Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Back To The Mountains

Day Thirteen: July 30, 2006

Okay, I had a major freak out moment this morning. You know when you go away sometimes and you wake up and it takes you a moment to remember that you’re not at home? That usually happens in the first couple of days of a trip. I’m on day 13. Let me back up. Last night, a bunch of us went to the bar at the hotel and had some drinks. I was exhausted and had one, maybe two drinks. And I was dozing off at the table, which, with this group of people, would never go unnoticed. Thankfully, Robert noticed and told me to go upstairs. Which I did. So I remember going upstairs. I remember plugging in my computer. I vaguely remember taking off some of my clothes. And that’s it.

Let me let you in on part of my bedtime routine. Relax; this isn’t going to get gross or anything. When I remove my contact lenses, I put on my glasses. And all of this takes place in the bathroom. Always. Because that’s where the saline is. And my glasses. And a mirror. And when I wake up, my glasses or right there next to me, within reach anyway (I must remember to call Lasik). Then I go into the bathroom, take off the glasses and put in the lenses. Pretty simple. I’ve been doing some variation of this routine since I started wearing lenses in 1984.

Well morning comes. I wake up a little later than usual because we have a late call today. I put on my glasses, pad off to the bathroom, take a shower, etc. etc. etc. And it’s almost time to go so I go back into the bathroom to put in my lenses. I have just enough saline left for one night. Amazing timing. So I take off my glasses and…

…the contact lens case is empty. In fact, it hasn’t been used. It’s laid out on a towel just the way housekeeping left it. So where are my lenses? Still in my eyes? No. Even if they were, I had my glasses on the nightstand. That implies that at some point, I took out my lenses and put on my glasses. Maybe my lenses got stuck behind my eyes. That’s happened before, but never with both lenses. And again, why would I have my glasses on?

I’m totally creeped out. I explain all of this to Liz and Sarah, the first people I see in the lobby. They can’t figure it out. I explain it to Robert. He can’t figure it out, though he does try. So I’m stuck with my glasses with the broken nosepiece until I get home. Fortunately, that’s almost here.

Okay, back to reality. I’ve been trying to use Romanian words or phrases wherever I can. Besides the fact that it’s interesting, it just seems polite, you know? I mean they all speak English (most of them, anyway). I should at least make an effort. People seem to appreciate it, including the crewmembers who made a big display of bowing to me and “offering respect” when I said “buna sera” (good evening) as I was leaving one night. This backfired this morning when I brought laundry down to the front desk. I said “buna diminatsa” (good morning). The lady at the desk answered me in Romanian. And she asked me lots of questions in Romanian. And all I could do was stare at her and hold up two bags of dirty laundry. Then she asked of I was Romanian. Has my accent gotten so good that people thing I’m Romanian? Or is the woman just an idiot? I’m also finally remembering that it’s “buna diminatsa.” For a few days, I was saying “buna diminantsia” which, Christian/Orlando tells me, means “dementia.” So I’ve been walking around the set saying “good crazy” to everyone.

I’ve also decided to take part of the day off. We’re doing Twister Dance today and that’s Robert and Liz’s project. They’re both here so there’s no reason to hang around. Stephanie’s going up to the mountains and doesn’t want to be the only English-speaking person in the car. So I decide to tag along. I ask Robert if it’s okay and he says, “Yeah, do what you want.” Huh? What does that mean? Is that a yes or is that a “sure, go ahead, take a day off when everyone else is working”? Either way, I end up going with Stephanie. I’m too freaked out about the lenses thing to worry.

Today’s driver is………….Lawrence! He’s a good guy with a decent sense of humor. His English is pretty good, although he doesn’t think so. So he points the car north and we’re on our way.

In the 2 weeks I’ve been here, it’s rained twice: the first day I went up to the mountains and now today. At least we can forget the gondola ride into the fog this time.

When we get up into the Carpathian Mountains, we see locals milling about, trying to sell cups of raspberries. The one that has approached us is really adamant and tenacious and unfortunately, the only English word he knows is “please.” Over and over…

We’re heading back to the castle that was closed when I was here a few days ago: Castle Peles (Peh Lesh), up in the town of Brasov (Brashov) or near the town of Brasov is very beautiful and was supposedly closed because some celebrities were coming through. Well the reason we never found out who those celebrities were was because there were none. Lawrence said he heard on the radio that there was a bomb threat. Now that’s an interesting story!

We pay our 12 lei and walk through the courtyard to the entrance. There’s a sign that tells us to ring the bell and then wait for someone to come. Stephanie thinks that’s weird but think about it: this castle is someone’s house. People don’t just come over and walk through. They have to wait for me to answer the door and let them in. Of course, I don’t charge people 12 lei to come into my house. Maybe I should start.

We walk in and right there in the front is a basket of those nasty slippers we saw at Dracula’s castle. But this place is much nicer so it seems worthwhile to wear them. Poor Stephanie is wearing flip-flops. It’s Liz all over again. Stephanie takes a picture of her feet. I take her camera and get a picture of the nasty basket. And I get yelled at for disobeying the “no photography” rule.

No pictures allowed but I will take notes for all of you. Or maybe I’ll look on the Internet. Our guide has some kind of speech impediment. There’s the Romanian accent and then the accent you get when you stuff marbles into your mouth.

Okay, we’re in. So Castle Peles was started in 1875 and finished in 1883. Already I’m surprised. I think of castles as old, dark, medieval places. This castle looks like a really nice house. And for 1883, it had a lot of modern amenities such as running water, electricity and central vac. Huh? Central vac? I had no idea that concept went back that far. Stephanie’s never even heard of it. Those crafty Romanians. Or Austrians. The castle was built by Austrians. The tour guide keeps pointing out where all the outlets are for the hoses. She seems very proud.

There are sections of the castle that were completely renovated or restored from 1975–1990 under Ceausescu. I keep hearing so many good things about him. Propaganda?

Also interesting: the fireplaces are decorative. They’re just as opulent as the rest of the castle but they have vents in them for the heating system. So when you stand in front of the fireplace, you still get warm, fire or no fire. There are a few spiral staircases as well bur they’re also decorative. What the hell? Is this a castle or a fun house?

Quiz time!!! Okay, we’re in the weapons room. There are inspirational quotes on the ceiling. One of them reads, “Nihi Sine Deo!!” What does this mean? Anyone? Buzz in, please. Times up! It’s “nothing without G-d.” Come on people, read a book.

There’s a fat guy in our group making all sorts of stupid comments. You know this guy. He’s on every tour. He thinks he’s a riot but he’s jokes fall flat. The usual stupid tourist comments. He’s making my usual stupid tourist comments seems unfunny.

Funny stuff: audiences with the king were held in his study. All participants were made to stand at all times. This not only ensured respect. It also ensured that no audience would last longer than around 10 minutes. This guy was brilliant. Way ahead of his time.

One wall of the library is fake. It hides a secret staircase, which leads upstairs. Well it’s not a secret anymore! I’m telling all of you!! I wonder: if people saw the king go in the room but never some out, wouldn’t they have to figure on a trap door or something? Maybe not. Maybe one of the reasons King Carol (other kings made fun of his girlie name) got to be king was because he was surrounded by a lot of really dumb people.

I still can’t understand this guide. Did she just say, “a mouse for eating”? Oh! “A mouth for heating.”

In the music room, there are three individual paintings representing the seasons. “But Michael” you say. “There are four seasons.” Right you are. But this didn’t matter to the royal couple. The king and queen wintered in Bucharest so they didn’t have a winter scene painted. See, now that’s just lazy.

One cool thing is these strategically placed mirrors. They’re hung on the wall right near any of the ceiling paintings so if you couldn’t get a glimpse of the ceiling, you could see all the detail reflected in the mirror. The queen had a LOT of free time.

Back at that Serbian place for lunch. Yeah, I know I’ve been here before and why should I start repeating restaurants already? Listen, we’re not exactly in the middle of restaurant row up here. Plus, Stephanie is a huge fan of Serbian food. It’s all she’s been talking about since she got to Romania (the preceding message is a lie). It’s still kind of drizzling out but we can sit outside because it’s covered. Stephanie wants to sit inside. She’s chilly. Fine. But we’re not just inside. We’re inside and upstairs. I feel like Frosty the Snowman when he first gets locked in the greenhouse. “Gosh, it’s hot,” he says in a moment of snow-packed understatement. We’re going to need beers and fast, I tell Stephanie and Lawrence about my hilarious encounter with the non-alcoholic beer, Schlossgold. I go on and on (as I am wont to do) about how it doesn’t even taste like good beer. And then Lawrence goes and orders one. After all, he has to drive. In Romania, like much of Europe, you can’t even have one beer if you’re going to be driving. I admire Lawrence’s commitment to keeping the car on the road and roll my eyes at yet another law we have in the US but which is so watered down as to be ineffective.

Tangent time. Why is it that so many laws in the US are based on compromise? Instead of saying no drinking, we say, “okay, you can drink a little.” Instead of no guns, we say, “okay, but just a few.” American laws are written by people like me who just want to make everyone happy. Instead of doing what’s right, politicians cum puppets do whatever the real people in power tell them to do. It’s embarrassing, especially when you have to tell Europeans that Americans can drink and drive. We can have a couple of drinks and get behind the wheel of a car and mow down some innocent kid and lose our licenses for 30 days.

Okay, I’m back. Where was I? Stephanie orders some kind of mixed platter of stuff (not the actual name) for the table. Sadly, we can’t identify much. Neither can Lawrence, except for the thick, peppery kind of thing called zakushka. Lawrence has ordered a whole dish for himself. You eat it straight or spread it on bread. It’s not bad. It’s certainly better than the salmon-colored cheese-like object, which tastes more like feet than anything else. When I go to places like this, I wonder if I’m eating some kind of authentic ethnic food or if the wait staff is in the back, watching to see if the stupid tourist actually eats the foot-cheese.

I ordered some kind of spiced/minced meat patty, which is basically like a giant hamburger without the bun, and a side of these boiled potatoes with onions. Lawrence is really impressed because I inadvertently ordered the same thing. Lawrence needs to drink less non-alcoholic beer.

Christ, it’s hot up here. Stephanie and Lawrence have hiked downstairs to use the restrooms while I sit up here all alone, waiting for my change (I’d forgotten that this place is cash only), marinating in my own perspiration. Stephanie finally comes back upstairs and says, “Wow, it’s hot up here.” Thank you, Princess Understatement.

Okay, it’s time to head into “downtown” Sinaia (Shee-nah-yah) for some crap shopping. Time is running out and we have to buy souvenirs for people. I specifically need a shirt and a beer stein. Maybe there’s a shirt and stein place. Sinaia Shirt and Stein? Hey wait! Sinaia Shirtenstein! I used to date her. We met at a USY function. Maybe I’ll buy some string. You know, some Sinaia Twine! Ha! The altitude is starting to get to me.

Back in the car. Sinaia should be Romanian for “flea market.” The downtown area is really 2 or 3 blocks of tschotschkes. I did manage to buy a shirt from an overly enthusiastic Irish guy who kept trying to get Stephanie to put it on. Now we’re taking a different route back into town. Lawrence says that the road we took to get here will be crowded with weekenders heading back into the city. Kind of like Montauk Highway on a Sunday evening, I guess. It’s 60 km to Targoviste, then 80 km back into Bufta, where the studio is located. Lawrence actually says that this way is longer, but much prettier. He’d do well in New England. How do you say “ayuh” in Romanian?

Lawrence is getting frustrated with all of the Dacias on the road. Dacia was the national car of Romania during the Ceausescu regime. They’re small, ugly, old and all over the roads. I’ve seen some billboards around for the newer ones so I guess they’re trying to adapt and stay relevant. And when Lawrence isn’t passing a Dacia, he’s weaving in and out of cow traffic. This road is definitely better than the other one in terms of numbers of cows sighted. They walk around here like stray dogs. I wonder if there’s a leash law in Romania. Probably not because I don’t even see any “curb your cow” signs. They are literally right in the middle of the road. I’m trying to take pictures and Lawrence likes to see how close he can get to the cows without actually hitting them.

We’re back in Bufta to check out the rest of the shoot. Stephanie heads for the bathroom, taking her purchases with her. These purchases include some very nice glass items. We were impressed that you could get something that nice so cheaply. I was considering buying one for myself but they were heavy and I didn’t want to try to get it back home. Well Stephanie won’t have that problem either. Soon after closing the door to the bathroom, we all here a crash followed by “oh f*ck!” I’m immediately concerned. I mean, Steph just cursed in front of everyone! Oh, and she broke the heaviest of the glass pieces. This sucks but it’s not tragic as she only paid about $15 for it.

So what did I miss today? I need to rely on my colleagues for an update. For one thing, there’s a pool here on the premises. James went swimming and asked Robert if he’d like to “borrow my bathers.” Robert may be a little traumatized. Borrow my bathers?

Witzy seems to be missing. There’s a stray dog walking around the set so maybe he ate Witzy. Sarah shows me some pictures she took of the cat curled up next to a big pile of hair. It’s cute and funny and a little sad if Witzy misses his mommy and uses the pile of hair as a surrogate. Poor Witzy.

You know you’re back on the set when Super AD Benita Allen yells something. A dog is barking somewhere in the distance. Benita yells out for someone to shut up that stupid, barking dog. I cringe because I’m waiting for the inevitable gunshot.

It’s late and we’re wrapped. Heading back to the hotel, we spot a fat man clad only in a pair of blue shorts, standing on the side of the road, looking like he’s waiting for a bus. About a mile further up, we see a similarly-dressed man sitting on the median, just reading the newspaper.

The plan is to go dancing tonight. Midnight in the lobby.

What a night. It started with the chaos of 9 people trying to get cabs. I end up in the first one with Kelly, Christy and Sarah. I have no idea where we’re going but Topher has told the driver so we’re off. We drive and drive and drive, through a gate, down a private road and up to what looks like a downscale Holiday Inn. We tell the driver this doesn’t look right but he insists it is and points in the direction of the music. Okay then.

We were right, this isn’t the right place. The music was coming from a wedding reception. So now what? I’m pissed because I’m thinking this driver did this purposely. Let’s see how lost the tourists can get!!! But I give him the benefit of the doubt when I notice that the name of this motel is the same as the road we’re on and the club we were going to.

So we call Topher and he gives us some more detailed information. We call a cab and the driver doesn’t speak a word of English. Only Romanian and French. French! I’m trying to formulate the words I’ll need to get us out of here. Meanwhile, Christy sits next to me, miming dance for the driver. Sarah calls Topher again and asks for someone Romanian who can speak to the driver,

We eventually get to this great place right on some water. I can’t remember the name (there will be pictures soon) but it’s not exactly hopping with activity. Of course, it is Sunday night. Some of us (not me) really want to dance and try to get the DJ to switch from ballads to something a bit more upbeat. He tells us he can’t and lists 3 different reasons:
1) They’re closing soon.
2) He’s going home.
3) The Chinese Embassy is nearby.
But he’ll take us to another place that doesn’t close until 5.

I can’t really get into detail of what happened next. The combination of music and alcohol has made dancers into all of us, including me. And I want whatever James and Topher have been drinking. Topher didn’t just come out of his shell. He stomped on the shell and ate the pieces. He and James can really dance and are completely uninhibited about it. The women in our group pick up on this and will only dance with them.

Some other stuff happened as well but what happens in Romania stays in Romania, at least until everyone’s pictures get distributed.

Back at the hotel just in time to see the sun come up. I’ve pretty much destroyed what was left of my “I don’t’ dance” excuse. Although I haven’t seen the photos. The last time I thought I was dancing okay but then saw evidence to the contrary, I stopped dancing for years.

I still have to pack.

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