Tuesday, October 7, 2008


I left my home in Los Angeles at about 6:00 AM on May 14th, 2008. Since last week I couldn’t sleep well, just thinking of things that could go wrong, having strange dreams, but also with the hope of having a great time. My mother said nothing could go wrong with such a tight planning. She was right; there was no room for any accident, only for improvisation. So with a heart beating faster than usual, I boarded on the plane that would take me to Frankfurt, and then Moldova.

Probably almost at the same time, my dad and sister were having similar thoughts at the other side of the world, in Brazil. Sitting at the plane that would take them to Sao Paulo and then Frankfurt, my dad said “It’s the beginning, our adventure is beginning.” Later on he said “I don’t know what to expect, I hope all is going to be fine, I don’t have a precise idea of things”.

My father, sister and I were supposed to meet in Frankfurt in order to take the plane together to Moldova. I arrived 3 hours before them, so had the time to look for the Air Moldova booth and check-in. For my surprise, it was not easy to find it, even with the organizational skills of the Germans. After walking around and asking people, I finally located the booth and checked in.

Well, now I had plenty of time to wait for Shlomi. Shlomi is the grandson of Fima Tolpolar, my father’s first degree cousin, who was also born in Moldova, survived the II World War and moved to Israel with his family. A trip “back to the roots” is not the same if you don’t meet your kind.

Shlomi studies near Frankfurt and took this rare opportunity to meet us. He was as excited and nervous as us, and was extremely nice and generous. We hung out for about 3 hours before we had to take the plane to Chisinau. What can you do in a first meeting with a person that comes from afar, but is a close relative? We all tried to do everything. We laughed, hugged each other, talked about our families, and ate lunch. Shlomi is 31, so we share similar interests from our generation. He was very touched to see Mauro resembles his grandfather, and later on confessed he felt a strong connection with my father.

Shlomi also told interesting stories, like the one that his grandfather came back to Moldova years after leaving it and took revenge on the killers of his father. But he thought that also could be just a story.

My first “Moldovan experience” was actually a little misunderstanding in the plane. My seat was 6F, but when I get in the plane, there were no seats with the letter “F”. The flight attendant said I could seat anywhere, so I joined my father and sister in the same row, until somebody came over and claimed that was his seat. The flight attendant noticed that and told him there were more empty seats in the back. It worked pretty well.

Moldova from above looks beautiful, full of green hills and slopes, going up and down, like a wave.

After 3 hours we arrived in Chisinau, I could see it written in the airport. The bus took us from the plane to the arrival gate, a 30 second trip, as the airport is fairly small. I think we could have walked. The immigration area is packed with people and nobody is queuing. When I was researching on how to get the visa, some people told me I shouldn’t worry and that I could get it at the airport. That could have been true if the visa booth wasn’t closed. I was glad I had it done beforehand.

I was a bit nervous. We heard many stories of the immigration police being rude and weird, asking you stupid questions and wanting money. This was not true. The woman in the booth was actually nice and even said “Welcome”. I was finally in the country of my grandparents, a long anticipated feeling. The first thing I see coming out of the airport is a beautiful hill. The landscape is different here.

With a sign that reads “Tolpolar Family”, the cab driver is calling us; he looks like the driver from “Everything is Illuminated”. He was very tall and thin, with a big chin and almost no teeth (and the ones remaining were bad), could barely speak English and had this “special welcoming” attitude – a grin in his face and a rude feeling of annoyance. I felt like I was in a movie.

“Stop, car”, the driver would say, I guess expecting us to wait until he gets the car. He was always at his cell phone. Our first look into Moldovan streets was accompanied by a Slavic song playing in the car. But soon the regional song was followed by a well known “Come together, right now…” Beatles are Beatles anywhere…

Driving into Chisinau for the first time was an interesting experience. You see it’s a poor place (they call it the poorest country in Europe), with really old buildings. I wonder if Cuba is the same, but my dad said it’s worse. From a foreign perspective, the buildings looked extremely attractive. I had never seen such a soviet architecture in person.

The hotel is small but cute; it’s been there for only 2 years. The receptionist, a very nice tourism student called Natalie, was there to greet us. But there was nobody to help us with the luggage. At least the room was pretty spacious and nice. The beds had great mattresses, and later we learned the hotel was in a very good area in town. Time went by fast and it was almost time to meet up with our guide and translator, Natasha Alhazov.

Natasha arrived punctually at 7:30PM at the hotel for some orientation; she brought some balloons with the colors of the Israeli flag to my dad. We spent a considerable amount of time talking to her, asking questions and so on. Natasha went out with us in downtown to show where to exchange money, where to buy groceries, get a SIM card and so on.

In order to save energy, the streets are pretty dim at night, giving a peculiar atmosphere. Most of the light comes from the buildings around. After several blocks, walking by some administrative buildings and theaters, we arrived at N1 (Number 1), the grocery store. We got some beverages, cream cheese, bread, and the local delicacy “placinta”.

We came back to the hotel by ourselves, a little bit suspicious, trying not to speak Portuguese too loud, but all went well. Everything is written in two languages – Romanian and Russian – and we don’t understand either of them. We were happy to be in Chisinau.

Next: Walking around, first impressions, the first Shabbat and more pictures.


Claire said...

Please tell us just what a "placinta" is & what makes it so special! I assume that it is a sweet. ??

Cassio Tolpolar said...


Forgive me the Moldovans if I'm saying anything wrong here, but "placinta" is a baked (or fried?) dough that can be filled with cheese, meat, vegetables, fruit, etc. They serve it even at McDonalds in Chisinau and there's also a restaurant that only serves all kinds of "placinta". It can be savory or sweet and it's very good.