International Women’s Day in Moldova

Here in Moldova, where International Women’s Day is an officially recognized holiday, custom holds that men give flowers to women on this day, most especially to mothers and grandmothers, as well as to female friends and co-workers.  So, over the past week, in the days leading up to March 8th, the most visible evidence I saw related to IWD were the flower booths which sprang up along the main boulevards of Chisinau in and among the booths selling Martisor ornaments. The usual flower storefronts also spilled out onto the sidewalks all over the city.   Primroses, hyacinths and tulips appeared to be favorites.

 

Flowers for “Bunica” (Grandma) and for a girlfriend.

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And sprigs of mimosa.  Bob and I saw these same mimosa blossoms being given to women in Puglia, Italy when we were there three years ago on March 8th.  It was in fact, an Italian Communist female politician in 1936, who chose the yellow mimosa as the symbol of IWD in Italy, because they were readily available and not costly like other flowers.  That choice spread to other Communist countries, many of which, like Moldova, are now the post-communist countries of the old Soviet block.  The appearance of this flower on the streets of Chisinau therefore, served to remind me that IWD has its roots in the feminism of early socialist and communist movements.

The first National Women’s Day was organized by the Socialist Party of America in New York on February 28, 1909, and the first proposal for an International Women’s Day, –as a way of building world-wide support for women’s rights and for universal suffrage, came the next year, 1910, at an international meeting of socialist women in Copenhagen.   International Women’s Day was observed for the first time on March 19, 1911, in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland, where more than one million women and men attended rallies, demanding the right of women to vote and to hold public office, to receive vocational training and to work without discrimination on the job.

According to information from a UN website and a concise Wikipedia article, the earliest observances of International Women’s Day in Russia were closely tied to the granting of women’s suffrage, and to the Russian Revolution itself.  Russian women protested WWI in 1913, by observing their first International Women’s Day on the last Sunday in February.  The following year on March 8, all around Europe, women held rallies to protest the war and to express solidarity with other women’s rights activists.  Four years later, on March 8, 1917, in Petrograd, the capital of the Russian Empire, a demonstration that was initiated by women textile workers became the catalyst that set the revolution on fire.  The women went on strike that day for “Bread and Peace,” demanding the end of World War I, the end to Russian food shortages, and the end of czarism.  Leon Trotsky wrote, “23 February (8th March on the Gregorian calendar) was International Woman’s Day and meetings and actions were foreseen… but we did not imagine that this ‘Women’s Day’ would inaugurate the revolution. …In the morning, despite orders to the contrary, textile workers left their work in several factories and sent delegates to ask for support of the strike… which led to mass strike… all went out into the streets.”  Seven days later, Nicholas II abdicated and the provisional government granted women the right to vote.  Following the October Revolution, IWD on March 8th became an official holiday in the Soviet Union.

In its early years, IWD was predominantly celebrated in communist countries and by socialist and communist movements worldwide, but the United Nations began celebrating International Women’s Day in 1975, and in 1977, the UN General Assembly invited member states to proclaim March 8 as the UN Day for Women’s Rights and World Peace.

 There are now twenty-six countries around the world which, like Moldova, recognize IWD as an official holiday.  Among these are Uganda, Zambia, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Mongolia and Nepal, and the majority of countries in the region of the world from which I now write,  including Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, Georgia, Armenia, and all the “stans,” – Kyrgystan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

Ironically, despite the political nature of IWD’s roots, the popular expression of this holiday in Moldova has now evolved into a kind of Hallmark-like commercially oriented observance, (just as has Mother’s Day in the US, the origins of which trace back to the peace movement.)  Many Moldovans tell me they now think of their IWD as a sort of hybrid between our Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day.  In addition to giving flowers to their mothers and lovers, they may cook breakfast or supper for them that day.

I also hear from friends who are old enough to have grown up during the years of the old “Moldavian Soviet Republic,” that this lighthearted take on the holiday is nothing new since the advent of Moldova’s opening to the West, but was already in evidence during the Soviet era, when the holiday had become an occasion for much teasing between the sexes.  Despite its noble beginnings, the holiday had largely come to be understood by this last generation of Soviet citizens, as a celebration created for the purpose of balancing the holiday called “Defender of the Fatherland” for men and veterans on February 23rd.  That holiday was celebrated with parades and processions in honor of veterans; women gave gifts to men, especially husbands or boyfriends, fathers, sons and brothers, and as part of workplace culture, women also gave small gifts to their male co-workers. Consequently, in colloquial usage, that holiday was referred to as “Men’s Day.”  IWD’s became its balancing counterpart, and women were teased with the warning that the gifts they would receive on IWD would be in proportion to what they gave on “Men’s Day.”

In many countries today, IWD may not be an official holiday, but it is still observed as an opportunity to advocate for further actions needed to achieve gender equality for girls and women, and to highlight the achievements of women in every field.   This past week on IWD 2018, women in Spain, who are paid 13 percent less than men in the public sector and 19 percent less in the private sector, organized a country wide “domestic strike.” In France, where the gender pay gap is 25 percent, according to the newspaper, Libération, the March 8th’s edition of that paper was sold at a reduced price for women: 2 euros for women and €2.50 for men.  (In the USA, the gender pay gap is currently 20% by comparison.) In India, students and teachers marched toward Parliament, demanding action against domestic violence, sexual attacks and discrimination in jobs and wages.  Hundreds also marched in Kabul, Afghanistan, calling for actions to give Afghan woman more voice, ensure their education, and protect them from the violence of an oppressive patriarchic system.  More than 500 women’s rights activists gathered in Seoul, handing out white roses as a symbol of support for the #MeToo movement, and holding signs that said, “Stop at 3 p.m.” The wage gap between men and women was so wide in South Korea, they said, that women should stop working at 3pm in order to break even.  The Korean Women’s Associations United called for reform in the country’s “patriarchal social structure that breeds gender discrimination.”  “We see a revolution afoot,” it said. “And the leader of this revolution is women.”

Here in Chisinau there was an IWD march as well.  A number of nongovernmental human rights organizations staged the event, in order to promote gender equality, to demand that the rights of women be respected by state institutions, and to sensitize society to the problems faced by women in the Republic of Moldova, such as violence against women.   The following link connects to news coverage of Chisinau’s march:

http://www.moldova.org/en/march-8-womens-march-solidarity/

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(photo of Chisinau march taken from an article by Arina Livadari in Moldova.org)

The march was just one part of a “Festival of Women’s Solidarity,” organized by the Gender Equality Platform and Gender Doc-M in Chisinau between March 6-8.  The Festival included an open public forum to promote solidarity between women of varying circumstances and to urge women to fight against stereotypes.   An invitation to the event read:  “In 2017, women filled the Moldovan media space, being the protagonists of two types of content: either perfection and beauty to the superlative, or the victim of domestic violence, rape, and inhuman attitudes in some maternity wards. Otherwise, women’s lives remain in the shadows. In order to change this, we set out to organize the “Solidarity between Women” forum,  a night of discussion where women from different groups will tell about the challenges they face day by day. The purpose of this event is to bring the woman and the problems she faces into the center of Moldova’s social and political agenda. We invite you to participate in this event to listen to the stories of active women, to create new partnerships and to discuss what and how we can change to improve the lives of women in the Republic of Moldova.  Solidarity between women does not have a social status, skin color, religion or party. … Solidarity between women means being here for those who, day by day, strive for a better life, for equal opportunities, for decent conditions of childbirth, for the right to express their opinion, for the opportunity to educate their children in a state in which the respect for diversity and freedom of expression exists not only on paper, for the right to privacy and sexual identity, for the right to conscious and deliberate choices that go beyond the limitations of family or society.”

Women representing different social groups took part in the forum, sharing their experiences on: “being a woman with disabilities who has moved into business;” “age discrimination in our society and how invisible it is;” “lesbian experience in a society where tolerance is not yet a value;” “what it means to be a Roma woman and face the prejudices of origin;” and “what it is like to be the working mother of a young child;” A municipal councilor also talked about what it is like to be a woman of public authority.  Others gave motivational speeches about “how to insist on the use of feminine form in the names of professions, the importance of this approach, and how women themselves react to it;” and about “how to get out of the vicious circle of family violence and how important is other women’s solidarity towards the victims of violence.”

The UN’s most recent “Moldova Country Team Gender Scorecard” includes the following summary about the current status of gender equality in Moldova: “While the policy foundation for gender equality laid out by the Government of Moldova is laudable, patriarchal norms have proven resistant to change, and policies and laws aimed at enabling gender equality have not been sufficiently backed by resources required for full realization. Women have an unequal status in health, education, economy, and representation in public life and decision‐ making. Patriarchal attitudes are also the root cause of violence against women…”

A great new resource for statistical indicators about gender issues, called “Gender Pulse, was launched about a year ago through a partnership between the UN Development Program and the National Bureau of Statistics.  According to this site, and the CIA Fact Sheet on Moldova, women’s literacy is 99% in Moldova, and more women than men get a tertiary education.  The Gender Pay Gap in Moldova is 10.7%, (better than in the US.) But while approximately half of the population is female, only 25% of government ministers are women and only 21% of the members of Parliament are women.

The office of UNDP Moldova also reports that approximately two out of three adult women in Moldova have experienced at least one form of domestic violence at some point throughout their lives.  A UNDP Resident Representative in Moldova, noted: “For many years, the United Nations Organization in Moldova, in partnership with the Moldovan authorities, civil society and development partners, have been working hard to raise public awareness, break the silence and break this vicious circle of violence against women and girls. We remain firmly committed to continuing the same course in the years to come.”

The loss of IWD’s original focus in the popular mind here in Moldova, does seem not only a bit ironic, but definitely lamentable as well.   In ESL class this week, I presented a brief bio of an American woman whom I admire, Eleanor Roosevelt, and we re-read together Malala Yousafzai’s 2014 acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize.  When I asked my students about the achievements of historical or contemporary Moldovan women who were being remembered and honored this year on International Women’s Day, they mostly come up with a blank.  “We don’t know about the historical achievements of Moldovan women,” they told me.  “They are not included in our curriculum in school.”  Today they learn about women deemed newsworthy from the internet, which is heavily weighted with a focus on entertainment celebrities.  Among the international women admired by one group of students were: Angelina Jolie, Princess Diana, Oprah Winfrey, and one politician, Margaret Thatcher, “the Iron Lady.”  They did come up with one celebrated Moldovan woman with whom they were all familiar: Doina Aldea-Teodorovici, (1958-1992) a Moldovan composer and singer who, along with her husband Ion, were known for their patriotic songs celebrating Moldova and its historical Romanian identification.

At the IWD march in Chisinau this week, one of the messages displayed on the banners and chanted by the participants was “We do not want flowers, we want equal rights.”  I sympathize with that sentiment; I fully support the goal of gender equality and I recognize that it is going to require a lot of serious cultural reform.  And I like flowers.  I do not wish to pit one against the other.  I would like to have both.  I think it wonderful to give your mother and grandmother flowers on IWD, to go to their homes and visit them if you no longer live with them, and to cook for them if they normally do all the cooking.  I’m all for these expressions of love and affection, and I love receiving flowers.

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(The rose given to me at a Filarmonic concert in Chisinau this Friday.  Roses were handed to each woman at the entrance in honor of International Women’s Day.)

But I will also make it a goal to learn what I can,  over the coming year, of the achievements of notable Moldovan women.  While past eras of patriarchy in this region, as in every region of the world, have no doubt repressed multitudes of women who never had the opportunity to develop their potential, I am sure there must be many contemporary and historical women of whom Moldovans should be proud, who have in fact contributed to Moldova’s progress toward a more humane society via the arts, sciences, education, and politics, but who have been buried in a patriarchal interpretation of history.  I hope to share some of what I learn in this blog.

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A Cold Mărțișor

Like much of the rest of Europe, Moldova was plunged into a deep chill this past week.  It was minus 12 degrees Celsius in Chisinau on Wednesday, March 1, and the woodland park outside my window was covered in snow.  You would never have known by looking outside, but this was the first day of spring here in Moldova, whether the weather wanted to cooperate or not.  (Moldovans celebrate March 1, not the Equinox date of March 22, as their first day of spring. Scroll back to my blog post from last March and read about the Mărțișor holiday if you did not read it last year.)  This year, despite the frigid temperatures, the sidewalk of the main boulevard in Chisinau was once again lined with small booths where people were selling their handmade Mărțișor ornaments.

On Wednesday morning, the Romanian language TV News anchors were showing off their own handmade Mărțișor creations, and a reporter visited a school where children proudly displayed the ornaments they had made.

In December of last year UNESCO added the Mărțișor, as it is celebrated in Romania, Moldova, Bulgaria, and Macedonia, to its “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list, where it can be found under the name “Cultural Practices Associated with the 1st of March.”

See: https://ich.unesco.org/en/RL/cultural-practices-associated-to-the-1st-of-march-01287

The UNESCO Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage noted that,   “All members of the communities concerned participate, irrespective of their age, and the practice contributes to social cohesion, intergenerational exchange and interaction with nature, fostering diversity and creativity. Informal education is the most frequent means of transmission: in rural areas, young girls are taught how to make the thread by older women, while in urban areas apprentices learn from teachers, craftspeople and through informal education. Another occasion for transmission is provided by Martenitsa/Martinka/Mărţişor workshops organized by ethnographic museums.”

Moldovans in Chisinau may consider March the month when spring weather is supposed to arrive, if the climate is behaving properly, but this year according to the forecast, February’s cold snowy weather pattern is going to continue a few weeks into March.  Moldovans don’t speak of March coming in like a lion and departing like a lamb, however a friend did tell me yesterday that February is going to say good bye not like a Brit, –who leaves suddenly without saying goodbye, but like a Russian, –who says good bye but never leaves, or says good-bye over and over and then sits down to visit one last time over one last vodka before he really departs.

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This is not how March in Chisinau is supposed to look.

Bob and I have been faithfully strapping on our yak tracks and taking our walking poles with us every time we go out, and yet, as if the snow and ice on the sidewalks have not been treacherous enough throughout February, we, not feeling we were living dangerously enough, and inspired by the Olympics, signed up for the Embassy community’s ice skating party at Bravo Rink this past Saturday.  I love to skate and was looking forward to getting in a good of hour of it, but after only a few rounds I made the mistake of trying to help a little girl who had fallen and would have managed quite well on her own I’m sure.  My skates slid out from under me, and I fell back onto my tailbone and smacked the back of my head on the ice.  I escaped, luckily, with only a sore tailbone, a little whiplash, and a sprained right wrist, and as I am now obviously able to type, life goes on.

For a couple of days though, unable to button a button or zip up a zipper, without the use of my two hands in tandem, I was looking at this amazing appendage with renewed awe and appreciation.  The things they can do, two hands in tandem, with all their fingers and thumbs intact!  The things you cannot do without your dominant hand!  …eat with a spoon, cut with a knife, spread butter, chop an onion, brush your teeth, cut with a scissors, jot down a legible grocery list, snap a photo on your cell phone …they are legion…  What a marvelous mechanical wonder is the hand, and yet how clumsy my left one was trying to pinch hit for my right!  If you are someone so lucky as to never have injured a dominant wrist or hand, try brushing your teeth or chopping an onion with your non-dominant hand.

By the way, my visit to Medpark to have my wrist x-rayed, was my first encounter with a medical practice here in Moldova outside our Embassy clinic, (other than the dentist and an acupuncturist.)  Medpark is a private hospital and clinic to which our Embassy Health Unit refers us for any medical needs which they themselves cannot provide, and I was in their emergency room on a Saturday evening, accompanied by our kindly Embassy doctor, Dr. Andre.  Everyone was very helpful and considerate.  There was only one other patient in the ER at the time, and both of us were being attended to promptly.  The facilities were clean and quiet and well equipped, and all appeared to be working efficiently.  In addition to incurring the services of the radiology technician and the radiologist, I was examined by a trauma surgeon who happened to be there.  My visit and digital x-ray cost a total of about $20.  (This may not be remarkable to those of you readers who live in Europe, but my American readers will be reading this and shaking their heads, as the same visit in the U.S. likely would have cost something closer to $1000.)

Despite my splinted wrist and still smarting tailbone, I showed up to lead yoga class as usual on Wednesday at the PC office.  My Downward Facing Dog looked a bit lopsided on only one hand, and the Navasana Boat Pose was definitely out of the question, but I was rewarded with some sprigs of pussy willows and a Mărțișor ornament to pin on my sweater, along with the one given to me at Excellent English class this week and another one from a friend.

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Today it is minus six degrees and the sun is out again.  We will venture out on foot, (yak tracks and walking poles in tow) for our weekly cappuccino and almond croissant at Crème de la Crème, where the indoor air will be warm and toasty, fragrant with the wonderful aroma of baking bread.

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Comfort food: “Terci de Ovaz cu Semințe,”  Oatmeal at Creme de la Creme

I hope the ice is thawing wherever you are, (unless you are at the north or south pole where we definitely do not want the ice to thaw as quickly as it has been lately.)  Stay safe and warm, and may spring come quickly.  Happy Mărțișor!

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P.S. Can any of my readers in Chisinau tell me the story behind this new sculpture that has gone up on Strada Medeevici this past month?

The Art of Antonina and Vitalie Grisciuc

I first came upon the work of Moldovan artists Antonina and Vitalie Grisciuc, when I was browsing one day, shortly after my arrival in Chisinau in the late summer of 2016, through the open-air art market on Stephan cel Mare, the main boulevard through downtown Chisinau.  (I mentioned this art market in a previous post, including it among the stops one would make if one were to visit “Funky Chisinau.”)  That afternoon I breezed past many displays of paintings and prints, but I was arrested by a glimpse from a distance of their display in a far back corner.  Their work drew me in, as it stood out as something in an entirely different league.  I was utterly charmed by the vision they had captured of the beauty of Chisinau’s old buildings and streets, the special light filtering through the trees, the quiet ease of an amble on those streets, and by their interpretations of life in rural Moldova.  It was the start of a bit of a love affair: Bob and I have by now purchased ten of their works, and I have since learned that Antonina and Vitalie have a much wider exposure than that modest Chisinau venue, extending to international exhibits.

Antonina was born in the Ungheni region of Moldova, where she began her art studies at the School of Fine Arts for Children.  She later graduated from the State Pedagogica University of the Republic of Moldova here in Chisinau, having completed her studies in the Ion Greanga Painting and Graphics department.  Antonina works mostly with oil on canvas, as well as watercolor painting and pen and ink drawing.

Vitalie was born in the Rezina region of Moldova, and attended the School of Fine Arts for Children at Soroca.   Like Antonina, he graduated from the State Pedagogic University, in the Ion Greanga Painting and Graphics department.  He also studied at the Academy of Arts in Bucharest, Romania in the college of Decorative Art and Design.  Vitalie works with watercolor painting, pen and ink drawings, etchings, and oil on canvas.

Both Antonina and Vitalie have exhibited multiple times in Israel, Romania, Luxembourg, and Turkey, and Vitalie has also exhibited in Japan.  The long list of sites that have hosted their exhibits here in Moldova includes the US Embassy, the Alliance Francaise, the UNDP Mission, The Swiss Cooperation Office, The World Bank Moldova office, The OSCE Moldova office (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe,) and Chisinau’s Organ Hall.

Their paintings can be found in private collections in Romania, the USA, Canada, Israel, Ukraine, Russia, Turkey, Greece, Germany, France, Italy, Switzerland, Denmark, The Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Spain, Ireland, Tunisia, Japan, the Philippines, Sweden, Belarus, Poland, the Czech Republic, as well as in Moldova.   Vitalie also has works in the collections of Moldova’s National Museum of Fine Arts here in Chisinau.

Below are photos of some of their works which we have purchased:

From Antonina:

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And from Vitalie:

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Below is a sampling of more of their work, first by Antonina:

 

 

 

And by Vitalie:

 

 

 

You can find more photos of their work on their Facebook pages.  Vitalie’s:

https://www.facebook.com/Vitalie-Grișciuc-Paintings-and-Drawings-242156702858213/?ref=settings

And Antonina’s:  https://www.facebook.com/274512643002947/photos/a.274514336336111.1073741826.274512643002947/274520236335521/?type=3

 

 

 

Made in Moldova

This week Chisinau’s exhibition center held a show by the Chamber of Trade and Commerce of Moldova, entitled “Made in Moldova.”  I wandered through the exhibits and saw displays of everything from products related to Moldova’s agriculture, (varieties of seed corn,nuts, dried and preserved fruits, wine, sunflower oils, honey and herb products, leather goods, and sheepskin vests, hats and slippers,)  to manufactured items  (clothing made from textiles woven here, soaps, cosmetic and beauty products, and furniture and kitchen cabinetry made in Moldova.)

 

While it is true that many Moldovans are still working abroad, that a chemical engineer who stays here may find himself working as a car mechanic, and that a lot of Moldovans still think they will get a better quality product or a better deal by going to Romania to shop,  Moldovans are working very hard to develop their domestic industry, export markets and income generating opportunities here at home.   (Our US government programs such as the Moldovan Competitiveness Project at USAID are contributing to this effort.)

I, being more of an arts and humanities kind of person, know very little about economic development, and I find myself wanting to include under this heading, “Made in Moldova”  another kind of “export,” or another kind of highly developed talent that Moldova has to offer to the world, one that has recently also been in the news, ––not the economic news but the music news.   At the 60th GRAMMY Awards show in New York on 28 January 2018 it was announced that Patricia Kopatchinskaja’s Death and the Maiden won the award for Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble performance.   Patricia Kopatchinskaja was born here in Chisinau and lived in Moldova until she was 12, (when Moldova was “The Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic.”)  Her parents were both with the state folk ensemble of Moldova, her mother, Emilia Kopatchinskaja, a violinist, and her father, Viktor Kopatchinsky,  a cimbalom player.  Patricia started playing violin at the age of 6.  In 1989, the family emigrated to Vienna, where she studied musical composition and violin.  At age 21, she won a scholarship to study in Bern, Switzerland,  where she continues to live today.   Her album, Death and the Maiden, was recorded with The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra and released in October 2016 on Alpha Classics.  You can read more about it and about her at:  http://patriciakopatchinskaja.com/   She will be the Music Director at the Ojai Music Festival in California in June.

Moldovan culture places a great value on music, both the classical and the traditional, and though Moldova’s musicians are not as well paid as they could be elsewhere, they do seem to receive excellent training here in Moldova, and their artistry enriches life here in Chisinau so greatly.   I do hope that some day, along with a more robust economy, Moldova will also be able to develop, support, and share this homegrown talent more widely.

January was a snowy month here in Chisinau, so I have included in this post two paintings that capture so well the beauty of Chisinau dressed in white.  The oil painting below, of the arches in Chisinau’s central park, is by Antonina Grisciuc.

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And Below is Vitalie Grisciuc’s “Belltower in the Snow” in pen/ink color.   Perhaps the “Made in Moldova” art of this talented Moldovan couple will be the subject of a future blog….

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Boboteaza and a Visiting Swan

I was walking around Lake Morilor last Thursday afternoon, January 19th, when I came upon a curious sight.   What looked to be about a dozen middle-aged men, all dressed in nothing but scanty swim trunks, were gathered on the boat dock at the Rescue Station.  It was below zero degrees Centigrade that day, as it has been here in Chisinau for the past couple of weeks, and the surface of the lake was frozen over.  I had noticed that the ice was about an inch thick where fisherman had broken holes in it with rocks and were continuing to fish from the sidewalk.  I stood and watched for a little while and saw none of the men jump into the lake, though they were all carrying towels and certainly looked prepared to jump in.  I wondered what could have prompted this apparent polar bear party.  None of the other pedestrians walking around the lake seemed to be taking any notice at all.

Later that evening I learned that the Orthodox Church had been celebrating a religious holiday that day: “Boboteaza,” the Baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan.   Evidently, the Orthodox churches here in Eastern Europe, have a tradition of not only doing a Blessing of the Waters, but also of taking a plunge into the icy water themselves.   Sometimes, the priest throws a wooden cross into the water and people jump in after it.   Not only is the dunking regarded as a cleansing and purifying experience,  but the one who retrieves the cross and returns it to the priest also receives a special blessing.

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And true to the old and new calendar differences, (see last blog)  January 19th was indeed 13 days after January 6th, when our contemporary Gregorian calendar had marked the observance for Jesus’ Baptism and Epiphany.   The 19th of January on the modern calendar was the day when January 6th would have occurred if we were still following the Julian calendar which is now 13 days behind.  I have since learned that the Orthodox church in Romania celebrated this  religious holiday on January 6th, and the Ukrainians were celebrating it along with Moldovans on Jan 19.th  (You can see a collection of photos, (from which I borrowed the one at the top of this post) , at the following links: http://a1.ro/news/social/boboteaza-2018-traditii-si-obiceiuri-de-boboteaza-ce-trebuie-sa-faca-toti-credinciosii-pentru-un-an-bun-id720612.html   and    https://www.kyivpost.com/ukraine-politics/112-ua-orthodox-christians-celebrate-baptism-jesus.html  )

I don’t recall this religious holiday having great significance in the liturgical year of the protestant church in which I grew up.   If it was observed, it would have likely been only with a sermon: how dull, by comparison to this exuberant take on the observance.

This week I saw an even stranger sight at the lake.  A group of people with cameras were gathered on the sidewalk by the lake’s edge, staring at little blue house floating on a wooden raft in the middle of a pond within the larger lake.  The pond is bordered on one side by the upper end of the lake where the creek enters, and on the other side, by a stand of tall reed grass about fifty yards out from the shore which follows the course of a cement walkway crossing the lake.  The water is slower to freeze in this pond due to the moving water of the entering creek and ducks and gulls tend to gather there when the lake begins to freeze over.

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I asked a woman standing by what the little house was for and she told me it was for “the bird.”  “She needs our help,” she told me, “for her babies.”  (This was communicated in simple Romanian, as I am not very proficient.)  She pointed beyond the floating house to the stand of reeds, and there was the visiting swan I had seen for the first time just the day before.

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On my first sighting, he had been feeding close to the sidewalk where the creek feeds into it the pond, and I had stood and watched as he repeatedly plunged his long neck deep under the swirling muddy surface for what seemed like about 30 seconds at a time, raising his head with a shake to remove a coating of mud, and then plunging it under again.  He looked like a juvenile Mute Swan in his first winter plumage, his head a downy greyish brown, and the rest of his feathery coat white with splotches of dirty gray.   Now he was preening his feathers at the far end of the pond amidst the reeds, ignoring the invitation to take up residence in this floating little palace built especially for him.  (Her?  The distinguishing features between a male and female swan are not visible before they are mature.)

I could not imagine that any swan would want to make a nest, or were she female, lay her eggs in this exposed, brightly colored and attention-attracting house, nor could I imagine that mid-January was a time to lay eggs.   I have since read that breeding time for swans is from February to May, and that swans do indeed nest on rafts made by people all over Europe and in the Americas.  Those rafts are not roofed, as swans, I read, do not like a roof over their heads, and they are big enough to accommodate a typical swan’s nest, which can be more than two meters in diameter.  The area inside the little roofed house floating on Lake Morilor looks to be less than a square meter.  It may be small, and regrettably roofed, but it is ever so much more playful than a flat brown raft.  So, we shall see… I will certainly keep you posted with photos if our swan does take up residence in the proffered houseboat.

And here is a follow up on a previous post, the one about the controversy over an installation of sculptures, two lovers:  When we returned from the US after Christmas, we found the artist had installed a new set of statues, at Lake Morilor.  While they look like the same characters, this time she is on a skateboard, he is definitely not checking his watch, and what’s more, there is a dachshund eagerly looking on.

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I think that rubbing that little dog’s nose will bring you good luck, but you will have to visit Chisinau to get the chance.

 

Christmas Old and New

The Christmas holiday season is still ongoing here in Moldova as I am writing this post on Monday, January 8, the date that the Moldovan government observes a work holiday for “Old” Orthodox Christmas, which actually fell on Sunday, January 7th.   “New” Christmas on December 25, and “New” New-Year’s on January 1, have come and gone, each fully celebrated with their own state observed holidays.  Next weekend the “Old” New Year’s Day will be celebrated along with Saint Vasile’s Day.  The entire season of holidays will have stretched over three weeks and four weekends by the time all of the observances are past, beginning with December 25th for “New” Christmas and ending with January 14th for “Old” New Year’s.

The “Old” and the “New” as they are referred to here in Moldova, represent observances based on two different calendars: the Gregorian, which is used by most of the world today, and the Julian, which was used predominately from 46 BC to 1582 AD.  Like our present Gregorian calendar, the Julian calendar was based on the earth’s revolution around the sun, divided the year into12-months, and it had the same number of days in each month as our present Gregorian calendar does.  But it defined the length of the calendar year as 365.25 days, and it set a schedule which gave 365 days to three years in a row, followed by a leap year of 366 days exactly once every four years. Unfortunately, the Earth actually takes closer to 365.2425 days to make its complete orbit around the sun, (365 days 5 hours 49 minutes and 12 seconds) and this slight error of .0075 days, results in a loss of 10 minutes 48 seconds per year in the calendar, which results in a gain, ahead of the Earth’s actual path, of one calendar day every 128 years.

Pope Gregory VIII in 1582, proposed a new calendar in order to correct this error.  The newer Gregorian calendar defines a year as 365.2425 days and allows for a leap year almost every four years but not quite.  By our present Gregorian calendar schedule, years that are divisible by four are usually leap years, but not always; years that are divisible by 100 are not leap years unless they are also divisible by 400.  For example, the years 1700, 1800, and 1900 were not leap years, but the year 2000 was.  The Gregorian schedule of leap years creates a calendar that is more precise than the Julian, but it is not perfect, as it results in a gain of one day ahead of the Earth’s revolution, every 3,030 years, instead of every 128 years.

When the new Gregorian calendar was proposed, it was not immediately adopted universally, but did gradually take hold.  The Orthodox churches in many countries, however, persisted in using the old Julian calendar for setting their liturgical schedules.   That older calendar is now 13 days behind the Gregorian calendar (and will be until February 28th 2100, when it will presumably be 14 days ahead.)  Currently December 25th on the Julian calendar, falls on January 7th on the Gregorian calendar, so that is the date when “Old Christmas,” as it is commonly referred to in Moldova, is observed by Orthodox churches here.

The Moldovan government recognizes both the Old and the New and many Moldovan families celebrate both Christmases, but it gets a bit more complicated yet.  During the Soviet era, Old Orthodox Christmas was purely a religious observance, not a state recognized or commercial holiday, so the gift giving practice often was transferred onto the New Year’s celebration.   Consequently, I am told, “Old Christmas” today, for many Moldovan families, does not include the giving of gifts, while “Old New Year’s Day” may include more gifts.  Children of course, especially enjoy having two Christmases, whenever and wherever they occur, and families are adapting all sorts of variations of the holiday schedule to suit their own schedules.  Many families use the Old Christmas holiday weekend to travel to their home villages to celebrate with extended family members.

Families here in Chisinau have been enjoying the little Christmas market on the street in front of the Art and History Museums, which has been open since December 15 and will remain open to January 14.  The market may not compete with bigger Christmas markets in bigger cities across Europe, but it is complete with an outdoor ice-skating rink, carousels, venders making popcorn and cotton candy, food stalls selling mulled wine, coffee, tea, hot chocolate and pastries, and artisan selling carved wooden ornaments, pottery, and brass bells.

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Throughout the holiday season, the Nutcracker has been playing at the Opera and Ballet House, and the Filarmonic has hosted numerous Christmas music performances.   This weekend we heard a concert of international carols performed by an ensemble of university students in the “Sala Mica,” a small room upstairs in the Filarmonic building. That particular hall may look a bit shabby to readers from countries with more well-endowed musical facilities, but the lack of glitzy surroundings does not deter Moldovans, and this performance drew a packed hall of very appreciative Chisinau residents for a program which was quite different from what you might hear performed by a traditional Moldovan choir in traditional dress.  What seemed especially delightful to us was that their conductor was so smiley, so openly pleased, nearly jolly…all so uncharacteristic for a Moldovan, and the audience seemed not to feel any discomfort at all with his enthusiasm.   Their international program included a rather sedate “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” in English, which I recorded for you at the  video link below, and in which there is a lovely saxophone and trumpet duo toward the end.

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On Old Christmas morning, we attended the service in the main Russian Orthodox Cathedral downtown, where we enjoyed some especially beautiful choir music, which you can hear at the link below.

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We were driving out of our neighborhood in the late afternoon of January 6, the Eve of Old Christmas, when we met a small group of singers with an accordion, who were knocking on doors to offer “colinde” or Christmas carols.   As we pulled up alongside them, they were knocking on a gate and getting no answer, so we rolled down our windows and asked them to sing for us…. also recorded at the link below:

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There will be more groups of children and adults going from house to house in Moldovan villages this coming Saturday, Jan 13th, which is the Eve of another holiday, Saint Vasile Day, a traditional Saint Day which coincides with Old New Year’s Day, January 14th.   This time the revelers will dress up in costumes and recite, very loudly, poems and good wishes for the New Year.  The holiday goes on….

Hippotherapy in Moldova

If  the term “hippotherapy” conjures up in your mind an image of a hippo lying on a couch revealing his neuroses to his psychiatrist, you would be commended for imagining that I might be able to write that kind of humorous post, but, alas, you would be wrong. Zoologically speaking, a hippo is more closely related to a pig than to a horse, but our English word hippopotamus, comes from the Greek words for “horse of the river,” and the term “hippotherapy,” for those you who might be unfamiliar with it, refers to the use of especially trained horses in therapy for people.  And hippotherapy, I was surprised to learn recently, is available here in Moldova.

I had long been aware that The American Hippotherapy Association was providing training and certification in hippotherapy for physical therapists, speech therapists and occupational therapists in the USA,  and that a couple of places in western NC were providing hippotherapy for pediatric patients, children who had developmental and neuromuscular disorders such as cerebral palsy, Down’s syndrome and autism; but I had never actually observed a session of hippotherapy before coming here to Moldova.

As it turns out, one very enterprising, big-hearted, and determined young Moldovan woman named Maria, has teamed up with a certified hippotherapist named Oxana, to start a program, “Gallop Moldova,” which provides hippotherapy to Moldovan children with neuromuscular problems who are either living in foster homes in and near Chisinau, or are receiving day services at the Tony Hawks Center here in Chisinau.  Maria works as a kindergarten teacher to these children with special needs, and has advanced degrees in recreational therapy (which here in Moldova includes training in occupational and physical therapies.)  I first learned about Maria through two friends who interviewed her for a scholarship program at the US Embassy.  They knew that I was a horse lover and a pediatrician, so they put us in touch with each other, and Maria invited me to go with her for a session.

One cold grey day in November Maria picked me up in her very modest little old car, along with our young friend, whom I will call Ari, strapped safely in the backseat, and a Finnish young woman who volunteers at his foster home.  We drove out to Budesti, a town just 30 minutes outside of Chisinau to the Sparta Horse Riding Club, and there I observed a session for the first time.  Bob and I had been to this horse club before, to watch a jumping show in the outdoor ring on another very cold day last year, when we had nearly frozen sitting in the outdoor stands.  Ari’s hippotherapy, thank goodness, took place in an indoor ring.

Ari had already had several sessions of therapy and was a very willing and enthusiastic “patient.” I loved watching his transformation as he was lifted and maneuvered into position and eventually came to a straight-backed seated posture at ease on the back of that big horse.

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Oxana had traveled to the Republic of Georgia for her training and certification in hippotherapy.  I was very impressed with her attentiveness and skill in working with Ari.  She put him through a wide variety of exercises while seated or lying on the horse in various positions.

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The curves of the horse’s back and rump were perfect for helping Ari to counter his own back’s tendency to slump, and allowed him to relax into a more than full extension.  He even did some sit-ups from this position.

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“Belosnejzka,” this gentle old mare, was specially trained for hippotherapy.

An hour-long session of hippotherapy in Moldova costs 200 Lei, equivalent to about $12, and Maria is currently hoping to provide 10 sessions for about 10 children. You can read more about Gallop Moldova on their Facebook page, and donate to their fund at Go Fund Me:  https://www.gofundme.com/GallopMoldova

I very much look forward to observing and assisting with future hippotherapy sessions when I return to Chisinau.

A Million Trees for Moldova

At the center of the village of Budesti, a small village about a half hour’s drive from Chisinau, there lies a rolling, open pasture.  Ducks and geese from local households feed in a gentle stream which flows through the bottom land of the pasture flanked by steep hillsides.  That open pasture will one day be a woodland of walnut, mulberry and willow trees, thanks to Plantam Fapte Bune (“Let’s Plant Good Deeds”) of the Million Trees Moldova Initiative, who brought a host of volunteers, about 125 people, to that pasture yesterday, to plant trees.   The mayor was there, as well as the principal of the local school, a Peace Corps Volunteer who teaches English there, and many of his students.  The activity drew resident volunteers from Germany, France, Italy, and Japan as well.

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Plantam Fapte Bune, is a participant group in the Million Tree Moldova collaboration, which is, in turn, a participant in the worldwide Million Tree Initiative, a coalition of grassroots environmental groups around the world, which hope to increase the Earth’s urban forest through the planting of one million trees.  Cities that are currently involved in the initiative include Los Angeles, New York, Shanghai, Denver, London, Ontario….and now Chisinau! They all share a common motive of wanting to improve air quality and reduce global warming.  The mission of Plantam Fapte Bune is “to help reforest Moldova for the health of the Moldovan people and the entire ecological environment.”  The Million Tree Moldova collaboration has been in operation for two years and together they have planted approximately 10,000 trees throughout Moldova.

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According to information from a 2011 report, “The State of the Forests of Moldova, 2006-2010,” (funded in part by the EU,) the land that lies currently in Moldova has seen about 75-80% of its forests destroyed since the advent of human activity, compared to an average for the earth of about 50% of forests destroyed.  Moldova’s territory in the 19th century was about 30% forested, but now is about 12% forested, making it one of the most deforested countries in Europe.  (This makes Chisinau’s current abundance of tree-lined streets, and green parks even more remarkable.)  Most of the remaining forested land is state-owned, (87%) and the rest is primarily owned by municipalities (12%).  But thanks to the energy, optimism, enthusiasm, can-do attitude, initiative, persistence, and determination of these young grassroots leaders, Moldova will one day see a restoration of its native woodlands.

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The wider world beyond Moldova’s borders may think of Moldova as a tiny hidden away place still steeped in traditional and post-Soviet ways, a poor country, made poorer in recent years by the robbery of their treasury by powerful elites and by rampant corruption.  While it’s true that this despairing view of Moldova is shared by many Moldovans themselves, I have to say that getting to know young Moldovans over the past year, has helped me to begin to take a different view.  In the inspiring initiatives of young Moldovans, like the folks of Plantam Fapte Bune, I see the seeds of a future Moldova which warrants much more optimism.

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I am a tree-lover too, so I was delighted to get to work with PFB yesterday planting trees in Budesti.   The tree species that grow commonly in Moldova are old familiars to me, –– Walnuts, Oaks, Poplars, Birches, Linden, Beech, Willows, Wild Cherry, Hornbeam, and Buckeye, as they also grow in the Ohio woodlands where I grew up.   While I was growing up I probably planted over a thousand trees, because my father was an avid tree planter and enlisted his children in the project.   We planted rows and rows of evergreens as windbreaks along the western edges of the fields of our 125 acre Ohio farm.   My siblings and I took our turns sitting close to the ground on the seat of the tree planter pulled along behind the tractor, slapping each little seedling into the furrow which was opened up by the blade just in front and below us.  Behind the seat, a second blade on the tree planter closed the furrow.   I spent many a summer hour watering and trimming around each seedling, and driving the riding mower between the rows.   Over the years, I felt a deep sense of pride and pleasure in watching those trees grow to maturity.  In later years, when I came home and walked the paths around the edges of the fields, I would often come upon groups of white-tailed deer resting in their shade.

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I wish all the Moldovans who are contributing to this effort, not only the satisfaction of a good deed done, but the deep pleasure and contentment of seeing those trees grow to maturity, and the opportunity to enjoy a life surrounded by these towering friends who purify our air, protect our soil, give us shade, and generally sustain a healthy environment for us all.

You may read more about Plantam Fapte Bune and see some photos and videos of their tree planting events on their Facebook page.  And you can also donate through their fundraising website:

https://guvern24.md/en/projects/plantam-fapte-bune-in-moldova/

You can also read about other tree planting events in Moldova at the Facebook pages of “Million Trees Moldova” and “Seed it Forward.”

Plantam Fapte Bune!

 

A Little Controversy in Chişinau––Art!

There are always controversies swirling around Chisinau, most of them involving politics, but this past weekend a new one erupted on social media pages––about a work of art.   On Saturday, October 14th, Chisinau celebrated its annual “City Day” with a typical downtown festival that included lots of traditional music, dancing and food, but this year on City Day they also unveiled a new installation of street sculpture.  The following week Facebook was abuzz with responses to comments claiming that the sculpture was sexist and local TV news reporters were reporting on the controversy.

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Bob and I happened to come upon the sculpture on Sunday morning, as it was right on the route of our regular Sunday morning walk to Crème de la Crème Café for croissants, coffee, and a crossword puzzle.   We were immediately charmed, (and did the natural thing that everyone is doing––photographed ourselves with it!)

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We perceived the pair of statues as a light portrayal of young romance: a young man, flowers in hand, waits eagerly for his girlfriend, while she approaches him quietly with her shoes off in order to surprise him.   It was an unexpected delight, we were cheered to come upon it, to realize that someone, either the city or a private donor––we did not know which, had wanted to beautify our city with this whimsical sculpture.  Most sculptures in Chisinau’s parks and at city squares are patriotic portrayals of heroic political figures––Stephan cel Mare with his sword or astride a horse for example.  There are also formally mounted busts of writers and poets in Pushkin Park.  But here was a portrayal of two anonymous figures, representing No One in particular and therefore Everyone, placed on a cobblestone pedestrian-only street, where they could be touched, embraced, leaned against, and included in selfies.

It was not until a couple of days later that I learned from the women in my yoga class at PC office that someone had taken offense at the depiction of the young man checking his watch, and had posted on Facebook a comment calling the sculpture,  sexist, accusing the artist, Moldova’s talented Pavel Obreja, of propagating a stereotype that women are always late.   This prompted a storm of responses, some lighthearted in agreement, and many others rejecting the accusation of sexism, asserting that we should all be grateful for, rather than critical of, this delightful gift.

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Neither Bob or I had interpreted the depiction of a young man checking his watch as an indication that someone he was waiting for was late.  But my Moldovan friends told me that as young women they were indeed often counseled to arrive late for early dates with a new beau, to make him wait, in order to maintain a kind of power in the relationship, (a strategy I do not understand but they seemed to find intuitively self-evident,) so they naturally projected that understanding onto the depiction of the young man checking his watch.  Other friends remarked that they and all their women friends are indeed habitually late for leisure activities; they felt that the stereotype was founded in a reality, but that this reality was not in any way insulting to women.  I view being on time for a social event as a matter of kind consideration, but I take no offense if this culture expects me as a woman to be late for a social encounter, as this just gives me a bit more leeway without hurting feelings.

Another comment on Facebook lamented that the portrayal of young lovers was only one heterosexual couple.  I do feel sympathetically for same-sex lovers who feel excluded by this very traditional portrayal of lovers.   It would indeed be wonderful to see a diversity of couples portrayed on our cobblestone streets: hetero, lesbian, gay, interracial….but that, unfortunately, is not likely to happen any time soon here in Moldova.

I love the sculpture and the fact that it has prompted all this conversation.  One comes across this kind of accessible street sculptures in modern cities all over the world, and even in our little town of Waynesville, back in North Carolina, but here in Chisinau there was, up until this past weekend, only one similar installation.

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On Strada August 31:  These figures are looking at a sculpted cat about to catch a sculpted bird on the eaves of the adjacent building…   Can you find anything controversial here?

 

End of Summer in Chisinau

Today is “First Bell” for the new school year here in Moldova, and it’s a special day for families in Chisinau.  Everywhere around the city this morning, children were walking to school, all dressed up and carrying flowers for their teachers.

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And there were happy reunions in the school courtyards.

Yesterday, at the invitation of Mrs. Scrupschi, my partnering teacher at public school Spiru Haret Lyceum, I attended the traditional beginning-of-the-year “Consecration Ceremony” which takes place on the day before First Bell.   The teachers gathered, (those who wished to participate,) in the cafeteria where three Orthodox priests and two Catholic priests offered blessings on the new school year, interspersed with beautiful antiphonal singing from an amazing orthodox church ensemble.

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The priests then walked up and down the hallways on the three floors of the building, entering each classroom and sprinkling holy water on the teachers and the classrooms.

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After every classroom was blessed we sat down to a beautiful “Masa Mare” prepared by the chefs of the adjoining placinte bakery.  We toasted to the new school year with red and white wine poured from pitchers, and ate shaslik (chicken-kabobs) roasted peppers, brinza (fresh and salty pressed cheese) with roasted eggplant relish and tomato relish, sarmale (rolled grape leaves stuffed with rice, vegetables and meat) placinte of every imaginable filling, fresh tomatoes, cucumbers and grapes.   The shared celebratory meal was, I thought, a lovely way for the staff to start out their new year.     They are not well paid, as I think I have mentioned before.   I learned recently that this year there will not be enough kindergarten teachers in the public schools because teachers cannot be recruited with a starting pay of 1000 lei a month (about $50).

 

The approaching end of summer in Chisinau was heralded by two holidays at the end of August.  On the first of these, August 27th, Chisinau celebrated Moldova’s Independence Day with a music, dance, craft and food festival in the big central square on Stephan Cel Mare street.  Dance troupes from all around the country paraded into the square in the morning and took turns on the stage throughout the day.

And yesterday, August 31, was National Language Day.  On this date in 1989, Romanian was declared the national language of The Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic.  After Moldova declared its independence in 1991, the 31st of August was declared an official holiday.  At present, not everyone in Moldova is equally enamored with the ascendancy of the Romanian language over the Russian, but as I walked through Pushkin park on my way to the Lyceum yesterday, I came across a small crowd listening to a young girl giving a full voiced and passionate rendition of a song celebrating the Bessarabian roots from which both Romania and Moldova have descended.

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So now the summer is over.   The playground at Parcul Valea Morilor will no longer be filled during the daytime, with children roller blading, biking and skateboarding,  but there will still be warm Sunday afternoons and balmy evenings for families to come out and stroll around the lake.

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This little guy has another couple of years before he marches off to school, flowers in hand,  on September first.