It's about 10:30 on Sunday morning, and I receive another of those phone calls from Tibi:
"Hey Mike, wanna go swimming today?"
"Tibi, it's January."
"Yeah, I know, don't worry. We're going to a thermal bath. It's all indoors and very warm."
I paused for a moment, thinking... "Aw heck, ok. I got nothing better to do. Let's go."
"Alright, we'll come to pick you up. Be ready in half an hour."
Half an hour, but of course.
I rushed to finish my bowl of muesli and quickly grabbed a towel, bathing suit and flip-flops. Tibi called when he was downstairs waiting, so I dashed down to meet him. We got in the car and drove off to pick up Simona, Tibi's girlfriend (and my boss at the Kid's Club). Simona stuffed the trunk with drinks and food for the day, including a whole roasted chicken. One thing I've learned about interactions with Romanians (it doesn't really matter what sort) is that you never have to worry about going hungry.
We drove down the road a bit, through the village of Costei, and took a right into Tipari to pick up Tibi's mother and her friend. It was one of those cold, grey, wet days. The streets of Tipari were muddy enough for a volleyball match. The current song on Tibi's MP3 audio system was 'Dancing Queen' by Abba.
We cruised along E70 towards Timisoara. Well, perhaps 'cruised' is a bit of an exaggeration. After all, the road is in terrible condition, and has been under construction for decades. They just can't seem to get it right. In fact, they just repaired some sections, and I swear it's worse than it was before. Anyway, Tibi was driving, I was in the passanger seat and the rest were in the backseat, grumbling every time we hit a bump. We weren't 10 minutes into the ride before Tibi's mom started teasing me from the backseat about my ability to pronounce 'egészségedre.' I just laughed, politely saying that I've retired from speaking Hungarian. Soon enough we came to the village of Belint, and Tibi started slowing down while looking for something on the left side of the road. He stopped the car, finding what he had been looking for-- a man waiting in front of his house, a bag tightly clenched in his hand. I soon recognized the man; it was Karol, a friend of Tibi and his mother. Forgetting to look both ways, Karol hastily ran out into the street to come towards us, but he had to jump back when he heard the honks of an approaching truck. After the truck passed, Karol judiciously looked both ways and jogged across with his bag, which was apparently full of apples. All he had wanted to do was give us apples for the ride! I have no idea how he and Tibi had set up the apple transfer, since I hadn't seen Tibi use his phone at all during the drive, but they must have planned it somehow. Who knows. These sort of things happen all the time. Anyway, now well-stocked with apples, we continued on our way. The next Abba track started playing, I believe it was 'Money Money.'
Eventually we came to our destination, the village of Sanmihaiul German. The air in the pool hall was warm and thick with fog, it also had an unusual smell to it. The room was very crowded; apparently we weren't the only ones to have the idea to come to Sanmihai. All my companions had made it into the pool before me. So, when I entered the room, I was more concerned with finding my group than with the color of the water. Spotting them at the opposite corner, I walked over to meet them. It was only when I got closer, seeing Tibi in the water, that I noticed the color. It was black; I couldn't see anything below the water line. "Water's pretty clean, eh?" I astutely observed, adding, "Do you think it's safe to drink?" Always quick with the wit, Tibi commented, "it would be if it weren't for all the pee."
Needless to say, urine was not the only thing in that water. I just shrugged my shoulders and dipped in. Man, it was hot! I couldn't stand it for very long, so I decided to sit on the side and dangle my feet from the edge. Tibi came over to join me, deciding, like me, that the ambient temperature was warm enough. Not only was the heat hard to bear, but that pungent smell was also starting to get to me. I knew it was a familiar odor, but for some reason I couldn't put my finger on it. It wasn't quite sulfurous, as you might expect in a thermal bath. It was something else altogether. In fact, now that I reflect on it, the smell was something like the inside of the old 'Muppets' lunch tin that I had during my kindergarten days-- the smell of old lunch meat, rotten bananas and spilt milk. Mmmmm. I Finally I asked Tibi what it was I was smelling. He looked at me, scrunched his nose and told me it was petrol. Of course! Oil! That explained the color of the water, as well as the slippery feel of my skin. I scrunched my nose too. "I don't much care for it either," Tibi declared.
As we were sitting there, the power suddenly cut out. As a result, the ventialtion fans stopped working, and the air, which was already hot and stifling, became even more so. Soon enough the 'pool boy' (a scruffy middle-aged man, pot-belly hanging out of his extra-small red t-shirt and cigarette dangling from his lip) came along to open the windows. This made some of the folks in the pool noticeably nervous, since open windows would invite that most unwelcome of guests: curent. The cool, moist air from outside flooded into the hall, and immediately condensed into a thick fog which can only be compared to my mother's pea soup (the kind of pea soup in which you can make your spoon stand up by itself). At least we could breathe.
Tibi and I continued sitting along the side of the pool, our feet turning into oily prunes. We both decided that the temperature was much more tolerable with the windows open, even if the fog made it nearly impossible to see. As he often loves to do, Tibi spent a good deal of time telling me jokes. Unfortunately, I usually have a terrible memory for jokes, and when the jokes are in Romanian, my memory is even less. So, whenever Tibi tells me a joke, which is virtually always, it usually goes in one ear and out the other and I can't recall it 5 minutes later. For the sake of this blog, that might be a good thing since most of his jokes wouldn't be appropriate to relate here anyway.
The electricity returned just as we were getting ready to leave, much to the joy of the cheering masses. I can only suppose they were cheering because the power was back, not because we were leaving. That's what I tell myself anyhow. We decided to head straight home, since we were hungry, and the pool hall, what with it's sopping-wet atmosphere and less-than-appetizing aroma, didn't seem like the ideal place to eat. So, we went to Simona's place, where she re-heated the chicken. We ate it with a prune-sauce and homemade wine. I noticed there was a vase with mistletoe in the middle of the table, so I explained to Tibi and Simona the typical Christmas tradition of hanging mistletoe in a doorway. Upon hearing what happens when two people meet under the mistletoe, Tibi's eyes lit up. "Mike, this is great! Why don't you make yourself a crown of mistletoe to wear at parties?" I explained to him that this isn't exactly how it's supposed to work. Instead, we decided it'd be more appropriate to carry around a cardboard doorframe with the mistletoe hanging from it. Silly, right? Such are conversations with Tibi. Anyway, I think I've got my next Halloween costume all figured out.
After dinner, I went back to my place to take a shower. I did my best to scrub the oil smell out of everything...but I fear I'll never get it out of my bathing suit.