Friday, June 29, 2012

Hitchhiking Gone Good

Hitchhiking -- a safe activity here, fret not -- can unfold into a vast array of experiences. I've made friends, enemies and everything in between. This experience, though, is by far the coolest yet.

Sara and I were headed to Recaș Wineries for a final wine-tasting before she left Recaș for good. First, a little background on Recaș Wineries: They produce, by far, the best wine in Romania. They've also been critically acclaimed internationally, and anecdotally from this uneducated palate, they're all well deserved.

Anyway, because a vineyard doesn't typically fall into the category of "walking-distance," we decided to hitch a ride. Within a couple minutes, we had a taker.

Sara: Mergem la crama. (We're going to the winery.)
Driver: Bine. (OK.)
(We get in the car, Sara in the back, me in the front.)
Me: Do you have room?
Driver: So where are you guys from? (in perfect English)
Me: We're American.
Driver: Oh, cool, I just spent nine months in Napa Valley, studying wine.
Sara: Oh, do you work for the winery?
Driver: Yeah, I'm, um, kind of the owner's son.

This unfolded into a great conversation on Napa, his experience there, then into a tour of the grounds in his car, where he shared with us not only the present, but his "dreams" for the future. Formally, and now formerly, a lawyer by trade, Narcis, a twenty-something, traded his robe for flip flops and went into the family business. Following his nine months in Napa, he was making a brief stopover in Romania before moving to Paris for three years. His plan is to simply find a job in a restaurant, doing whatever -- washing dishes, busing tables -- and studying wine there. He'll then bring whatever he learns back to Recaș.

I'm not saying this because, despite what his name suggests, Narcis was simply a cool guy, a laid-back fella wearing board shorts, flip flops and a Hollister shirt, who gave us a free tour. Nor am I saying this to brown-nose because someday he'll probably own my favorite winery (although, admittedly, this is part of the equation), but I think they have a bright future. He's intelligent and passionate and has a fresh outlook on a business that certainly has room to grow. There was even a point in the conversation where I suggested he get his MBA because it's one thing to know the wine side of things, but he's also going to have to know how to run a business. His response? "Yeah, good idea! Thanks! I think I'll do that."

Anyway, after our tour of the grounds, we went through the factory, saw the tanks and the wine being bottled (below).

And then, the tasting began. We had a Riesling, a Roze (surprisingly good considering my Roze experience is limited to anything in a two-liter bottle or a box) and a Feteasca Neagra, which is a Romanian grape and means "Black Maiden." It all went with some potatoes and unbelievably tender pork.

Then, because it was a beautiful day, and life was coated with the glossy glow of afternoon wine-drinking, we retired to the outdoor area to enjoy an afternoon-cap overlooking the vineyard.

And, the day wouldn't have been complete without a picture with our new homie.

In the words of Ice Cube, "It was a good day."

Thursday, June 21, 2012

A Venit Vară!

Scoală e gata! Am scăpat de griji!

As of today, June 21, 2012, I am officially done with my first school year in Romania.

One year. According to a real sing-y group of New Yorkers, it’s merely 525,600 minutes. What I found in those minutes is that I’m staggered at how much I can come to care about my students in that time.

Teaching has a plethora of challenges, one of them being devising a way for students to remember the word “plethora.” Patience. Flexibility. Adaptability. Perseverance. Compassion. Chalk dust. It’s the hardest job I’ve ever done, and that takes into the account that some days are only 2-3 hours long.

However, amidst those challenges, I found a wealth of relationships. Never did I think a group of fifth-eighth graders could affect me the way these kids have, but I now know that I’ll be invested in them long after I leave here. It may sound cliché – probably because it is – but I guess I hope I had a fraction of the effect on them, that they had on me.

OK, that being said, in the words of the poets Will “The Fresh Prince” Smith and DJ Jazzy Jeff, “Summa summa summa summa time. Time to sit back and unwind.”

On the docket for this summer are some pretty great travel, a few camps and the continuation of some projects.

First, I have another volunteer’s camp at the beginning of July, then Greece! We’re going to hit Athens for a few days, then unwind (see above) on Santorini. And no, it has nothing to do with The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2. (Read: It has EVERYTHING to do with The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2.)

Then, we fly back into Otopeni, eat, drink a beer, and wait for four of my friends from back home to fly in a few hours later. I’m then going to take them to Tulgheș for a day and a half, translate and pretty much overall impress them with my skillz, then we’ll move onto Budapest for a couple days, then Prague.

Come August, I’ll be compiling information for my village to be included on a cool NGO website called, working with a few volunteers on developing a yearlong kindergarten curriculum to leave when we close our post here, doing another camp and having a meeting.

Then school starts again in September. Oh yeah, speaking of September, I’ll be in Minnesota Sept. 7-17. The Fat Kid is getting married, and my mom’s memorial golf tournament, the Janette Paulson Classic, is happening. You might also want to reserve a front-row seat at Ham Lake Lanes Karoake night, because “Walkin’ in Memphis” has been aging for more than a year now, and it’s starting to smell pretty sweet.

I guess that’s all for now. Prepare yourself for some radio darkness for a bit, as this summer already looks to be all fulled up. However, I’m sure I’ll be putting up musings on Facebook and Twitter, so you can feed the need over there.

I wish you all a great summer, and remember, whether you’re, “riding around in your jeep or your benzos, or in your nissan sitting on lorenzos,” don’t forget to sit back and unwind.