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Sunday, January 18, 2004

"A thousand-watt beam of friendly delight."

Which reminds me: one winter, in Alba Iulia, my dad went to his accountant and I opted to stay in the car. There I could read until he finished. If I had gone in, my father and the acocuntant would ask me a few questions about my travels. Usually my father dominates all conversations. He would answer my questions for me. Then he would chide me for being so modest.

My book was boring. So I got out of the car to explore this affluent street. Early twentieth century homes in the Transylvanian school of architecture. Turrets and the like.

Two blocks off, there was a horse tied to a fence. I photographed the horse.

"What do you think you're doing? How dare you take pictures! Get away from our house? Have you no shame?"

Seven gypsies: a fat matron; a skinny, moustached, ragged father, various snot-covered children, and the young woman screaming at me all came out of the house. I noticed then that the house was not one of the well-kept houses of that neighbourhood. It was a little shack. The fence was broken. And the biggest giveaway that it was a gypsy residence was the horse.

I was surrounded. The young woman was yelling at me still.

What could I say?

"I'm really sorry for photographing your horse."

"Oh, you're not a journalist?"

"No, I was just walking around your neighbourhood and I like animals and I decided to take a picture of your horse."

Delight all around. The prankiest little boy performed acrobatics on the horse so I could photograph him. Repeated invitations to come into their house. Repeated polite declining of invitations.

"How old are you?" asked the young woman.

I believe at the time I was 25 or 26.

"Are all those your real teeth?"

"Why of course," and my eyes went to her mouth, where there were no teeth.

She was 22 and already all her teeth were gone.

If a Romanian has a toothache, he will pull out the tooth. (Or they use arsenic to cure themselves, see posting of Sunday, November 10, 2002.) My dad pulled out two of Lulu's teeth. No one flosses. Anisoara (the girl, not the hamster) buys only the cheapest toothpaste, an Eastern European creation, that is more chalk than mint. In the winter, the markets have no vegetables (last winter, I lived for six months on almost only meat and a few pickles). Scurvey, mates!

*****

Before I left the gypsy house, the young woman introduced me to her brother, also coincidentally 25 and unmarried. His toothless smile filled the entirety of his bearded face. I gulped and mentioned that I was to be married by the next full moon to a man in Japan. Then I ran off before my erstwhile gypsy suitor could talk me into a passionate love affair.

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