I gave my colleagues the office Christmas party this week. It was postponed because they keep the Orthodox advent fast and are vegans in December. But we created a Christmas atmosphere in February by going beforehand to see The Nutcracker Suite at the National Opera, which I was sorry I missed at Christmas.
It was great except for the children. An entire row of five year old girls without adults sat behind us. I never thought Anthony Hope’s line ‘Oh for an hour of Herod!’ was funny before, but now see it is not funny but bitter. The mothers sat in the row behind, rarely interfering with their offspring. I found refuge in the farthest corner of the stalls but the girls were strategically placed so that it was hard not to be in earshot of them. Not much Christmas spirit from me.
There was also somewhere one single little boy. Full marks for gender stereotyping in bringing up children, which I think is the universal rule in Romania. As a result, Romanian men are men and women and women and everyone is happy about that. On the other hand I think little boys should appreciate ballet too.
At least the girls seemed to enjoy the performance and had to be dissuaded from clapping to the music. How different at matinees of the Nutcracker, full of children, in London where the audience preserves the silence of an ossuary. This is partly because the English upper middle classes are cold-blooded, but mostly because we do not take children below the age of ten to the ballet. Romanian adults in any case chat through ballet and opera and answer their telephones in the cinema.
In my opinion, Romanians tend both to spoil and neglect their children, in ways that surprise an Englishman. I’ve seen children play on the streets and talk happily to strangers – I remember some coming up to me and one of them touching my sleeve and saying ‘Ghinion!’ which means ‘Bad luck’ in Romania but actually he meant ‘You’re it!’. I know that children are left at home unsupervised at a very young age or dispatched for months to their grandparents (nannies and babysitters are few). The children of the rich often behave very badly at private schools which is why rich parents of discernment often prefer to entrust their children to state schools. On the other hand there is more deference to adults by teenagers than is thinkable in England. It is all part of the fact that the 1960s did not happen in Romania. Corporal punishment was used a lot until it was abolished in order to please the EU, but I think it will be very long before child centered educational methods get a look in here.
After the ballet, we went to the poet Mircea Dinescu’s restaurant Lacrimi si Sfinti and had a wonderful meal. Like almost every restaurant these days, it is near my flat in the Old Town but I had not been there. Dinescu himself was at a table nearby. He has rethought Romanian cuisine and says he uses only the best fresh ingredients from south of the Danube. It is very different from the usual traditional Romanian restaurant. The wines too were good. The sausages, pastrami and cheeses were better than anything I had tasted for a very long time and the puddings were delicious, especially a kind of trifle made with forest fruits and the sweet cheese pie.
The fact that young Romanians prefer when eating out to eat Romanian food rather than foreign muck is one of the things that give me hope for this country. That and their love for traditional and pre-war Romanian music.
By Paul Wood, Guest Writer
Paul Wood is the owner of Apple Search, the executive search company, and is writing a book about Bucharest where he has lived since 1998. His personal blog is here.
(photo: National Opera’s website)