Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Milk Queue

I must confess that there is a somewhat awkward feeling of timid pride about being born on the other side of the wall, the uncivilized, perpetually superseded, 50-years-behind one. It means growing up in a world where you can appreciate small things, and being apprehensive at the thought that perhaps you enthuse over events otherwise trite for the progressed world.

My childhood memories, such as those of millions of other twenty-some eastern Europeans, would undoubtedly sound strange to the western-born ear. Few of them would understand what special celebration it was for us the day when chocolate or oranges arrived. Word would spread contagiously around the neighborhood: "They've brought oranges at the corner-shop". Few minutes, and a mass of people would gather in front of the blessed cornucopia donor, where a benevolent divine figure masked as a vendor would begin bawling orders: "All in line!", "Only five per person!". Being a rare merchandise, chocolate, milk, oranges would have to be rationalized, so even if you queued the whole day, you would eventually take home only your due ratio.

The milk day, people would get in line at five or six a.m., so that they wouldn't lose priority. Never was a better time for us to understand the importance of a family such as in those protracted, anxiety replete hours. Family meant kids, and a kid meant one more person, therefore an extra bottle of milk to bring home. "Give away only one, so that all of us can have one!" was amongst the main leitmotifs of the era. Friendships and marriages would blossom at the queue, for it certainly was the ideal environment to socialize and love thy neighbor.

Nowadays, when the long longed-for capitalist economy has finally arrived with its shiny armor and you can buy whatever you want in whatever quantity, people still have the queue instinct. Whenever there's a line of more than five, a passer-by joins the row and asks in a half-concerned, half-curious tone "what is it that they give here?" as if afraid that he might miss something, that the others are lining up for some extraordinary gimmick that capitalism has brought, a true happiness provider. Sell it by piece, so that all can have some!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Pure Breed Stalinist

Dobre Vece, friends and companions.

Yesterday my Italian friends took to me the Harvest Feast at the Leoncavallo Social Center (Social Center), basically a new excuse for people to socialize, smoke some dope and think of themselves as tough non-conformists at odds with a repressive society. The social centers in Italy have a left-wing political orientation, originally aimed to be an oasis of free expression and arts' encouragement. Anyone is free to speak out his opinion as long as it's left-oriented.

The entrance fee, though, was a bit high, as a demonstration that even rough communists can learn capitalism's savage rules of survival. I must say I enjoyed the "Risotto alla Maria" (Marijuana Risotto), not as much though as the people that were actually harvesting ganja weeds in the garden. What's really worth in these parties, though, is the social fauna. The prize of the evening goes tooooooo.... keep your moustaches on... the old Stalinist.

Yeap, they're alive and kicking. Well, for those of you who casually overslept on a Sunday morning and woke up to discover that 50 years of human history had passed them by, let me make a short description.

Stalin= bloody USSR dictator during whose regime more than 20 million famine-stricken people died, also due to deportations and regime repression.

It takes a lot of guts to declare yourself a Stalinist (not communist) in 2007, so I did linger on to find out more about what a pure-breed 2007 Stalinist's interpretation of the world is. I can now distinctly decode the basic lines of the ideology this way:

1) I believe in peace, only that it should be armed.

2) Whomever is a pain in the ass (basically immigrants and Italians from the South, and anyway, anyone who's a bit weird) should be put on daily trains going from Milan train station to Siberia. Aren't you afraid that you would remain alone together with a bunch of stray cats and Venetian wild pigeons? No answer.

3) The greatest three evil politicians in world history: the Polish that lived in Rome (aka Pope Paul II), Reagan and Gorby

4) The biggest error in world history: the tearing down of the Berlin Wall.

Now it's full of these damn Eastern Europeans going around freely like real human beings exercising their right to free movement.

YAK!!! I myself couldn't imagine anything more gross.

Dazvidania, tovarasi.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Save the Lobsters

When in a foreign country, you must assume that whatever indigens do, it will seem strange. Take for example the first stroll I took on an autumn morning at Piazza delle Erbe in Padova.
A wondrous exhibition of bloody cows, piggy heads and porkish looks displayed itself, in a certain B-movie splatter atmosphere. I went to one of the gorge-tear screaming butchers and asked in a rather intimidated tone: "One piece of cow, per favore" (my Italian was at an all-time low).
"Subito" he said, and, taking the butcher knife, started singing "La donna รจ mobile" while the machette was chopping away the last pieces of vegetarian self-esteem I might have had.

That's why, when I read the other day on a newspaper about the lobster friend, I welcome the news with the usual "They're foreigners, they're meant to be weird" shoulder shrug. At the supermarket on the corner of my University, a 17-year-old wearing a wig and a hat turned up at the fish counter and asked whether the lobsters were still alive. "Actually we've got them two days ago and they're on their last breath, but please, help yourself, the ice is just to keep away the smell" must have said the salesman to the undercover cop.

On the affirmative answer, she brutally grabbed four sane specimens and tried to make her way out of the door. When the guards stopped her, the girl finally revealed the mysterious reason of such abnormal behaviour: she was on a mission on behalf of the "Animal Liberation Front" association, there to give relief to the poor lobsters held in a state of utter pain and sufference. I've heard that the lobsters are now going to press charges against the violence of the liberation forces.

I myself am planning to save from its suffering a spiny lobster tomorrow. As far as I'm concerned, I'll choose the quickest, most painless way for such creatures. Gentlemen, get your butter. The water is already boiling.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Western Vintage

Does Romania, my native country, offer a profoundly distorted view on the world, or do all kids grow up dreaming of emigration? I wonder if the chubby, rose-cheeked Kinder kid ever woke up one day thinking "cows are more violet on the other side".
He would then go to his bulgingly sane Swiss mom and announce with a decise and hopeful tone "I'm out to get some milk. Don't wait up for me for the next 20-some years. Oh, and by the way, Tony the Tiger is coming too. We've re-evaluated our relationship over a bowl of cereals."

After the 1989 regime fell, my cousins would go on for years on the so-called "western help" that arrived, basically cardboard boxes full of the lost-and-found paraphernalia of second hand bargains.
One day, they would make their descent in pompa magna in front of the block of flats where communism had done the miracle of cramming at least 16 people in 20 sqm. A big, brown sausage with stylish paillettes effects would shine in the Sunday morning sun, on a fresh-cut-grass greenish background.
"Where did you get it?" the other kids would ask, their faces gradually turning the same colour as the green shirt. "Western help" the impiously sincere answer severed the breezy air, automatically placing them in the privileged category of those needy enough to receive such benevolent donations.

The rest of us were just regular natives, doomed to wear the Chinese notoriuos labels "Abibas" and "Reobak" bought at the corner market, not worthy enough to taste the profound joy of wearing a real, live, already worn Western garment.
I've dreamed for years of true, second-hand, Western clothes, which can actually inebriate your senses with the acre odour of the former proprietor, and just as a revenge for my cousins, I can now be seen trodding around flea markets on Saturday mornings while I try to negotiate down the prize of a true, moth-eaten, grandma's skirt. "Where did you get that old crap?" my cousins would now ask in disbelief. "Oh, it's Western vintage."