So, one day you wake up in your own bed in the USA and before you ever see a bed again it’s the evening of the next day and you’re on another continent having dinner in a hotel restaurant, sleep deprived, disoriented, and discombobulated.
The “you” isn’t you, of course, it’s me, Miss Footloose. And as I write this I’m in a restaurant in Chisinau, the capital of the Republic of Moldova in Eastern Europe. I’m having dinner with my spouse and a Very Important local person. The two of them are talking business, which is good because I don’t have to and I can let my foggy brain be foggy all it wants. I’ll smile and look
How many hours ago did I wake up in West Virginia, USA? Thirty. Thirty hours filled with a) frantic house cleaning, b) a sleepless-across-the ocean-flight to Munich, Germany and another one to Chisinau, Moldova, c) checking into this hotel and unpacking a little, and 4) a leaden-leg stroll around the centru of town with an exploratory visit to a supermarket, followed by 5) showering and finding dinner.
The hotel restaurant is nice in its internationally generic way: white table cloths, gleaming silverware, candles. The menu too is full of internationally generic dishes. A pretty waitress approaches our table to take our orders. She sports a black mini skirt, a snazzy pin-striped vest over a white blouse and a sexy ponytail.
I order a glass of wine, which is probably the worst thing to do in my unstable state of mind, but the hell with it, I want it. I choose a merlot from the selection offered. “Is it Moldovan?” I ask.
“Of course!” says she of the black mini skirt. “It’s very good,” she adds proudly.
“Fantastic,” I say.
“What next?” she demands, pen at aready.
Oh, okay, I’m supposed to order the first course even before my preprandial drink? “I’ll have a green salad,” I tell her.
She writes it down. “What next?”
Efficient, aren’t we? Get the whole order down in one trip. Fortunately I’ve already decided to do the unthinkable: Order the fish. Here, in Moldova, a landlocked country awash in pork and chicken and lamb. I know, I know, but I ask you, what is life without a little (or a lot) of risk?
The thing is, I’m a fish eater (omega 3 fatty acids and all that) and my worries about living here, apart from the condition of my future Moldovan mattress (see my earlier post) is the Moldovan fish situation.
The menu offers sea bream. “Where does the fish come from?” I enquire. “The Black Sea?” Landlocked as Moldova may be, the sea is not far, across a tiny strip of Ukraine.
Miss Ponytail is not sure. “The Baltic maybe,” she suggests. The Baltic is quite a distance away, but what do I know of commerce and transport and food business? Not much. Earlier in the supermarket I saw the fish on display, embedded in ice. It gave me hope.
The wine arrives and I am happy to report here that it is perfectly nice, which is all the wine vocabulary I can muster at this moment. I sip and enjoy and watch as two tall, skinny girls with long flowing hair, dressed in long, black party dresses (très chic) enter the restaurant. One sits down at the piano, the other positions under her chin the violin she was carrying. Live music!
It’s beginning to look like this restaurant is not quite as generic as my first impression had indicated. Glancing around, I catch sight of a huge painting of a sort not found in American family-friendly hotels. It’s full of shocking images: Half naked people! Bare breasts!
The painting lives high up on a wall and depicts a decadent grape harvest festival, possibly of a pre-christian Moldovan era. A bare-breasted nymph frolics on top of a barrel full of grapes. A party of grape-leaf decorated workers in semi-undress dance around the barrel, breasts a-flopping and hair a-flowing. Muscular male backs and buttocks gleam in the sunlight, and all faces glow delirious with joy. Nearby another nymph lounges seductively against a pillar, one full breast perkily on display. Frivolity and debauchery all around. One can imagine what is happening in the bushes.
Clearly I am no longer in the USA, where I last woke up, and where, now that I think about it, I forgot to clean my oven.
My salad consumed, the fish arrives, tail and eyeballs and all. Fortunately I’ve been around a bit and have seen – if not eaten – many a fish eyeball. The grilled swimmer is tastefully arranged on a plate with lettuce and red cabbage. I dig in and rejoice to find that the sea bream is meaty and tasty, if slightly overcooked. But I am not complaining since here is proof there is more than canned sardines in my future. Canned sardines, as many of you will know, can be found in most nooks and crannies of the globe along with Coca Cola and Nescafé instant coffee.
I’m feeling rather surreal sitting here so far away from my American bed and uncleaned oven, eating fish in a landlocked country, listening to the Moldovan musical maidens playing a tune from West Side Story: Somewhere there’s a place for us, somewhere a place for us . . .