2006: Back to Bucharest, Day 2

Day Two – Saturday

Breakfast with Mariana and Vali. Finally, left house around noon. Drove through Bucharest. Really getting hot and humid… crazy. Drove to South of Bucharest, Sector 5, and met with real estate agent. We drove down a terribly bumpy street with typical gypsy neighborhood with lots of cut, dirty, very tanned children playing and lots of mangy dogs sleeping and wandering. It’s hard to actually see the “houses” because each home has a tin or wooden fence — usually in serious disrepair — blocking from the street.

Eventually, we drove up behind a small white pickup truck that had two men and woman sitting in it. The door opened and a large, round woman with a determined and serious expression got out and approached our car. She ignored me and immediately began talking to Mariana. After a few minutes, she got back into the truck and we followed her through more bumpy, dirt “roads” too the first house.

When we arrived, I met the two men with our real estate agent. One was her husband, he had a nice, warm face but appeared weathered and worn — he looked a little Russian to me (sorta like a stereotype of what an American would expect of a middle-aged Russian worker who spent his entire life doing physical labor). The other man was her son. He spoke almost perfect English and wore a hip t-shirt and jeans, and gave me a smile and was quite pleasant (but, clearly playing his part of making friends with the American). Still, he seemed like a nice person.

The owners of the house came out to greet us. And, as usual, they practically ignored me and began talking with the real estate agent and Mariana. I don’t think any of these people mean me any disrespect, in any way, but still kinda weird. So, as usual, I introduced myself to each of them with my out-stretched hand and a smiling “Buna” (I think this means “hello”). They immediately become friendly and appear a little embarrassed, but make good eye contact and appear friendly.

The wife appeared in her late fifties, a bit round, and with an fairly extreme case of what I believe is Vitelago (sp?) — a skin disorder (virus?) that removes the color of the skin (melan?) and results in patches of albinism all over her face and body. She had a curiously yellow color to her hair.

The husband appeared a bit older, but also quite strong. He had the same worn, weathered look as the real estate agent’s husband. Clearly, a man that had lived a long, hard, physical life.

The house was similar to Gina’s. A very narrow lot (say 22 feet) that stretches narrowly back from the street. This entire area is covered by a patched trellis which is sparsely covered with very healthy-looking grape vines. (Turns out these are edible red grapes and is a common occurrence in these houses). On the left was a reasonably clean, albeit cracked and worn concrete area that ran almost to the back of the lot (75 feet?). In front of the house, was an extremely well-kept garden with healthy tomatoes and other herbs and vegetables growing.

You enter the house by walking down the concrete pave way and turn right into the house. You enter through a very small indoor porch area — paved tiles, but more of a narrow mud room than anything else–and on your left is the smallest “kitchen” an American has ever seen. Actually, it’s barely a kitchen at all. There is a very small four burner stove powered by propane, a bit of counter space (that’s being generous), and a very small sink area. There is a very small refrigerator in the hallway. Note that these rooms do not meet OSHA standards. 🙂

Once you move the six feet or so through the porch area, you enter the first “camere” or room. In Romanian, they describe houses as “a 3 camere house”, meaning that it has three rooms, which can be used for anything, but that it might also have a tiny kitchen and if you are lucky, a toilet (notice that I did not say bathroom).

The rooms in this area of Bucharest (Sector 5) seem identical to me. The walls are often painted sky blue with a white ceiling. The floors is always covered with middle eastern-ish rugs. Usually, the walls are covered with the same type of rugs. Most rooms have a crucifix or picture of Jesus. The rooms typically have a worn sofa and other stuff in the room. But, rarely is there a bed, tables and chairs, and of course, no soft chairs or nice furniture. Oh, and the biggest room I saw was maybe 12×12′, but more typically the rooms are about 8’x10′. Often, the next room is accessible only through the first room and contains the same or less. So, practically no privacy to anyone in the house. I think the third room was off the porch and was like the others. We had to leave the house to see the storage area and “toilet.” the toilet was a board with a hole and a toilet seat on it, which leeched into a septic tank that leeched into a small covered dirt area (say 10’x10′) — this area was at the end of the paved area.

The place was very well-kept and clean, considering the environment. The couple clearly took pride in their home and made the best of it. They were very friendly and smiling the entire time we were there. I got a clear impression that these folks had lived a hard life, but were quite happy. I was very curious to know more about them, but this was not appropriate to ask about.

They were especially proud of the outdoor shower that they had constructed. There was a poorly built cantilever extension from their roof jutting out over the pavement. I could not see what was holding the concrete slab up! On top of this, they fastened a tank of water that was heated by the sun, and enabled them to have warm showers outside on the pavement. Their pride and excitement about this “extra” was apparent.

They had an extremely old dog, who also appeared to have lived a rough life. She had some sort of nasty rash or mange, and was recently shaved to address the problem. She was a sweet little dog–looked like 1/3rd dachshund, 1/3rd beagle, and a 33/100ths of everything else–and received my scratchy affections with glee.

We left and I shook their hands with a warm “multimesc” (“thank you).

They were asking 37,000 euros (about $45,000).

Mariana noted that the neighbors were more gypsy than she thought. We were under the impression that this part of Rahova (in Bucharest) was a mixed neighborhood (which implied that it’s “better”). But, on the way out, my observant host noticed this and was already concerned that Gina (our kids’ birth mother) may have some “tribal” difficulties. I was not sure how she knew this, but later turned out to be dead on.

And so, my day had begun. And, I was discouraged already.

The next house was better. It had a very nice tin (?) room that was supported by healthy-looking wood beams. The room was surprisingly high sloped and tall, possibly with future potential for dormers or expansion.

We were greeted by another large woman in an attractive eastern European cotton dress. She was clearly gypsy, but had nice hair and was well-kept in the European manner. She made eye contact with me and showed a lot of warmth and confidence. I could tell that this woman had her life in control and was happy. It’s weird how you can pick up on these types of things so quickly. She introduced us to her mother, who was sitting at a table on the paved area. She also was very warm and comfortable. She was dressed in the classic black hooded dress of old Romania (I think). I was take aback at the comfort, confidence, and warmth of both of these woman.

This lot was a little wider; but still in the 25′ neighborhood. But, everything about this house was different. The street was paved, (albeit potholes), the surrounding houses looked better kept and larger, and the people on the street looked in better shape (cleaner, healthier, and nicer dressed). The long paved area on the left side was in very good condition. There was even paved room in front of the house, and thus providing a nice overall entry and appearance.

The house was in much better shape than the previous one and certainly Gina’s current home. It was very well-maintained and clean. The rooms were large and had nicer furniture, but still in the same category as other gypsy homes I’ve seen. But, clearly something here was tangibly better, The second room–off to the right of the first room–had nice doors on it and a large bed. This was the first bed I’d seen in a gypsy house. This “bedroom” was very nicely appointed and maintained (given the environment).

Again, we saw the same type of “micro” kitchen. Unfortunately, they do not have running water in the house. However, this could be arranged at a price. And, there was no gas; the classic, Romanian “stove” was wood-burning. Note that these stoves are glossy, ceramic-tiled cubes with small metal doors at the bottom front. These can be converted to gas later. There was not a stove in the second bedroom.

We left the house and continued down the pave way to a third room. This was similar to the first and in good condition. Off this room was a door to a fourth unfinished room with dirt floor and incomplete walls and ceiling (a mushroom cellar). There was a roughed out toilet area as well. They had plans to add a real bathroom, but ran out of money. This could be finished later.

As we were leaving, I discovered a very small, unused lot (25’x12′) adjacent to the back of this lot. I inquired and was told that this was owned by the city. So, maybe there’s a chance that this lot could be acquired later….we’ll see.

So, while there is no running water, gas, or sewage, we liked the house. 😉

It is listed at 53,000 euros ($65,000).

This home proved to be the best and only home that I (and Mariana) could imagine buying. [April 2007: Damn! I should have bought this house! Hindsight…sigh.]

Mariana and I had lunch at a pleasant pizza place in a park in the center of Bucharest. The only thing to mention was that tomato sauce is extra and comes “on the side.” This is how they do it in Romania. Weird… but ok of course, since we all must get along and not make fun of weird things that others do. 🙂

So, after lunch we headed over to Gina’s to say hello. I was extremely nervous and had butterflies in my belly as we drove up to the house.

Just like the last time, the house was bubbling with activity. They were expecting us and were sitting in the small, dirt area out their house (and inside the safe confines of their dilapidated fence). Gina greeted me with a warm smile and I kissed her on both cheeks and gave her a hug (I don’t think that they hug much). Mariana and I said hello to the three daughters (all in their mid- to late-twenties, Gina’s sister Maria, a couple of the little kids, and a female distant relative (who was ignored until about 30 minutes later). The three oldest daughters have a classic gypsy look to their face. They all thin and very muscular — if I saw them in California, I would assume that they work out with weights daily — but, of course, this is not the case and probably due to carrying the water jug from the public faucet down the street, as well as good genes. The daughters are all very pleasant and sincere — the only exception is Constantina (second oldest) who has a very deep voice and appears a little gruff at times. She also has been seeing a doctor about her “thyroid problems.” We plan to take her to the doctor later this week.

I was offered one of the few tiny padded stools and took my usual place of honor, far from the latrine, and covered by a tarp to protect me from the sun. It seems that their house is in a constant state of redesign and transition as they continue to scrape together tiny improvements and modifications, in what seems like a daily basis. There also seems to a constant stream of friends and visitors just hanging out at the house.

So, with Mariana as translator, I asked how each person was, one-by-one. The youngest, Florin has a cloudy patch in his eye—he’s blind in that eye. It looked like a cataract to me, but we will take him to an ophthalmologist later.

Next, we met up with Camelia. She is another real estate agent. I met her on the Internet. 🙂

She runs a small real estate operation and is married to a Belgian citizen. Anyway, Camelia took us to a very nice neighborhood in Rahova. To be honest, this was clearly the nicest neighborhood (physically) that we had seen in Sector 5 so far. I was very impressed by this area. The children on the street appeared very clean and happy, and really looked no different than kids in my neighborhood at home (except for the fact that we Americans are so afraid of child abduction that we don’t let our kids play in our front yards anymore).

Unfortunately, the house was disgusting (smelled of wet animals) and the guy who was showing us the place (owner?) was doing everything besides scratching his private parts to prove to us how uninteresting we were. I could not believe how he behaved. I think that this place was originally a business, possibly car repair and simply did not feel like a home.

Mariana and I went back to their place and we had another traditional Romanian dinner, made by her mother. We started with a soup ??? The next course was a chicken dish cooked in a tomato broth stew that resembled a Hungarian stew (I think); it was a light sauce that tasted of paprika? with onions and garlic.

We got home around 2am and I crashed hard. Unfortunately, I was soon woken by a wide assortment of drunken revelers as they exited the nearby nightclub (right in the middle of a nice neighborhood!–as they exited the club and made as much noise as possible, yelling and talking as loudly as possible. The noise was coming strictly from the men and I had the impression that this was their chance to be assert their power (and frustration).

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