Wednesday, January 12, 2011
An everyday encounter
Over the weekend I stayed at Ploiesti - some 50 kms north of Bucharest on the main road to Brasov; within sight of the Carpathian foothills; and easy reach of the Dealu Mare vineyards. For most of the 20th Century it was the Romania’s oil base – but the oil has now been bought up by foreigners and apparently put on reserve. As a result the City is now very pleasant – at least in its physical surroundings!
But Romanian petrol has become in the last 6 months the most expensive in Europe – the subject of some intense debate but for reasons for which I am none the wiser. If it interferes with the driving habits of the young Mafia here, I will be well pleased. We encountered one of the high Testerone guys on Monday – his smoked windows black Audi was dumped across the pavement leaving us only a body width to scrape through. We get very angry with this insensitivity – and swung our bags around as we passed – and a screetching dervish duly emerged to hurl insults at D who reciprocated. Testerone Ted (all of 24 years old – how can he own such a car???) came chasing after D – and physically prevented her from continuing her way – paintwork after all is their virility symbol. I returned to lend her moral support – just as a 50 year-old was telling her that if it had been his car he would have knocked her to the ground and trampled on her! Our protestations about illegal parking were brushed aside – even by a couple of cops who were summonsed after the guy grabbed my throat after his floosy objected to my banging my fist on his car. At my age I can (if I control myself) react passively - unlike the TTs. D and I were driven to the police station – with D facing a charge of vandalisation (for a hair scratch) but me prepared to counter-charge TT with assault. I was told that – as a foreigner – I could not enter the police station (!) and one of the PCs stayed with me. He was in his mid 40s – had been fairly hostile to us during the encounter – but now seemed to relax (good training??) and share my concerns about TTs.
When I was eventually allowed in, it was to meet the very impressive station boss – Tiberius no less – who spoke English and adopted a very common-sense approach – apparently threatening TT with both a parking charge and assault. He took D and me into his office and, while D was writing her testimony, told us about his various initiatives. A good guy – although D feels that the treatment had a lot to do with my being a Brit (and of a certain age)!
The next day – despite the overcast sky – I headed north to the mountains and D to Bucharest. The higher I climbed the more the sky cleared but immediately I hit the plain again at Rasnov I was into pea-soup mist again. The village, however, had not only clear sky but no snow! Rare for 1,400 metres in mid-January.
A box of Fassbinder films was waiting for me – as well as the news that one of my neighbours had died (88 year old husband of the small bent woman who chases her chickens and occasionally drops in for a coffee and biscuits. Duly lit the bedroom stove – and discovered that a leak has sprung in one of the bath taps (yes, I do have a bath – if no TV or fridge!). But I took the easy way out; turned off the water again and relied on the traditional water pitcher and bowl I bought recently. Assembled one of the marvellous standard lamps (with additional reading light) which IKEA is selling for only 10 euros – and settled down to read a fascinating book about the 3 Himmler brother written by a granddaughter of the youngest (Heinrich was the middle brother). How Nazism took hold of such a civilised country as Germany is a fascinating question which I have never seen dealt with adequately – it’s usually passed over in a perfunctory manner to get to the more exciting and shocking aspects of Nazism with which (as Peter Watson rightly points out in his recent book) the Brits have an unhealthy fixation. A lengthy, sympathetic but balanced story of the interaction of the stable family circle and unstable social and economic environment in which someone like Himmler grew up is an important aspect of our understanding of that period. Most of us know about the feeling of betrayal when the 1st world war was suddenly lost (The Kaiser had been hiding the truth); the communist putches in the various cities in the immediate aftermath and the recruitment of young soldiers to the Freikorps-type organisations which were created to put down these revolutionaries; the hyperinflation – but it is rarely told from the perspective of the ordinary person. Himmler’s father was a respectable Headmaster – and The Himmler Brothers by Katrin Himmler paints a powerful picture of how such people’s worlds crumbled.
And, finally, a good sample of recent coverage of China.