“It’s pronounced like “Yash,” actually”: Fulbrighting in Iasi, Romania

Prologue

Crows caw and twirl in dizzying patterns as I make my way down the gentle slope of the main boulevard. Usually this drag is much busier; the main artery of all the coming and going in town, it’s often full of cars crowded for space by the old-style trams and buses, the sidewalks packed with students rushing to classes in the noble, aristocratic university buildings that line either side of the road. Today, however, has been a spectacularly lazy Sunday, comprised almost solely of grading in bed, and the city of Iasi seems to be in agreement with my current laid-back attitude. At five o’clock in the afternoon, this was my first venture outside of my apartment today, and I was really only switching scenery; grading behind me, I was on the prowl for a comfy café to sit in instead, hoping to let the creative juices flow over a cup of hot chocolate.

I have been in Romania for three weeks, and now, as I feel myself melting into the pulse of the city and my new life here, it is finally time to sit down and write.

The Friends Café, barely three blocks down the hill from my apartment in the neighborhood of Copou, is only mildly busy, confirming my suspicion that Sunday is a day reserved for laziness across Romania (or at least across Iasi). I order a ciorba, a soup, and a hot chocolate so thick that it’s akin to drinking pudding. Yesterday, I sat on a bench in the Copou Park, relaxing in the golden glow of the autumn-splashed trees and gentle sunlight. Today, my mediation will be some chicken soup, drinkable mousse, and time to organize three weeks worth of reflections onto paper.

A puff of cool breeze sets the trees and flags—one for the European Union and one for Romania—outside the café’s window swaying, and I find myself unsure of where to start. How do I being to unpack the incredible experiences of only the past month, much less organize my thoughts coherently enough to tackle the rest of the semester?

The murder of crows (I’ve always wanted to use that term) have occupied the uppermost branches of one of the few prematurely-bare trees along the boulevard. Their constant presence in the skies, highlighted by their symphonic cawing, surprised me at first and stuck out as unusual, maybe even a fanciful living wisp of the vampire and spirit lore that Romania is steeped in. This was my first impression as a foreigner: the birds, I’ve since learned, live comfortably in Iasi, as much a staple of the city as any of the many Petru pastry stands. They are so prevalent, so consistent and so common, that when you ask a Iasi native about them, they’re likely to shrug and comment simply, “Oh yes, I suppose they’re always here. That’s Iasi.”

This is Iasi, this is Romania: simple in its approach to the world surrounding it, but startlingly and stunningly unique.

Well, then, I think to myself, pushing away the empty ciorba bowl and setting myself firmly at my keyboard, the simple place to start is the beginning. The stunning part is…

…everything else.


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