Monday, October 28, 2013

Warmer weather: October 28, 2013

Last week the weather was warm and beautiful.  I saw the sun everyday and had lunch with a friend, both of which helped my psyche immensely.  Dan and I also joined a gym a couple of weeks ago, and that has encouraged me to get out, too. When the sun is shining, I make a point of strolling through the beautiful parks in the late afternoon.  Cathedral Park is a gathering place. Along one side of the daily papers have been posted for all to read.  People sit on the benches, chat, and enjoy the weather.  Mothers with toddlers and strollers come each afternoon to let their children play in front of the cathedral. Men, mostly, play chess nearby.

The triumphal arch on Stefan cel Mare Boulevard sits directly across the park from the Cathedral.

Diagonal from the arch is another park.  This one is named for Stefan cel Mare who was a king in the 15th century.  Since it has been cold all the fountains have all been turned off.

The park was established in the late 19th century.

My Moldovan friend Lidia whom I met in Macedonia came to Moldova to visit her family this week.  She currently lives in Finland where the weather is both colder and darker.  We met Friday at noon and she took me to lunch.  It was wonderful to be able to chat with a friend and compare life in Moldova and Finland.  

On Sunday afternoon, Dan and I went to a park called Parcul Valea Trandafirilor located in the Botanica district which is south of the center.  The air was filled with smoke from barbeques and the aroma of cooking meats.  There were family picnics, brides, and horse rides for children. Here are some of my favorite photos from yesterday.

Parcul Valea Trandafirilor has a chain of three small lakes. We saw several fishermen along the edge.  One guy had a net attached to his pole.  Every so often he'd pull up the net and put the tiny little fish into his bait bucket.

Two of the lakes rent small peddle boats shaped like swans or dolphins.

Once the light was gone, we walked back to our apartment.

We're hoping to visit the eastern portion of Romania next weekend.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Conference on Corruption: October, 21, 2013

This morning as official photographer for the ABA, I attended the international conference for "Justice without Corruption" held at the Ministry of Justice.  Dan, as regional director for the ABA, was a participant.  We arrived early.  The conference room was lovely with morning sun coming in the east window.  The room was decorated in soft sage greens.  The image of Lady Justice, blindfolded, covered the wall behind the main speakers' table.

I stood at the back with the rest of the press, both TV and print--a first for me.

The most important speakers, (left to right: Head of Action against Crime Department of the Council of Europe,  Head of the EU delegation to Moldova, Chairman of the Parliament, Minister of Justice, US Ambassador), opened the conference with speeches. The big guys spoke and then left leaving the rest of the attendees to make their presentations, argue their points, and put their objections on record.

Here is Dan in one of his animated positions making his arguments about how to find and stem corruption.

Lately, we noticed several billboards with the word "Coruptia" (Corruption) and a telephone number to call to report corruption.

Finding and proving corruption in a country that does not have checking accounts and where most transactions are cash will be difficult.  Many employers direct deposit employee's earnings to the employee's bank account.  As soon as the credit hits the bank, most employees use their debit card to completely withdraw the funds. I read that only about 4% of Moldovans keep their money in banks. I just exchanged Moldovan Lei to buy Euros to pay our rent.  The cashier did not ask for any form of ID.  Our rent must be paid in cash.  Following a money trail is very difficult in a cash economy.  

Monday, October 14, 2013

Chisinau City Day: October 14, 2013

Chisinau City Day is celebrated on October 14 each year.  It is a city holiday and everyone in the city was off except Dan's office.  He did manage a few hours away from work to see this big event.

In our limited experience with prior Chisinau festivals, only one-block of the main street is roped off for pedestrians.  For Chisinau City Day, almost the entire main street (Stefan cel Mare) is closed to traffic.

In Cathedral Park, the enormous chess pieces were set up for the serious players.  The stage in the Great National Assembly Square was set up for musical entertainment and booths of traditional food, products made in Moldova, and local handicrafts lined the street.  It was another open-air street fair, but larger that the wine holiday weekend.

We strolled the now pedestrian street in the cool, gray morning while the crowds were thin.  For lunch we had a pla├žinte (pie) which, in this case, is a round of thin pastry dough, filled with mashed potatoes and herbs, folded in half and sealed, and fried.  It was excellent.  In Moldova, there are many types of pla├žinte with assorted shapes and fillings.  Sometimes they look like quiche, sometimes they look like Georgian khachapuri.

Every few meters there was a small stage with entertainment.  There were lots of talented children singing and performing folk dances.

On our stroll back toward Dan's office, the crowd had increased exponentially making it hard to walk let alone take photos.  Only this juggler didn't have a crowd around him--he wasn't very good.

After the evening concert, there were fireworks.  We were home by then, but we can see just a bit of the fireworks from our window.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Beating A Path, Chisinau, Moldova: October 13, 2013

Bored with my inactivity, last week I began walking during the day to discover what there is in Chisinau.  The first day, I headed west.  I was looking for a gym that someone had told me about.  I did find the gym, but what I discovered before that was the most lovely lake.  This lake is Lacul Valea Morilor.  There is also a park.  The sun was setting as I arrived, and it was beautiful.  People were strolling or fishing from the walkway.  Finding such a beautiful place in Chisinau, I felt like Columbus must have when he set eyes on land.

After spending sometime exploring Chisinau via Google Maps, the next day I headed northeast to look for the Circus. The Circus is just over the river and not far from our apartment.  Sadly, it is a shadow of what it once was.  It has become derelict and abandoned. This drum-shaped building must have been fabulous in its day.

The next day, I went southwest to the "Armenian" cemetery.  It is called "Armenian" because it is situated where Armenian Street begins/ends. While I was there, another person quietly strolling suggested I visit Dendrologic Park.  He told me it would be a beautiful place to take photos.  On Saturday, Dan and I headed toward Dendrologic Park.  We didn't know where the entrance was but found a hole in the fence--that we crawled through.  Once inside, we realized that there is only one entrance/exit gate because an admission is charged. The park is huge and beautifully landscaped with paths, lawns, gardens, and groves of trees.  When we finally found the official exit, we slinked out.

Then I took Dan to the lake I had found a few days before.  Again, it was stunning and the sun was shining.  We ran into a bachelorette party group and took their photo.  We chatted with them and they shared a bottle of champagne with us.  The bride, with the white veil, is getting married next Saturday.  The ladies had already finished 2 bottles of champagne before we met them.  They were strolling around taking photos of themselves and the bride to be before they finished their party at a restaurant for dinner and more drinks.

On Sunday, Dan and I went south toward the train station.  Before we found the train station, we stumbled upon a weekend market of used clothing, ephemera, and treasures.  It went on for maybe a couple of kilometers before the train station and then circled it.

The Chisinau Train Station has been restored, but the interior is mostly empty.  It is not busy or grand in any way.  There is a poignant monument in front of the train station remembering those men, women, and children who were deported during the Communist regime.

Chisinau is not a large city, but exploring the compass points by foot does make a long, tiring day.  We took our first bus which, unfortunately, ended up turning off quite far from where we wanted to go.  Dan and I were hoping to see a garden of sculptures created in Soviet Moldova. We didn't find it, but we ended up at yet another park and lake. This one is called Parcul La Izvor and is located in the northwest part of the city. We got there just before the sun set and had an enjoyable walk around the lake.  

We caught the correct bus back to the city center.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Jewish Landmarks, Chisinau, Moldova: October 12, 2013

Strolling around Chisinau, we have come across several reminders that there was once a sizeable Jewish population in Moldova.  According to a page about Chisinau in the Virtual Jewish Library, at the start of the 20th century, 40% of the population of Chisinau was Jewish.  After the 1903 and 1905 pogroms, Jews began to immigrate to the Americas, but on the eve of the Holocaust, there were 70,000 Jews in Chisinau.  In July 1941, Chisinau was occupied by Nazi and Romanian forces who forced Jews into a ghetto.  The above monument, on Jerusalem Street, marks the place of the Jewish Ghetto.  In 1947, only 5,500 Jews remained alive in Chisinau.

"The Jewish population of Moldova has decreased substantially since independence [1990] due to the high percentage of elderly Jews and high levels of immigration, predominately to Israel."  In 2012, the population of Jews in Chisinau numbered 4,000 (less than 1% of the total population of Chisinau). Many are elderly and live in poverty receiving a pension of about $10 per month.

During its most vibrant, pre-Soviet, pre-holocaust, pre-Soviet deportation years, Chisinau had 70 synagogues.  Now, there is one functioning synagogue that was built by the glass-blowers' guild (glaziers) in 1910.

Another landmark of the population that was is the Jewish Cemetery. The original cemetery, now a park, was established in the 18th century.  The present Jewish Cemetery dates to sometime in the 19th century.  Entering the Milano Street Jewish Cemetery is much like entering an archaeological site that hasn't yet been discovered.  Following the path from the entrance gate, it is obvious that the cemetery is still functioning with some recent additions, but away from this main path, the graves/tombs seem forgotten. In the older sections, the landscape is overgrown threatening to conceal the oldest tombs.

There is a wide swath of very old tombstones that have been jumbled by mother nature and by episodes of vandalism.  I wonder if anyone knows who these people were.  Nearby we stumbled upon the 19th century funeral synagogue in ruins due to neglect and vandalism.

While Dan and I were making our way through this cemetery jungle, a group of women purposely marched in and found their way to an older gravesite.  They spread out in a circle around the tomb, lit candles, and sang.  Some do remember those that are no more.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Wine Holiday Weekend in Chisinau: October 6, 2013

This last weekend was Moldova's annual wine holiday.  This is a really big wine festival with large and small wineries showing and in many cases, offering tastes of their products. If you're coming to Moldova, you must visit Chisinau during the first weekend of October. This festival is a wine-fueled street party that takes place in the Grand National Meeting Square and spills into Cathedral Park.

The scent of food was in the air.  We followed our noses and the smoke to stand in line for grilled quail.  The quail was succulent, but one quail each is more of an appetizer than a meal.

We wandered around the square enjoying the groups in national costume.

We tasted wines.  We couldn't always figure out if a winery was offering tasting or just selling bottles.  The smaller producers (Equinox, Mezalimpe, and Et Cetera) were very generous and did offer tastings. Bottles were sold at a discount; a benefit realized by us and most of those attending the festival. 

Dan and I enjoyed watching a Moldovan Folk Group perform and the crowd of mostly seniors spontaneously begin dancing to the old folk songs.  

For our second meal, we had the more substantial pork shashlik.  

Crafters and artists from all over Moldova were showing their beautiful work. I was tempted, but resisted.

We liked the very cool Moldovan lamb's wool hats, but Dan's head was either too big or too small for the hats.

And, there was real, authentic cotton candy.

We wandered around the winery booths again, and a group of people insisted on sharing their pitcher of wine with us.  And, that's how the weekend went.  People were very kind and welcoming. We met several Peace Corp workers taking advantage of the weekend's festivities. One generous soul invited us to his place for Thanksgiving. It was a day of dancing, drinking, eating barbecue, and meeting new people.

On Sunday, one of Dan's co-workers invited us to a Wine Master Class (actually a class to learn the basics of how to evaluate/taste wine) she was attending with her sister.  The class was in Romanian, but Mihaela interpreted the key points for us.

During the weekend we tore ourselves away from the wine festival to experience some Georgian culture.  We went to see the National Folk Group called Erisioni and had a delicious lunch at a Georgian restaurant named Tbilisi.  It was a very good weekend.