Monday, November 24, 2008


Our guide Natasha had told us they had found a few Tolpolars graves in Orhei. That was exciting, although it was the birthplace of my grandmother, a Nisenblat. We picked up the head of the Jewish community in Orhei, Izia Mundrean, and went to the cemetery. Like the other towns, there’s not much of a Jewish life in Orhei. Izia said 80 percent of the city was Jewish (around 32,000 people). Today, there’s about 100 Jews. The reality of Moldova is, Jewish or non Jewish, most of youngsters leave the country for a better future. Most Jews go to Israel or the USA. Other Moldovans go to Italy, Germany, Spain, etc. Orhei is the city with the highest number of Jews who move to Israel.

The Orhei Jewish cemetery is one of the 10 oldest in Europe; it is 450 years-old, whereas the city is 570 years-old. The cemetery is not totally abandoned. There’s a keeper, people also give donations and family relatives repair graves. There are a few Holocaust memorials there. One, from 1991, says: “To our compatriots, Jews, victims of the Holocaust”. 4,000 Jews were killed in Orhei, and their names are in the memorial.

We found a few Tolpolar and Nisenblat graves. The most beautiful and mythical part of the cemetery is where the old graves are. I mean, very old, falling apart in the grown grass, attesting the passage of time.

Back in the new part, we went to see a few war memorials. I though the father of my grandmother would be listed in the memorial as a Holocaust victim, but there was a bunch of names, written in Russian and Hebrew, and we couldn’t find his.

After the cemetery, we drove by old Jewish buildings (old Jewish neighborhood and synagogue. During the drive, I spotted the Orhei soccer stadium.) and then stopped at a house that serves as the Jewish center, so people can meet for the holidays and such. Ana, our host, was waiting for us with food, wine, champagne and sweet wine, all homemade. Ana has been working for 11 years with the Jewish community. Her father was Jewish. She used to cook and people would come to buy her food. Now, as the city’s Jews are old, she goes to their places and cooks for them.
Through the “couchsurfing” website, Kerley had made contact with Annie, an American who was working for the Peace Corps and living in Orhei, and she joined us for lunch. It was a nice afternoon, we all at the table, eating and drinking. Ana gave us a bottle of homemade wine and a bottle of champagne to Natasha. We gave her a skin crème from the Amazon, she loved it.

Our next destiny was Orhei Vecchi, Old Orhei. Nothing Jewish, just pure sightseeing. I had read about it and was excited to see it.

This old, archeological sight was a place for monasteries back in the 1400’s (I think). Close by there are also the remains of a Tartar bath. The landscape was gorgeous, it’s like this huge semi-circular wall that jots out of the ground, with caves in it, where the monks used to live. In the ground, there’s a river, a plantation and some peasants working. A surreal idyllic image. Moldova is now a landlocked country, but thousands of years ago the ocean was there, and this wall is full of shells encrusted in it. Amazing.

We stopped by the road to appreciate the landscape from afar. On the other side of the river is a village, very pretty too. Natasha took us to a path of grass and collected some plants with a very different – but pleasant smell. She said it’s good for tea, and I got some. We then drive towards the caves, passing by the museum of Orhei Vecchi, but it was closed.
We finally get to the actual site, and enter the monastery. One monk still lives there and maintains a sanctuary. We go down the stairs and enter one of the caves, where a few monks used to sleep. It’s very cold in there. A local young girl comes in with her family, we talk a little and she reveals she wants to leave Moldova and go to Italy.

We leave the cave and go out to see we were in the place where we spotted from afar in the road. We are right in one of the holes of this huge wall. Looking down, it’s like an abyss. Very impressing.

The drive back to the hotel was calm, as Orhei is about 30 minutes from Chisinau. We dropped Natasha off at her place, as usual, and headed for the hotel. Time to rest and get ready for Oliscani. At least for my dad and sister, as I went to the last day of the CRONOGRAF Film Festival, to meet up with my Russian friend Roma, who had some music to give to me. I also took it as a good opportunity to see the festival goers one more time. But I had one mission: to bring food back to the hotel for my family. They were going to be starving soon.

When I got to the theater, the Awards Ceremony was already happening. So I stood there, waiting it to be finished. I soon spotted Roma, and we went to the outdoor bar next to the theater, where most people were. Roma bought me some delicious tea, and I became aware that Russians love tea, and that’s a popular drink there. It was much better than the Brazilian or American tea. And the waitress gives you some dates and raisins, which were also very good. I became to know better a Serbian filmmaker sitting on the same table, and his girlfriend/wife/film partner, and they were very nice. They studied in Bucharest and told me things I didn’t know about Serbia. Unfortunately I don’t remember our conversation very much, but it just reinforced the idea that people all over the world have the same necessities, everybody goes through difficulties and nothing is perfect.

OK, now everybody was ready for the closing party, which I didn’t even know it was going to happen. Meanwhile, I’m thinking of my father and sister waiting for me to return to the hotel room with dinner. But in this German-like bar (called Bierplatz, conveniently located between the theater and the bar where we were), there was a banquet of Moldovan specialties. There was bread, shrimp, bryza cheese, herring, pickles, things I couldn’t identify. One of them was pork tongue, which I ate before knowing it. To drink, wine of course. But I had drunk so much wine lately I had some sparkling water.
I couldn’t stay there too long. Just enough to satisfy my hunger and talk to people. After a while, it was time for me to go.
It was about 10PM, and I called my sister at the hotel. She said they were indeed waiting for food, and I had to get something. But I missed the 24 hour supermarket and nothing else was open. I walked around for a bit and, very tired already, got back to the hotel with empty hands. Kerley got angry, but she’s smart and asked the receptionist for help. She called us a pizza (I remember, it was “Andy’s Pizza)”, it took almost an hour to arrive. It was the first pizza I’ve seen that had mayonnaise instead of tomato sauce. I liked it, and so did my dad and sister. It was about 1PM when we went to sleep.

Next: the long awaited trip to Oliscani


Judah said...

I can see in the photo that all that food stayed with you! LOL!
Don't worry, you look good with a little tummy, Cassio!

Cassio Tolpolar said...

Thanks for the "little".

Anonymous said...

I know this is an old blog post, but my grandmother's maiden last name is also Nisenblat! She was from Moldova, and had relatives in Bessarabia. Maybe we are related

Anonymous said...

She's still alive, she just doesn't live in Moldova anymore