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You are vanting to learn de Romanian, da?

June 25, 2013

In the beginning, there was a very short old lady–

Actually, before we get there, we really have to establish an important point, which will clarify what’s to follow: my working knowledge of Romanian as I began my tutoring today was virtually nil. Okay.

In the beginning, there was a very short old lady who said, “Ah, you are student, Trrent?” and then nodded and beckoned for me to follow her through the halls of an unknown university building.

In a small, window-lit classroom, she motioned for me to sit opposite her. I sat. We smiled at each other. We were alone. I swallowed. She handed me a Romanian grammar book and said, “It is very good.”

Seconds later she was jabbering to me in Romanian, perhaps under the impression that my holding the book would make me conversant. As I stared at her mouth and nodded faintly, I remembered that I had arrived in Cluj two days earlier, during the Pentecost celebration–a huge deal in the local Eastern Orthodox religion–and it crossed my mind this was her way of celebrating the Biblical event, by actually reenacting the cloven tongues of fire part. I went along. I nodded. I got into it. She could tell I was hungry for knowledge, and she fed me feverishly. I ate it up–devoured it–I was here to learn! We were both very excited. Gradually we became tired, and her jibber-jabber slowed like a river suddenly run dry. An hour had passed, and we had exhausted ourselves. We both smiled sheepishly. We were sweaty. She produced a plate of biscuit-like treats and said, “Please eat dulces.” We needed to recover our energy if we were to continue at this pace. So we bit into the dulces. We crunched, chewed, and dryly swallowed the dulces. I almost got carried away and ate too many, but caught myself, and carefully paced my dulce consumption with hers. After we finished, I poured us each a small cup of mineral water, and we drank it, and then I poured another round, and we drank that too.

After our repast, we continued as before, for another four hours. We did not have another break after the first one, although the occasional munching of a dulce was allowed and even encouraged. By 14:00 we had finished for the day. We were both a little glazed. She said, “I meet you here tomorrow da?” and I agreed and then headed home to my hostel.

Now, as I lie supine on my bunk, laptop on stomach, composing this post, I’m racking my brain for a line–just a single line–of Romanian that I actually remember from today’s lesson. Here’s what I turned up: “Noapte buna, ploua la Cluj.” It means, “Good night, it is raining at Cluj.” It doesn’t even make sense.

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