Romanian Survival Book

March 20, 2007

Romanian culture of queuing

comert_1453464754.jpgIn the old times – read Ceausescu’s time –there were some rules for queuing. Since the food was inexistent as soon as the rumour reached among the city or the little village and their proud citizens of the communist mother, hungry crowds of people will assault the empty stores….once you entered you knew where is the queue and what for. Many times people didn’t even know what was the product and many people will send their kids to just sit there for them to ‘keep the line’. I never really figured how the rumour circulated but I suppose that were people in charge of spreading and others in charge of over-seeing the whole operation…they will get their share of chicken, bananas, oranges, eggs, rarely fish, rarely exquisite drinks, chocolate and other rarities before all the others. The securitate people had all the necessary in their houses in excess, which has been documented.


Anyway…once you spotted your place in the queue, you also needed to secure it otherwise older people will kick the kids out with no remorse….hence, most of the kids were very well trained to overcome any hindrances might appear in between them and the ratio of chicken or oranges or bananas ….otherwise, the parents will be upset and everyone in the family will starve once more until the next rumour of food available will come into town.


lapte.jpgThe milk queue was the worst: people will get up at 4.00 in the morning, take these types of bottles –photo bellow – and just put them in line outside the store for a few hours. The milk supply will come around 7.00 a.m., so they could still sleep a few more hours before going to work. The old people, retired, will just sit there chatting and waiting since 4.00 until 7.00 – if you knew one of them maybe they will get your bottles too. Some people could not afford these queues because of work, but pregnant women needed to do it; the powder milk was awful and had no nutrients at all. Better of were those with relatives in the countryside. There were awful, depressing times.

One would expect that these queuing ‘culture’ will build in a community spirit, will appropriate people….I cannot tell and it would be interesting to read a research on that. I would rather say, given the paranoia of ‘tell and go to securitate’, people will rarely make the mistake to open their hart while waiting and chatting with the guy next door….though many did. Considering that all were hungry, suspicious and anxious to grab as much food as possible that was the primary target and nothing else…people will often fight, swear and bully each other while queuing when the food was brought in. Nobody cared about the other but oneself. That might explain why the Romanian dissidence was almost un-existent and why there was not a solidarity spirit among people in this country. Everything was grey inside and outside and everyone will struggle for its own family and that’s all. No time for pity, any time for sympathising with the old woman next to you….she will grab the last piece of meat in front of you without blinking….that was, probably, the queuing mentality on those times.


Photos from filled under ‘Alimentare’. Igu is someone who is documenting our past by collecting images of it on this blog. I don’t know why I didn’t think of advertising his idea here, I guess because I really don’t enjoy seeing this pictures yet or thinking of what has been….but nonetheless I think his initiative is brilliant and essential for recuperating and assimilating our recent past …after all that is what we used to be and makes us what we are today.

You can check Igu’s blog from now on clicking right hand in the blogroll under @Past… and I highly recommend it if you are interested and want to understand how it used to be under communism. The site is in Romanian, nonetheless the images are quite helpful.


November 21, 2006

Polenta (Mamaliga)

Filed under: Politics,Romanian food — darian @ 2:27 am


Mamaliga is a national Romanian food, but you may find it with Italians, Hungarians and other nations for sure, known around as ‘polenta’. Again, with Romanians things are more complicated and tricky, because ‘mamaliga’, as many other things Romanian, is not just food; there is a whole symbolism behind the poor innocent ‘mamaliga’. The mystery dwells in, at least, few aspects: how ‘mamaliga’ is cooked; our history; how we dealt with our history across time.

Romanians did not have a state organization until very late and they seem to have grown a strong resilience and patience over the numerous obstacles in their history. There were few brave rulers fighting back, but often outnumbered, and without a real army, and many times with the peasants enrolling voluntarily. Living right here, near the wilderness of nomad steppes in the beginning of Christianity, Romanians often left their houses and run into the woods, hiding of various people passing by, the Huns, the Avars, Slavs, Maghyars, Pechenegs, Cumans, but mostly the Tatars (Mongols); later, the Turks, Austro-Hungarians, the Germans, the Russians, the communists….as I consider the communists a foreign occupation given the fact that the gem of communists in Romanian resistance was very small, but the desire of Stalin to take over very big. If there are historians out there to contradict me here, please do.

The same resilience took place during the communist times. It is fairly known that in the beginning the communist system in Romania was one of the most brutal, crushing down any sign of disobedience and going much beyond that. I was born in Pitesti, where one of the most infamous communist torture prisons used to be; when I first read about that I was about 16 and I was shattered for the next few years. Around 19, I have met the greatest women in Romanian recent history, Elisabeta Rizea in her natal town of Nucsoara where, together with fellow students we were doing some sort of combined research on the application of property law and the resistance against the communists that took place in the Fagaras mountains for almost a decade and about few people know. The wives, daughters and relatives of those in the mountains were beaten up, tortured, cast out and still they did not betray. The atrocities were enormous, as the communist underground war was ferocious.

Coming back to ‘mamaliga’, that has a very special recipe: you take the corn flour, you pass it through a utensil to throw the bad grains out, and then you pour it carefully in hot water. You have to be patient, as you need to watch over it whilst boiling and smash thorough it constantly. When the boiling point is reached the ‘mamaliga’ should look quite thick and consistent. Then is ready; you turn it over on a strong wood plate and you leave aside to chill out. Here is the trick: ‘mamaliga’ is made of corn, which is the peasants’ bread, is thick but not as consistent as bread, is not baked but boiled to a certain point. You eat it fast; the leftovers are not good, as it is with bread. If is chilling out too much, then ‘mamaliga’ is not good; if is not boiled enough is flawed. So, there you go to an ad-hoc manual in defining Romanians: we need to boil to the hottest point until we take any action; even so, we might get it wrong if not boiled properly or chilled out too much. We have a peasant background, which makes us resilient and humble; contrary with some stereotypes that also makes us hardworking and generally honest. We are not of an aristocratic nature or background; the attempts to look like that are laughable. We had German kings, and few Balkan rulers with pretensions of aristocracy, but that was only a historical opportunity for installing the corrupt behaviour we perpetrate today. We had few good brave people, but very few; they were often left alone in a limbo given the problem with the boiling point I have mentioned before.

Nowadays, after boiling softly underground in the communist regime, many people seem to fake the boiling point all the time. Is not possible to fake it and not anyone notice that, because ‘mamaliga’ explodes and becomes what it is supposed to be only under real pressure, not artificially induced. The Romanian intellectuals were so quiet during communists, with very few exceptions, now they are active and loud and taking moral stands against people accused of so called ‘secret police files’. Comparing the agreement signed by anyone with the resilience of Elisabeta Rizea, anything looks pitiful for the first; then again, comparing the torturing officer, the one who betrayed his friends and family with someone who signed a piece of paper but never acted actively against someone, is a big nuance. I am tired of seeing the ‘mamaliga’ syndrome turned in such a delayed cleaning of our society, while the ones who have been always good in playing the puppets grin behind the scene. The whole idea of ‘lustration’ was addressed to them firstly and mostly and they are the ones who get away one more time.

@ 3:04 PM   11 comments

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