On Chesil Beach

Ian McEwan made his debut in Romania with Amsterdam and The Cement Garden, books that illustrate his past writing tendencies more than they do his present ones. Saturday was one of the best books I’ve read in 2005 and I’ve just finished On Chesil Beach.

The book takes place over the course of maybe one hour, but the tension and the flashbacks make the snail-pace at which the two newly weds (both virgins) move towards the bedroom to consummate their marriage run like a thriller. But McEwan knows the writing game well, and just when you think a denouement has been reached, he turns time to fast-forward, leaping decades into the future to leave the reader breathless, unconscious and violently aware of the passage of time. That McEwan – as opposed to other writers I’ve read recently who employed this technique – also suggests that the blunders of youth could turn into tremendous regrets doesn’t help.

Yes, we’re small against the background of history. Yes, we do foolish things and think they mean everything when in the context of one’s life, they are small. But, McEwan says, what if they ARE everything? Or, more accurately put, what if those things do change everything and 40 years later we actively regret the outcome, without realizing it could have ended differently if only one extra word had been spoken.

Me says: “Journalism is generous”

Bradut, a former teacher (now a peer and a friend), runs jurnalismonline.ro and he had me over yesterday for one of his Yahoo!Mess interviews. It ended up being a long talk — about Esquire Romania, journalism and a little about blogging. If you can read Romanian and can take a little more of my ranting, check it out.

Esquire Romania

Esquire, the award-winning American magazine, is launching its Romanian edition next week. The PDFs below are a sneak preview of the cover and contents page.

Esquire will be a novelty on the Romanian magazine market, and the first outlet to promote long-form writing and narrative journalism. These forms are almost inexistent in Romania. They will hopefully grow with the help of such a strong brand.

If you live in Romania, buy it! You’ll be buying and supporting great writing.

If you’re a friend of mine, buy it because of the profile I wrote of late-director Cristian Nemescu. It’s an eight-page piece which will hopefully give readers a deeper understanding of who this young director was. It was an emotional piece to report and a hard one to write. I learned a ton about the man and I hope you will, too. Also, please go see his wonderful award-winning feature film, California Dreamin’. It’s definitely worth your time.

Welcome Esquire Romania! May you live long and prosper!

Esquire - Septembrie 2007
This wonderful cover was designed by Raymond Bobar.

Esquire - Septembrie 2007 - Sumar
Many goodies inside, these teasers say.

Gomboc cook-off

This is indeed turning into a food blog. Help!

Here are shots from the dumpling cook-off between Jo and Lavi. I call them gomboc, which is the Hungarian spelling of the lovely dumplings. Jo made papanasi (even though she inisted they are gomboc – they are not) out of yogurt and raisins, and she made them by adapting a recipe that involves boiling, not frying. Lavi made plum dumplings (szilvas gomboc) in which you take a plum, wrap it in potato dough (did I just make up that concept?) and then boil it. Both were lovely and tasty.

This is some lightly fried pesmet, or dried crust as the dictionary calls it. This is what both types of dumplings will be coated with once fried.

This is Jo’s mixture of raisins and yogurt and a bunch of other stuff that brought the ingredients together.

The plums are waiting for Lavi.

Who in the meantime is boiling the potatoes.

By then, Jo’s beasts were already done.

Giving the potatoes taking a floury beating.

Eventually, the plum dumplings are ready as well.


Romanian Pie (feat. apples)

No posts in a while, but, believe me, it’s because I’m writing enough at work.

Still, there are interesting experiments going on in my kitchen. Below is Lavi‘s monumental apple pie, which I ate about 80 percent of by myself. Why? Well, first of all it was damn yummy. Second of all, people say I’m skinny so I have an excuse. There!

Apple Pie
Ingredients, ready, set, go!

Apple Pie
No, these are not silicone breasts.

Apple Pie
Hard to stop picking at the filing.

Apple Pie
Poking cute holes.

Apple Pie
Opening slice. Sooooo goooooood!

Drafting mission statements

It could have been the beer. Sometimes it is the beer. Sometimes beer is just one’s cover.

I don’t keep many (of my own) secrets to myself and I believe the one’s that have not surfaced are hidden because I haven’t found an understandable way to put them out there. To me, life is a collection of stories and the only way I can function in it is to tell the stories of others and the stories of myself. These keep me grounded, they keep my eyes open and they teach me about other people and about myself.

Listening to myself last night as I talked about the need to tell stories (something intimately linked to a pretty consuming project I’m working on) I realized how much I depend on them for strength. Although the coherence of my argument still gives me chills, it’s something I’ve sensed for a while. I came across the text below on Monday when I picked up a package of stuff John sent from the States. Apart from the crazy pink dots, the box contained my master’s project (written in 2005). In turn, the project contained a self-evaluation of the time I spent in journalism graduate school–something that reads to me like the draft of a mission statement.

I hope I’m still walking this path.

As I get ready to wrap up the most incredible two years of my life, I can’t resist the temptation to look back. It was a Missouri summer day – the kind that takes your breath away and draws sweat from your body like a water pump – when I exited the St. Louis airport. I was tired, confused, scared and feeling like I had never written a lead, interviewed a human being or ever published a story.

In those first days in America I realized that the moment you switch languages, the past takes a back seat and it all begins… again.

Twenty months later I remain tired, but I am no longer scared or confused. I fought so many battles with myself and my journalism that I stopped counting the falls and the comebacks. I would be cheating and holding back if I took the standard approach of saying the master’s program helped me grow as a journalist. Yes, of course it did. But my most impressive growth exceeds my chosen profession.

During my time in Columbia I grew as a human being, learning so much about myself and the world around me that my previous knowledge resembled an archaic stable next to a modern farmhouse. The tool I used to understand myself and the world I lived in was journalism. Journalism allowed me to become more confident, discover new things, embrace people, tell stories, mature, love, cry, smile, and understand.

As I leave the Missouri School of Journalism, I know stories are born within me and they are in my heart and in my brain as much as they are in my notes. My fights, pains, joys, experiences and quirks bring as much to a written report as a wonderful quote or a scene does.

Reporting and writing cover stories for the NewSunday Missourian allowed me to articulate what I always felt deep inside: a story is as much about me as it is about the world I talk about. This is not about ego; it’s what the Missourian’s executive editor Tom Warhover called “the place of sentimentality in a news article.” Sentimentality is the sadness of the character as much as it is the struggle of the writer to bring that sadness to the page. Sentimentality is the perfect quote that captures a person as much as it is the time spent to get it. Sentimentality is not being able to break-up with your story – because if you do, the story is dead no matter how alive you think your characters make it.

If two years ago I was scared to challenge the idea of hard news as manifested in a city council story or a police brief, I am now able to make a clean break from it. Being a journalist means different things to different people. The city council story is not my journalism because I need to grow while working on a story. I need to grow not only in terms of acquiring information, but in terms of becoming a better person. Telling the stories of people trying to slow down their lives or chronicling the journey of a Pakistani man to find God as part of a story package on the struggles within Islam, have allowed me understand my place in the world, reevaluate myself as a human being and challenge my thoughts on journalism and life itself.

Not all stories will be as challenging and as rich in meaning but I know that if I keep looking for stories as large as the world itself, I will at least remain in the market of ideas. What I get at this market can make people’s lives richer. The more we understand of the world, the better we’ll feel in it. If all journalists jump on the breaking news and huddle like sheep at the place of impact we’ll be too caught in the moment to remember it means little in a larger context.

I feel my place is outside the moment. To make a parallel with time, if one’s journalism is the minute, mine is the hour that minute belongs to.

I loved stories since I was a little boy and to me they were always were more than just what the text said. When I was five, the story of the prince rescuing the kingdom from the hands of the evil dragon was the fight of the individual against the onslaught of hardship. Now, at 24, the struggle of Muslims to marginalize references to violence when it comes to their faith is every person’s challenge to defeat preconceived ideas and try to engage in dialogue. The spiritual growth of a person has always fascinated me. The development of ideas, skills, beliefs are at the core of our lives and they determine our direction and ultimately, our legacy.

Fuchsia dots attack.

Fuchsia dots are taking over this city. Not my dots. Hers.

Polka dots

ab4, my little musical indulgence

As I’ve done for more than five years now (last time, here), I will indulge in a little nostalgia and give props to ab4. They are playing tonight in Suburbia.


Keep buying home appliances

There is little excuse for being silent on your blog, so I won’t venture into that territory. But I do want to use the tried and tested trick of letting someone else write when you can’t do it. A few weeks ago Elena left a very thoughtful comment to this post. I wanted to make it more visible earlier, but I kept forgetting.

Here it is (lightly edited). Finally.

Fabulously well put, I should say!

Thank you, for writing! It’s good to know that u are not alone, and somebody else is experiencing the same sort of feeling as you.

After reading your posts I dare say you enjoyed your time in the States to the max. Even more than me, I should say for reasons it is not worth spending the time to explain right here. However, it’s interesting to see how you went ahead and bought home appliances. I did almost the same stuff. I bought bedroom furniture a week after my return to Bucharest, right before buying Christmas presents…

And this was out of a need to own something after switching apartments and houses (3 in 3 years), buying and discarding Goodwill furniture, let alone hand-me-down sort of type vacuum cleaners, irons and things of that sort… Basically, after almost 6 months since my return home, I cannot really define Bucharest as home, although it’s been my home since I was born. Funny huh, how 3 years of one’s life (spent in the States) can define you better than the many more years that basically represent your life…

What’s even funnier is that people are listening to your stories, and seem to understand, or at least they make efforts to relate. Only there is nothing to relate to for them. When you try to explain this to a co-national who’s never been away from home, or even worse to a friend who spent years abroad (be it in the States or Europe) but who never ceased to identify his home with Bucharest/Romania, it is like having a monologue. That is the sad, honest truth.

It’s sort of like the same thing of trying to explain to an American, that is making him/er understand why exactly “super” is “too pretentious a designation for the Romanian equivalent” to quote your exact words. For an American to understand the exact meaning of your statement, would be impossible unless he or she has lived or met or seen the Romanian super….

I am equally amazed and pleasantly surprised to see that you are going through the same process and experiencing your return home in the same way I am. Although you fit right in in the US, and you felt so at home and all, you are having a hard time thinking of your present home as “home”.

Keep up the good work though. Keep buying home appliances, furniture or whatever you might need. It works. With time your apt will definitely look like home and will give you that permanence feeling you long for…

I am still buying home appliances. My next target is a lamp to make reading in bed more plausible.

Hoituri in maslinarie

Martie 27 e plin de pete roz. In maslinarie, sub maslinul in forma de carja, ea ii culege firimiturile de covrig de pe camasa. Cu toate ca era prima cafea dupa multe zile, ar fi vrut sa o poata savura la umbra. Acolo unde casa face o curba brusca se joaca, ca deobicei, copiii—astazi balaia Lapte il da pe Fulgi cu capul de sevaletul crem pe care mama l-a aruncat pe geam pe motiv ca “nu-l intelege”. Se auzea doar zornaitul pietrisului de pe aleea pe care isi rupsese tibia in urma cu doua veri. Pe malul marii, potolul de iepuri trage in teapa o haita de veverite, iar barbatul casei tine sa se minuneze: “Ce roz sangereaza bestiile!”. Gasise cadrul perfect, dar degetul ii ramase intepenit pe declansator, refuzand sa apese.

Disclaimer: Don’t bother trying to figure this out (or translate it). It’s a sort of an exquisite corpse.