Being Brave In Romania #2
I Will Always Love Busteni, Wild Dogs And All
A guidebook once said that Busteni is an unremarkable little town – unpleasant and without character. Even with traffic congesting in its small streets, I found a plethora of local color. In the park, a live music festival tore the air with its semi rap sounds and jolting beat. And a birthday party passed by in Romanian tradition with men in a horse drawn cart – proudly displaying the top of a fir tree.
Wandering the side streets you can find a cozy butcher shop and markets that offered basic necessities like aspirin, soap, tissue, mineral water and paprika potato chips. (Which I now adore and cannot find in the states.) Did you know they even make duck chips? Real duck. None of that artificial stuff. And the tomatoes were glorious. Like you’d never smelled a real tomato before. As far as condiments are concerned, though, bring your own Tabasco, lemon pepper, steak sauce, and packets of beloved ranch dressing.
In the evenings, after buying groceries, we headed back towards the rent house. Over the railroad tracks, up the winding hill, pass the bridge, and the many fortified houses along the way. I tried to avoid the horse droppings that lay decomposing on the gravel studded streets. This was no easy feat in the dark but you came to recognize that anything really black on the street was worth stepping around. Luckily, my shoes were washable and possibly the most valuable thing I possessed at the time, considering.
Every morning I’d sit on the porch and watch the sun come up through the layers of the sky, bathing the Carpathian Mountains in an orange glow. At the top, a giant iron cross stands guard as a memorial to those who died under communist oppression. It was a bloody fight and it makes me shudder to think that very few of us Americans even knew what was going on at that time and how much they were counting on our country to help.
But the wild dogs didn’t care and they broke up my silent musings with a chorus of barks, howls, whines and an occasional growling, snarling, tearing noise. It was a scary mesmerizing sound and I almost leapt up out of my chair until I remembered the fence and staircase between me and the brownish-black mongrel running up and down the street, leading the band of echoing replies.
Up to this time I had heard about packs of wild dogs sick with rabies, but had only encountered one Poodle, two Pekinese and a sad looking Chihuahua on a string. It was hard to see them in a pack. I wasn’t worried about a Chihuahua chewing on my leg. There was, however, a man with a leopard and another man who had a dancing squirrel. It was sad you couldn’t reach down and pet one of these stray animals. I think there were only two cats in all of Romania and they were staying at our house. We couldn’t understand them either, so we just fed them as much as possible. They still complained.
On one side of the city there’s a tram that took us all the way up to the mountains. We stepped in and the car rose slowly up the granite sides. Tall trees clung to the edges of the rocks, their roots holding on to nothing yet secretly burroughing into the cracks. You looked down at the houses all rust and brown, red and black. They became tiny specks, and the car hit the top with a rush of anxious bodies barreling through the door and on to the mica encrusted ground. There were herds of sheep on faraway pastures and some people say that on a clear day you can spot the Black Sea.
All the rock formations had character. We climbed them and took pictures with funny poses. We had a picnic lunch of bologna, wine and cheese. Florin, (one of our guides), read poetry as the wind carried his words away. I could have died happy right there. But the girls had to go to the bathroom.
At the sheepherder’s tavern, workmen were tearing out the windows, gouging the tiles and ignoring the desperate pleas of stranded women. We giggled and tried to find an answer to our dilemma. I thought of giving them money to leave, when our noses were attacked by a sudden terrible smell coming from one of the available stalls. It sent us running back to the table in horror. I downed a stiff cognac and tried to ignore the cries of a full bladder till we were safely at the bottom.
Heading back for the evening, I bought a couple of metal studded bracelets, a few postcards, and helped gather food for dinner. Sitting outside the internet café, surrounded by everyone’s belongings; a small congregation of dogs assembled at my feet. They seemed harmless, but strangely interested. When the group came back, we left. But the dogs followed. It was no longer funny and amusing, but we figured it out. In the exchange of packages, someone had handed me a plastic bag of meat-that was still dangling casually on my left arm. I felt sorry for the dogs, but in Romania it’s all about survival. A lesson I’m just beginning to learn.
Even still, Busteni remains in my head and when I close my eyes, I see the mountain view from the porch, and listen to the echoes of the little town I would be proud to call my own.