Thursday, October 23, 2008


Natasha and Sergei, our driver, met us at the hotel at 10AM for our tour of the Jewish Chisinau: Jewish holocaust memorial, the Jewish cemetery and historical sights related to the (in)famous 1903 pogrom, including the house number 13 where Jewish families were slaughtered by the ravaged mob.
Alla, our researcher, had found a street address in Chisinau where a certain Shabsa Tolpolar used to live. We went there first, but the new tenants knew nothing about it. An old lady who had been living there for 10 years said that everything there was changed and rebuilt.

Aftewards we went by the house number 13, where many victims perished in the 1903 Jewish pogrom.

Jewish Holocaust Memorial (Ghetto Prisoner’s Memorial)

Stadium where Jews were executed, in the old Jewish neghborhood.

We went by the stadium where Jews were executed in the pogrom and by another synagogue, also orthodox, that belongs to Agudat Israel. We drove by a blue church in the same place where the 1903 pogrom started. We saw a few buildings related to Rabbi Tirilson, very active at that time.

The Jewish cemetery is huge and wildly beautiful. We walked a lot there and found a few graves, not of Tolpolar, but of Nisenblat, my grandmother’s maiden name.
After the cemetery, we had lunch in another fancy restaurant, Vatra Neamului, worth the visit. The food and service were excellent. I had the famous mamaliga with tocana, something like a cornmeal/polenta with bryza (their special goat cheese), sour cream and slices of meat. Besides that, the place was decorated like a museum of national history, with ornaments and paintings, and every room had a different theme. They also had a wine tasting area.

We came back to the hotel to rest a little before our late afternoon trip to the Museum of National History. That night was museum night, and all museums were free and open to the public until midnight. Mauro stayed in the room for a nap, Kerley and I went to the Odeon Theater, where the only Moldovan Film Festival, CRONOGRAF, was taking place.

I found that in my walks in Chisinau, the stray cats were not afraid of people, on the contrary. They come to you if you call them and seem pretty comfortable. Here in the States, and also in Brazil, stray cats run away by the sight of humans.

The Odeon Theatre is small, but clean and well put together. They told me is a typical soviet building, but I didn’t notice a lot of difference from the art houses in America, for example. Except for the fact that the seats are not very comfortable.
We were looking for Dumitru, one of the Festival’s organizers who I got in contact via e-mail beforehand. He was very busy, but took some time and took us to the outdoor cafĂ© next door.

Then we met people from Russia, Georgia, Armenia and even Moldova on the table. All very friendly. I soon connected with Roman, the Russian, who said wanted to move to Brazil.
My sister had to leave soon to meet Natasha and Mauro to go to the Museum, but I decided to stay, and even watched some films. The CRONOGRAF festival is small but organized. I never imagined finding such an international crowd in Moldova: Germans, Austrians, Russians, Armenians, Serbians, Romanians… Nobody from the US or Latin America though.

My new friend Roman, from a region close to Siberia, brought me some home made wine he had store somewhere in the theater. It was my first contact with the famous Moldovan wine. Since then I didn’t know almost every person in the villages has their own little winery and makes his/her own wine. I remember it was night already; I was sitting in the stairs in front of the Odeon with my friend Roman drinking one of the softest and most delicious wines I had ever tasted, in a plastic glass.
I had gotten a message that somebody else I had contacted through e-mail, a local filmmaker named Viorel, was going to meet me there. (The wonders of cell phones!). So I waited, and drank a bit more, until he arrived. We went to the same bar I was before to meet some of his friends, a very different crowd then. They were very nice as well.
In the same bar, another “internet friend”, Alecu, was having a beer with his friends. He signed me to sit with them. Alecu doesn’t speak English, but we could communicate somehow. For my surprise, one of his friends, Boris, was speaking Portuguese to me. He’s from Moldova and lived in Sao Paulo for 2 years. I could never imagine I was going to find a Portuguese speaker in Moldova! That was nice. They reminded me that this TV station wanted to make a report on our journey. I gave them my sister’s cell number and supposed to wait for a contact. Alecu had already told me about this through e-mail. Funny, because Viorel and his friends wanted to make a short film about our journey.
Viorel invited me to an outdoor concert, I promptly joined his group and said bye to Alecu and Boris. The local band “Snails” was playing in front of the Museum of National History, funny coincidence, right where my father and sister were a few hours ago. We watched the concert for about 5 minutes and then Viorel, who’s very agitated, took us to a bar across the street.
There, I became acquainted with a lot of interesting stories from the soviet era, but from a modern perspective. Viorel told me when he was going to school, I think about 12 years old, everybody was a “pioneer”. A pioneer means you had to wear a specific soviet uniform, be impeccably clean and obey/admire the soviet ideology. I guess something like a scout boy. I asked what would happen if a kid was against it, he answered that nobody really thought about being a rebel. Not that they felt oppressed, but it was such a common thing, like having breakfast or using a hat, that nobody really questioned it. He said that one time his brother forgot a bandana they had to wear, and he was considered the shame of the school for months.
I also learned that once Moldova became independent in 1991, there was a huge backlash against the Russian influence. Nationalistic ideas started to rise, and some people even wanted to ban the Russian language. Nowadays, people in Moldova speak Russian and “Moldovan” (more like Romanian with a Russian accent) and there is little adversity between Russian and Romanian ethnicities. However when Moldova became independent, some wanted to ban the Russian influence, other wanted to stick with it. So a region called Transnistria self-proclaimed its separation from Moldova in order to be like in soviet times. I found that Viorel and his friends were much more proud to have a Romanian heritage than Russian.
Before Viorel and his friend gave me a ride back to the hotel, I learned that Moldovans love Brazilian soap operas and every Thursday night there’s the “Salsa night”, where people can dance to Latin rhythms.
My dad and sister were asleep at the hotel room. Kerley was actually very worried about me. I should have called her, but got so entangled in the conversation I ended up forgetting it. We catched up a bit.
Kerley said the Museum of National History is kind of poor, there are not a lot of visual resources or installations, but it was good to be in a cultural event in Chisinau. Each room has a different theme according to a specific age: Middle Ages, 19th century and so on. There were people in traditional old costumes serving typical food. The best thing was the Diorama, a mix of painting and installation about the battle between the Russian and the German army during the World War II. The weapons and tanks exposed were real. There were also relics, vases, from 4 thousand, 6 thousand years ago.
After hearing their adventures, I went to sleep. I was exhausted and knew I needed to rest. The next day would be our first time on the road.
Next: Driving to Yedinitz and vicinity.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Kudos Thanks to you and people like you the world can take a peek into a place that has been forbidden for many years. Since there is little public information about Moldova this is great information.

Bernie, St. Louis, MO, USA