The moon shines red through the tint of the window. I'm sitting in the front row of an Alis Trans bus. I should sleep, since we'll arrive in Bucharest only by 4:30 or so. This Tom Hecker album, "Harmonies in Ultraviolet", keeps me awake, despite its mellow sound. It has a certain disquieting vibe that suits well the blur of red and yellow sparks in the night. Or maybe it's just the excitement of the trip. Nevertheless, this is a great album. It's labeled as electronica, but I'm sure post-rock buffs will also love this.
You can't call it a proper trip if you pass through Bucharest and don't stop by the North Railway Station. Munching on a cheeseburger and dodging the gypsies trying to sell you stolen Nokias are some of those little things that add flavor to this otherwise unremarkable place.
The train to Tulcea leaves at 5:45. Meanwhile, we're at KFC, stuffing our mouths with crispy strips. Breakfast of champions. We would have rather gone to McDonalds, but all they had were those muffin ridden breakfast menus. No ordinary working class cheeseburgers or mcpuișors. Fuck that shit.
Endless fields of withered sunflowers. Factory ruins. Wastelands crossed by high-voltage lines. They should film the next Mad Max on the landscapes of Bărăgan and Dobrogea. Only a captive dragonfly sitting on the window reminds us we’re going to the Delta. Ovidiu has the looks of a martyr. His red face bears the signs of suffering from heat and sleep deprivation. Bushu is sleeping. A chewing gum threatens to fall out of his half-open mouth.
After three hours in the ship we took from Tulcea, we finally arrived in Sfântu Gheorghe. It’s a fishermen village placed right before the southernmost branch of the Danube empties into the Black Sea. Its remoteness lends it a very charming air. Most of the houses have thatched roofs and the streets are unpaved, covered in sand. There’s only a pub and two or three general stores in the middle of the village.
|Thatched roofs <3|
Once per year, Sfântu Gheorghe hosts the Anonimul Independent Film Festival. We expected it to attract a lot of hipsters and art faggots, but the crowd turned out to be alright. The movies were also pretty cool, the usual indie mix of quirky comedies, dramas and some 2deep4u stuff.
|The festival camp - our headquarters|
If you ever decide to visit Romania, make sure you include visiting the Danube Delta in your plans. The lodging is cheap, the food is excellent. I thought it would be one of those “check and never return” destinations. I was wrong.
Meanwhile at the festival camp we ate some grilled fish (I decided for a grilled flounder, Ovidiu ate a morunaş, or as Google says, a vimba bream). On the stage a string quartet is playing themes from “Braveheart”, “Gone with the Wind” and other movies. It was a full day, but we don’t feel tired - the brief wallowing in the sea after the trip was very refreshing. The music is great and the movies are about to begin.
After two long feature movies, some shorts and a couple beers, the exhaustion finally kicked in. Ovidiu is wasted - he can barely hold his eyes open and keeps asking me when are we going to sleep. “Five more minutes”, I tell him. I’m tired, too, but the film (“Toată lumea din familia noastră”/”Everybody in our family”) hasn’t ended yet. It’s a romanian drama portraying the endless quarrels of a dysfunctional family. The strife on the screen is contagious - it’s an infuriating movie and the only thing that still keeps me hooked is the hope that the end will deliver a satisfying resolution. God, I hope they all die. Bushu’s temper was shorter. He left earlier and now he’s somewhere behind the screening area, drinking and talking with some hipsters about Nicuşor Dan.
The joy of a simple breakfast: french fries and fried anchovies. I left the boys to sleep undisturbed and came to the festival camp. Brought my Faulkner and a cold beer. The Concierto de Aranjuez flows gently from my iPod. I can’t remember the last time I have enjoyed such a peaceful morning.
The landlady cooked us one hell of a lunch. First, she served us a pot of catfish soup. I’m not really a fan of fish soups in general, but this was fabulous. It seems that no matter how you cook it, you can’t go wrong with catfish.
Next, she served us what she called “baked mexican carp”. I guess anything with some corn on the side gets called “mexican” nowadays. Nevertheless, it looked and tasted great.
No dessert. As if we could eat anything more.
A lot of festival denizens are having fun in front of the stage, while DJ Gojira (no connection to the french band; sorry, Chester) is doing his thing. We're sitting on a bench and drink beer like the faggots we are. Feels good man.
I guess we didn’t do much today. We watched some shorts this evening (I liked Tudor Giurgiu’s “Un alt Crăciun”/“Another Christmas”) and a competition feature - “Valley of Saints”. It was an ok movie, but I didn’t like the way it showcased its socio-ecological message. I found it a bit too preachy.
Well, this looks nice. An immense patch of the so called bog thistles (ciulini de baltă) covers the lagoon. Mr. Mitache, the boatman, points out to the Sacalin island, that can be seen from here. He tells us about the many birds that fly around, and about the thistles. Apparently, during the war these plants were the main source of food for the delta inhabitants. The fish was all confiscated, to be canned and sent to the war front. The fishermen only got to keep the fish heads, which weren’t really nourishing, so they had to gather the strange fruits that the bog thistles bear underwater.
Mitache plucks one from the water and carves it with a knife.
“Here, taste it”.
The kernel is white and tastes a bit like chestnuts. Not bad. I would eat a bowl full of these while watching a B movie about swamp mummies.
We left the lagoon. The boat slides smoothly along one of the many channels of the delta. Reeds, water lilies, weeping willows, and many suitable spots for a machine gun nest. A fat fish jumps out of the water and makes a murky splash. Laughter.
Bushu is flying. This is not a south american novel, nor a Chagall painting. Like Elijah, he got spirited away on a magical contraption (albeit a less fiery one). Technically speaking, it's a motorized deltaplane. It was not long before I realized it's just a glorified lawnmower powered flying tent. A deltacarici.
A guy with a camera approaches me. He’s from Antena 1; he’s doing a report on the, uh, extreme sports of Sfântu Gheorghe.
“Have you ever flown in one of these?”
“Nope”, comes my reply.
“I just did. It’s really great. You can’t feel more free than that, except maybe in a proper hang glider.”
Oh boy. Bushu has landed. The camera guy asks him some questions. His answers are detailed and calm, like those of a pathologist. He then turns to me and says:
“Don’t worry, you’ll shit your pants.”
It’s my turn. The deltaplane is speeding on the sandy plain and my grip on the side bars tightens. One last shudder and we’re lifted from the ground. Absalom, Absalom! To my left the sea spans endlessly, losing itself in a distant haze. The deepest blue, streaked with foam as it touches the shore. The engine roars, cold air fills my shirt while the belts keep flailing on my chest. The pilot turns his head, asking me if I’m ok. I remember to breathe, then I nod, reluctantly raising a thumb. Awe pounding in my stomach, despair strangling my neck. As the deltaplane takes a turn to the right, the green of the delta spreads before our eyes. An enormous splat of life at the end of the world.
I’m at peace now - the panic changed to a serene contemplation of imminent death. E ok, bă. One last turn - the sea comes back in sight. Towels scattered on the beach like small candies on a tiramisu cake.
After we land, the reporter rushes to us with the camera on:
“So, how was the flight?”
“Uh, I... I’m speechless.”
“Ok, so what did you see up there?”
“No, um... really, I have no words.”
Gay. I take comfort in the thought there’s no way they would show this on TV (hint: they did).
It’s wonderful to feel the sand under my feet again. Flip-flops in hands, I walk with Bushu to the beer stand on the beach. He buys the last bottle of Efes, I content myself with a Peroni. The sun is going down, like a lazy, satisfied slug. Another trocarici comes, bringing Ovidiu.
“So, did you fly?”
“Yeah, we just got down.”
“Well, how was it? You don’t look too impressed.”
It’s showtime again. I found Bushu sitting on a bench in the camp. He has this large grin plastered on his face.
“Look, bro, the Homosex band.”
So I turn my head to the stage. A guy with an acoustic guitar, a bitch with a tambourine and an old fart at the keyboards. They play some kind of watered down jazz/blues that makes my inner menopausal vagina uncomfortably moist. The Homosex band.
The grilled corn ain’t ready yet. Ovidiu drools over some juicy mititei instead. There seem to be two types of them on the grill. Ovidiu points to the darker ones:
“Excuse me, what are these made of?”
“These are fish mititei!”, the vendor replies with a hint of pride in his voice.
“Oh, these are made of... um... they’re normal mititei.”
Seems legit. Discretion is the better part of valor - Ovidiu settles for the fish variety. Off we go with our small cardboard plates. Another short movie has started.
Another beautiful, careless noon. I’m back at the camp, reading an old issue of Dilema Veche I have received for free. A stray kitten has jumped on the table, looking for something to eat. Bushu returns, bringing two cold Stella Artois.
He asks me out of a sudden if I want to work with him on a short movie script. There’s a contest, he says; the best script on the subject “life is an open door” will win a Ford Mondeo or some shit like that. Not to mention fame and an endless torrent of pussy. Sure, bro, let’s do it. He leaves and returns with the contest form and the bad news: there’s actually no car prize. Glory ain’t enough for Bushu, so it falls on me to take a shot at it. The film must have 3 shots at most, and the script has to fit inside a scanty rectangle on the form. The deadline is today at 8 PM.
We ate again at the place where we’re staying. It is a bit expensive, considering the prices around here, but it’s still cheaper than eating in a decent restaurant back at home. Not to mention that the food wouldn’t taste as good there.
First, the landlady brought a fishball soup. It was the first time I have eaten this variety of meatball soup. Very nourishing. I feel that the southerners use a little too much celery in their soups for my taste, but this time I didn’t mind.
What followed was the absolute culinary highlight of our trip in the Delta: saramură de somn cu mămăliguţă. I have no clue how to translate that. Mămăligă is some sort of traditional porridge made of corn flour, similar to the italian polenta. Saramură de somn is the main dish, catfish cooked in brine. Just look at it. Look at it and feel your mouth watering:
Ok, I’ve got an idea for the script. It’s gonna be called ‘My name is troll’ and will feature an extensive monologue on the messianic qualities of internet trolling. I take a long look at the sea, trying to draw inspiration for the first sentence. It has rained a bit, so there aren’t many people on the beach. Perfect for the Barton Fink wannabe.
Back in the camp; I finished transcribing the script on the form. What a piece of shit. Also, I almost spilled a shot of vodka trying to impersonate Faulkner. Check yourself, fag.
The boys from Silent Strike are on the stage, tinkering with their magical boxes. What a pleasant surprise. Really cool electronica, complemented by gorgeous visuals on the background screen. I’m amazed (and ashamed) that I haven’t heard of them before.
Check them out:
Ovidiu told me he saw them once in Cluj. The concert went smoothly and fine until the audience started to grumble “the hell, man, drop the fuckin’ bass”, and everything went to shit. Fortunately, the audience here is not made of simians.
It was a rainy morning. The streets of Sfântu are covered in puddles of mud. Even in this state it's still a charming village. We purchased our tickets for our returning trip tomorrow and headed for the local fast food.
The place is almost deserted, due to its location on a back street away from the middle of the village. The shaorma here is just like Chester described the archetypal romanian shaorma: a disgusting calorie bomb. Strangely enough, they don't have a fish version.
Fuck, I’m drunk. Our stay at the fast food lasted more than I expected. We indulged in a few bottles of Grolsch and a lot of spritzer and now we are on the way to our dinner. A friend told us of a less expensive place where we could eat.
Here we are, eating another fishball soup, laughing between the mouthfuls and listening to Brandwein Naftule’s merry klezmer.
After the soup, the lady brings us a generous tray of baked carp with potatoes. It’s nowhere as exquisite as the catfish saramură, but it hits the spot. The big surprise comes with the check: we have to pay 15 lei each. That’s about 3 euros/person. Outrageously cheap.
Florin Piersic jr. is such a pretentious asshole. At least he didn’t waste too much time on the stage. He announced the winners of the festival. The prize for the best feature film went to “Everybody in our family”, as I have expected. Equally unsurprising, I didn’t win the script contest.
I take a sip from my bottle of Cappy. The alcoholic stupor is gone. Nightlosers get on the stage for the festival’s last concert. I don’t expect much from them; I have seen them playing before and I was not impressed.
Yet somehow, in spite of the rain, their weird mix of blues rock and Eastern European folk manages to ignite the atmosphere and make everyone jump up. They must have the craziest drummer; he almost stole the show with his drum solos and folk vocals. I say almost, because the violinist was even crazier. At some point he started playing with the violin behind his head. Then the guitarist was like “oh yeah?” and raised his guitar on his backhead, too. But the shit got real when the keyboard guy pulled the same trick with his fucking Roland.
Great gig, an excellent festival ending.
Here we are, about to take the last step of this trip. We have just arrived from Tulcea with a Yutong™ bus, sick and tired of the Bărăgan badlands. The junk food circle closes once again at the North Railway Station.
We ate at McDonalds. Ovidiu kept it traditional, ordering a hamburger + cheeseburger + mcpuișor combo (a whopping total of 700 kcal). I wanted something new, so I got a Royal Deluxe, of Pulp Fiction fame (550 kcal). Bushu chose a humongous Big Tasty (850 kcal). No wonder he writhed with self-loathing after this deed.
Nothing worth mentioning is gonna happen these 7 hours till we get home, so this is the last entry. We're looking through the window of the restaurant wagon at the changing landscape. Hills covered in forests and, soon, the mountains.
The waiter brought us three vials of Jägermeister. He is an old man who looks and speaks like Woland from the Russian TV series "The Master and Margarita".
Cheers, fellow tzeeeac readers. Dasvedania!