Frank O’Hara in Romania – August 2 to September 3, 2001

Central Bucharest in the evening

On arrival at Bucharest, my hosts Cornel and Claudia Giurgea (husband and wife) took me directly to my apartment. It was a bachelor type accommodation, with a living room/bedroom style. My hosts, in their late thirties and very personable, both speak English quite well, particularly Claudia. They have a successful office equipment business, in Bucharest (a city of 2 ½ million) with branches in eight other Romanian cities. Claudia started the business nine years ago when she got tired of working in a smoke filled office. (She was the only non-smoker amongst a staff of seven.) Being a rabid non-smoker, I was very glad of the promise of a smoke-free office. They are both well educated, she with a degree in economics degree and he in engineering.

The weather in Bucharest during August afternoons is typically well above 30c but my apartment was not too bad at night. They installed a very good fan.

Cornel and Claudia are very intuitive. They somehow knew that my favourite summertime drink is gin and tonic. My fall back drink, beer, was put in the refrigerator to chill and we sat down to get to know each other a bit. The drinks and good conversation helped keep me awake despite the seven hour time difference and lack of sleep on the plane. We discussed their business and some of their problems with encouraging staff to be more productive and more creative – subjects I enjoy. After a couple of hours, they left me to unpack and get an hour or so of sleep before taking me to dinner.

They took me to a very interesting restaurant. Not only was the food excellent but there were very professional Romanian folk singers and dancers. The restaurant is in a large open area behind a façade that gives no hint of the existence of a restaurant. The open area has various buildings in the style of a Romanian village. They even have some farm animals, ducks, geese, etc. The various buildings are restaurants and the servers are dressed in peasant costume. Performers wander between the various buildings and then perform on a large stage at one end of the “village”. I enjoyed this so much that Claudia and Cornel promised to take me back on my last night.

George Sandor, with whom I worked the previous year in another part of Romania, came to Bucharest to stay with his uncle and spend some time with me. He took me to an old part of central Bucharest. Early in the 20th century this was obviously a prosperous and beautiful city. There are many grand buildings. One houses the Bank of Romania - their central bank. It is in the style of a Greek temple, including the pillars - very impressive. It was built in 1899. I took video of the general area and then went to shoot the main entrance when a little soldier, exhibiting officiousness to overcome his size, told me in unmistakable but non-English terms that I could not take a picture of the entrance. I asked George to enquire how the building was used before it was a bank building. Probably the little goodwill ambassador actually didn't know but he couldn't admit his ignorance; so he gruffly did not deign to respond. Only later did I think that I should have taken his picture before he had a chance to stop me. He seemed to be unarmed so it probably wouldn't have been unduly dangerous. On the other hand there was a soldier with an assault rifle at the end of the street so maybe it was just as well that I didn't let my "Irish" or should I say "Canadian" get the better (or the worst) of me.

Like smaller companies, in other developing countries this one was involved in several enterprises. As usual, I arrived expecting to do one job only to find that there were others, equally or more important . One of them in this case was a web site application. So I helped them, in the time I had available, to get this e-commerce site up and running ASAP. The application is one of the best that has come to my attention and can be applied worldwide. I gave a sales management course plus three different kinds of sales training seminars in Bucharest.

I then went on to Cluj in Transylvania (Northwestern Romania) to present more sales training seminars. On the way to Cluj they took me to a couple of tourist spots. Notable was “Dracula’s castle”. There really is such a place, although, of course, Dracula is a fictional character based on an actual bloodthirsty count. Actually, the castle is in good repair and was used by the former king early in the 20th century and still has some of his furniture in it. I didn't see any bats. This is a picture of the courtyard in the castle. (It's not very big - the castle that is.) This is a popular tourist site and there is also a representation of a middle ages village nearby. They moved representative buildings to the site. Again, the buildings are well maintained and I found them very interesting.

It was an all-day drive to Cluj and a good opportunity to see the countryside – very mountainous and quite scenic.

The local manager of the Cluj area showed me around his city. They have painted the 19th century buildings in the city centre their original colours. With their many cornices, windowsills, etc. painted contrasting fresh colours, the downtown is very attractive. The suburbs, with Ceaucescu-built apartment blocks, are quite a contrast. Cluj is a major university city, with some 250,000 students.

Sorin, my host from last year. drove from Timisoara to Cluj (about 200 kms) to take me on my day off to some hot baths at a place called Felix (about 155 kms from Cluj). It has been a spa since Roman times. There is about a mile of large pools of water with a choice of somewhat hot, very hot, and ridiculous. It is reputed to be healthy. At least that's what the Romans thought - but they're all dead. Of course, if you can survive you are healthy. The young women wear what might be called bikini bathing suits. These are certainly teeny weeny bikinis to the point of being almost invisible. One could say the wearers are very cheeky – attractively so.

Two employees drove me back to Bucharest. I got a few pictures of gypsies on the road in their rough horse-drawn carts. Gypsies in this country are as lowly regarded as Untouchables in India . I doubt if anyone would hire one for a conventional job; so they beg and sell odds and ends and, reportedly, steal. One could speculate on how they accumulate the money but they do build most unusual, rather attractive, and very large houses along the highways. The roofs have many little spires, like miniature turrets. They are certainly not hiding their presence.

Back in Bucharest, I had lunch with a fellow who is a friend of one of the sales people at the company. The friend works for the Romanian government. I was saying to the fellow that I thought that the Romanians ought to adopt the Euro, without asking the ECU – similar to what others have done with the US dollar. One of Romania’s major problems is inflation and this could bring it under control. At least, to my limited knowledge, I believe that to be the case. In any event, it was an interesting lunch. I didn't convince him though. Nationality is important, even if you can't afford it. But who says I don't have chutzpah.

I had only a couple of occasions to fend off dogs with the neat little ultrasonic sound generator that my hosts loaned me. Actually the dogs were probably not going to attack me but I liked to see the querulous look on their faces when they heard the unpleasant sound coming from me. I held it up to my ear to try it but I didn't hear a thing (symptom of advanced age!). They said that the mayor ordered 40,000 dogs killed one week while I was there, much to the consternation of the animal rights people. Of course, this was only about 10% of the total so I didn't notice any diminution in the nighttime canine love calls. Interestingly, I haven't seen any dog poop on the streets. I guess they don't eat enough.

Most of the people attending my seminars spoke some English and some did so quite well; however we had to be consistent. So Noemi Dosa, an attractive and intelligent young woman who works for CG & GC (the company), translated everything I said. She then whispered their responses to me, as they spoke. It is difficult to maintain a respectable level of dynamism under these circumstances. Nevertheless, the courses went very well.

I also helped my host company, CG&GC to develop a very interesting e-commerce website. There are not a lot of applications that lend themselves to e-commerce. This is one of the best I've seen.

On my last week, my hosts treated me to a couple of days at Constantsa, a major port and Romania's second largest city, where there is a resort on the Black Sea. (The Romanians spell the city Constanta, with a little cedilla under the "t" to add the "s" sound.) The beach is very wide, as you can see. It was not busy in the morning, when this picture was taken, but Romanians don't seem to have any concern about skin cancer; so many of them head for the beach later in the day. Sun tanning is a major pastime.

The Roman ruins to be found there are relatively well preserved because an earthquake covered them some 1300 years ago and most of them were only recently uncovered. I was quite interested in the kind of port that it was 2000 years ago. I find it fascinating to walk where ancient peoples strolled.

By the way, I took the 3 hour trip by train from Bucharest and back. I had none of the problems that my friend George described; however, I had a first class ticket going and a second-class return. I suppose it pays to have a generous host who respects the needs of a spoiled Canadian.

If you get the idea that I like Romanians and that I would suggest that Romania would be a good place to take a vacation you are right. It could be costly to get there but then you would certainly save money and be able to enjoy a beautiful country with friendly people and much to see.