Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Piata, part 2

The Piata is a magical place. It's so full of life. My recent post on the subject made me realize I've never taken any pictures there. So, two Fridays ago I decided to go with my camera.

Click on the slideshow to view the photo album:

It was busy! Not only was it a Friday--which are usually busy--it was Good Friday, so people were stocking up for the Catholic Easter. I say 'Catholic Easter' because here people make the distinction between the Catholic/Protestant Easter and the Orthodox Easter, which fall on different dates.

One of the things I like about Lugoj is how multicultural it is, and this is certainly reflected in the piata atmosphere. Walking past the mounds of fruits and vegetables one can hear people speaking in Romanian, Hungarian, Romani, German and even Italian from time to time. As you enter the vicinity, you can hear musica populara (Romanian folk music) blaring from the windows of nearby shops. As you make your way to the far end, the characteristic sounds of manele become more prominent (manele, by the way, is a sort of Turkish-influenced pop). The smells of fresh produce, grilled meats and fried dough waft through the air. The vendors aggresively peddle their wares, calling wandering shoppers to come look at their offerings. "Poftiti, Poftiti," they say. The Rroma women drift about selling wooden spoons.

You can find nearly anything at the piata. There's a barbeque where you can get a beer and some ribs. There are also gogosi (doughnuts) and langosi, a sort of fried dough that comes with cheese or jam. The vendors sell a variety of clothes, fruits, vegetables, meats, dairy, flowers, spices, cleaning products, pots, brooms. If they don't have what you want today, they might have it tomorrow (along with the arrival of other new or unexpected treasures). When corn is in season, they have corn. When pumkins are in season, they have pumpkins. When tomatoes are in season, there are mounds of tomatoes. A lady once tried to sell me bulbs of a mystical tulip from Jordan (so she told me, anyway). It's a place where the arts of selling, conversing and negotiating meld together to form a one-of-a-kind interactive experience. It's also a place full of surprising possibilities. There was a time when I had a surplus of Serbian money that I couldn't seem to exchange anywhere. However, just when it seemed like I would be stuck with the Dinara forever, I happened upon an unassuming little man at the piata who gladly exchanged them into Euros. He did what even the banks wouldn't do!

With my camera hanging around my neck, I got more attention during this visit to the piata than usual. When I went to the dairy section trying the cheeses, I asked to take pictures of a couple of the vendors. Many were so flattered that I took their picture, that they offered me samples of their cheeses. Other vendors flatly refused my photo requests. The people selling meat seemed more opposed than others for some reason. I asked one of the Rroma ladies selling spoons if I could take her picture, and she said I'd have to buy one of her spoons first (so instead I snuck a shot of her while she wasn't looking).

I came across a woman selling a green herb I'd never seen before, so I stopped to ask her about it. She responded in garbled speech I couldn't quite understand (no teeth). She said the name and explained something about it's uses. I caught the word 'ciorba' (chorba, or sour soup). "So, it's used in ciorba?' I asked. She just kept on speaking about something, barely intelligible. The younger lady at the next stand said the woman didn't hear so well. So, I asked the younger lady to repeat what it was called. "Macris," she said (muh-crish, also known as Sorrel in English). I turned back to the old lady and asked if I could take a picture of her. She didn't seem to understand, so I repeated myself. Still nothing. Next I mimed the motion of taking a picture and pointed to my camera. She finally seemed to understand and smiled. Once I took to the picture, she offered me a handful of the herb. "You simply must take some," I thought she sputtered toothlessly. I politely declined, saying I wasn't planning to make ciorba any time soon, and had no other use for the stuff. However, she probably didn't hear me and proceeded to put a handful of the leaves into a bag. I again tried to stop her, but she stubbornly went on. Finally, I decided it wasn't really worth fighting. Handing me the bag, I asked her how much she wanted. She said no payment was necessary. However, for the amount she had given me, it felt wrong just walking away. So I pulled out a few lei and gave them to her. She argued that I'd given too much. I told her not to worry about it. However, she obviously wouldn't agree and snatched the bag back, stuffing in more macris. I again objected; half a kilo was already quite enough. At this point she finally got the hint, and realizing there was no way she could convince me to take more of the herb, she instead threw in a bundle of radishes to settle the score.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


Nationalist riots have broken out in Chisinau, the capital of the Republic of Moldova (Romania's neighbor to the East). At one time part of Romania, Moldova's population is ethnically Romanian. These protests are in response to recent elections, which opponents say were neither free nor fair. Moldova is the only European country with a communist president. At the moment, the border between Romania and Moldova is essentially closed, Chisinau has expelled the Romanian ambassador and it's hard to say what will hapen next. I'm not sure how much coverage this is getting in the States, so I figured I'd post some information here. Check out the links below:

Anti-Communist Protests in Moldova--The New York Times

Moldovan ruling communists clamp down on protests--Reuters

Thursday, April 2, 2009


Life here is cyclical, and so is the world of the piata. The word piata (pee-atza) has become so familiar to me that I often use it as if it were an English word. It actually means 'market.' Here I'm referring specifically to the local farmer's market.

Spring has definitely arrived, and things at the market are coming back to life after the winter dearth. It's so refreshing to see fresh produce making a comeback! To be honest, I was getting sick of onions, parsnips, potatoes and cabbage-- and pickled varieties thereof. In fact, in the winter you can find just about everything in pickled form, even watermelon (which is quite addictive if you ask me). Today I happened by the piata to see what was going on. The weather was beautiful and warm. For a Thursday, things were pretty bustling. The scene would be even more popping on the big market days, Tuesdays and Fridays, when villagers from the surrounding area come to sell their wares.

The first time I ever went shopping at the piata, I went with my colleague from school, Mihaela. She taught me a strategy that I still use today. She said, 'start browsing from the back and work your way to the front.' She told me to do so because producers pay more to rent the tables at the front, and thus jack up their prices accordingly. Therefore, you can often find the best deals at the back tables. Today I found something quite exciting: spinach!! Apparently it just came into season. I bought a whole kilogram without any clue what I'd use it for.

One thing I've learned about shopping in Lugoj is that you need to take opportunities when they come. What's here one week might not be next week (whether you're talking about the supermarket or piata). For example, one of my favorite things about summer are the strawberries. However, the problem is that they come and go in the blink of an eye. They're probably only at the market for a week or so, but when they are, it's glorious.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

A weekend in Medias

One of the many things we uncovered, an old Socialist Romanian flag

I spent the past weekend in Medias helping with the cleanup of a synagogue that has been slated for restoration. Jewish culture in Romania, though thriving in the early 20th century, was virtually eradicated in the latter half of the century. What remains are forgotten skeletons such as this Synagogue in Medias, unused for decades, and perhaps a handful of Jews, if any remain at all.

At one point while we were working in the synagogue, an adolescent boy walked in off the streets, noticing that the door--which is usually locked--was open. He looked around, admiring everything he saw with a sort of distant bewilderment. His face that told you he wasn't really sure what to make of the unfamiliar surroundings. "Is this some kind of church?" he asked, adding, "it must be very old."

In fact Medias's synagogue was built in 1896, which isn't so long ago in the grand scheme of things. However, that young man's ignorance/curiosity illustrates just how forgotten and marginalized Romanian-Jewish history has become. This particular synagogue has been vacant since sometime in the 1970's, perhaps even earlier. Every surface on the interior was covered in thick layers of black dust, and the floors were strewn with old prayer books, photographs and documents, hastily stowed and obviously neglected for ages. In a way, it was like time had frozen there, which was eerie, not to mention sad. It was our job to clean the place up a bit, to sort through everything and salvage what we could.

Check out the photos below. You can click on the slideshow to access the photo album.