The Romanian news channels are raving about two things. Elena Udrea, the former minister of tourism and one of two women who ran for the presidency last year – is being investigated for corruption. The second news item is that Vladimir Putin threatened to invade Romania.
In the old spa of Techirghiol, which is located on the Black Sea coast, things move at the same busy but uneventful pace as they have since I got here. My joints make cracking noise, my muscles hurt and I have new back pains. But everybody says it’s normal to feel like that and this knowledge makes it less scary.
“This treatment stirs your body”, the doctors, nurses and older patients assure me. “One or two weeks after you get home you’ll feel better”.
As Vonnegut says, “so it goes”.
But this week at the old spa has been a lot more interesting than last week. First of all I know my way around the place and people recognize me and smile at me. I also met two amazing patients that had me sitting for hours, listening to their stories.
I met her at the pool, an 87 years old ball of joy. Her hair was cut Sinead O’Connor style. She entered the warm salty water in which we exercise every morning and immediately started to tell me about her grandchildren who are my age. I love grandmothers. We connected instantly.
“I’ll tell you my secret about how to be happy all your life”, she revealed the second time we met in the pool. “Let yourself be courted. That will keep you young and you don’t have to go further than a flirt. It makes you feel like you’re floating. I’m still courted these days. Always have a smile for everybody”.
We met after lunch and she continued telling me stories from her childhood, about Russians and Germans chasing each other during World War Two and how one needs to be stylish: dress how one fancies and like oneself when looking in the mirror. “You need to be a man’s faithful wife and his mistress at the same time.” Her husband died after their 49th wedding anniversary.
I met him in the canteen, we ate at the same table. He is a university teacher and a naval engineer and he told me amazing things about the area I’m in right now — Dobrogea. I have a few pages in my notebook filled with itineraries he recommended: old monasteries, caves, some of the oldest mountains in Europe, lakes, old fortresses and fishermen villages.
He then told me about Bulgaria, Macedonia and Greece, about beautiful shores, Byzantine cities and ancient Greek monuments (and not the ones everybody knows about!). Then he moved on to recommend some Balkan movies and music.
Our following conversations awoke the anthropologist in me. Dobrogea, the south east part of Romania between the Danube and the Black Sea is the most ethnically rich region of Romania: here live Romanians, Aromanians (who call themselves Makidonji), Tatars, Lipovans, Turks, Greeks, Bulgarians, Gagauz people and other ethnic groups I know very little about. He himself has Greek and Aromanian roots and travels every year around the Balkans.
It’s kind of complicated to explain who the Aromanians are. They are ethnically related to Romanians and live in Romania as well as Albania, Bulgaria, Greece, Macedonia and Serbia. They speak Aromanian, which is a Latin language related to Romanian, with different dialects for each country. Aromanians don’t have a country of their own and they blend in wherever they are.
One of the nurses here told me that the water from the lake of Techirghiol (in which I bathe every day) is so salty that the only creatures living in it are little worms (who are helping produce the miraculous mud) and algae.
One more day to go.