the playlist goes something like this:
1) European dance hit
2) Current US hit
3) Classic US hit (last 20 years or so)
This may not be true but for most of the trip up north, we decide that the pattern does fit 90% of the time.

Robert and Liz are thirsty so Christian the driver pulls over at a gas station/convenience store. Robert walks out with what we think is a bag of hot dog-flavored potato chips. I try some and you know what? They are hot dog-flavored. Really gross but strangely addicting. And pungent. We have to close the bag because it’s stinking up the van.

Highways don’t seem to be a big thing around here. If they are, we don’t seem to be taking them. Much of the trip north is on a one lane road. On the way up the mountains, traffic stops cold. It turns out there’s some construction up ahead and the lane is closed intermittently. So no one is moving for a bit. The only movement comes when someone darts out of line to drive up and squeeze in front of the car they were just behind. In fact, the happens evry often. It’s happens more frequently at higher speeds but the low speed cut off is strange to watch. Christian seems to enjoy it. We crawl by a place which Larissa (another chaperone) tells us is a Deer Museum. So many jokes fly about that. I mean, a deer museum? A museum dedicated just to deer? Is there a Bambi wing or something. We don’t stop because come on, why bother? Plus, they probably have a crappy gift shop.

Have you ever gotten stuck in traffic somewhere and some kid appears amongst the cars selling bottles of water or something. We just passed a guy selling stemware.

People who know me know I’m all about the sarcasm. I’m also constantly delivering some of my “funny” thoughts in a completely deadpan manner. You know what they don’t get around here? Sarcasm and deadpan humor. I really need to remember that if I hope to stop getting strange looks from Larissa.

A few days ago, I wrote about the stray dogs of Bucharest. One of the things Liz’s book tells you to do if approached by one is to mimic throwing a rock. Well we get out of the van and a dog approaches me. Sure enough, I do the mime thingg and the dog runs away. He ran in the opposite direction but I was never a very good thrower anyway.

We stopped at Castle Peles in the town of Sinaia. Or maybe we’re in Brasov. Anyway, it looks like every Bavarian jigsaw puzzle I’ve ever seen (yes, I know I used this line on a previous day’s entry). Topher took a picture of this castle which is very beautiful and very closed. Larissa was told by the guards that it’s closed because some famous people are coming. Who they are is never made clear to us. So here’s this castle which is never closed except for the day we get there. Well, it looks nice on the outside. I’ll post the picture as soon as Topher sends it to me.

Lunchtime! We stop at a Serbian restaurant. Actually, it’s a mix of Serbian and Croatian food. You know how the food at a Turkish restaurant is the same as the food at a Lebanese restaurant or any Middle Eastern restaurant? Well from what I’ve seen so far, SerboCroat food is no different from Romanian food. Meats in various combinations and textures and flavors. I really want to try something different while I’m here, including the beers. I order myself a Schlossgold. I don’t know what it is but I’m getting one. It comes in a nice, big bottle. Good, I’m thirsty. One thing it doesn’t say on the menu but says quite clearly on the label is, “Fara Alcool.” You guessed it: alcohol free. Does beer really taste that good that it’s worth drinking it without alcohol? Deifnitely not when it comes to Schlossgold. Feet taste better than this crap. So I order a Tuborg Gold. Copenhagen’s finest! I’m only days away from giving up and ordering a Coors Light or something.

Oh, I ordered the mutton sausage. When in Romania…

In what was almost another awkward moment for me, Topher took me aside and asked if I was calling our driver “Christian.” I said yeah, of course. It turns out his name is Orlando. Orlando? That’s a Romanian name? In any case, why hasn’t he said anything to me? Is he being polite? Does he think I’m an idiot? The answer is probably “yes” to both questions. I ask him about it and he says he has two names. I assume that’s a first and last name thing as opposed to a pre revolution and post revolution name. I’m telling you, he’s a nice guy but I’m keeping my eyes peeled for secret service.

The language thing hasn’t been too much of a problem. I use some Romanian words when I can (not the ones you’ve been suggesting, Doug). Most everyone here speaks English pretty well. Larissa tells us that she leanred English in 4th grade and every since the revolution, kids start learning it in kindergarten. A lot of the older people don’t speak it at all but they were never taught it. They learned Romanian and Russian.

The men’s room in this restaurant has ads on the walls for a compnay which specializes in ads for bathroom walls. The headline says, “give piss a chance.” Hmm, they don’t know sarcasm but the pun seems to be flourishing here.

So here in Sinaia, there’s a cable car which takes us 2000 meters (approx. 1.3 miles) up to the top of a mountain. Larissa comes here to ski in the winter (no, she comes here to ski in the summer). I know we’re 2000 meters up because the name of the cafeteria/bar up here is called Bar 2000. Guess what the one at 1400 meters is called.

So we change cars at 1400 meters and then make the trip to the top. Except it is so foggy that we can’t see anything. Imagine schlepping up to the top of the Empire State Building and being fogged in. I could have gotten the same effect if I stood in from of an open window and closed my eyes.

Oh, credit cards are a relatively new thing here. Everything around here is cash only. I may have to rethink my “mooch off of Topher” strategy. I wonder if Liz has any dough…

So it’s time to head into Bram to see Dracula’s castle. We’ll have to hurry to get there before it closes at 6. According to Liz’s trusty guide book, the place everyone identifies as Dracula’s castle actually has very little to do with him. Vlad the Impaler may have battled here once but that’s about it. I’m starting to believe that this could be one of the more disappointing things I’ll be doing. But how can you come to Transylvania and not see Dracula’s castle?

It’s 12 ron (about $4) per person to get in. We have to walk up a steep, slippery path (it rained a bit). Some of our group are complaining but what do you expect from a guy who was a master of torture?

Back down to the ground now. Vlad the Impaler? How about Vlad the Scam Artist? This was so lame. When we walked in, we were greeted by a basket filled with these dirty slippers were were supposed to slip on over our shoes. Liz is wearing flip flops and is very upset by the idea of dipping into this basket of fungus. And now the jokes begin. Vlad the Pastry Chef. Vlad the Ikea Represntative. We saw a vacuum cleaner and Robert quipped, “Vlad the Inhaler.” I vant to suck your dust! Vlad the Neatnik.

So this was extremely disappointing. It may not be the actual Dracula castle but everyone thinks it is. Play some eerie music. Have some fun with it. Is that too much to ask? Apparently so.

Robert’s been hearing a lot about Palinka. It’s supposedly Romania’s national drink. A very strong plum brandy. He’s been looking for it but no luck yet. But wait, here’s a guy selling some. It’s a yellowish liquid. I know this because the guy selling it was doing so out of some emptied water bottles. He offers Robert a taste from the screw cap on one of the bottles. There’s no way he was the first to sip out of that cap. This tiny little amount really knocked him back. He said it burned going down but got better. I think we would have bought some if it didn’t seem that the guy had made it and bottled it himself.

On the way back now. Let me tell you about the stupidity of the Tater Tot Incident. We need some tater tots for one of the commercials being shot. We were going to have someone bring a bag with them from the US. But the production company insists that can either find some here or make some themselves. Okay, go for it. The Topher’s phone rings. Here’s Topher’s side of the conversation:

"We want cylinder shapes. Wait, what? Uh, who approved that? We never had a meeting about it. But Robert said we wanted cylinders."

Apparently, the production made flatter, longer ones. Those are called hash browns!!!! And you thought advertising wasn’t glamorous. By now, Robert must have a huge headache from all the eye rolling he’s had to do.

Dinner in the hotel tonight. Due to some poor communication, I sat in the restaurant for 30 minutes before Robert showed up. It turns out that he and Liz were waiting those 30 minutes for me in the other restaurant. Sigh, it never ends. I was sitting at the table, all by myself, trying to look a little less lonely or pathetic. The waitress keeps offering me something to drink.

We thought tomorrow was another down day and Liz and I were going to wander through Bucharest. Then Topher called and told me to meet in the lobby at 6:45 for the tech scout. For those of you not blessed with a job in advertising, a “tech scout” is when we go to all of the locations and determine exactly where we’ll be shooting. We look though lenses, discuss action, etc. So I’m out of here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Please. Any self-respecting middle-easterner knows that the food at a Turkish restaurant is so NOT the same as the food at a Lebanese restaurant which is so NOT the same as any Middle Eastern restaurant.