Friday, October 31, 2008


Craig is in the Prague airport. He went out through passport control sporting only his light jacket and his fanny pack. Yes, his fanny pack. He departed the airport and took a long enough walk to determine that the actual city of Prague is too cold and too far to walk to on a medium length layover.

Well, mostly too cold. Craig is, perhaps, a bit of a sissy. He begs you to take into consideration that it is night in the Czech Republic, however, before you judge him too harshly.

Craig has returned to the airport and gone back through passport control, which, surprisingly, involved no security screening process whatsoever, and now sits at a small coffee stand not drinking coffee but typing, with slightly frigid fingers, pretentious blog postings in the third person.

It really was cold out there....

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Bucuresti redux

It seems that photos just aren't going to be posted, at least not from here in Romania. Learn to live with disappointment.

I am, again, in Bucharest. To catch up those who may be behind - undoubtedly behind because I've had less chance to get to the internet and update you all than I might have hoped for - I've just returned from 5 days traveling at breakneck pace over the shoddy roads that meander about Romania. (I was assured earlier today that the highway I suddenly found myself traveling was not the ONLY highway in Romania. There is apparently another one as well.) So, as I said, to catch you up, I went from Bucharest north by northwest to Brasov, passing on the way within a couple of kilometers of Peles Castle.

Peles Castle is, according to guidebooks, one of the most crucial and must-see tourist destinations in Romania. We didn't stop.

We did stop in Doftona (completely misspelled), an abandoned prison which was architecturally stunning in its complete dilapidation, and daunting when I began to consider how much work would have to be done to make it look, well, not abandoned. But beautiful. Really beautiful. Central galleries that ended in single, massive arched windows, and walls that rose 30' on either side with narrow walkways to access closely packed cell doors. The fact that the walkways had lost the flooring and the roofing was gone in large sections only made it more stunning.

From there to Brasov,  to ponder churches and cobblestone streets, and to lunch with a cosmonaut whose name is so hard to pronounce I can't even type it. For the sake of story, we'll shorten his name to Dmitri-Demui Warshinsknomui. He was one of the first (last?) Romanian cosmonauts, and the autographed 5x7 card he gave me has a lovely photo of himself in full cosmonaut attire, sans glass helmet. That photo was inset into the larger and more current head shot of himself that he is using to run for the National Senate, representing Brasov. He was just about to officially launch his campaign, which means he and his two opponents will have to campaign for an entire month before the election at the end of November.

From Brasov we traveled up and through the Transylvanian mountains - the Carpathians I believe. to severely understate: the trip was uncomfortable, primarily because of poor road conditions, and slightly terrifying, primarily because safe passing distance while driving into oncoming traffic is slightly less distance than is required to keep the side view mirror attached to your vehicle.

I'm going to race through a bit here: from there we went down in a dark and foggy night to the city of Cluj-Napoca (not misspelled). Over the next few days we saw some of the things I mentioned in a previous posting, including rather more prisons than I needed to see. Every proud warden wanted to show us around COMPLETELY only to let us get to a few minutes of touring the dank basement at the end, which was largely all that we needed. The first couple of prisons were interesting, but the began to blur together.

After hitting the prison museum at Sighuet on the northern border with Ukraine, we turned to East and drove through the mountains to the city of Iasi, which was stock full of absolutely fabulous city exteriors, and farther from Bucharest than anyone would like. Then down , across the Danube by ferry, to the Black Sea, and to scouting of locations for work camps. (The original work camps in this area were to construct a canal from the Danube to the Black Sea. Those camps operated for a number of years in the 40s before the project was ended, and then deemed impossible, and the engineers who planned it killed for dreaming this impossible canal. Then the project was re-opened and I visited a rather impressive canal just yesterday.)

Now I am back, via one of the two Romanian highways, in Bucharest. A question was raised today and answered like this: if you were thrown from a plane above the city, there is a 10% chance you would land on the massive, massive, massive building Ceaucescu built in the middle of the city, a 30% chance you'd land on a communist housing block structure which can only be described as a hive, a 30% chance you'd land on a car stuck in traffic, and a 30% chance you'd land on a wild dog. The chances that you'd land on actually earth is such a statistical improbability, it can be refered to as impossible.

So, a few hours ago, while stuck in traffic between two hives, I looked over and saw a dog peeing on a kiosk of the sort one puts advertising posters. The sorts of posters one sees on construction fences in NYC and LA. Like other kiosks in the city, one poster is not torn down or cleaned off when the next is put up. You would just slather on a bit of wallpaper paste and put your poster over the last, and then move on to the next kiosk. This particular kiosk, however, had a full 8" of poster-depth. I kid you not. I had to jump out and measure. You could see it in cross-section, with peeling corners and edges, and posters had been glued one on top of the last to a full EIGHT INCHES. Crazy. And as I examined this absurdity, I realized that another poster was being, just then, glued on the opposite side.

It turns out that in a mere few days, on my birthday no less, Ace of Base will be performing here in Bucharest. A valuable poster indeed.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

I fully intended...

... to post a tale or two tonight, but I've used up all of my energy trying, and failing, to upload photos. Sorry about that. I can tell you, with full authority, that if you spend an hour being guided through a working, filthy, rank prison, then it is unreasonable to expect the abandoned prison in the foundation of the building will be less filthy or less rank. That prison did have a room full of convicted murderers making shoes, who seemed to be nice enough guys. At least nice enough to be given huge cobbler's needles. I also saw the store where they could buy merchandise with the money earned from cobbling, and had a moment, just before I walked in, where for some reason I fully expected to see a store where they could only buy shoes.

Fortunately, the prisoner's were spared that aggravation, and they were rewarded instead with the approximate contents of a 7-11. The DP with me on this trip claimed that if the prison store sold either Skittles or Dr. Pepper, he'd consider committing a crime just to gain access. I suggested - frankly, it seemed obvious to me - that he should steal the Skittles and the Dr. Pepper, which would really make it a win win scenario for him.

Humor aside, the prisoner's were receiving 30% of their pay themselves, with the other 70% going to the prison. It didn't strike me as a great deal, even for a temp agency, but I suppose they are a captive market.

Other than the 8 hour drive careening through hillside towns at a breakneck pace, nearly killing 3 wizened crones on 2 separate occasions, and nearly killing ourselves on 42,321 separate occasions, the only other thing I did today was spend 2 hours going through another prisoner turned into a musem of the communist era here in Romania. Incredible. If only I could show you the photos.

Goodnight. I'll save up energy for a better story next time.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

No Pictures

The computer I'm using is USB enabled, as long as you don't take the phrase to mean, "able to use USB." So I have many photos, quirky to frightening, but I'm unable to post them to you. However, highlights of my day include:

- Listening to Elton John's "Sacrifice," as performed by a gypsy prisoner in the medium security ward of the Calea Rohova prison. He was accompanied quite well by a rather large prisoner playing a rather small Casio keyboard. It was, I must say, no more or less horrifying than the original version. My immediate instinct was to refer to it as an interrogation technique allowed under the Geneva conventions. I quickly confessed.

- Honestly, that particular area in the Calea Rohova prison was pretty interesting. Not remotely useful to the movie I'm hear to scout, but interesting nonetheless. There was a separate building called, "the club," which had a little indoor badminton area, a small stage for the playing of Elton John covers, a little library, and just an entrance lobby where prisoners could sit and read. Presumably books from the library. One particular prison with good english chatted with me for a few moments. I live in California. His sister lives in Ohio. It is my first time in Romania. How do I like it? I do like it, as it turns out, and oh, yes, it is my first trip. Right about here is where the conversation turned really unexpected - this particular prison inmate wanted to talk about the amazing opportunities available right now in Romania. It is a country full of opportunity. The unemployment rate in Bucharest is under 2 percent. All quite true, but not exactly what I expected to hear from the prison population.

- The maximum security building was incredible, primarily because of how low the security seemed. Well, that isn't quite true. There were guys that looked strikingly like SWAT (in full gear including the black mask) wandering through the narrow hallways. But the prisoners were incredibly nice and we were allowed into their rooms, at their invitation, with them just standing off to the side. And the rooms were truly jam-packed with stuff. Hundreds of paintings and woodcarvings they had done. Fish tanks. Little arrangements of wood and rope to dry socks and cloths. 1001 things to make weapons from, quite frankly. Hard to convey the feel of it without being able to upload a photo, but it was striking.

- We also went to Jilava prison, although we didn't tour the new, functioning prison there at all. I did manage to get in a wee-bit of trouble for including the guard tower in one of my photos, but it does save a lot of hassle to get in trouble when you are already in prison. Saves travel time.

- The old prison at Jilava was "umkempt." The kind of unkempt that starts with 3 feet of standing water. We saw quite a bit of it, crazy dark holes and rooms filled with tens of thousands of rags. We are putting in a request to go back there next week with hip-waders, to get into some areas we couldn't today. It wasn't the kind of water even I want to go into without a bit of protection.

- Saw a hospital. I was warned about the hospitals in Romania about a week ago. The warning was accurate. Yowzers. A thing you don't expect when scouting locations: being pushed into a room with 6 beds and 3 obviously sick patients and told just to check it out. Spend as long as you want.... I'm not entirely sure if the 3 older female patients thought the situation was odd, or if it was just me that was odd. I am rather tall.

And, last but not least, to Mike Horowitz, who told me he had heard the phrase, "pack of wild dogs" as often as he had heard the topic of Romania discussed: yes, Mike, I will be keeping that streak up. Packs of wild dogs - a big yes on that. Big, big yes.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Updating the Itinerary

I'm somehow slightly too frazzled and stressed for a proper posting.

What happened to my pleasant Romanian vacation?

I'm in downtown Bucharest. Today, gone by, and tomorrow are devoted to checking out the city - and by the city, I mean the traffic - and the forts that surround the city. There were 36 forts built around Bucharest slightly too late to be useful in WWI and not nearly impenetrable enough to be useful in WWII. Now, they seem to be the perfect place to house bats.

Thursday I'm headed out of Bucharest to do rather full circuit of the country, in the clockwise direction, hitting as many prisons as possible. Lots o' prisons. I'll have worked my way around the country to the Southeast corner by Monday, where I'll be checking out rock quarries on the Black Sea. And then, back to Bucharest.

And that is all I know of the plan so far.

Mild wackiness has occured on the trip, but nothing entertaining enough to break me from my frazzled state. I'll get back to you with something soon....


Sunday, October 19, 2008

Off to Bucharest and Cairo

Just testing out the old blog. Perhaps I'll have a tale or two to tell over the next few weeks of travels. Perhaps not. Time will tell.

The itinerary: (as much as I know of it anyway)

October 19: Fly to Bucharest, with a little pause in Rome
October 31: From Bucharest to Prague, arriving on...
November 1: in Cairo
November 11: Back to LA

That means I'll be on the road for my birthday. Sorry Peeps. :-)